Ethnographic Arms & Armour

Ethnographic Arms & Armour (
-   European Armoury (
-   -   The etymology and origins of sword and dagger nomenclature and terms (

Ibrahiim al Balooshi 21st September 2017 07:39 PM

The etymology and origins of sword and dagger nomenclature and terms
12 Attachment(s)
I have taken the most interesting description of what Quillons are as a direct Quote viz; Quote''Collins dictionary quillon in British
( French kijɔ̃)
(often plural)
either half of the extended crosspiece of a sword or dagger
Collins English Dictionary. Copyright © HarperCollins Publishers
Word origin of 'quillon'
C19: from French, diminutive of quille bowling pin, ultimately from Old High German kegil club, stake.'' Unquote.

Of course to sword enthusiasts they appear to mean the crossguard in all the definitions I have seen and place the use first with Burton in Book of the Sword..which is remarkably late. Another definition points to the shape of a ninepin in ninepin bowling...and it is true that the usual cross guard form follows this shape. For us however, in exploring Quillons we tend to think in terms of those curved extensions forward of the crossguard used to ensnare an opponents sword and protect the sword hand from a sliding blade cutting your hand. Having said that ...there are some interesting side shoots worth thinking about. Here's the bigger definition necessarily in full from; Quillon

Quote"Pronounced /ˈkwɪlən/

Early in the history of sword-fighting it was realised that a guard between the blade and the hilt was essential to stop the blade of your opponent from sliding down yours and cutting into your hand. The quillons are the cross-pieces at right angles to the blade and hilt that serve this purpose.

Though swords have had them for many centuries, this word for them isn’t recorded in English until R F Burton’s The Book of the Sword in 1884: “The quillons may be either straight — that is disposed at right angles — or curved.” (Before then, they seem simply to have been called cross-guards or just guards, as they often still are.) The origin is said to be the French quille, a ninepin, though that makes more sense when you learn the French also used it as a colloquial term for a leg, and so figuratively for the two legs represented by the jutting quillons. You may prefer to write the word as quillion instead, though this is less common.

In modern times, such technical terms have become useful in giving a sense of place and time in sword-and-sorcery fantasy tales, as here in a 1970 story by Fritz Leiber that was republished in 1995 in Ill Met in Lankhmar: “He took a few shuffling steps, tapping the cobbles ahead with wrapped sword, gripping it by the quillons, or cross guard, so that the grip and pommel were up his sleeve — and groping ahead with his other hand.” The other spelling appeared in Oathbreakers by Mercedes Lackey (1989): “The sheath looked as if it had once had metal fittings; there were gaping sockets in the pommel and at the ends of the quillions of the sword that had undoubtedly once held gemstones.”

The Oxford English Dictionary used to suggest it be said as a French word, /kijɔ̃/ Help with IPA, roughly “kee-yon”, but with the final vowel nasalised as in French bon. However, the current edition confirms that most people Anglicise it to /ˈkwɪlən/ (“quill-on”).'' Unquote.

Ibrahiim al Balooshi 21st September 2017 07:57 PM

2 Attachment(s)
In noting the above pictorial on Quillons I deliberately placed Tulvar in the mix. The rainguard extension is in itself a type of quillon which can trap an opponents sliding blade and either snap it or disarm him...with a twist of the wrist. Comments please.

I had some hesitation before including the ruby eyed Kastane hilt with its Vajra styling ...Quillons that fit snugly to the blade niche at the throat of the Kastane are not there to ensnare opponents blades but may have had a cushioning effect in an earlier form of the sword. At any rate the sword was not meant for fighting and was primarily a court sword or badge of office from the 18th C mainly with the Dutch in Sri Lanka then the British.

Below I add the fighting spikes with a central quilon format.viz The ancient Indian spiked Vajra Mushti The quilons shown are dragon form often seen in Northern Indian form (Afghan Pulour) and other swords including the Kastane.

The Portuguese chronicler Fernão Nunes records the practice of vajra-musti in the southern Vijayanagara Empire. Vajra musti is the martial arts form without the long spikes.

For further detail see

Also illustrated is a Falchion explains that this was not always a peasants weapon ...on the goes on...

Ibrahiim al Balooshi 21st September 2017 11:52 PM

1 Attachment(s)
TIMURID QUILLONS :shrug: This also appears in the late Anthony North book Islamic Arms . Jade carved in the form of Dragons.

