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mahratt 19th August 2013 06:04 PM

The “ regulation Khyber Knife” in the Afghani Army
 
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Dear forum members, be thought to your attention a short article.
I express my deep gratitude to Jim McDougall, for the data on Mashin Khan. And thank Ariel for the translation of my article from Russian to English.
I value your opinion and criticism. Maybe someone will add their knowledge my little study.

[CENTER]The “ regulation Khyber Knife” in the Afghani Army at end of the 19th – beginning of the 20-th centuries.[/CENTER]

At the end of the 19th century virtually all Oriental militaries were furnished with the regulation patterns of their sidearms, as a rule adopting European examples. This was also true about Afghanistan, where regulation sidearms, - or patterns resembling them, - appeared not earlier than 1870-s (we are not discussing examples of genuinely European weapons used by the individual Afghans).
After the 2nd Anglo-Afghan War ( 1878-1880) Afghanistan began to develop industrial weapon production on a small scale. The war ended in 1880 with the defeat of the so-called “Afghan rebels” by the British army. However, the British were unable to control the entire territory, so instead they put on the throne an Emir of their choice. British Empire assumed relative control of the country, and in exchange they paid a subsidy to the local government and provided it with weapons. Adur Rahman was a good choice for the British. Having decided to modernize the society, he became a virtual creator of the country that we know now as modern Afghanistan. One of his new creations was the establishment of a State Arsenal in Kabul in 1887 that was called Mashin Khana (Machine House). It was built with the assistance of the British engineers and metallurgists. As expected, the main thrust of the Arsenal was aimed at mass production of firearms. Nevertheless, a small quantity of the regulation side arms was also manufactured in the Mashin Khana

The appearance of the regulation sidearms at the very end of the 19th century is confirmed by known iconographic sources. There was not a single example of regulation Afghani sidearms among multiple images photographed by John Burke and published in the album of Omar Khan “From Kashmir to Kabul” (2). Nevertheless, even after that time the regulation sidearms were in use side by side with the traditional ethnic examples of bladed weapons.

The so-called Khyber Knife (presumably called Salawar Yataghan locally) is an example of a typical Afghani bladed weapon, a mix between the short, - and the long-bladed configuration (Fig.1). It was called “sword” by Stone (4), but it may also be named dussack, or short sword, as defined by the modern terminology.
First, the name. Both terms, - Khyber Knife and Salawar Yataghan, - are unsatisfactory. The latter one was first mentioned by Egerton (5) and repeated by Stone (6). That was how it entered the contemporary usage. Nevertheless, native Afghans themselves cannot explain the connection of this term with any of the 3 main languages: Pushtu, Dari or Farsi. Moreover, we are hesitant to use the adopted word “yataghan” for a traditional Afghani weapon. The name “Khyber” is also unsatisfactory. It derives from the locality where this weapon was regularly observed. There is a stable tradition of transcription of the term “Khyber Pass”, that is derived from Pushtu: د خیبر درہ. Why then do we call the weapon Khyber Knife, if Khyber Sword would be a more precise term due to its respectable size? The only explanation for this term is its simplicity: short and convenient, and most importantly, - traditional. While we fully understand the imperfection of the established terminology, we shall henceforth employ the established term Khyber.
In its classical variant, the Khyber has massive, straight, T-reinforced blade of substantial length, widened at the basis (root), so that the latter actually plays the role of a guard. The back of the blade is as a rule straight and undecorated. The handle consists of 2 horn or bone slabs (the bone ones are often assembled of separate pieces). The scabbard is conical, made of wood and covered with leather or fabric. Frequently there is a long metal chape that is often decorated with chasing technique. The handle enters the scabbard by ~2/3 of its length, and the beak-like pommel is the only part visible, making the sword very convenient for rapid withdrawal. Egerton mentions that Gilzais, Khyberies and members of other tribes carry on their hips swords in massive scabbards that are about 3 feet long and refers to the illustration showing a typical Khyber (7). The length of a typical example is between 45-100 cm.

