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TVV 31st July 2007 03:25 AM

Origins of Shepherds' Knives and Karakulaks
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The official theory on Balkan shephards' knives and karakulaks (or akkulaks, depending on the material used for the hilt) is that they originated from the yataghans, as a shorter, peasant version of the latter. I believe this is so, but this particular blade shape has been known on the Balkans for more than two millennia, as evidenced by the Thracian machairas - see the attached scheme of a tomb dating back to the Vth c-ry BC. What is more, many karakulaks and akkulaks have a stamp on their blades, in the shape of a sun with 8 rays. We all know this was the symbol of Alexander the Great, and it is also found on Thracian coins, such as the one numbered 1 in the attached picture, which was minted by the Odrysian ruler Sevt III. It does not prove anything, but it certainly gives food for thought.

ariel 31st July 2007 04:35 AM

Possibility #1: these are direct descendants of Greek Makhairas.
Possibility #2: these are local variants of Ottoman Yataghans.

To prove hypothesis #1, one should find evidence of an uninterrupted tradition between Greco-Roman times and (at the minimum) invasion of Seljuk Turks.

Therefore, the question: are there any Balkan swords with recurved blades dating back to the 1st milennium?

Jim McDougall 31st July 2007 05:26 AM

Fantastic research work Teodor!!!! This is the kind of perspective that is needed to understand the historical ancestry and development of these weapons, and the exact image of the stamp appearing nusimatically is outstanding , thank you for posting the page as well.
Thus seems to be another instance that suggests that many weapons are designed with atavistic form and traditional symbolism used.
Thank you so much for sharing that information and for prompting discussion on these :)

All best regards,

TVV 31st July 2007 05:47 PM

Originally Posted by ariel
the question: are there any Balkan swords with recurved blades dating back to the 1st milennium?

The answer to this question is no, as far as I know, as far as weapons are concerned. Once the Romans conquered the Balkans, they did not adopt any of the great variety of Thracian blade shapes. Then the Slavs and Bulgars came, each with their weapons suited to their style of warfare.
However, I do not consider karakulaks to be a pure weapon, as many of them are more of a utility tool than a fighting knife/short sword. The earliest dated karakulaks are from the 1830s, and there is nothing prior to them, which makes sense, as they do not exactly seem like an item that would be passed from generation to generation. There might be earlier examples, as the yataghan had been known in the Balkans since the 16th century, but being simple, undecorated weapons, no examples of karakulaks prior to the 19th century have survived, as perhaps noone deemed them worthy of preservation.
Of course, there is nothing to prove a direct link between Thracian machairas and 19th century karakulaks, but when one considers the striking simialrity in the solar symbol, often found on karakulaks' blades, especially the same number of rays, it is still an interesting coincidence.

TVV 1st August 2007 05:00 PM

Here is a random thought: is there anything to suggest that the Ottomans, or any Turks for that matter, had yataghan-shaped blades before their conquest of the Balkans?

erlikhan 1st August 2007 11:02 PM

Teodor,isn't today's Macedonia flag a sun with rays around it? I found one on internet and counted the rays. They are eight. If a shepherd knife of 100 years old from Macedonia has a similar mark, instead of looking for a continuous track going back to 2000 years ago, I would consider Macedonian seperatist uprisings in that part of Balkans as a reason, supporters of which perhaps used their ancient symbols to claim a historical base for their movements and identities ,so that ancient symbol regained a such popularity among local people. I mean, just perhaps you can find the same symbol on a pistol or a rifle or anything from that period too.The earliest yataghan sample is from 1520s, 170-180 years later after the start of Balkan conquests which is a quiet long time gap making it too difficult to suggest any relation between Balkan conquest-yataghan fashion and more difficulty added as there is no satisfactory sample or record at all, to combine too long time gap between ancient Macedonian swords and 16th c. Ottoman yataghans , not only in Turkic lands, but in Balkans or anywhere around as well.

