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Old 4th June 2019, 05:35 PM   #1
Jim McDougall
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Default On the Flyssa

The recent discussion re: telek arm daggers from Algerian regions has reminded me of other Berber weapons from Algeria, namely the 'flyssa' of the Kabyles tribes.

It seems that there was some confusion in Stone (1934, p.234, fig. 291) when he listed the flyssa as the national sword of Morocco. As obviously the Kabyles are known from the Kabylia regions of Algeria, particularly the Iflysen tribe, for which the 'flyssa' was named by the French.

I once found an explanation for this apparent misplacement in the Stone reference suggesting that the Kabyles seem to have largely followed the Sunni Malakite rite, which was primarily situated in Morocco. While this is an interesting, if not tenuous explanation, I admit I have not pursued it further.
I did find however, that there are 'Kabyles' situated in the Atlas regions of Morocco, but whether the flyssa existed with these groups unknown.
(see PHOTO #1, the Atlas range extends from the Djurdjura range to the west into Morocco).
There have been notable diasporas of the Kabyle people out of Algerian regions rather constantly even into recent times due to conflicts.

This is but one of the mysteries of these distinct sword/knives of the Kabyles in Algerian regions we term 'flyssa'.
The most prevalent is, what weapon influenced its form, and when?

According to the landmark work on these:
" Sabres Kabyles" by Camille Lacoste-Dujardin (1958)
in 'Journal de la Societe des Africanistes" XXVIII

the earliest record of the 'flyssa' was one presented by the consul of Algeria to Spanish King Ferdinand VII in 1827. This example is seen in "Spanish Arms and Armor" (Calvert, 1907) listed as item 1604. Here it is listed as a 'gourma' (dagger) while #1580, a yataghan is listed as dagger of Kabyles.
More labeling problems.....but clearly 1604 is the flyssa.

This interesting mislabel does however suggest the strong similarity between the two forms.

Apparently the flyssa is still in the Armeria Real in Spain as item G170. (PHOTO #3)

PHOTO #2:
In "Armi Bianchi Italiene" (Boccia & Coelho, 1975) item #774 is a dagger said to be from Naples, with date 1774 on blade. This item is remarkably flyssa like, and the date is of course provocative. It seems clear this form existed well before the 1827 mark in the previous event.
It has been suggested the straight deep belly blade yataghan of late 16th-17th may be the influence through the Ottomans, but remains speculative.

What seems key on flyssas is the range of their size (PHOTO #4) Recently this variation in size was in question as they can range from dagger size, to rather lengthy versions. While the main decorative theme seems somewhat Byzantine with talismanic value devices entwined, there seem to be more individualistic devices and symbols in the upper part of the blade.
This, as well as the dramatic variation in size, probably owes to the idea that these are essentially a young mans personal rite of passage weapon, and were custom made to each in degree.

It has never, as far as I have known, been agreed on just how these flyssa were used, at least the sword types and of notable length. These are terribly balanced, and the relatively small unsupported and unguarded grip seem difficult if not unlikely for use in action.


While I have placed most of this as a sort of synopsis of our present knowledge on the flyssa, I would welcome thoughts ,ideas, examples on some of the aspects I have mentioned.
Beyond that I simply wanted to illustrate the flyssa as yet another key weapon in the Saharan regions along with the telek and s'boula.
There are others as well of course, but these have been most currently discussed.
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Last edited by Jim McDougall : 4th June 2019 at 05:48 PM.
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Old 8th June 2019, 02:47 AM   #2
Battara
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If I remember this right, this topic was also briefly discussed in another thread, although I don't remember which one, and it was in another thread I think. I think it deserves its own thread, so thanks (or Zukran) Jim.

An even earlier influence might be the early Greek kopis, which I don't think ever really went out of fashion until the late 19c (i.e. the yataghan).

My question is how does one wield the Kabyle incarnation of this form? I can see the stabbing, but the chopping? - only to a point (every pun intended ).

This is another pondering that is different from that which I mentioned in the other thread.

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Old 8th June 2019, 07:36 AM   #3
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
PHOTO #2:
In "Armi Bianchi Italiene" (Boccia & Coelho, 1975) item #774 is a dagger said to be from Naples, with date 1774 on blade. This item is remarkably flyssa like, and the date is of course provocative. It seems clear this form existed well before the 1827 mark in the previous event.
It has been suggested the straight deep belly blade yataghan of late 16th-17th may be the influence through the Ottomans, but remains speculative.


