The Secret Of The Persian Shamshir
many storys have been told about the legendary cutting power of the Persian Shamshir, especially the early examples up to the end of the 17th ct.
As a pre-conclusion for for impatient readers, yes they are true!
Why they are true. My intention is a technical explanation, which is also based on my personal experiences, without any unconfirmed storys. This leads us to our main problem, we have nothing but storys and some drawings.
This is not much more than nice to know for seriuous research. It`s a little bit like religion, you have to believe in it.
My great luck is, that I have two of this legendary blades (Shamshir and Kilij) and after some years of practical learning, me know how to swing a sword.
It is important to know, that the effectiveness of a pure or mainly based cutting blade like the Shamshir or most Sabers have nothing directly to do with musclepower, the effectiveness mainly depends on the geometry of the blade and its weight!
The muscles are needed, to hold, guide and accelerate the blade.
This is the main reason, why there are so huge differences between different types of curved blades, the geometry (including weight distribution and c.o.g.) and weight.
The strength of a well trained swordsmann is roughly similar all over the world. They all very powerful.
Enough preface, lets go to the interesting part of my text.
The great secret of the Persian Shamshir is that the blade got at least two curves instead of one on European blades!
Please look at the first picture with the curves now. My Shamshir got three different curces, the smallest radius is shortly behind the middle of the blade.
The German copy of the Shamshir got only one curve.
This leads us to the next picture, the most powerful part of the edge. The most powerful part on a curved sword is the "deepest" point.
I highlighted the areas in the second picture.
It is clear to see, that the most powerful part of the Shamshir is closer to the point.
Closer to the point results in more velocity, which results in more kinetic energy and more impact power.
Another very important effect of the two radius design is that the blade hits its target in the right moment, when it reaches its highest speed.
This is ideal, slightly curved back plus a small radius for maximum impact power.
The thickness distribution and the center of gravity are also important.
The Shamshir is heavy (970 gramms) and long (80 cm blade only point to point) but even at a blade of that weight, there is no pommel at all, the blade is very well balanced in itself.
The crossguard got some reponsibility for this and it is better to place the weight in front of the hand than behind.
As an evidence for my opinion I added a picture of the cartonage in which the Shamshir was delivered.
It was a mild forehand-blow with the untouched Shamshir, which was not really sharp. But to my greatest surprise, the massive cartonage was almost cut in half.
I tried the same with a mid 19th ct. German M52 saber (850 gramms, blade 85 cm long), which was brutally used on battlefield.
The M 52 also was much sharper and thinner than the Shamshir but nothing after the first blow with the same speed. I made a second attempt with the double speed, resulting in a little bit of damage.
I know, the comparison is not 100% meaningful, but we see total destruction after a mild blow vs. nothing (german blade was much sharper).
I am sure, if I do the same thing with my French M1822, which is much bigger and heavier than the Shamshir, the difference would still be breathtaking.
And this is why I think, that the Europeans never fully understood the secret of the Shamshir.
I also added a sound file of the Shamshir Sound, drawn through the air with full power.
What you hear is a full 360 degree blow and you can hear the sound of maybe 250 degree.
If you have good ears, you can hear a bang, when the air hits the microphone of my mobile phone, lol.
Now I hope for a spirited discussion!
p.s. In a few days/weeks I will present the Shamshir after restoration, because I made it!
Per aspera ad astra
Very interesting analysis, but I believe it has some shortcomings.
Of course the shamshir has way better cutting properties than the more recent sabres as it was designed almost exclusively for cutting, being almost useless for stabbing.
However, the European sabres were designed to be usable both for cutting and for stabbing, hence they have much less curvature. Moreover, when using European sabres for cutting, one must use a combined movement of striking and pulling the blade (like the use of the katana). If you simply hit the target with a direct blow, you won't achieve the cutting effect (and that's exactly what happened in your test).
Even so, the cutting performance of the shamshir is significantly inferior to that of an Ottoman kilij/pala or a Japanese katana. While in the case of the Ottoman kilij/pala the improvement comes from moving the area of optimal stike further towards the tip of the blade (see photo), in the case of katana, the superior performance comes from the combination between the geometry of the blade and the cutting technique used.
