View Single Post
Old 10th May 2011, 06:35 PM   #5
Ibrahiim al Balooshi
Ibrahiim al Balooshi's Avatar
Join Date: Jul 2006
Location: Buraimi Oman, on the border with the UAE
Posts: 3,985
Send a message via MSN to Ibrahiim al Balooshi
Default Omani Short Battle Sword; Origin.

Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
Hi Teodor,
Absolutely my pleasure as always. Good on noting the term sa'if used for the kaskara, which recalls the years I have spent trying to discover where in the world the term kaskara came from. Nobody in the Sudan, or Eritrea for that matter has ever heard the word, and I have had this researched all the way to the University of Khartoum!

What has always fascinated me is that the takouba and the kaskara, both North African broadsword cousins, have remained independant forms despite the constant traverse of caravans, nomadic tribal interaction and the entrance of trade blades from varying points of entry from varying directions.

The Tuareg swords have the rounded tip, the kaskaras typically have a spear point. The hilts remain simple yet quite different. The Hausas, from the farthest western regions in Nigeria and the prevalent trade center of Kano, were known for thier kaskara work.

The question of cross cultural diffusion and in which direction did influence move is a tough one and well placed. In the study of anthropology and archaeology these kinds of questions are resolved with dated and provenanced remains. With the movement of portable trade items such as weapons, it is hard unless soundly provenanced and dated examples are avialable. In general, one can follow the development of trade and colonial development by period in examining such examples.

The earlier Omani hilts may well have developed in Baluchistan as Elgood notes, and I of course subscribe heavily to his always well researched observations. These hilts are of the Muslim drooping quillon type hilt that seem to be evolved from these types of Hispano Moresque forms of the medieval period. It is also essentially a hilt with such features well emplaced in Central Asia (the paluaor from Afghanistan) to similar types in the Deccan (see Elgood, "Hindu Arms and Ritual").

In my opinion, Africa, particularly North Africa is what I would call 'reflective' in most situations. That is the weapons seem to reflect styles from foreign cultures, rather than their styles influencing others. This does not hold true necessarily in the obvious influence of ancient Egyptian weapons which have clearly influenced weapons across many African tribal cultures, and perhaps into the Middle East in ancient times.

For the most part, I would say weapons coming into Africa have influenced the forms there, not vice versa. Kaskaras and takoubas evolved from the broadswords of early Islam, becoming prevalent as trade blades began to come into Africa. The so called 'Zanzibar' sword became the s'boula of Morocco probably from basilards from Italian trade in Tunis; the koummya probably derived its hilt from the Venetian cinqueda, again Italian traders; the 'nimcha' (Moroccan sa'if) from Arab sa'if in turn from Italian hilt configurations (storte etc.). The double blade 'haladie' of Sudan is from the madu madu of India and known also as the Syrian knife, entered via Red Sea trade. The flyssa, evolved from Ottoman yataghans and in degree via that from early Meditteranean swords.

These are the ones I can think of offhand, but I cannot think of an example of African weapon that has turned up elsewhere . Im sure somebody will think of one though

Ramblin on as usual, and just expressing thoughts.
These really are great swords, and seem to have only recently begun to turn up. When I first found one about 10 years ago I thought I'd found Excalibur!

All the best,

Not being entirely sure where to post this missive on Omani Short Battle Swords I thought why not aim it at the top man !
The aim of this letter is to place the time link and motive for the Omani Short Battle Sword previously considered to be 16th century and lately suggested as 10th century though with little data and proof to that claim.
I intend to show due cause for its adaptation and a time scale bracket in which this occurred.
The reader will no doubt be perplexed by the myriad of seemingly religious and political sliding doors opening and closing in the region in the last 1500 years (see notes at foot of letter) and it is easy to see how a weapon such as this has become shrouded in mystery. Reference has also been made to the Nasrid sword however what follows is I hope a compelling political and religion and therefore geo political based argument which far outweighs the unseeming adoption of a Spanish sword from thousands of miles distant across virtually impassable deserts seas and mountains at that time. The Nasrid sword that has very little in common with the design but more importantly no visible motive or connection to the Omani Short Battle Sword.
The Topkapi museum holds the key. The Abbasid 9th Century Sword in their collection is compared to the Omani Short as follows;
1. Both are two edged Islamic Arab battle swords.
2. Both blades have an integral tang with an added pommel or cap.
3. Both have three holes in the handle which is similarly constructed with rivets.
4. Both weapons have quillons.
5. Both blades are wing shaped in cross section.
6. Both blades culminate in a point.
7. Both blades (though not all examples of the Omani sword) have the golden dot or dots on the blade. The dot in Islamic geometry is an important centre of the universe construct.
8. Both hilts are topped with a cap in the case of the Abbasid and an Islamic arch pommel on the Omani.
9. Neither blade has risers nor fullers.
10. Both blades are stiff and generally non flexible.
11. Both handles are octagonal in cross section *

Shield .
Though no shield is studied to accompany the Omani Sword it can be imagined that if the sword originates from the Abbasid then it is there that a comparative shield design should be studied. I have not, however, seen a shield emanating from the timescale suggested.

