1989 Wydawnictwo "Sport i Turystyka" Warsaw, Poland   - 

2000 Richard Orli

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Wojciech Zablocki

Ciecia Prawdziwa Szabla

TYPES OF POLISH WAR SABERS

FROM THE XVIth TO THE XVIIIth CENTURIES

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The original document is full of rich detail only hinted at by this abstract.  Three sample pages of the original are below:

Blades (Sample Page)

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Hilts (Sample Page)

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Detail of Sabres Type Ia ('hussar' -all 100 or so sabers are similarly illustrated)ia_1.jpg (333952 bytes)ia_4.jpg (355852 bytes)

Detail of Sabre Type Id

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Detail of Sabre Type IIa Karabela

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The following illustration is not from this work, but is included here for reference.   (From Stanislaw Meyer's series of articles in "Bron i Brava"  Typy Szabel Polskich 1934, no. 4 vol. 5.)

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English Abstract

presented in the Summary section on Pages 347-352

 

SCOPE OF THE WORK

This work is an attempt to classify Polish war sabres on the basis of their function. The main function was always combat, which was decisive for design, as well as shape and external appearance. The decorative purpose was secondary, hence it would be an error to look for the source of the saber's shape in aesthetic categories. It must be said, however, that its function as a weapon and as an element of special attire were closely connected and so the precise separation of them is neither possible nor necessary.

 

In fact mostly the decorative types of sabre which were worth keeping have come down to present times. But neither the presence nor absence of ornamentation in a sabre constituted its value as a combat weapon or for decorative purposes. The main decisive factor for its value is its efficiency as a combat weapon. Specific schools of fighting and fencing led to characteristic types of blades with its corresponding hilts; hence the need always to look at a sabre as an entirety, that is the blade with corresponding hilt. The factors which are distinctive for various types of sabres are the characteristics of the blades with the hilts defining their specific usage.

 

THE RESEARCH METHODS APPLIED

Two criteria are regarded as basic classifications:

1. Objective criterion - studies of historical sabres in national and foreign collections. These studies were based on drawings and photographs with full dimensioning. Some 307 items of Polish origin were examined in 14 national museums, 8 foreign museums and to private collections. Simultaneously, about 320 foreign sabres were studied, both abroad and in Poland. The results of this research arc shown in the plates.

2. Subjective criterion - reconstructions of various "schools of fencing", using different historical sabres, were based on the following research:

a. Analysis of the old fencing treatises - mainly French and Italian of the 16th and 17th centuries. These books show, among other things, the ways the sabre fencers fought. The only known Polish book is the "Treatise on Fencing", written about 1830 by Michal Starzewski. The book describes the manner of fencing with the sabre No. II. These books confirm the hypothesis made on the basis of "the fight with an imagined opponent".

b. An analysis of the diaries of 17th-century Polish noblemen allows the following thesis to be presented:

- most of the described sabre bouts were fought on foot,

- most of the successful touches were at the opponent's hand and head*

- multiple parries and ripostes were the rule 3

- an encounter on horseback was often similar to a duel,

- a sabre encounter on a horseback, resulted in many injuries, but not many fatalities.

c. A very interesting proof of the existence of the Polish "school of fencing" comes from exercises and competitions with wooden swords, also practiced in special academies for noblemen, parallel to the European school of fencing.

d. Military drill handbook of the 18th and 19th centuries for recruits devoted much attention to different sabre strokes and also to fencing with a wooden stick.

e. Analogies with the sport of fencing. Modern fencing principles are drawn directly from the method of fighting with the military sabre. Although in moderm fencing, a valid touch can be quite light, in real combat an effective, stronger cut was required. But this difference has not influenced the attack and defense movements which remain largely the same. In modern fencing the footwork has been considerably developed as well as the speed of movement, but at the same time the variety of actions has been limited. Differences in performing particular movements, mostly being the outcome of the weight of the weapon and fencing convention are easy to distinguish by fencers who try the military sabre. Such similarities can also be noticed in the Japanese "kendo" art of fencing, which approximates combat with a real sword closer than European fencing.

f. A study of "mensur", (the German 19th century duel fencing) is useful. It resembles the Polish style of fencing with the No 2 sabre.

g. Very obtained by the author from Polish Cavalry men who fought against Budionny's Cossack Cavalry during the 1920 war.

The author has also tried fencing on horseback in a mask, using fencing sabres from the early 20th century.

However the most important factor to distinguish individual types of sabres was established while checking original sabres in various collections.

The tests consisted of various cuts, thrusts, parries and ripostes. The results are presented briefly, together with a description of the particular plates. The study of foreign sabres was limited to the types which had exerted direct or indirect influence on Polish sabres. These are: Turkish, Hungarian, Arabian, Persian, Armenian, Russian, Moldavian, Italian and Swiss.