PS: How effective do you think a shamshir can be against plate mail.... or even against chain mail?
Also with a shamshir, there is a technique of bringing the sword around your head inside the curve quickly, bisecting the line for a quicker slash on the outside of the curve. Much faster than the retrieval time of the swish of the straight Crusader sword.
I am certainly not and expert and have never seen such sword outside this forum, but I do have some ideas. Persian shamshirs are chiefly a cavalry weapon, and I think this is the main reason they look like this. The velocity of leading to impact comes mainly from the movement of the horse, not of the arm and is therefore much too powerful for a normal, man to man sword. In fact, I think it is usable, but not very effective as a duel weapon.
A mild curve can be effective both on foot as on horseback, but such extreme curves are meant for cutting from horseback in gallop. A blow from a straight sword in gallop would not make a cutting motion which needs to be diagonal (knows everybody who cuts his bread in the morning, try to imagine hitting your stake with a knife). A high speed blow simply has no time to make the diagonal movement and that has to come from the shape of the blade. If not, it would not be very effective and can knock the sword out of the swordsman hand. The subject of cutting is relatively far and hit by the middle of the sword, as you said, and then, the sword recedes sharply to make the diagonal for cutting.
This type of cutting also explains why shamshir as well as akilij have hooked pommel: to prevent the sword being knocked out of the rider's hand upon high velocity impact.
Last but not least, let us remember that Shamshirs were replaced in military use by sabres with lesser curvature pecisely because of their shortcommings in use as they were suitable almost exclusively for slashing downwards blows.
In India, Shamshirs evolved into Tulwars, which are much more suitable both for mounted and for foot combat and also perform better with thrusting blows. Similarly, in the Ottoman empire, the Shamshirs evolved into Kilij and later Pala, for precisely the same reasons, while in Europe they evolved into the cavalry sabres.
per aspera ad astra...
Just side-tracking for a second since nobody mentioned it before:
Am looking forward to seeing pics of the polished & etched blade - it certainly promises to be a spectacular piece!
I believe that scientifically examining the static and dynamic properties of blades will prove to be very valuable, especially when comparing different blade types!
We may need to define some parameters first though. You may want to explain, how you define the curves, for example: In your shamshir, curve #1 is very, very weak (as in almost straight), curve #3 (near the tip) is weak, too, and only curve #2 has a considerably narrower radius. The European example seems to start with a straight blade (some distortion from the wide-angle lens photography?), the more strongly curved mid section, and a weak curve towards the tip (definitely not straight) - thus, I see at least 2 curves at play here. Moreover, the curves in both pieces change their radii very gradually - how do you define separate curves? IMVHO your nice shamshir may be argued to have 1 curve, 3 curves, 5 curves, etc. unless you define a suitable modus operandi.
BTW, have you determined the center of gravity, sweet spot, blade nodes, pivot points, etc.?
A comparison with the European "repro shamshir" will probably prove to be more interesting than with the M52 (the latter being an almost straight sword with a minor kink... ;))
Good idea Roland
Thank you for starting this interesting discussion. It could go in a number of directions, but I hope we can pursue some of the science of sword use, as suggested nicely by Kai. I've not seen much engineering analysis of sword performance along the lines you describe. About the closest I've come is the physics of a baseball bat hitting a ball. Ten years ago I came across a small monograph on the topic of bat on ball, but I seem to have mislaid it. Perhaps someone else has seen it. It had a nice discussion of the forces in play and how these contributed to distortion of the shape of the ball and how far it traveled. It talked about the percussion point as being an important consideration of how effective the bat would be when connecting with the ball.
We had quite a lengthy discussion here in the past on a similar subject.
Your professional expertise is most welcome.
I was not able to answer earlier, I have a flu and I`m totally exhausted from the polishing of the Shamshir, sorry.
"If you simply hit the target with a direct blow, you won't achieve the cutting effect (and that's exIactly what happened in your test)."
Marius, you are right, a diagonal movement increases the effectiveness of the blow significantly. I also tried this out and diagonal movement on a slightliy curved blade make the cut go deeper by ~50%.