From Wikipedia I Quote"The Timurid dynasty (Persian: تیموریان‎‎), self-designated as Gurkani (Persian: گورکانیان‎‎, Gūrkāniyān), was a Sunni Muslim dynasty or clan of Turco-Mongol lineage descended from the warlord Timur (also known as Tamerlane). The word "Gurkani" derived from "gurkan", a Persianized form of the Mongolian word "kuragan" meaning "son-in-law", as the Timurids being in-laws of the line of Genghis Khan, founder of the Mongol Empire. Members of the Timurid dynasty were strongly influenced by the Persian culture and had established two significant empires in history, the Timurid Empire (1370-1507) based in Persia and Central Asia and the Mughal Empire (1526-1857) based in the Indian subcontinent."Unquote.

See also

Ibrahiim al Balooshi 22nd September 2017 12:13 AM

1 Attachment(s)

I Quote "Quillon or Guard for a dagger with dragon heads
Iran or Turkey, 16th / 17th century.
This hilt is made of steel and is decorated in gold overlay. The pattern depicts blossoming flowers and curling leaves. It has an angular body with arms that curve downwards and terminate in elaborately carved dragon heads. The teeth and tongues of the dragons remain visible; attesting to the careful workmanship of the artist.

Dragons are found extensively on many objects from the Islamic world. They appear on candlesticks, serve as handles on cups and jugs, and often make up part of the hilts of swords and daggers.

Chinese wares inspired artists and this cross-cultural exchange resulted in the introduction of the mythical creatures to the Middle East and particularly Iran. We know this from historical accounts that document an embassy sent from Timurid Iran to China, which included numerous artists (cited in, D. Alexander, Islamic Arms and Armour in The Metropolitan Museum of Art, London, Yale University Press, 2015, p.150).'' Unquote.

Jim McDougall 22nd September 2017 07:50 PM

This is a fascinating topic, and interesting to look into the nomenclature of swords and how it may have developed. It is surprising how complacent we seem to have become on these terms used in describing these weapons without really realizing how they came to be.

We have had considerable focus and often dynamic discussions recently, and over the years on the 'name game' or the struggle in finding the proper term for various weapons which have conflicting terms used in the literature.
These have revealed a surprising aptitude and interest in linguistics and etymology here which has proven I think somewhat pertinent in our overall understanding of the weapon forms themselves.

While the etymology of these nomenclature terms may not be particularly key to understanding weapon forms specifically, it is of interest to many who study arms comprehensively.

It would be interesting to look into some of the other terms as well, such as pas d'ane and hilt itself.
The term broadsword did not always mean the double edged blade, but as late as early 20th century was use collectively for any heavy straight blade. The backsword term for single edged seems more a specifying term which arose sometime later in the 19th century.

I have often had difficulty differentiating between the terms fuller, channel and groove in the blades and which is proper descriptively. This has come to mind recently in our discussions on Shotley Bridge ( European forum) with the 'hollow' blade...which actually means ground out blade face where stock removal creates a 'fuller' of sorts to lighten and strengthen the blade.

Ibrahiim al Balooshi 24th September 2017 05:59 AM

Pas D'ane.
8 Attachment(s)
Naturally the detail in this thread may meander from Ethnographic to European and broadening out the reader will perhaps notice that concepts thought basic are in fact not so simple as first envisaged :shrug:

Pas D'ane is one such peculiar addition. says regarding swords Quote" it comprises the two rings under the crossguard in which a finger may be inserted for safety and for added control of the blade. Literally it means; Asses Step."Unquote.

There may also be a single ring. See Below.

I cornered an interesting web page here with examples and a good sketch with named parts.

Pick up on these Pas D'ane at websites like

Ibrahiim al Balooshi 27th September 2017 11:01 AM

4 Attachment(s)
More detail on the Pas D'ane. Gold decorated hilt below.

France 18th Century Straight blade, of triangular section with hollow faces. Gilded writing "Ex Dono Regis" and engraved with the writing "LECOURT / Fourbisseur / Du Roy / Rue St. / Honoré / Pres Celle / Des Pauties / Au Grand / Monarque / A Paris". Iron hilt and olive-shaped pommel decorated en suite. Length 95, 8cm.

I note that some swords of the Hollow Blade/ Colichenade type continued the three blade edge all the way to the Guard as this example shows. Others had a thick rectangular Forte; as in the black and white shots below. Either way because the blade was thicker at the throat for about 8/10 inches it was stronger in the parry yet fast at the point, with a deadly tip. Control, balance and power were enhanced by the finger loops or Pas D'ane.