 

THE CHAPTER "ANALYSIS OF FENCING MOVEMENTS"

briefly describes actions in attack and defense. Where attacks are concerned, the author describes direct cuts (to the head, cheek, flank, chest), stop cuts on arm, thrusts, single feints, battements and disengagements. The following direct cuts are distinguished:

direct cuts, swinging cuts from the shoulder or elbow, circular cuts.

Six basic "static parries" are discussed together with "flying parries" combined with different ripostes, stop cuts and withdrawals. (See Summary of Analysis of Polish Sabre Fencing Movements)

TYPES OF POLISH WAR SABRES FROM THE XVIth TO XVIIIth CENTURIES

SABRE No. I

The Polish military sabre with a "closed hilt", known also as the "hussar's sabre", is divided into 5 basic types.

1. Sabre No. Ia, with a rounded knuckle-guard, bent at an angle of about 100o used from the end of the 16 th century to the first half of the 18 th century.

2. Sabre No lb, with a knuckle-guard bent vertically and nor joined to the pommel, used in the 17 th century and in the first half of the 18 th century.

3. Sabre No. Ic, with a rounded knuckle-guard and horizontal bars, use in the second half of the 18 th century.

4. Sabre No. Id, with a knuckle-guard bent vertically and a shield-like guard, used in the second half of the 18 th century.

5. Sabre No. Ie, with a knuckle-guard and side bars.

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The blades of sabres No. I are of circular curvature and possess double-edged yelmen of the same width as the rest of the blade.

A knuckle guard protects the fingers during static parries. The adjusted broad thumb-ring enables quick direct cuts when dueling on foot. At the same time the center of percussion permits strong swinging cuts to be delivered from horseback. Its constructional and functional merits makes sabre No. I surely one of the best and most versatile sabres of the world.

Ornaments are added to strengthen the points exposed to enemy blows. Besides sabres produced for battle, examples used for decoration only and made mainly in the 19 th century are often met with.

Additional bars and shield-like guards for better protection of the forearm were added to the hilts in sabres No lb and Ic. Sabres No. Ie, used at the end of the 18th century are good only for fighting on horseback and mark the end of fencing with the combat sabre.

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SABRE No. II (Karabela)

The Polish military sabre with an "anatomic" grip in the form of an eagle head, known also as a combat karabela, is divided into 3 basic types.

1. Sabre No. IIa with a blade of variable curvature and double-edged pronounced yelmen. The knob is wide, thus giving effective support of the palm while making circular cuts. These sabres were used in the 17th and the first half of t8th century.

2. Sabre No. IIb with a blade of circular curvature, without a pronounced yelmen. The knob is narrow. The sabre is still good for circular cuts because of its well distributed weight (center of gravity)

3. Sabre No. IIc with a short and broad blade, a wide knob and bent down quillions.

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Sabre No. IIa and IIb are excellent for circular cuts while fighting on foot and for swinging cuts from horseback. Most probably high on-guard positions and flying parries were used. Effective palm support made possible cross rotation, given by quick wrist movements from a stiff elbow. Similar sabres were used in Turkey, the Balkan countries, in Russia, Moldavia and Armenia. The principal difference between these and Polish sabres IIa consists of the grips design. Only the Polish sabres perform well in circular cuts. Others were presumably used for horseback fighting only.

Sabres No. IIc are convenient for swinging cuts from the elbow (the splitting blow) and were used only for fighting on foot. Many type-II sabres were produced solely for decoration.p_TypeII_grip.jpg (6076 bytes)

SABRE No. III

The Polish military sabre with cross-like quillons and almond-like pommel, known also as the Hungarian type, is divided into 2 basic types.

1. Sabre No. IIIa, with blade of circular (sometimes variable) curvature, with cross-like quillons and Polish-style almond-shaped pommel. These sabres are good only for swinging cuts from horseback. The are often richly ornamented.

2. Sabre No. IIIb, with narrow blade and long, pronounced yelmen. The quillons are cross-like, often connected with the pommel by a chain. The pommel is bent forward at an angle of 45o. These sabre are good for powerful swinging cuts and circular cuts when fencing on foot. Both types originated from Hungarian sabres but have several specific Polish details (thumb ring, pommel).p_typeIII.jpg (8629 bytes)

SABRE No. IV

Polish military sabre with small cross-like quillons and pistol-shaped grip, also called the Tartar sabre, is an extremely efficient weapon for swinging cuts when fighting on horse-back. Points-thrusts can also be performed very efficiently. Most probably these sabres were produced for Tartar warriors fighting alongside the Polish nobility. Blades arc of circular shape, quillons short and delicate, the knob is bent forward at an angle of 45o.

