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Old 24th August 2021, 07:30 PM   #1
awdaniec666's Avatar
Join Date: May 2021
Location: Northern Germany
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Lightbulb The Ultimate Karabela Guide

Hello there!
Id like to start a new thread about sabers of the Karabela type. I have already seen an old one on this forum which seems abandoned for a while.

My goal is to share and gather information consisting of pictures and data on weapon-architecture (point of balance, blade lenght etc.) and design linked with specific time periods and origin.

I will post information condensed in parts for this thread.

This topic has been researched with passion by people like Andrzej Nadolski, Wojciech Zablocki, Zdzislaw Zygulski or Wlodzimierz Kwasniewicz. I will share information I have gathered from many of these sources and original antiques. This could be interesting to non-polish speakers since I dont know of any translations of their works and authentic antiques are hard to get ones hands on.

The following text is meant to be useful for beginners and people already familiar with sabers in general. If anybody wants more information or is seeing wrong information on a certain topic, please comment.

I am aware of the fact that it is necessary to use some form of classification when talking about "swords". I would propose using the one set up by Wojciech Zablocki since its the easiest, yet still an accurate one.

One disclaimer left:
Andrzej Nadolski, one of the godfathers of antique polish saber research wrote in his book "Polish Arms" that the saber we call "Karabela" was called "szabla czarna" (Black saber) back then.
What does he mean by that? He further (fully rightly) distinguishes between
battle and parade version of sabers with that typical "Karabela"-hilt. In his opinion "szabla czarna" meant the battle-version, the term Karabela however is said to be used for the parade versions (Karabela kontuszowa; "kontusz" is the traditional polish dress from the sarmation period in Poland reaching its peak in times of Jan III Sobieski in the late 17th century. Polish nobleman (Szlachta) wore decorative versions to this dress. Sometimes with easy replacable hilts for further battle use of the blade).

I dont aim at researching the origin of the word Karabela or the origin of the saber/hilt as primary question since this topic leads to a lot of opinions and further professional historical research needs to be done and I am not a historian but a passionate on antique polish arms. This is important to me.

Writing this text I saw different passages sounding like my appreciation goes solely to the Polish variant of this saber type. This is not the case and I assure that this little work is free of politics and more, there has been always admiration from the polish side towards the near-eastern culture.


I am aware of traditional terms for sword parts. Since Im not an native english speaker, nor a polish one, I will translate some parts directly when it comes to Karabela-specific parts. I apologize for wrong terminology and will be happy and thankful for helpful constructive critique.

Since there is no actual pommel on the Karabela hilt, I will still use this term for the eagle-shaped end of the hilt. The polish term for that is "glowica" meaning something like "the heading".

Feather: Directly translated from the polish "pioro". This is the part on blades which have a sharpened false edge. The feather includes the whole part of the blade from the beginning of this false edge towards the tip. Since not all blades have sharpened false edges, not all blades have a feather. The feather is often marked by a "hammer". The term used for this part in english literature is the turkish word "Yelmen".

Hammer: Direct translation from "mlotek". This means a prominent part on the false edge on the blade often seperating the feather from the rest of the blade. Its purpose is thought to strenghten the blade architecture and force distribution. Some blades have one, some do not.

Beard(s): Translation from "wasy". This is the horizontal part going up-and downwards off the quillons. The beard going towards the blade is made to seal and rest on the surface of the sabers scabbard. The one going towards the grip is part of the grip attachment. (I searched for langets but am usure if its the same, sorry!)

Szewrony: "V-shaped" cuttings in the softer shell-parts of the grip made to protect the grip from slipping out of the hand.



Wojciech Zablockis (Further: "Mr.Z") classification of karabela-hilt sabers
(Source: "Ciecia prawdziwa szabla" 1989, p. 76)

Mr.Z: Has been a famous polish olympic fencer in the 70s and professional architect. As a passionate on antique polish arms he researched sabers especially from a fencers point of view. He described the combat characteristics for antique sabers and extracted theorys of practical fencing use for these weapons. His main interest lied in battle versions. Parade versions of sabers are uncommon in his analysis. Therefore the following classification describes those sabers which were knowingly used in battle or offer themselves by design to be used in such.

Mr. Z. categorizes polish sabers into different groups numbered with roman numbers. Class "I" are sabers we recognize as "16th-18th century polish hussar sabers". Those sabers we understand as "Karabela" are given the number "II".
He suggests dividing class II into three sub-groups: IIa, IIb and IIc.
Differences are mainly in blade design, but also partially hilt design too.

All class II sabers have the specific hilt design in common which looks like an abstract eagle head looking from the flat sides of the blade.

This classification is, of course, an open one, meaning there is no black and white. Some sabers share and mix characteristics.


Mr. Zs classification

"Sabers with blades shapes consisting of a changing curvature (meaning "not forming a part of a perfect circle) and a broadened tip with a hammer with an anatomical grip broadening towards the pommel used from the 17th to the first half of the 18th century.

Sabers with blades shaped as part of a perfect circle, without broadened, with an anatomical grip not broadening towards the pommel, used in the second hald of the 18th century.

Short sabers ("tasak", old word which comes from czech meaning chopper, see also: Dussack/dussege. Tassak->Dussack->Dussege; sometimes called sinclair saber by english speakers but that isnt the same at all) with short and broad blades, with anatomical grips, broadening towards the pommel and quillons often bend towards the tip. Used in the 17th-18th century.



"Class II sabers have the following functional-constructional atributes:
IIa and IIb are designed for tangential cuts from the wrist (Fencing on foot) and chopping cuts from the shoulder (Fighting from horseback). Under the defensive point of view this sabers are made for reflecting/deflecting parades."