mahratt 19th August 2013 06:25 PM

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To the best of our knowledge the Khybers were worn tucked under the belt, and this is confirmed by multiple photographs and paintings

http://foto.infan.ru/img/600-0/f/52...y_na_namaze.jpg

mahratt 19th August 2013 07:03 PM

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This heavy-bladed short sword was a traditional weapon of the Afghani Pushtun tribes.
This is how Kipling describes it: "If you want to know what they fight with, reach under my seat an' pull out the long knife that's there." They dragged out and beheld for the first time the grim, bone- handled, triangular Afghan knife. It was almost as long as Lew. "That's the thing to jint ye," said the trooper feebly. "It can take off a man's arm at the shoulder as easy as slicing butter. I halved the beggar that used that un, but there's more of his likes up above. They don't understand thrustin', but they're devils to slice."
And the battle itself: "Then they felt body to body the amazing physical strength of their foes; a shriek of pain ended the rush, and the knives fell amid scenes not to be told”.

It is important to remember that, while preserving their traditional form, there is a wide variety in the level and the extent of decorations. The simple ones, as described above, are the most frequent. However, there are multiple examples of richly-decorated ones, with steel or copper handles, gold or silver koftgari, the metal parts of the handle made of wootz and with deep or superficial incised decorations.
In this paper we will not go into detailed analysis of different examples of a traditional Khyber, but rather follow the evolution of this weapon that eventually led to the emergence of its regulation pattern resembling the European short sword (Fig.3). Its blade is wide, slightly curved and has one-and-a- half edge form and a well-developed ricasso. Almost all examples carry a stamp of the so-called Mazar-i-Sharif arsenal and are dated between 1893 to 1903.

mahratt 19th August 2013 07:09 PM

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The back of the blade is massive and T-formed, and the last third of the blade carries a small yelman with a false edge. The edge merges smoothly with the yelman forming a sword--like tip. There are 2 wide fullers stretching from the ricasso almost to the tip. The handle is as a rule made of steel with wooden slabs located in the middle of the grip, between steel parts. The front D-guard is pierced creating an impression of a 3- bar design. The pommel is elegantly curved resembling a bird’s head. The end of quillon is turned toward the back of the blade, similar to the European custom. Ricasso is partially covered from both sides by semicircular guard extensions that resemble cupolas of the mosque. The scabbard is wooden, covered with black or brown leather. The (most often steel) throat is integral with the middle band carrying on its inner side the hanging ring. Thе chape has a well-formed drag.
This weapon is traditionally called Afghan Military Saber or Afghan Military Sword. More correctly, it should be called Afghan Military Khyber or Regulation Khyber. Some may question the reason for introduction of a new term for a weapon only loosely resembling the real ethnic Khyber Knife.
From the start, it is imperative to distinguish the object under discussion from other similar ones that should correctly be called “short sabers”. We can see the latter one in a John Burke’s photograph “ Mohammed Yakub Khan with British Officers in May 1879”, - as carried by the second from the left Afghani named Daoud Shah (9)

mahratt 19th August 2013 07:14 PM

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As distinct from the “regulation khyber”, short sabers are extremely rare and vary enormously, whereas the “regulation khybers” are plentiful and virtually identical ( with the exception of the award ones with damascus blades and/or ivory handles). The blades of short sabers are more curved, less wide, often without false edge or the stamp of Mazar-i-Sharif on the ricasso. In addition, every blade is different and some are even made of wootz. The handles are very similar, but the details and the materials of the short sabers’ handles are individual. The seeming similarity between the scabbards is limited to the manner of sword carriage (saber-type one in short sabers) although there are exceptions. (Fig.5). Thus, the apparent similarity between the Afghan Short Saber and Afghan Regulation Khyber is only superficial. Moreover, as opposed to the Regulation Khybers, the Short Sabers first appeared at the end of the 1870s but never became popular.

mahratt 19th August 2013 07:17 PM

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Having defined the differences between the “Regulation Khyber” and the “Short Saber”, we are approaching the point of explanation why do we consider using the novel term. To clinch the point, we wish to discuss 2 other regulation examples.
Extremely rare is a pattern integrating features of both “ethnic” and “regulation” Khybers. It might have been an experimental model or a transitory step of evolution. From the ethnic Khyber it inherited the form of the T-blade, but acquired the handle with the guard from the “regulation” one. The dimensions of both are virtually identical

