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rgremm 27th February 2005 02:17 AM

Khyber knife
8 Attachment(s)
Hello Everyone,
I picked up this knife in Kabul in the winter of 1970/71 at a shop catering to westerners. I know absolutely nothing about its origins or provenance. This bit of research is something I've wanted to do for a very long time and I'm hoping some of you may be able to offer some direction. It has the basic shape of what is called a Khyber knife and I acquired it not far from the pass and Pashtun territory. However it has some unusual features, the most enigmatic of which is the manufacturer or artisan's mark in the ricasso (also an unusual feature on knives from that area). The engraved silver work seems to imply ceremonial use but the blade is all business. It may be a tribal artifact but I've always thought it may be some sort of regimental issue from a unit associated with the area. The battered sheath provides a very secure friction fit. I have no idea why the tip was rolled up. Aside from polishing the silver and oiling the blade I've left everything as is. Thanks for any assistance you can render on this.
Rick Gremm

derek 27th February 2005 03:52 AM

Really nice & certainly unusual. It almost looks like something between a khyber and what is often called a choora. The base of the blade extends in an unusual way - it almost makes me think the blade was longer at one time, but it does not look like it ends "abruptly". The floral swirls are more like Indian work. Definitely interesting and beautiful.

tom hyle 27th February 2005 04:35 AM

My first feeling is that the blade is reground from an old sabre blade. Anyone else have this feel? Is there an overall pic and my computer didn't show it for some reason? Looks more like a pesh kabz or bytzak(?) than a salwar yatagan; a dagger more than a sword?

ariel 27th February 2005 05:38 AM

I fully agree with Tom: the blade is reground from a saber. There still is a shade of the old curvature, the fuller is excentric (and ends unnaturally) and the very existence of wide, military type, fuller is unheard of in Salawars. Look at the side effect of regrinding: an almost Indian ricasso. The handle is nice, though.

Tim Simmons 27th February 2005 10:43 AM

I also agree, the scabbard is a bit at odds with the the hilt and grip.Strange to pay a cutler to do all that work on the hilt and then put it in a rough scabbard.Tim

Yannis 27th February 2005 11:32 AM

In my opinion this knife, more a karud than a khyber knife, had 3 stages in its life.
First it was a saber, most possibly of a shashka form. Unfortunately it was broken.
In the second stage, a very skilful master, reshaped it as a karud. The hilt looks to be the original.
In the final stage, this piece was in the hands of a poor man who used a piece of scrap metal to make a scabbard.

I have an 18th century fine Persian card in a scabbard made from an 20th century brass artillery shell! I like it a lot. In my eyes these items are more “original” because they have a story to tell. :D

derek 27th February 2005 01:48 PM

Originally Posted by Yannis
In my opinion this knife, more a karud than a khyber knife, had 3 stages in its life.
First it was a saber, most possibly of a shashka form. Unfortunately it was broken.

A shashka. That's probably it, Yannis. I could see it clearly once you said it.

Jim McDougall 27th February 2005 06:42 PM

Hi Rick,
Thank you for posting this fascinating weapon! I totally agree with Yannis about the stories weapons can tell, and think of how many times I have heard the expression, 'if only that sword could talk!' , they can...if we can read the messages they send.
I am always amazed at the keen eye everyone here seems to have in noticing that this blade appears to have been cut down from a sabre blade. I didn't notice it, but Tom, the astute blademaster that he is, caught it instantly, and immediately his observation was reinforced. Outstanding!
I like the defined support for this described by Ariel, which details why this observation is so appropriately placed by Tom.

There have been many discussions concerning the terminology used to identify these daggers over the years. The Afghan dagger of this form which is typically straight and intended for armor piercing is termed 'choora' (the etymology of which is unclear). While these were used in Khyber regions by the Mahsud (Stone) they were certainly used by many other tribal groups as well. The engraved tang band and blade length seems to correspond with the Khyber denominator favorably in this case. One thing about these, as well as many of the much larger Khyber Knives (actually of sword size) used by the Afridis and associated Khyber tribes, is that they typically have a pierced tang button. These were to hold a cord or lanyard in the manner of a sword knot. This feature is interesting as it is common in Northern India on tulwars and on the Indian versions of 'pesh-kabz' which is the often recurved blade counterpart of this type armor piercing dagger.

We are told that in Persia, these daggers are termed 'karud', a term which also eludes etymology but is presumed to derive from 'kard', the Persian dagger with straight knife type blade and simple hilt.

