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Old 18th July 2019, 05:51 PM   #1
Jim McDougall
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Default Possible origins of the yataghan hilt form

In reading a current thread discussing possible regional classifications of one of these 'swords', I wanted to look into the possible connections and ancestry of the yataghan hilt form. I have read that technically the yataghan weapon type most commonly recognized is actually 'regarded' as a 'knife'. We are well familiar with the seemingly cavalier use of the yataghan term with 'Khyber knives' which are clearly a short sword of sorts.

It seems that it is commonly held that the so called 'eared' daggers of Luristan from as early as 1500 BC may have been an ancient inspiration for the Ottoman yataghan hilt. While this seems a compelling theory, there does not seem to be any linear connection to these Ottoman hilts which seem to have evolved around 15th to 16th century, but more common in 17th-19th.

The 'paired disc' pommels appear to have been one of a number of dagger hilt forms which are typically attributed to Luristan (a province of western Iran situated in Zagros mountains) in about 1st millennium BC. Some scholars have claimed that the Luristan attribution lends more to dealer descriptions from many looted artifacts from 1920s and 30s and that these weapons were probably Iranian proper and perhaps diplomatic gifts rather than indigenous weapons in Luristan.

While some of the Scythian (700-200BC) 'akinakes' had paired voluted scrolls as pommel features, these do not seem particularly relevant to the large ear or disc style of more recent yataghan hilts.

In the 12-13th century, a type of thrusting dagger known as a 'rondel (for dual discs at pommel and guard) was used by knights, with the discs securing the grip of the hand in a thrusting stab. It would seem that the later 'eared' dagger with slightly canted discs on either side of the pommel was intended to secure the thumb over the pommel in again, a thrusting stab.

These 'eared' daggers seem to have appeared in Spain about late 14th c. and diffused into Italy with Moorish workers who went there. The French called them daga a 'orielles and the Italians 'daga alla levantina' ...attributing 'Oriental' style.

It seems there was some apocryphal reference I read years ago which suggested the Ottoman hilt with this eared or flared shape was from the use of a sheeps femur in early instance. While it is compelling to suggest that shape has similarity, it seems doubtful such symbolism viable.

I am more inclined to think that the same influences in the trade networks with these 'eared' daggers produced in Venice might have inspired the Ottoman form hilt. Again, while these recurved blade (in use far earlier than these hilts of course) weapons become virtually iconic in the Ottoman Empire, they seem to have evolved into many variant styled hilts which deviate but in degree still carry the flared or eared theme.
The blade itself became known as 'yataghan' and that has expanded far beyond the hilt form as we know.

Upper left images : Persian dagger c. 1000BC assoc. with the 'Luristan' eared form. This is termed 'bearded' .
3: the Scythian 'akinakes' (forms varied) with paired scrolls.
4: The 'rondel' dagger
5: the European eared dagger
6: same

As always, I welcome corrections and additions as one of the key functions is to learn and discover, and comparing and adding evidence and support is essential. These are findings I have read through in the past several days researching, and trying to recall discussions of years ago, so obviously I may be 'off center' in places (to put it mildly).

While most discussions on yataghans have focused on regional classifications, terminology and such elements of the somewhat widely diffused types, I wanted to look more into the evolution of the form.
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Last edited by Jim McDougall : 18th July 2019 at 06:10 PM.
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Old 18th July 2019, 06:54 PM   #2
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Default Addendum on the So Called Luristan

Attached image of the 'eared' form of these Bronze Age daggers with the paired discs.
While bronze daggers from regions in S.Azerbijian, Talish, Dailaman, Geoy Tepe, Hasanlu have been found in graves and finds they are not all of this form. There seem to have been varying hilts, but these discoid or 'ear' shaped pommels are most notable.

It is suggested they may have been status oriented or votive and have to do with religious situations (one was found in the Caspian Sea and thought to perhaps have been thrown in). There are scenes of gods of the Hittite pantheon c. 1300 BCE with daggers and similar hilts according to one reference.
In another case a miniature of one of these with paired disc pommel is noted as 'votive' further suggesting that attribution.

Returning to the original theme of this thread, does it seem possible that these ancient daggers may have inspired the eared type effect of the yataghan hilts of 17th-19th c. ?

Or, are these hilts more likely to have been influenced by the eared daggers of Europe in late Middle Ages to Renaissance?
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Old 18th July 2019, 07:07 PM   #3
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Hi Jim

For the blade shape don't forget the Greek kopis.

For the hilt, well I'm sure that it is Eastern, look at the shashqa and the Afghan chura knife. So i vote for your bronze eastern daggers.

But I'm not a specialist like the experts on this forum!!

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Old 18th July 2019, 08:19 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kubur
Hi Jim

For the blade shape don't forget the Greek kopis.

For the hilt, well I'm sure that it is Eastern, look at the shashqa and the Afghan chura knife. So i vote for your bronze eastern daggers.

But I'm not a specialist like the experts on this forum!!




Dont underestimate yourself Kubur! I follow your posts and know better

Exactly right, the kopis was definitely a root form for many eastern blades, and the Ottomans had variations of it in use for many centuries before these distinct hilts came into being. It seems that the term 'yataghan' has become interchangable for the hilt and blade shape in many cases, often of course misapplied.

Good points on the Afghan knife (commonly termed choora but that is another debate) and the shashka. It is tempting to consider the same influences I have described here as possible sources, whether indeed ancient (Iran) or the Renaissance European forms through trade.

The only thing about the bronze daggers is that they do not appear to have been forms which remained in use in a linear fashion, and the long gap in time between them and the European (or Ottoman) types is considerable.
Archaeology is a relatively new science so 'ancient' examples were not known..unless through iconographic sources.
That would mean the eared form from Eastern provenance would represent some 'revival' or commemorative traditional inspiration.