mahratt 19th August 2013 07:22 PM

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Notably, the guard/handle components are not just similar, but identical, with the only difference of a single rivet securing the grip. The scabbards are also similar: wooden, leather-covered, with a metal chape ending with the ethnic ball at the tip. The sword enters the scabbard down to the guard, but with no hanging assembly, indicating that these swords, like their ethnic brethren were tucked under the belt. One can argue that this example is just a mix of the “ethnic’ and the “regulation” patters. Against it is the presence of the Mazar-i-Sharif stamp on all 5 examples of this pattern known to us. This stamp was never present on the “ethnic” variety. The size, the handle and the stamps allow us to state that this rare type is a transition variant from the “ethnic” to the “regulation” pattern
However, there is yet another distinct example, even rarer that the Khyber with the guard described above. We know of only 2 examples. Superficially, it resembles the “ethnic” Khyber

mahratt 19th August 2013 07:26 PM

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However, there are details suggesting that it might be the earliest transitional step. The grip slabs are wooden, which is not typical for the “ethnic” variety, the blade carries Mazar-i-Sharif stamp, and the scabbard is identical to the one described for the “Khyber with guard”. The main proof of our hypothesis are the stamps customarily attributed to Mazar-i-Sharif. In fact, there are stamps of the state arsenal in Kabul, - the Mashin Khana. These two patterns differ from each other, as mentioned by Bert van der Molen.
”Even though there are multiple variants of the stamps, they always have the image of a Mihrab, - a prayer niche turned toward Mecca and Minbar, - a movable dais with steps inside the mosque. It is a symbol of the importance of Islam in the life of the country. The cannons made during Abdur Rahman’s rule were all stamped with the shahada “There is no God but Allah and Mohammed is his prophet”. What are the differences between the stamps? Before 1898 the stamp was arc-formed, after 1898 and till 1901 it became rectangular with a square “roof”. Khabibullah Khan introduced a ring of 8 rays – “khatam“ (“the stamp of the prophets”). Khatam also means “the last one of his kind”, - which may be refered either to Khabibulla or to Mohammed. Khatam is present on all weapons from 1901 till 1929. Underneath the stamp there are images of cannons and yataghans, symbolizing the importance of the army for the country. Rarely there are images of the “David’s Star” which is an Islamic symbol as well. The rarity of markings allows us to pinpoint the age of the weapon after 1896. If manufactured at the time of Khabibullah (1901-1919) it has a cannon above the Mikhrab, if at the time of Amanullah (1919-1929) there is a pulwar, a traditional Afghan saber” (10)
These dating points fully confirm our hypothesis of the evolution from the strictly ethnic Khyber to the regulation pattern. The lastly-discussed sample has an arc-formed stamp,

mahratt 19th August 2013 07:29 PM

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but the “regulation” pattern has either square stamps or stamps with Khatam (as shown here) testifying to their later manufacture

mahratt 19th August 2013 07:34 PM

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The last 2 variants discussed in this paper were likely manufactured in small numbers and thus were not widely known. They are stamped with a pattern not described by van der Molen: their stamps are round, with the image of the Blue Mosque of the Mazar-i-Sharif in the center (the reason why they were traditionally attributed there). Under the image of the mosque both samples we were able to examine carry an inscription in Farsi and numerals 1300 (Lunar Hidjra), i.e. 1883-1884.

mahratt 19th August 2013 07:37 PM

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Therefore, they are transitional steps in the evolution of the Khyber from Ethnic to the Regulation. Having attributed the 4 variants and considering the increasing importance of the European weapons during that period, we can tentatively time the progression steps

mahratt 19th August 2013 07:38 PM

The timescale shown here demonstrates the increasing European influence upon Afghani weaponry at the end of the 19th century. Thus, we think that we are within our rights to suggest that the side arm under review is in fact a variant of a true Khyber. Thus, we propose that the side arm described as Afghan Military Sword should in fact be called Afghan Military (or Regulation) Khyber.

Gavin Nugent 20th August 2013 06:18 AM

Congratulations on a wonerful treatise.

As a point of note, without consideration to the size, I can only suggest the term "knife" was used because the blade profile for the most part is a knife shape when you consider what a Victorian era kitchen knife looked like rather than the shape typically noted as a sword or sabre of the day.

Again, a great read, congrats.

Gavin

Mercenary 20th August 2013 06:53 AM

Very interesting article.
This is a rare example of the evolution of ethnic weapons.
Thanks a lot!