TVV 2nd August 2007 03:42 AM

Erlikhan, you are right, there was a flag in the Ilinden uprisal, which had 16 beams instead of 8. The official flag of the Krushevo Republic was black and red, however, and there is very little to indicate that the ancient Macedonian symbols were held in high esteem. I very highly doubt that the akkulak pictured is connected to the 1903 rebellion, despite how romantic such a reltionship could be, and this is a fairly common mark on karakulaks found in nowadays Bulgaria. It is extremely unlikely that they are all Macedonian, and one needs to keep in mind that Macedonian nationalism is a recent and quite amusing phenomenon - some historiographers in Skopie would go great lengths in their quest for legitimizing a nation that did not exist 50 years ago.
I agree that the gap between the acient Greek and Thracian swords with an S-shaped blade and the Ottoman yataghans from the 16th century is huge, and it puzzles me a lot, how the yataghan appeared out of the blue, with no ancestors at all. If the official theory, which maintains that this shape was introduced to Central Asia by Alexander the Great's armies is true, why are not there any Central Asian finds of such blades, other than (maybe) the Nepalese khukris? Or maybe they are, but I just do not know about them, and this is what I like to find out, for there is evolution in blade shapes and nothing apperas out of itself, with nothing to precede it.

erlikhan 2nd August 2007 02:47 PM

Teodor, I do not favor that theory Alexander the great - introduction of yataghans to central Asia. The same big gap there like in Balkans,no doubt. No sample or record.Yataghan is practically an infantry arm which I dont think primarily mounted warriors of central Asia would like so much and continue the tradition for 1700 years or so. They preferred arrows,bows,javelins and long sabers . I wonder if there is any certain,satisfactory yataghan record before Suleyman the magnificent's beautiful yataghan. I have always considered it very interesting that the most beautiful and extraordinary yataghan sample known is also by far the earliest yataghan that is known to exist !

TVV 2nd August 2007 04:11 PM

I could not agree more with you. I brought up the machaira hypothesis not because I like it - there is lack of evidence, but because I have always had problems with the Alexander the Great theory - there is not much to support it either.

Yannis 2nd August 2007 05:59 PM

The "separatist" :) theory goes very far. ;)
The Vergina Star discovered in 1977 so there is no way to be used like identity symbol of anyone before that.

erlikhan 2nd August 2007 09:29 PM

I wonder what is funny about the word 'separatist'? Were they not getting armed and fighting Ottomans to separate from them? Or the problem is "Macedonians are not a seperate ethnical people, so they don't have the right to be separatist"? :) ;)

If a symbol has existed widely on armors, buildings, etc. and especially thousands of coins from a definite area as Teodor's picture shows, it doesn't have to wait to be found on a royal stuff underground, for the permission to be claimed by any people/ organization. It is very interesting that how Macedonia and its neighbors all have too different points of views on the subject,each opposite of all others,as far as I know. With a short web search you can find sites with amazingly different points of views like

ariel 2nd August 2007 10:28 PM

Folks, you are skating on a very thin ice! Some of our moderators are presumably still in the slammer and the coast might be temporarily clear, but I would much rather learn about the origins of yataghans than about national grievances :shrug:

TVV 3rd August 2007 01:36 AM

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You are right Ariel, but I hope this thread does not get locked, because if every thread about Balkan weapons gets locked any time we have a polite historical discussion, we will never learn anything about Balkan weapons, and I am sure you will agree there is relatively little known about them compared to weapons from other areas of the world. I and Yannis were far from trying to instigate an argument on Macedonian history - we just wanted to point out that the idea that FYROM is a descendant and successor of ancient Macedonia is a fairly recent one, and therefore it is a little bit of a stretch to try to find a direct relationship between ancient Macedonian symbols and the weapons of freedom fighters of various ethnicities more than a 100 years ago. As far as the Ilinden Uprising is concerned, it was organized by VMORO, the initials of which stand for Вътрешна Македоно-Одринска Революционна Организация, or Inner Macedono-Adrianople Revolutionary Organization, and its members had the goal of liberating not only Macedonia, but also Eastern Thrace, and not because they wanted to resurrect ancient Macedonia or Thrace (say, the Odrysian Kingdom), but because these were the terriotries initially liberated after the Russo-Turkish War of 1877-78 and later returned to the Ottoman Empire after the Berlin Congress. I am attaching the flag of the rebels from Ohrid, which contains no ancient solar symbols whatsoever, to hopefully put an end to the idea that the Ilinden rebels had the 8-beamed Sun as one of their symbols. All this I am doing not to prove a nationalistic point, but just to show how the stamp on the akkulak in the beginning of the thread is extremely unlikely to be connected to the Macedonian freedom movement.
If there is indeed a link between the ancient Thracian and Macedonian symbol as seen on coins, and the 19th century karakulaks' stamps, I think it is what Jim suggested - an atavistic symbol, which survived as a part of the Thracian and Macedonian culture, gradually losing its meaning and becoming a traditional decorative element. I will be reapeating myself, but let me explain once again - the reason I brought up the topic was an attempt to explore alternative theories for the origin of yataghans and karakulaks, hopefully finding the missing link between the kopis and the first yataghans, or at least an explanation why such link has not been found so far. And I really, really hope this thread remains open, so that we can continue the discussion about the obscure origin of these weapons, which are my favorites.