An interesting characteristic of the karud, choora, pesh-kabz, Khyber knife and their variants is that the blade cross section is typically T-shaped. In the armor piercing daggers, this is of course reinforcement for thrusting penetration.

It seems that recycled sabres and blades were often used in the manner of this example in regions of Afghanistan and what is now Pakistan, and I have seen Uzbek sabres cut down into smaller working examples with similar type hilts, but with the blade retaining its sabre profile, much like a dirk.
It is interesting that the craftsman who furbished this example followed the traditional Afghan blade profile, rather than following the more standard blade form of the original. There was also a great deal of craftsmanship applied to the bolster and tang band, which I agree with Derek appears of Indian style.
The interesting mark at the forte is also extremely unusual, and may indicate possibly an armoury or arsenal mark as often found on Indian weapons.
Hopefully someone here can interpret the either Arabic or possibly Urdu script in the marking.

Best regards,

ariel 27th February 2005 07:22 PM

I doubt very much the pseudo-shashka (Afghani/Uzbeki shashka) origin of this dagger. I have 3 of them and saw several more: all had eared handle, just like the Caucasian ones.
Also, I think the grips were re-attached to the tang: there are several superfluous small nails in the handle. Of course, one can hypothesize that the original pseudoshashka was extensively re-worked: the blade reground and the grips replaced. Bur again, the blade with a single wide fuller is not characteristic of an Uzbeki/Afghani shashkas.
I still vouch for a re-ground trade "military" blade insertwed into an old Khyber handle. Seems to me the grips may be rhino and the new owner might have wanted to keep them.
The stamp may be revealing: anybody knows what is written on it?

Jim McDougall 27th February 2005 09:08 PM

I see what Ariel is saying, a military sabre blade. I think it is important to remember the Russian presence in Afghanistan, long before the unfortunate events of 1979....'The Great Game' as the geo-political situation there was termed by author Peter Hopkirk in his book of the same name. The Russian military shashkas of course carried military form sabre blades.
The reference to one of these dagger/short sword weapons with Bukharen blade was simply to correspond with known recycling/refurbishing of older weapons, possibly damaged or even earlier finds from sites of combat or skirmishes.

It is quite possible that earlier British military sabre blades may have been used for many weapons. This had been a standard practice to use either captured or discarded British blades throughout the 19th century. Actually these blades seem to turn up everywhere! There are many tulwars that are presumably from native cavalry regiments that use M1796 British cavalry blades.It is ironic and a strong testament to the quality of these British blades, considering the scandals of the end of the 18th century pitting the quality of British blades against imported German blades, that they found use in many countries over the next century.

Best regards,

Conogre 27th February 2005 09:57 PM

I haven't got a whole lot to add to the already excellent statements on this old warrior except to add that if you look very carefully at the upper edges of the hilt, they seem to have been re-shaped somewhat on both sides, so some small "ears" can't be entirely ruled out, IMO, although later Russian shaqas seemed to tend away from traditional ears as well.
As to nomenclature, I've also seen the type referred to as a "pathan knife", as well as a karud and choora.
I've also seen some recently that are in the true Salwar sabre size range and being sold as such, but that lack the T-spine and seem to have one or two fullers.
I know that Windlass Steelcrafts in India made a duplicate/replica that was offered in United Cutlery for a while that also lacked the T-spine, but those had no fuller that I was able to discern.
My only guess would be that in areas like this that border a traditional weapon style, local smiths might be influenced by those that they've seen yet modify it according to what their own people are more familiar with?
This one, by the way, is a beautiful piece, in my opinion as I love the "battle trophies" that are on their 2nd and 3rd incarnation yet still remain true user weapons, often in combat.

ariel 28th February 2005 02:12 AM

I see what you mean (reworked pommel).
However, Central Asian shashkas had a very peculiar handle: as opposed to the Ccaucasian pattern, they had a relatively narrow handle near the bolster and a gradual widening toward the ears. Not seen here.
As to Jim's suggestion of the European origin of the blade, what about the Islamic marking?
All in all, we should admit that all our best guesses are just...guesses. It is impossible to be certain about the precise origin/history of a weapon on it's 3rd or 4th re-incarnation. Suffice it to say that this dagger saw a lot in its life and can tell rather brutal stories.

tom hyle 28th February 2005 02:51 AM

The nonburred rivets appear to be fairly straightforward repairs to the hilt. Those near the bolster appear to be re-affixing a chipped off piece of horn, and it seems that at least one of them is a nail. The one at the butt may have been added to pull the horn scales together if they were seperating with age-warpage.
The part-length tang is interesting.
There is a style bearing a name like bytzak; a varient of "bichaq" I should think, that is essentially a pesh-kabz with a non-reinforced spine; sometimes grooved, sometimes not. Some look much like this, but I still think this is a reground, probably rehilted sabre blade.