CharlesS 20th August 2013 12:53 PM

Great stuff on a generally overlooked topic about which not so much is known! Thanks for posting!

Ibrahiim al Balooshi 20th August 2013 06:29 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by mahratt
The timescale shown here demonstrates the increasing European influence upon Afghani weaponry at the end of the 19th century. Thus, we think that we are within our rights to suggest that the side arm under review is in fact a variant of a true Khyber. Thus, we propose that the side arm described as Afghan Military Sword should in fact be called Afghan Military (or Regulation) Khyber.




Salaams Mahratt ~ My hat comes off to you ! Bravo !! Bravo !! :shrug:

Regards,
Ibrahiim al Balooshi.

Gavin Nugent 20th August 2013 06:38 PM

I would like to add that the regulation hilt type with the guard has also been seen on Shamshir blades and perhaps other types of wapons held in these manufacturing plants that we have not yet seen :shrug:

Gavin

AJ1356 21st August 2013 01:47 PM

Good write up, the Afghan government also had Gurkha knives made for the military, even though there are no Gurkhas in Afghanistan. I think all these were some what of test weapons to see what worked better.
I just wanted to correct some of the terminology used by the OP.
It is not called mashin khana, but rather Kaar Khaana, Kaar Khaana e Jangalak is the complete name located in Kabul.

The local name for the so called Khyber knife is saylaawa, there are no words in Farsi or Pashto as salwar, yataghan or dussak, they are Turkish or whatever words. Thus never used in country to describe what is so wrongly called a Khyber knife. So just to clarify the locals have a name for it and is called Saylaawa سیلاوه .

And as mentioned is some other posts, there never was a mazar e sharif arsenal, and the stamp represents mehrab and munbar.

Useful info otherwise, good job putting it all together :)

Emanuel 21st August 2013 02:22 PM

Great article! I always wondered about these swords.

When I worked in Hyderabad, India, I lived close to Karkhana Road. My understanding is that it means factory/workshop and it referred to arsenals that were located on that road in the past.

So it makes sense now.

Emanuel

mahratt 21st August 2013 06:39 PM

Dear forum members, thank you for your kind words and for clarification of my inaccuracies.

I have a huge request to all. If you have some sort of information on the Afghan interesting items, please let me know. In addition, I am interested in purchasing Afghan unusual items. I was particularly interested in the Afghan shashka

Jim McDougall 23rd August 2013 08:50 PM

Thank you so much for the very kind recognition Dmitry, it was of course my pleasure to offer any assistance. I would like to congratulate you as well on a brillantly composed article on these intriguing edged weapons, which truly have deserved far more attention than they have ever received.

I would like to thank those who have responded with added observations and detail to further advance our knowledge toward better identification and understanding of these arms. I sincerely hope others reading here will continue that course.

Very best regards,
Jim

Sajen 23rd August 2013 09:24 PM

Thank you very much for your research. It's not my area of collecting but I have read it with great interest!

Detlef

mahratt 25th August 2013 08:15 AM

Many thanks to all for the nice words for me! I appreciate your opinion, dear forum members! Thank you again!

Richard G 25th August 2013 10:59 AM

I have, on occasion, seen the nucklebow hilted short sabre, or very similar, described as Persian and even Turkish. Were these misattributions of a type produced only in Afghanistan? or were they also produced and used in other armies of the region?
Best wishes
Richard

mahratt 25th August 2013 11:11 AM

Dear Richard

Descriptions of many of these items and they are often different. My opinion is that the diversity of descriptions - from ignorance (I apologize for the harshness of my words)..
It is understood that the items with afghan stamps - are made and used in Afghanistan. Although, I'm sure that many of these items to other countries as trophies.

It would be easier to talk, discussing a specific item.

Jim McDougall 25th August 2013 11:13 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Richard G
I have, on occasion, seen the nucklebow hilted short sabre, or very similar, described as Persian and even Turkish. Were these misattributions of a type produced only in Afghanistan? or were they also produced and used in other armies of the region?
Best wishes
Richard


Richard, when these first entered the collectibles market (it seems around 20 years ago...I think I got my example around 1999), a few of them appeared in several mail order catalogs with some very odd attributions. I think one was captioned as a 'Greek cutlass'!
Over following years it seems one caption claimed one of these was Spanish and the stamp was of the 'pillars of Hercules'!