 

TYPES OF FOREIGN MILITARY SABRES

TURKISH SABRES

1. Sabres from the 15th century have hilts similar to Ommayad’s and Abbasid's swords. The blades are long and heavy, with a spear-like yelmen. Most probably they were used for swinging cuts from the shoulder elbow. They are particularly convenient for point-thrusts when fighting on foot.

2. Sabres from the 16th century have blades of variable curvature, with a spear-like yelmen, but smaller than in the 15th century. Grips are rounded and bent forward with cross-like quillons. They are good mainly for swinging cuts (horseback combat).

3. Sabres with "anatomic" grips in the form of an eagle head (carabela type) could be used only for swinging cuts. They were used in the 17th and 18th centuries. Blades are mainly of circular curvature (!), and have a flat grip. Quillons are cross-like or bent downwards.

4. Sabres with firm rounded knob, known as kilidj. Blades are of variable curvature and with a pronounced yelmen. This type of sabre is very versatile, it can be used both for swinging cuts (on horseback) and circular strokes (on foot). There is also another type of kilidj sabre, with the same grip, but with a narrow and long blade, without a pronounced yelmen, good only for horseback fighting.

 

HUNGARIAN SABRES

1. Sabres from the beginning of the 16th century are similar to Turkish sabres from the 15th century.

2. In the second half of the 16th century a very interesting type of sabre appeared. The blades are of variable curvature, and a long, pronouced yelmen. The quillons and languets are very long. The pommel is almond-shape, smaller than the knob. These sabre: could be used for powerful swinging cuts from horseback (the influence of sword fighting).

3. In the 17th century, the Hungarian sabre -presented formidable advantages for horseback fencing. The blades are deeply groved, light yet rigid, the cross-like quillons have become smaller, and the almond-shaped pommel is bent forward, thus forming an ideal support for the hand against sliding. These are also very good sabres for fencing both on foot and on horseback, similar to Polish sabres No. IIIb. They are of simple construction but have great advantages as a versatile weapon.

 

ARABIC SABRES

1. Eastern Arabic (Damascus sabres), used betveen the 16th and 18th centuries were influenced by Persian and Turkish weapons, though they still preserve a unique design. They have been classified up to now as Persian or Bedoum sabres. The blades are of circular curvature without a pronounced yelmen. Blades can also be found with variable curvature or wave-cut. All the blades are strongly curved. Grips have cross-like quillions of Persian type, the tang is rounded and bent downwards. These sabres art good for Swinging cuts from horseback.

2. Western Arabic (Moroccan sabres). The blades have a strong pronounced yelmen bent backwards. The quillons are doubled, bent downwards, one forming a knuckle-guard. The grip has a strong support for the small finger; the knob is decoratively shaped. These sabres are good for swinging cuts from the elbow.

 

PERSIAN SABRES

Typical Persian sabres have strongly curved blades, narrowing towards the end, without a pronounced yelmen (shamshir). The quillons are cross-like. The grip is bent at an angle of 90', presenting a good support for strong cuts. The greatest striking force is obtained at the beginning of the yelmen and not towards the end, as is the usual 9ase. Generally, shamshir sabres are not the best for it is difficult to stop and to change the direction of a stroke.

It seems that the high opinion enjoyed by-Persian sabres was due rather to poetry and miniatures, that to the reality.

 

RUSSIAN, MOLDAVIAN AND ARMENIAN SABRES

of "carabela" type would seem to be similar to the Polish sabres No. IIa, but their functional characteristics are different. The grip design does not allow circular cuts to be made and most of the known items are for decoration only.

 

CAUCASIAN AND CIRCASSIAN SABRES

take the shape of a long knife. Blades are of circular curvature, with a non-pronounced yelmen. The grip offers no protection to the hand, the knob is split to diminish the weight of the long grip. These sabres are very good for swinging cuts from horseback, some of them are effective for circular cuts. The lack of hand protection makes normal parries impossible; most probably only swinging parries or side-withdrawals (djigit) on horseback were used.

ITALIAN SABRES

were mostly used as short broad weapons for fighting on foot (storta). The grips has an efficient hand protection, developed from the 16th century epee. These sabres are good for swinging cuts from the elbow.

 

THE FUNCTION OF SWISS SABRES

is resolved differently than in eastern swords. Despite their length (often more that 900 mm) the heavy long grip counterbalances the blade, shifting the center of gravity towards the handle (100 mm). However such a balance is more characteristic for the epee than sabre. Swiss weapons offer good service when delivering strong strokes from horseback. The thumb-ring makes sudden attacks possible or even quick changes of direction. Certain similarities exist between these sabres and Polish sabres No. Ia.


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Zablocki is pronounced Za'b-wo-ski

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

* The author counted 18 hand and 5 head hits in his review of available memoirs. The relevent text of the memoirs and attribution are included in the manuscript.