But, we know that has many times been the case, so your well reasoned position is well placed.

Thank you Kubur.
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Old 18th July 2019, 09:45 PM   #5
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Jim,

These are questions that will probably never be answered with an absolute degree of certainty, and so by reading this thread, everyone has to do it with the understanding that the vast majority of anything written here is pure conjecture.

When it comes to the hilt form, it is best to start by looking at the earliest yataghans - most have probably seen Suleiman's, the Furusiyya Foundation book shows one belonging to Herzeg Khan made in the same workshop, and there is also Byazid II's yataghan. The early hilts tend to be similar to those of other Ottoman weapons from that time. None of them have eared pommels, those tend to appear later. The ears are a later development, and probably more connected to the need for a bigger pommel than to any femur symbolic meaning - in some areas the ears remained quite small well into the 19th century.

The blade is where we can all go wild with various theories. The downward curve is not something one finds in Central Asia (unless you want to go to Nepal and try to find similarities with khukris) so it does not seem likely that it was brought by the Seljuks and their Ottoman descendants. There are blades of similar shape in the Balkans from Antiquity - Thracian sicas and makhairas. Those obviously fell out of military use with the development of military technology and tactics in Late Antiquity and the Dark Ages. Eastern Roman sources, such as strategikons keep using the term makhaira, but more in the sense of a large knife/short sword and not referring to the ancient weapon form (see Kolias and Bruhn Hoffmeyer on the subject). However, just because the form used its military significance, it does not mean that it just disappeared for a millennium or so - it probably survived in a down sized version with utilitarian functions.

With the Ottoman conquest of the Balkans and the restrictions on arms the new Ottoman administration imposed on the peasant population, there was probably a need for a self defense weapon which was not subject to the restrictions, such as swords, but still allowed the bearer some real functionality in battle. Thus, the yataghan emerged in the Balkans in the 15th century as a really long knife. There are parallels with other cultures, from Central European bauerwehrs to arm daggers in the Sahel allowed to slaves and lower castes.

Regards,
Teodor
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Old 19th July 2019, 05:49 AM   #6
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Thank you so much for this excellent synopsis Teodor! If this summary is 'conjecture' then it is profoundly well ratiocinated as such, and presents a most reasonable overview of these weapons. Actually I was hoping you would come in on this as I have long considered your expertise in yataghans and most of the weapons in these areas as most reliable. That is fully supported by the many outstanding entries you have made in discussions on these over a decade and longer.

Well noted on the fact that the Ottoman yataghans did not have these 'eared hilts' initially. It seems these were more of a Balkan innovation, and I agree the sheep femur suggestion is an apocryphal note (I wish I could remember where I saw it).

I still wonder what pragmatic reason might explain these unusually large pommel arrangements.
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Old 19th July 2019, 05:50 AM   #7
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This topic is very interesting!

Yes, there are undeniable similarities between the "eared" yataghan hilts and the "eared" hilts of the Luristan period, but is there a real connection between them?!

While the common appearance tends to indicate that the yataghan hilt was inspired by the earlier examples, we should also consider the posibility that everything is a simple coincidence.

So, it is possible that the yataghan hilt evolved towards the "eared" shape completely independently from the earlier examples of the bronze age, and solely driven by functionality and aestethics. In other words, it was the function that lead to the appearance of the proeminent "eared" shape.

And I tend to favour this hypotesis since between the bronze examples and the later yataghan ones, is a time gap of a about 2000 years without any continuity of the shape inbetween.

The same can be said about the shape of the blade since between the use of the kopis and the appearance of the recurved yataghan, more than 2000 years have passed without any historical evidence of continuity inbetween.
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Old 19th July 2019, 06:12 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall

I still wonder what pragmatic reason might explain these unusually large pommel arrangements.


A HEMA practitioner will probably be able to give a better explanation, but the yataghan is a weapon optimized for chopping, and not for stabbing, with the point rarely used. Therefore, no guard is necessary, but a larger pommel assists with maintaining control over the grip and drawing back the weapon after a strike.
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Old 19th July 2019, 07:29 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TVV
A HEMA practitioner will probably be able to give a better explanation, but the yataghan is a weapon optimized for chopping, and not for stabbing, with the point rarely used. Therefore, no guard is necessary, but a larger pommel assists with maintaining control over the grip and drawing back the weapon after a strike.


That makes sense, and clearly the yataghan blade with its recurve and overall character is not in the least conducive to stabbing. I was actually wondering if perhaps the aesthetic of the early daggers, which WERE for stabbing, might have been brought forward in an atavistic sense.

It does seem that certain weapons have a range of sizes which maintain the same hilt form such as the flyssa. The yataghan itself seems to have evolved from smaller short sword sizes into sometimes full size swords (though the term itself is said to refer to a 'knife').

The notion of a larger hilt to support the hand in chopping or slashing cuts does make sense, and sometimes the nature of certain hilts defy reasonable purpose in the actual dynamics of the sword in use.

Marius, I agree that coincidence or convergent development is always possible, but often the strong similarities compel further look into possible connections. I have often felt that iconographic sources such as depictions in friezes or sculptures for example, might influence cultures many centuries or more later to produce weapons ancestrally representative of more ancient times. In some cases in Africa we can see similarity to certain images in Egyptian art which are remarkably like more recent African forms.

That was why I mentioned the 'eared' dagger form from depictions in ancient Hittite pantheon representations.

As Teodor has noted, these are ideas that are admittedly speculation and conjecture, but worthy of note for discussion.
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