These often bizarre attributions have often been seen on numerous ethnographic weapons over the years, and many of them have been properly identified here on these pages, which is in essence why we are here :) These discussions have all been fascinating, and Dmitry's work here is a perfect example of such outstanding arms study.
As far asI have known, these 'regulation' type swords were only ever produced for use in Afghanistan for use in thier army.

Oriental-Arms 27th August 2013 07:15 PM

I Know Dima for quite some time and I am familiar with his passion for Afghan blades. Hence I am not surprised it resulted in this thorough article. Congratulation Dima. I salute you.

Richard G 28th August 2013 01:05 PM

Thank you Mahratt and Jim,
I agree, as no examples of the short sabre have surfaced that can definitely be attributed to jurisdictions other than Afghanistan, it seems sensible to regard them all as Afghan; and as Mahratt postulates, derived from the Khyber knife.
However I have another question. Who were these issued to? They are obviously too short for cavalry and presumably already obsolete for regular infantry use by the end of the 19th century. In Europe or India it would be assumed they were for artillery or police or similar paramilitaries that used a cutlass rather than a sword.
Regards
Richard

mahratt 28th August 2013 02:04 PM

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Quote:
Originally Posted by Richard G
Thank you Mahratt and Jim,
I agree, as no examples of the short sabre have surfaced that can definitely be attributed to jurisdictions other than Afghanistan, it seems sensible to regard them all as Afghan; and as Mahratt postulates, derived from the Khyber knife.
However I have another question. Who were these issued to? They are obviously too short for cavalry and presumably already obsolete for regular infantry use by the end of the 19th century. In Europe or India it would be assumed they were for artillery or police or similar paramilitaries that used a cutlass rather than a sword.
Regards
Richard


Dear Richard!

I apologize for my bad English.

You asked a good question! Very many people consider these items made ​​for the gunners. But I have a different opinion. Khyber traditional weapons were Afghans, so I am sure that these items were of different soldiers. By the way, not only the soldiers.

Jim McDougall 28th August 2013 05:50 PM

Quote:
Originally Posted by Richard G
Thank you Mahratt and Jim,
I agree, as no examples of the short sabre have surfaced that can definitely be attributed to jurisdictions other than Afghanistan, it seems sensible to regard them all as Afghan; and as Mahratt postulates, derived from the Khyber knife.
However I have another question. Who were these issued to? They are obviously too short for cavalry and presumably already obsolete for regular infantry use by the end of the 19th century. In Europe or India it would be assumed they were for artillery or police or similar paramilitaries that used a cutlass rather than a sword.
Regards
Richard



Excellent observations Richard, and it truly is a bit of a mystery who exactly used these stoutly bladed short swords (it seems the blades average about 26 " in length). As you well note these are far too short for cavalry and the infantry as usual would not carry swords.

It seems that most of the structured military developed with Emir Abdul Rahman Khan in 1880, and as he was following European plans with British support it does seem that the incorporation of tribal levys and paramilitary units certainly were emplaced. The great illustration Dmitry posted in the previous post clearly shows a uniformed individual with traditional khyber.

When I acquired one of these 'regulation' military swords many years ago, the story with it was that it was apparantly used by royal bodyguards or some special unit in such capacity. It would seem quite possible that might be an explanation for the shorter heavy blades (indeed often paralleling a 'cutlass' in its close quarters purpose).

My question is just when were these hilts introduced? and where produced?
We know that Saoud Shah was wearing a sword with remarkably similar hilt at the Treat of Gandamak in May, 1879, suggesting the hilt form present by then. The fact that he was commander in chief of Afghan government forces at the time, further suggesting indeed use of these at somewhat higher station.

An example sold by Oriental Arms notes in its description of the typically seen 'regulation' type hilt and heavy, deeply fullered Afghan military sword, that it was of an '1889' issue. Was this an official order? Is there any source for that particular date?
We know most of the examples of these 'regulation' swords date from 1893 to 1903 (mine is 1896). If this was 1889 order, why were none seen until 1893, and where did the hilts that are seen with the Daoud Shah sword come from?

These are the primary questions in my mind at this point.


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