Montino Bourbon 28th February 2005 03:50 AM

It seems to me that some of the only blades available in Afghanistan that could be taken down to this form are old bayonet blades; some of them have a T-shaped spine.

Jim McDougall 28th February 2005 04:55 AM

While we examine the overall elements of this piece, a question for the metal workers here. The marking on the blade, is it stamped or inscribed ? I am under the impression it was added after the blade was altered and the dagger put together. Obviously if it was originally on the blade, the blade would not be European nor Russian, as Ariel notes.

rgremm 28th February 2005 05:39 AM

I've had this for three decades now and I feel like I'm looking at it for the first time thanks to your many insights. Looking at the blade now it is clear that the fuller had parallel sides that continued on and the regrinding of the edge intersected one line while the last three cm of the back was ground in a gradual line past the top line. The blade is also very thick: 8.18 mm at the bottom of the back and 4.34 mm on the opposite side before the edge starts. This speaks to a much longer blade originally.

Montino speculated about a bayonet and I remember when I first picked it up I was so sure it was one I looked for the lug. I also agree with the emerging consensus that there is a story here. Whether bayonet or sword, it started as a fine piece of craftmanship and was skillfully transformed to a form consistent with local custom. The battered sheath tells us that it probably ended up in the hands of a poor Pathan and those people have always counted their weapons among their most prized possessions. I remember how colourfully they decorated and how meticulously they cared for their old Lee-Enfields and seemed to carry them everywhere.

The mark would still seem to be a key clue whether original or added later. Perhaps I'll see whether someone at an Asian Studies department would have a look at it.

tom hyle 28th February 2005 08:54 AM

Few bayonets start out by curving back, though many start out by curving forward, then curve back. I've been puzzling on the issue of the mark myself; it might help to know what it says, but by my info. it could be a maker's or owner's marks. It appears to have been struck with individual strokes. The long strokes have pointy ends, as if chiselled, but they look of even dpth, as if etched, but this could easily be a limitation of photography; what decides me are the individually struck dots. This work could have occurred at any time in the life of the weapon. The base of a thick sabre blade is not dis-similar in cross-section to a "T-back" blade, the main distinction being a heavier edge (the transition to the thick spine is more gradual and rounded, but similar). Certainly falling into the category of dagger, while many bitzak are clearly more knives.

delor 28th February 2005 02:27 PM

More likeky a large sabre

it seems to me that the original blade needed to be large enough, so that it leave place to reground with the curved shape of the edge nearby the ricasso. A shashka would not fit because the fuller already takes most of the blade. Also the recasso seems to be resized, I think the blade was much larger (and much longer of course...)

rgremm 2nd March 2005 05:10 AM

I've posted the inscription to the puzzle page of They seem to do quite well at these sort of linguistic challenges. I'll keep you posted on results. Rick

Jim McDougall 3rd March 2005 12:30 AM

Thank you for observing and commenting on the clearly Islamic stamp in the blade and noting that this mark may have been added at any time during the working life of the blade including most likely the time of the alterations we are discussing. Therefore even a European blade may have received an Islamic marking during being reprofiled as in this case.

It is interesting to note that from early times captured weapons often became trophies, without even considering the developing prevalence of trade weapons. Therefore it would not only be possible, but even likely that a European blade may have been used even in an Islamic weapon, and so marked. That this practice occurred in medieval times is illustrated by Sir James Mann:
" an earlier period the late Baron de Cosson came into possession of a European, probably Italian sword of the middle XVth century, which is inscribed in Arabic: 'unalienably bequethed by al-Malik al Ashraf Barsbay-may his victory be glorious!-in the store houses of the victorious arms, in the frontier city of Sikandariya, the well guarded, from what came into his ownership, in the month of al-Muharram, of the year 836 (Aug-Sep 1432)".
from "A European Sword of the Late XIVth Century with an Arabic
Inscription" by Sir James Mann, Israel Exploration Society,
1963, L.A.Mayer Memorial Volume 7
In this article, this much esteemed author describes the many such European weapons found in Ottoman arsenals at Alexandria and Constantinople (St.Irene).

