EAA Research Consultant
Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Route 66
Reviewing some resources at hand has given me some perspective on this interesting question that Ariel has posted, suggesting that he has either some interest in this subject and I would imagine, has formed his own opinions on this. Meanwhile, Gonzalo has posted well placed information, and I will try to add more of what I have discovered in review of my resources at hand.
I think that the Moroccan and Zanzibari nimchas are not inclusive in the subject of the Hispano-Moresque 'jineta' and the apparantly atavistic version in the mysterious Omani kattara of early form. Having said that, I think it is best to consider these distinctly formed hilt styles and focus on their possible ancestry. While the history of the Zenatas and the geopolitics of Spain in the medieval period is fascinating, I hope I can address the question without that complexity.
As Gonzalo has aptly noted, we do not know what form the tribal groups that became known collectively as Zeneta in pre-Islamic times, but as they are believed from Tunisian regions, some research on those regions in period may reveal clues. As noted, we do know that by the 8th century, most of the groups were distinctly Muslim, and these Berber warriors were well established in Andulusian armies. By the 15th century, it is noted however that these light horsemen equipped a la jineta (for Zeneta) though numerous, "...much of thier equipment was imported from Italy, though Spain had a long established armament industry". ("Fernando El Catolico", David Nicolle, Military Illustrated #44, January, 1992, p.48).
While this would seem to suggest that European weapons were prevalent, and possible influence was there, there is no qualified estimation of how prevalent. It is noted further a suggestion of an earlier form of weapon existing in the description of the war sword of Ferdinand the Catholic "...a magnificent late 15th century weapon in an older Iberian-Islamic tradition; it is distinctly related to lighter Granadan swords such as the superb surviving 'jinete' sword of Boabdil". ( M.I. #44, op.cit. p.51)
The sword of Boabdil is the distinct form of Hispano-Moresque jinete, with pointed dome pommel, and profusely ornate with the quillons dropping straight downward, parallel to the blade. The Ferdinand sword has the gently drooping guard with drooping inner quillons associated somewhat with European 'crab claw' type hilts.
In "El Cid and the Reconquista 1050-1492" (D.Nicolle, 1988, Osprey200) these distinct 'jinete' hilts are shown on p.19 (fig. I) as late 14th century, and on p.46 (plate F2) being wielded by a Qadi (religious judge) of late 14th century. It is noted that "...the decorated light sword is described of Grenadine form, a weapon originally developed for light cavalry a la jinete".
It is also noted that some of these jinete swords were richly decorated, probably as gifts or bribes for neighboring Christian aristocrats (p.36).
The sword of Boabdil is illustrated and described in David Nicolle's article "Abu 'Abdullah' Muhammed XI Boabdil of Granada" (M.I. #43, Dec.1991, p.50) and is apparantly held in the Museo del Ejercito in Madrid.
Turning to the later representation of this distinct sword type, the Omani kattara shown in Robert Elgood's "Arms and Armour of Arabia" ( 1994, pp.17,18, fig. 2.13 and 2.15) shows these hilts structurally of essentially the same form of the 'jineta' discussed, but with decorative coverings missing, the dramatic downward quillons vestigial. There is no definite ancestry offered for these swords which are considered of 17th to 18th century (despite an auction catalog with 12th-14th c. date suggested without specific support). Though there is no agreed regional provenance on these, it does seem clear that they are reflective of the 14th century jineta's of the form discussed.
These jineta swords, with dramatically straight downward guard extensions that run parallel to the blade, rather than being guard quillons, particularly with elaborate decoration as in the Boabdil sword, seem to reflect an almost architectural characteristic.
At this point, I feel that these distinct hilts of the jineta, and the later example appearing in the early Omani kattara, are reflective of the medieval period in Moorish Spain, and are most likely decorative forms derived perhaps in exaggerated form of much simpler weapons used by jineta forces.
While the reference to the sword of Ferdinand suggests association in its downturned quillons to the Boabdil jineta, I feel that this rather benign form in comparison relates more to cross influence with the European forms.
While this certainly does not answer the question, it has prompted me to learn more on the forms noted, which I have tried to share here.As always, I hope that others might have access to material that would describe the weapons used by the Zenete in North Africa, as well as early Granadan swords that might have been prototypes for the jinete.