I made this thest also with some very sharp straight Indonesian short swords, no problem to cut the cartonage without diagonal movement. But never as deep as the Shamshir. The flexibility is also important, the M52 is pretty flexible, the Shamshir is much stiffer.
"Persian shamshirs are chiefly a cavalry weapon, and I think this is the main reason they look like this. The velocity of leading to impact comes mainly from the movement of the horse, not of the arm and is therefore much too powerful for a normal, man to man sword. In fact, I think it is usable, but not very effective as a duel weapon."
Yes, the Shamshir is clearly a battlefield and mainly cavalry weapon.
As a duell weapon the Shamshir is in a bad position against a rapier or long small sword for example.
But dont underestimate the Shamshir with boots on the ground!
Despite its weight the blade is astonishing fast and agile. The Shamshir is much faster than a straight sword of the same length and weight and even faster than a Kilij of the same dimensions. I cannot explain this in detail. So against a European longsword of same dimensions the Shamshir is in a relatively good position! Also against a Katana. The horse clearly got some influence on the speed of the blade but my arm is very much faster than a horse. I know there was a technique with the galloping horse forced in a fast 180° turn with its hind legs. This leads to a significant improvement of the blow. The Shamshir is also one of the most or the most effective cutting sword without a horse. There are videos on youtube with ancient ground techniques. But without question it is mainly a cavalry weapon.
As I said to Marius, diagonal movement on a slightliy curved blade make the cut go deeper by ~50%, maybe a little more. But without diagonal movement a sharp curved blade still cuts very well. You can do cuts with diagonal movement without a horse but it makes the blow much more difficult and complex.
"Also with a shamshir, there is a technique of bringing the sword around your head inside the curve quickly"
My technique in the sound file is leaned on a German Knight blow from medieval sources (the ox), which starts behind the head.
"I've not seen much engineering analysis of sword performance along the lines you describe."
Next thing I will try is a modern FEM (finite element method)-analysis. I did this last time ten years ago but if I`m successful, this would be a hard evidence. It is quite difficult to describe the Shamshir in senceful technical terms, because in our modern industry there is no thing like a Shamshir. I´m a specialist for aerodynamics, so your baseball would have been very interesting for me. If the ball is twisting during the flight, the aerodynamic is of great importance.
"The European example seems to start with a straight blade (some distortion from the wide-angle lens photography?), the more strongly curved mid section, and a weak curve towards the tip (definitely not straight) - thus, I see at least 2 curves at play here."
It starts with a straight part because somehow you have to fix the handle.
And yes the last few inches before the point are a little straighter but this got no significant influence.
"how do you define separate curves? "
Sorry, this is obviously to see and I also highlighted it.
"BTW, have you determined the center of gravity, sweet spot, blade nodes, pivot points, etc.?"
Yes I detemined the center of gravity and what is a sweet spot?
"A comparison with the European "repro shamshir" will probably prove to be more interesting than with the M52 (the latter being an almost straight sword with a minor kink... )"
I clearly will not waste my money for a Cold Steel Shamshir. And what is the sence to compare a Shamshir with a Shamshir? This is why i said, the comparison is not 100% meaningful but we see complete destruction against a minor dent in the cartonage.
For bats and rackets, the centre of percussion certainly contributes to the sweet spot. For swords where the rotation is about the grip (or at least, the wrist), like sabre styles where the sword is held in front of the body, and the hand stays fairly still, it's also important for where the sweet spot is.
However, for swords where the rotation is about the shoulder (i.e., the whole arm moves), it isn't particularly important for impact. It's still important for handling, because when you move the hilt sideways, the centre of percussion will want to stay still. Thus, if you have the COP at the tip, the tip will stay still, and you get very nice point control (hand-and-a-half longswords and jian are often balanced like this). Or for swords that are expected to be in contact with an opponent's blade or shield (like arming swords for sword and buckler, or rapier), you can have the COP at the expected point of contact for easy rotation of the sword about that point.