In studying the hilt a conundrum appears in the form of the distinctive collar absent in the Abbasid but present in the Omani. It is suggested that this is a strengthener giving rigidity to the turned down quillons and the entire lower half of the hilt of which it is part. Certainly without the collar the hilt would be much weaker and I suggest that this was therefore part of the redesign along with the Islamic Pommel both key to identifying this sword as Omani Ibadi. Note that the simple /\/\/\/\/\/\/\ design around the collar appears on most Omani Short swords and is likely to be Omani original reflecting once again the austerity in allowable decoration but also a distinct design as the general issue trademark of the Omani Ibadi troops.
A similar hilt appears on a Saudi sword though seemingly stretched to form a long handle on a longer blade. That sword may well be related, though is for now, outside the scope of this letter.

Time scale.
As can be seen by the short history Oman converted to Islam in the mid 7th Century and adopted the sect style Ibadi (Ibathi) in the 8th Century. They were attacked subjugated and punished by the Abbasid dynasty in the 8th and 9th centuries which sent troops from Baghdad.
"Jabir ibn Zayd, had come originally to Iraq from Oman and he returned to Oman as their leader". A highly successful leader he would certainly have seen the weapons used in the Abbasid centre, Baghdad, and could have personally transmitted the technology to Oman in the early to mid 8th Century.
Therefor the Abbasids were in Oman suppressing the Ibadis and trying to hold the territory and using Abbasid weapons.
[U]It puts the sword in Oman in the 8th and 9th Centuries.[/U]
Why would the Omanis not have adopted such an excellent sword as the Abbasid? This was the perfect opportunity to adopt such a weapon either capturing or adopting the sword directly as a result of coming into contact with it on the battlefield or even earlier since Jabr Ibn Zayed had seen it in use in Baghdad armories. In taking over a country from an invader it was customary for the winner to take all. It is entirely feasible that Jabir Ibn Zayds men adopted the Abbasid sword in the 8th Century(or even before)
"Jabir ibn Zayd's presence in Oman strengthened the existing Ibadi communities; in less than a century, the sect took over the country from the Sunni garrison that ruled it in the caliph's name".
Sword Design.
Abbasid delight in decoration versus Omani Ibadi staunch acceptance of a more austere less ostentatious approach may well be the reason for a more severe looking weapon and perhaps the novel Islamic design to the hollow Pommel. I suggest that the Islamic arch pommel and turned down quillons and the collar are all practical and religious additions to the weapon. Blade length may be slightly less than the Baghdad original however this is down to user stature as simply The Omani fighters were smaller in stature. The Pommel is spiked and could be used in close combat and the turned down quillons are for twisting the opponents sword from the hand. In other words this is an Ibadi Omani Sword designed and modified around the Abbasid example.