Ibrahiim al Balooshi 27th September 2017 11:38 AM

Regarding Fullers.

Please see for a good description of what a fuller is...and is not.

Taking the dictionary up...

A fuller is a rounded or beveled groove or slot in the flat side of a blade (e.g. a sword, knife, or bayonet) that are made using a blacksmithing tool of the same name (fuller).

These grooves are often called “blood grooves” or “blood gutters” as well as fullers, although their purpose has nothing to do with blood.

A fuller is often used to lighten the blade, much the way that the shape of an I-beam allows a given amount of strength to be achieved with less material. When combined with proper distal tapers, heat treatment and blade tempering, a fullered blade can be 20% to 35% lighter than a non-fullered blade without any sacrifice of strength or blade integrity.

This effect lessens as the blade is reduced in length. A blade is said to be “fullered” after introduction of the groove.

The term “fuller” is from the Old English fuliere, meaning “one who fulls (pleats) cloth.” It is derived from the Latin word fullo. The first recorded use of the term as a blacksmithing tool is from 1864, according to Webster’s Dictionary. The term used in historical Europe is largely unknown, and due to the constantly changing nature of language, the popular term also may have varied from generation to generation.

King Thrasamund of the Vandals was recorded in a letter to King Theodoric the Ostrogoth, giving thanks for a gift of swords, and refers to the fullers in the blades as simply grooves: “…their centers, hollowed out with beautiful grooves, seem to undulate with worm-like markings; for shadows of such variety you would think the metal was interwoven rather than shining with different colors.”

The French often use the term goutiere (gutter) or cannelure (channel). The ancient Viking term is unknown. As a verb, the old French term “gutter” meant “to cut small hollows,” as in the gutter of a crossbow. The term has nothing to do with blood!

The opposite of a Fuller is a Riser.. a stiff raised section on the blade to improve strength and rigidity.

Ibrahiim al Balooshi 27th September 2017 01:14 PM

4 Attachment(s)
The Sword Knot.

I always wondered about sword knots...?

The sword knot or sword strap, sometimes called a tassel, is a lanyard—usually of leather but sometimes of woven gold or silver bullion, or more often metallic lace—looped around the hand to prevent the sword being lost if it is dropped. Although they have a practical function, sword knots often had a decorative design. For example, the British Army generally adopted a white leather strap with a large acorn knot made out of gold wire for infantry officers at the end of the 19th century; such acorn forms of tassels were said to be 'boxed', which was the way of securing the fringe of the tassel along its bottom line such that the strands could not separate and become entangled or lost. Many sword knots were also made of silk with a fine, ornamental alloy gold or silver metal wire woven into it in a specified pattern.

The art and history of tassels are known by its French name, passementerie, or Posamenten as it was called in German. The military output of the artisans called passementiers (ornamental braid, lace, cord, or trimmings makers) is evident in catalogs of various military uniform and regalia makers of centuries past. The broader art form of passementerie, with its divisions of Decor, Clergy and Nobility, Upholstery, Coaches and Livery, and Military, is covered in a few books on that subject, none of which are in English.

Indian swords had the tassel attached through an eyelet at the end of the pommel.

Chinese swords, both jian and dao, often have lanyards or tassels attached. As with Western sword knots, these serve both decorative and practical functions, and the manipulation of the tassel is a part of some jian performances. The way I read it with Jian it emphasizes the flow of the sword practise water flowing or ~ When a tassel is handled correctly it is like the water dragon dancing around the mountain (sword).

Showing below~
Germany 19th century: Various colours and tassels of sword knots.

1. German cavalry officers' Stichdegen (dress sword) with sword knot, or
Troddel. When worn, the sword knot is wrapped around the sword guard, or sometimes looped though a slot in the guard.
2. Various different colours of German Sword tassels.
3. Tulvar showing the loop on the apex of the pommel through which a sword knot could be tied.
4. British Officers Infantry Sword and knot; 1845 to 1950.

Ibrahiim al Balooshi 29th September 2017 08:35 AM

The Pommel.
12 Attachment(s)
The Pommel.

I was interested in where the word derived for Pommel? Viz;

A rounded knob on the end of the handle of a sword, dagger, or old-fashioned gun.

Simply put Pommel -- A counter-weight at the end of a sword's hilt, used to balance the sword. Also may be used as a striking implement.

Interesting however, is the Middle English description as ~ Origin
Middle English (denoting a finial at the top of a tower): from Old French pomel, from a diminutive of Latin pomum ‘fruit, apple’.

This would indicate the sword as having a little apple on top?