But since a shamshir isn't used for hand-stationary cuts but rather for slicing draw cuts from the shoulder, and isn't used like a jian or rapier, or arming sword with buckler, I don't think the location of the COP matters, and I'd expect either of two things: (a) the COP at about 8" from the tip, because that's common on a wide variety of sabres (especially Western, but also common on talwars and katanas and other Asian sabres), or (b) the COP to be just wherever, with no systematic placement (which, as far as I can tell, is how the COP is placed on most Chinese dao).
PS: the pendulum test (i.e., finding the position of the centre of oscillation (which is the same as the centre of percussion)) is probably the best way to find the location of the COP of a shamshir. I don't trust the waggle test of very curved blades.
[I should put together something systematic and detailed on the COP. If time permits ...]
Thank you Roland. I look forward to more discussion of the COP. :)
Thanks for chiming in!
For pre-Qajar shamshir, I thumbed through Manouchehr's "Arms and Armor from Iran" and the COP seems to center at about 11 inches (from sword tip) within a fairly narrow range of approx. +/- 1 inch (regardless of curvature and not correcting for differences in total sword length).
Yes, the waggle test with straight blades already needs skill/experience and strongly curved pieces will present a major obstacle to get reliable data from!
If a strongly curved blade has a medial ridge (or other features at the contact point which favour movement in a second dimension), is very thick or elastic, even the pendulum test might prove to be real challenge though.
Get well soon!
Nah, that's only the tang: E. g. your real shamshir starts out with a (slightly) curved edge already. However, I don't believe this has any importance since this part of the blade won't do much cutting...
That won't cut it as I tried to explain: If you prefer to dissect a continuum, you should define working criteria (when striving for reproducible results).
The preferred point of contact is often referred to as sweet spot - since it combines several qualities, it is a more functional and less objective "definition" based on feel rather than science. It might be preferable to stick with well defined parameters as COP, etc.
Well, I believed the Euro "shamshir" you posted was yours, too. That one seems to be a real sword - no need to get a modern repro of questionable ergonomics... ;)
I can't tell for sure from the description whether he gives the centre of percussion (i.e., the centre of percussion as defined by all non-sword people) or the closest-to-the-tip node of vibration (which is often called the COP by sword people).
The key to what is actually measured is that last word, "vibration". I think the measurement is a measurement of the node of vibration, but I'm not certain.
Sweet spot and center of percussion are terms from Baseball. I have serious doubts, that we can use such terms for describing swords. Because the specification is quite different.
At least a Baseball bat is no static device.
Also the point of balance means not much or nothing. For example the POB of the shamshir (1kg) is ~18 cm away from the guard. On my European rapier (1kg) the POB is ~5cm away from the guard. But the Shamshir is clearly mor agile and more flexible to use than the rapier. So what does the POB says?
Theory (!): In a two dimensional coordinate system we have two axes, the x and y-axis.
If we describe the POB we use the lengthwise axis, which is normally the x-axis. But the POB on the y -axis is also important! The POB should be as close to the cutting edge as possible! This leads to a more stable blow. Maybe this is one reason for the 38 fullers, next to a lower weight.
I found out for myself, that all modern technical terms are pretty useless to describe a sword. So I tried to avoid modern technical terms in my text.
Tons of technical descriptions are nothing compared to a real test blow.
I tried out the usability of many different sword types (normally without cutting tests), so I'm pretty experienced in this field. Nowadays I can hold a sword, make some blows in the air and I can say, what it is designed for (for example once I tried out a long Afghan Kyber knife/sword and it was clear within seconds that this is a cutting weapon, despite its sharp and long point. Later I found out, that this is absolutely true).
My concluison: Modern technical terms are between not ideal and useless to describe an ancient edged weapon.
[QUOTE=Roland_M]Sweet spot and center of percussion are terms from Baseball. I have serious doubts, that we can use such terms for describing swords. Because the specification is quite different.
At least a Baseball bat is no static device.
Centre of Percussion is a well known term when applied to swords. Many Victorian military swords are marked as such with a C and P clearly visible on the spine. I in fact have a Wilkinson Cavalry Officers sword, manufacture date 1877, with such markings.
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