ariel 3rd August 2007 02:28 AM

I second the motion!
We had a discussion once when the idea of the Eastward migration of the Makhaira with Alexander was followed 2 milennia later by it's Westward return as a Yataghan. In between, it allegedly created Nepalese Kukri and a host of other recurved weapons.
Well, if one looks at Gorelik's works, there were recurved knives ( short) all over: from Greece to Caucasus, the steppes and all the way to China. Longer blades, used as weapons, of that configuration were indeed seen in Greek and Scythian cultures but not in Anatolia, Syro-Palestinian enclaves or Mesopotamia. However, one can easily imagine that Turkic tribes just lenghtened the indigenous recurved knife into a longer blade: the Yataghan. Indeed, Yataghan was never a real "sword" : it was Yataghan Bicagi, ie Yataghan knife or dagger. So far so good.
However, Gorelik did not touch on Indian weapons, and recurved, Yataghan-ish, swords were quite widespread there. One does not need to invoke Macedonian transplants in the genesis of Kukris and Sossun Patas : they might ( likely, must) have been brought up North by the Southern Indian expansion. Although, Greek influence did affect Central Asian art: witness Persian and Afghani statues.
And, of course, where are the Yataghans dating back before Ahmet Tekelu's masterpiece? How on Earth did he come with the idea? Ah, he was the Teke, from what is now Turkmenistan? Back to the Central Asian hypothesis... :)
A horrendously confusing subject :shrug:

Yannis 3rd August 2007 07:49 AM

The travel of yataghan to the east and back to Balkans is the most prominent hypothesis.

Hundreds of years after Alexander there was an Indo-Greek Kingdom in northwest and northern Indian subcontinent with Greek rulers and official language. I suppose that is an explanation about Kukris and Sossun Patas also.

I agree that we dont talk politics on this forum but this rule must be respected from all. So please do not provoke :) I didnt wrote about nations, that more or less they are a "salade macedoine" in all area. I just criticized a theory that claims the impossible as TVV noticed, too, from his part of view.

erlikhan 3rd August 2007 04:34 PM

Yes you guys, I recommend you all once again, please don't provoke each other ,you must stay in the lines of edged weapons world. :rolleyes: :)
Ariel, I think that "Teke" is not the one in Turkmenistan, but much closer, southern Anatolia, Antalya and its environment. That region was named "Teke sancagi" (Teke province) in Ottoman period.

ariel 4th August 2007 02:50 AM

Teke is one of the biggest and certainly the most influential tribes in Turkmenistan. Tekes were a part of the Kyzylbashi confederation and that's how their name entered Turkish administrative divisions.
Just as a quick reminder
They are famous for their horses, the Akhal Teke breed

erlikhan 4th August 2007 07:21 AM

That's correct.And most probably he was from Teke tribe although it doesnt prove a direct relation between yataghans and central asia. A lot of geographical names in Ottoman period were Turkmen tribal ones, named after tribe which had dominated there during the migrations between
1071-1200s. "Tekelu" shows his place of birth or his tribal identity to seperate him from other Ahmeds in a time when there was no systematical last name tradition. Note:South Anatolia Tekes were mainly living as nomads- 'Yoruk's 1530.

ariel 4th August 2007 12:21 PM

Man, if only we could prove anything in this business :shrug:
Of course, my comment about his Central Asian roots and the origins of Yataghan was meant as a joke :D

erlikhan 9th August 2007 10:48 PM

Good.Then, it is my duty to supply you another potential clue in your efforts to track the origins of yataghans for all of us. Teke means "goat". :)

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