Explanation for non-fencers: There are static parades (blocks/parries) and dynamic ones. The dynamic ones can be deflecting (adjusting the own blade to let the opponents blade slide down it) and reflecting parades (answering the opponents attack with a quick and short hit against the incoming attack to "deflect" the enemy and quickly do a riposte (answer-attack)). Class II is supposed to be used in the last manner since it enables the fencer to act very fast in theory. Mr.Z. claims this fencing style is easy to learn by beginners and very useful for experienced fencers.

Holding the Class II saber: One can hold the saber like a hammer with the thumb around the grip (Horseback-fighting) or place the thumb on the back of the grip for additional control (Fencing on foot). The main advantage of the specific "beak of the eagle" is in locking ones pinky finger tighly on it to ensure a secure grip. This is what he means when describing this grip as "anatomical".


Grip construction (Based on my experience and knowledge from literature and authentic antiques)

There are two ways class II hilts can be built. The main idea is to have the eagle-head shaped grip parts made of wood, bone or other materials securely attached to the blade by stabilizing it with metal parts shaped in the same form.

1. "Simple sandwich design"/"Full-tang-design": The blade has been made in a way that the tang already has been shaped in eagle-head form. Either primarily or secondary: Forging it in one go or attaching a plate to a simple tang afterwards. The softer grip plates are now attached by rivets through (mostly 3) holes in that tang from both sides. This is the strongest construction. It shares similarities with the hilt design of the german "Langes Messer".

2.1. "Uni-Blade-Design": The blade is made with a simple, thin and round tang met on sabers of all kinds. This same tang can be also peened to a pommel-style hilt in a typical "sword-manner". Since we want it to be mounted on a class II hilt, we need to weld it secondarily to a eagle-head shaped piece of metal which forms a "tub". "Tub" means it forms edges going in a 90 angle away from the flat piece for the softer "shell-parts" (again, wood, bone or other materials) to be placed securely in there.

2.2. The tub construction can be replaced with a simple flat metal plate. The break between the soft shell-parts and the metal can be now covered with a metal tape around the grip. This construction is the weakest one and many of antique saber hilts made this way are in bad condition after those 300-200 years.


The raw way of differentiating a polish Class II saber from near-eastern (NE) ones after Mr.Z.

This is only valid for Class II sabers in our context!

- Polish grips have an eagle-beak which forms an angle of max. 90 to the grip. Near-eastern hilts can be bent in the same angle but are mostly more open (>90). More open beaks are an advantage in certain fencing techniques but carry a higher risk of losing the weapon when parried hardly.

- Polish grips are rounded, not flat, with the back of the grip still narrower then the sides. This enables the fencer to carry out moulinets. Near-eastern hilts tend to have more round grips.

- Polish blades (Blade made for polish class II sabers) are shaped to form a curvature consisting of two perfect circle-parts (here you have to differentiate between IIa, IIb and IIc) with a short straight part between them. Near-eastern blades (Again, I mean blades for NE-sabers) tend to have more complicated shapes.

- Polish blades commonly have a more pronounced "feather" in opposition to NE ones. There are known examples of the opposite, but keep in mind there is no black and white and we do a generalization here.

- Polish grips broaden towards the pommel. Szewrons, rivets and all decoration are always made to protect from sliding and ease the holding of the weapon. NE-grips stay the same thickness and decorative elements have no functionality.

Mr.Zs short usage conclusion: NE-style sabers were mainly designed for chopping attacks from the shoulder. Polish sabers had the "advantage" of a grip designed for movement from the wrist. Overall, thse differences are not a big deal and come in play when comparing advanced fencing styles.


Quillons and beards

The Quillons can be straight, forming a cross or bend towards the tip. Class II sabers have no knuckle-bow or any other protection. Quillon lenght goes from 8 to 14 cm. They were made of stell or brass. Endings had different shapes but always in a simple style like spheres or rhomboids. Those bend towards the tip could have fish-tail looking shapes.

Beards are mostly from 7-9 cm in lenght (both together), mostly formed triangular with a rounded peak.


Who used the Class II saber in the 17th and 18th century (Mr.Z.s Overview)

- Ottoman Empire (mainly auxillary troops from the balkans, see Side-Info 1)
- Russia
- Moldavia
- Armenia
- Poland-Lithuania
- Marocco (similar style but with very short quillons; Museum Armeria Reala, Madrid, Spain; Items No. M45 and M46)

Side-info 1: In 16th and 17th century ottoman armies armor w asstored and distributed centrally, sabers were given out by the provinces setting out certain troops.



This one is interesting and helpful. To enable scientific comparison of whole weapons when it comes to handling and way of usage, Mr.Z set up a simple equasion:


A: Blade lenght in mm
B: Point of balance (PoB) in mm (usually measured from the middle of the quillons)

He took this data from many sabers in museums and private collections to determine "standarts".

His results for the polish ones:

- Polish Class II: 3,50 - 4,00 (main mass is located towards the hilt)
- Polish Class I: 4,5 - 5,5

(Keep in mind that blade were often re-used. If a Class I saber blade would be used on a Class II hilt this variable would grow to over 5,5)

He introduced a compoment C: Maximum curvature (this is measured from 1. the straight line (lets call it line X) between middle of quillons to the tip and 2. the point on the blade located farest away from that line X.

The following logical step is therefore (A:B):C

Polish Class II: 4-8
Ottoman Class II: 9-24

Please comment!
Part 2 will consist of few selected examples with images
Until then!!!

Last edited by awdaniec666; 25th August 2021 at 06:19 PM.
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karabela, polish, saber, szabla

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