The use of European blades in native mounts is further illustrated in these comments in a narrative from 3rd Bengal Irregular cavalry c.1845 and the tulwars used by the Sikhs :
"...All the tulwars have wooden leather covered scabbards and contrary to the regulars weapons had a razor sharp edge which would be impossible to maintain with a steel scabbard. Strangely the blades were often obtained from the government and of the same pattern issued to the regulars* but mounted with asiatic hilts".
from article in Tradition magazine by Lt.Col. J.B.R.Nicholsen
(#21, p.12)

It seemed that this was a good opportunity to review the hybridization of weapons, as well as their often complex histories as they changed hands and as discussed here, often entire incarnations. Here they often transcended religious, political and cultural boundaries.

The location of the stamp on the blade of the example we discuss on this thread seems placed in accordance with many arsenal stamps, which would seem more likely than a makers stamp in my opinion. Makers took great pride in their blades, where refurbishing an existing blade, especially foreign as noted, would not necessarily elicit such personal marking. A captured blade, as noted in the quotes from Sir James Mann's article, would however seem likely to be marked to an armoury.

All in all, as Ariel has noted, our best guesses are just guesses, but as we all agree, these weapons have stories to tell, and this one is trying to talk to us!!:) I think we're on the right track!

Best regards,

Raja Muda 3rd March 2005 02:52 AM


I think the inscription is upside down, but standing on my head in front of my PC, I think it says Hassan Faqeer, probably the name of the smith? Cheers :)

Yannis 3rd March 2005 08:18 AM

Raja, don’t brake your neck.

Right click on a picture and “save image as” to your PC. Then open it with any photo editor and turn it 180 degrees, or just save it in “my documents” >> “my pictures” and turn it twice right or twice left.

tom hyle 3rd March 2005 09:29 AM

The peculiar thing about the tang is that it is part length, but does not taper off to nothing part way along; it ends abruptly in a thick end. I suspect it is a full flat tang meant for a smaller hand of the past, rehilted bigger for modern times, so the tang no longer "fills" the newer, bigger hilt. I've seen this very thing on a qaddara before. This, combined with the edge decoration matching the bolster, makes me think the bolster predates the handle (of course it predates it, but I think it is from an earlier edition, if you follow); had the bolster been added at the same time as the larger scales, would not a tang-band extended to enclose the new pommel seem more likely than an intricate engraving job on the edge of the tang? Further, the engraving seems to disappear into the handle, continuing within it?

rgremm 22nd March 2005 06:05 AM

inscription interpreted
I received the following from an Omniglot reader who viewed the inscription:
I've just saw the picture in and I can read clearly what is
written there.
It is written: Faqeer Husain
which means literally: poor Husain
this way of introducing names is also famous in Iran as well in the
persian culture. It is just a way to show humiliation, like saying
"humble Husain".
and seems it is the name of the knife maker
TJ "

This interpretation is corroborated by Raja Mudin. TJ clearly identifies Persian or Farsi language and culture. This is interesting as the 2 major languages of Afghanistan are Pashtun (Pathan) and Dari which is an old form of Farsi. The tribes of the Khyber Pass, which are associated with the Khyber knife are Pathan. Although my knife is of a form similar to the Khyber knife it is also different in many ways and now with a Persian inscription adding to the complexity. Jim McDougall was leaning toward an arsenal mark. Where would one find information on Persian armourers and their customs? The engraving of the silver tang and bolster is what I find most aesthetically intriguing. Is that also Persian in origin or does it predate Hussein's work? In reply to Tom Hyle the tang and engraving end where visible.

tom hyle 22nd March 2005 07:56 AM

I have very little doubt the tang ends where seen; what I wonder is does the engraving continue on around the end, where we can't see it, within the handle. The area around the corners may be more readable in person than in photos.....

ariel 22nd March 2005 02:23 PM

The more I look at the silverwork, the more I think of Bukhara, Samarkand etc.These belong to Uzbekistan, a Turkic state. Uzbeks migrated to the area relatively recently (1500 years ago? Is it recent?). By the way, they chose to call themselves Uzbek after one of the most successful Khans of the Golden Horde, Ozbek, who was Chingiz Khan's grandson or close to that.
The adjoining Tajikistan employs a language that is almost purely Persian and there are many Tajiks living in the current borders of Afghanistan.
This "khyber" might have been made in Northern Afghanistan, influenced by the "Central Asian" motives. Would be fascinating to find Russian markings on the blade.

spiral 22nd March 2005 02:45 PM

A wonderful & fascinating knife, & a very intresting thread, excelent, ;) thankyou. :)


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