In the case of daggers the pommel gives a more secure grip and prevents the hand slipping off the weapon...and it can be said that a more substantially strengthened hilt architecture is possible with a pommel incorporated.

It can also be said that the large pommel structure allowed artists and designers to decorate with ornate complex designs which were particularly favoured at court as fashion dictated below in the Elephant hilt.

Ibrahiim al Balooshi 29th September 2017 04:57 PM

1 Attachment(s)
Pistols with Pommels.

I saw a lot of nice examples at

Ibrahiim al Balooshi 1st October 2017 10:54 PM

The unsharpend section of the blade near the hilt and usually within the guards in front of the quillons. One purpose of the ricasso was to allow a user to curl a finger over a quillon, allowing for better point control. Often times, longer swords would have an extended ricasso, allowing the gripping of an entire hand onto the blade past the cross guard for more leverage.

Ibrahiim al Balooshi 1st October 2017 11:46 PM

4 Attachment(s)
Turks Head Knot

Decorated often silver or gold wire weaving in a sort of turban or knot design..on the base of the hilt or top before the pommel. The net effect is to give a firmer and comfortable grip of the sword hand and to decorate the hilt.

Timo Nieminen 2nd October 2017 05:34 AM

Originally Posted by Ibrahiim al Balooshi
In noting the above pictorial on Quillons I deliberately placed Tulvar in the mix. The rainguard extension is in itself a type of quillon which can trap an opponents sliding blade and either snap it or disarm him...with a twist of the wrist. Comments please.

Langet, rather than quillon. While it can, in principle, trap blades, the main use is more everyday-functional, to fit the sword securely in the scabbard without ratting, and without making it difficult to draw. A similar function is performed by the Chinese tunkou and Japanese habaki (though on the inside of the scabbard rather than the outside).

Langets like this look like a fairly late development - the earliest that come to mind are some 13th century examples from Central Asia.

Langets which sit flush against the blade can have different functions: reinforcement of the attachment of the blade to hilt, reinforcement of the base of the blade, secure attachment of the guard to the blade.

Then there are langets which extend along the grip, which help secure the guard to the grip.

Ibrahiim al Balooshi 2nd October 2017 02:45 PM

9 Attachment(s)

Thank You Sir, I stand corrected . Here are a few illustrations...

Ibrahiim al Balooshi 2nd October 2017 03:13 PM

1 Attachment(s)

I include a look at daggers regarding Langets... One that stands out is the Bitchwa shown..From

Quote"The langets that hold the blade have the profile of the stylized palmate motifs found on the langets of many arms attributed to the Tanjore armory.''Unquote.

Ibrahiim al Balooshi 7th October 2017 01:02 AM

3 Attachment(s)
Here is an interesting discovery; now a key museum exhibit and with description at

As its Museum write up confirms...Quote “These rare sword fittings provide valuable clues about medieval trade and travel in Anglo-Saxon England,” Unquote.

Ibrahiim al Balooshi 13th October 2017 09:06 AM

Ecusson . I didnt know what this was until I looked it up... It is an ancient and important part of the hilt... Better known as the Quillon Block.

My sees it as ...Quote"Part of the guard of edged weapons consisting of a small block of metal with the tang passing through it, acting as a support for the shoulder of the blade and the base of the cross guard. This feature was absent throughout most of the Bronze Age, appearing in antiquity as an intermediate element between the grip and the blade, being slightly broader than the latter. With the appearance of quillons and other elements of the guard, its form and function became more defined; in fact, the quillons extended from it, as did the knuckleguard and the arms of the hilt. The quillon block was also called the ecusson."Unquote.

Ibrahiim al Balooshi 14th October 2017 03:18 PM

A note on Fullers... See for what I thought was a very good explanation...showing the fullering tools and technology.

Ibrahiim al Balooshi 19th October 2017 04:56 PM

The Blade. Depending on which sword school we are looking at the blade could be divided into many more parts than the usual three:

1. The Foible. The part near the blade.
2. The Terzo. The mid section between Foible and Forte.
3. The Forte. The part nearest the hilt.

The Foible (Feeble) is considered the weakest section whilst the strongest is the Forte (Fortified or Strongest).

Some schools especially Rapier divide into as many as 12 parts for refined skewering techniques! whilst 6 or 9 sections is not unusual.

All times are GMT. The time now is 09:27 AM.

Powered by: vBulletin Version 3.0.3
Copyright ©2000 - 2018, Jelsoft Enterprises Ltd.