Conclusion . " The Omani Short Battle Sword" is designed around the 8th/ 9th Century Abbasid Sword with a few additions / changes to Quillons and Pommel and Collar. It was introduced due to religious and political differences driven by the caliphs in Baghdad on behalf of the Abbasid Dynasty and adapted by the Ibadi Omanis, thereafter, it froze in design for centuries perhaps up to the 19th Century though perhaps by the late 17th Century a new long Kattara possibly an Omani / African design began to exert its influence.
Ibrahim Al Balooshi
Short History Of Early Oman and the regions adjacent.
In the Islamic period, the prosperity of the gulf continued to be linked to markets in Mesopotamia. Accordingly, after 750 the gulf prospered because Baghdad became the seat of the caliph and the main center of Islamic civilization. Islam brought great prosperity to Iraq during this period, thus increasing the demand for foreign goods. As a result, gulf merchants roamed farther and farther afield. By the year 1000, they were traveling regularly to China and beyond, and their trading efforts were instrumental in spreading Islam, first to India and then to Indonesia and Malaysia.
The Islam they spread, however, was often sectarian. Eastern Arabia was a center for both Kharijites and Shia; in the Middle Ages, the Ismaili Shia faith constituted a particularly powerful force in the gulf. Ismailis originated in Iraq, but many moved to the gulf in the ninth century to escape the Sunni authorities. Whereas the imam was central to the Ismaili tradition, the group also recognized what they referred to as "missionaries" (dua; sing., dai), figures who spoke for the imam and played major political roles. One of these missionaries was Hamdan Qarmat, who sent a group from Iraq to Bahrain in the ninth century to establish an Ismaili community. From their base in Bahrain, Qarmat's followers, who became known as Qarmatians, sent emissaries throughout the Muslim world.
The Qarmatians are known for their attacks on their opponents, including raids on Baghdad and the sack of Mecca and Medina in 930. For much of the tenth century, the Ismailis of Bahrain were the most powerful force in the Persian Gulf and the Middle East. They controlled the coast of Oman and collected tribute from the caliph in Baghdad as well as from a rival Ismaili imam in Cairo, whom they did not recognize.
By the eleventh century, Ismaili power had waned. The Qarmatians succumbed to the same forces that had earlier threatened centers on the gulf coast--the ambitions of strong leaders in Mesopotamia or Persia and the incursion of tribes from the interior. In 985 armies of the Buyids, a Persian dynasty, drove the Ismailis out of Iraq, and in 988 Arab tribes drove the Ismailis out of Al Ahsa, an oasis they controlled in eastern Arabia. Thereafter, Ismaili presence in the gulf faded, and in the twentieth century the sect virtually disappeared.
Ibadis figured less prominently than the Shia in the spread of Islam. A stable community, the Ibadi sect's large following in Oman has helped to distinguish Oman from its gulf neighbors. Ibadis originated in Iraq, but in the early eighth century, when the caliph's representative began to suppress the Ibadis, many left the area. Their leader at the time, Jabir ibn Zayd, had come to Iraq from Oman, so he returned there. Jabir ibn Zayd's presence in Oman strengthened the existing Ibadi communities; in less than a century, the sect took over the country from the Sunni garrison that ruled it in the caliph's name. Their leader, Al Julanda ibn Masud, became the Ibadi imam of Oman.
In the Ibadi tradition, imams are elected by a council of religious scholars, who select the leader that can best defend the community militarily and rule it according to religious principles. Whereas Sunnis and Shia traditionally have focused on a single leader, referred to as caliph or imam, Ibadis permit regions to have their own imams. For instance, there have been concurrent Ibadi imams in Iraq, Oman, and North Africa.
Because of the strong sense of community among Ibadis, which resembles tribal feelings of community, they have predominated in the interior of Oman and to a lesser degree along the coast. In 752, for example, a new line of Sunni caliphs in Baghdad conquered Oman and killed the Ibadi imam, Al Julanda. Other Ibadi imams arose and reestablished the tradition in the interior, but extending their rule to the coastal trading cities met opposition. The inland empires of Persia and Iraq depended on customs duties from East-West trade, much of which passed by Oman. Accordingly, the caliph and his successors could not allow the regional coastal cities out of their control.
As a result, Oman acquired a dual nature. Ibadi leaders usually controlled the mountainous interior while, for the most part, foreign powers controlled the coast. People in the coastal cities have often been foreigners or have had considerable contact with foreigners because of trade. Coastal Omanis have profited from their involvement with outsiders, whereas Omanis in the interior have tended to reject the foreign presence as an intrusion into the small, tightly knit Ibadi community. Ibadi Islam has thus preserved some of the hostility toward outsiders that was a hallmark of the early Kharijites.
While the imam concerned himself with the interior, the Omani coast remained under the control of Persian rulers. The Buyids in the late tenth century eventually extended their influence down the gulf as far as Oman. In the 1220s and 1230s, another group, the Zangids--based in Mosul, Iraq--sent troops to the Omani coast; around 1500 the Safavids, an Iranian dynasty, pushed into the gulf as well. The Safavids followed the Twelver Shia tradition and imposed Shia beliefs on those under their rule. Thus, Twelver communities were established in Bahrain and to a lesser extent in Kuwait.
Oman's geographic location gave it access not only to the Red Sea trade but also to ships skirting the coast of Africa. By the end of the fifteenth century, however, a Persian ruler, the shaykh of Hormuz, profited most from this trade. The shaykh controlled the Persian port that lay directly across the gulf from Oman, and he collected customs duties in the busy Omani ports of Qalhat and Muscat. Ibadi imams continued to rule in the interior, but until Europeans entered the region in the sixteenth century, Ibadi rulers were unable to reclaim the coastal cities from the Iranians.
Data of footnotes as of January 1993.
Ibrahiim al Balooshi is offline   Reply With Quote