Hi Jim,

Again you used your little trick to open a new thread...
The knife that you posted is very interesting. To me it's an Algerian Ottoman kard and the date was added later (the date is very eary i wonder if it's a commemorative date).

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Old 8th June 2019, 06:59 PM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kubur
Hi Jim,

Again you used your little trick to open a new thread...
The knife that you posted is very interesting. To me it's an Algerian Ottoman kard and the date was added later (the date is very eary i wonder if it's a commemorative date).

Kubur



You know me too well Kubur! Actually I did want to reopen dialogue on the flyssa with a synopsis of what we have determined thus far, after many years of discussions. The knife noted I thought was interesting with its resounding 'flyssa' character, and this inscription , which I agree seems to be of a commemorative nature. While tempting to suggest early Italian association with the form, naturally the Ottoman source for the form is pretty well established.
It simply seemed worthy of note, and may well be an Italian interpretation of the flyssa form along with other dagger types perhaps created later.
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Old 9th June 2019, 08:43 AM   #5
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Hi,
I want to offer a different interpretation for the Napoli dagger, though I admit it is both a long shot and disappointing.
To me, this looks like a fantasy piece because it is supposedly made in Naples, but clearly made in the Greek/Ottoman 19th c style. If you look at the date, as far as this picture allows close inspection, I see 1334, not 1774. My guess is that this is Hijri date corresponding to 1915/1916. I have no idea why: an orientalist interpretation for rarities cabinet? a dagger made for a Muslim merchant in his favorite style? All pure guesses. But the blade of this dagger does not look functional and the Greek connection is clear.
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Old 9th June 2019, 09:16 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by motan
Hi,
I want to offer a different interpretation for the Napoli dagger, though I admit it is both a long shot and disappointing.
To me, this looks like a fantasy piece because it is supposedly made in Naples, but clearly made in the Greek/Ottoman 19th c style. If you look at the date, as far as this picture allows close inspection, I see 1334, not 1774. My guess is that this is Hijri date corresponding to 1915/1916. I have no idea why: an orientalist interpretation for rarities cabinet? a dagger made for a Muslim merchant in his favorite style? All pure guesses. But the blade of this dagger does not look functional and the Greek connection is clear.


Hi Motan,

You are absolutely right on two points.
First the date presented is wrong and I can read too 1334.
Second the flyssa blade similarity is also incorrect and it's more a yataghanish type blade.
Then I was wrong to propose an Algerian origin (now there is no clear evidence for this).
I'm not convinced by a Greek origin either. Let's say Balkans or Turkish.
I don't think that it was a fantasy piece, I prefer to say a very late Ottoman piece or an early tourist piece in the Ottoman style. These pieces have been discussed in previous posts... Please note that early tourist pieces use generally Gregorian calendar and this one is using hijri (with latin numbers like the 1920ties Moroccan pieces)...
...

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Old 9th June 2019, 03:49 PM   #7
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Hi Kubur,
Yes, I can agree with that. West-Ottoman, Balkan (Northern Greece is Balkan) may be more precise. Those deep engravings of plant motifs in silver can be either, as well as the small, Yataghan-like ears on the pommel. The only reason I decided to call it Greek was the way the inscription is framed, which is common in late Cretan and Greek daggers. The designation fantasy is a bit harsh and I agree with your description.
Unfortunately, this kind of late piece can not contribute to solving the mystery of the Flyssa and its origin.
As for the use of the Flyssa, I believe that tradition, ethnic identity and symbolism were more important that function in shaping ethnographic weapons. But if you had to use one, then stabbing looks like the only reasonable option. These are heavy weapons with a long and narrow point, so any slashing or cutting movements would be very impractical.
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Old 9th June 2019, 06:32 PM   #8
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Guys, these are absolutely brilliant observations!! and I honestly did not see that date, nor apparently did Boccia & Coelho in their entry in "Armi Bianche Italiene" (or perhaps they did but I assumed, as my Italian is 'nada').

I had presumed this might be a viable clue as to flyssa development, but clearly (oops!).

Kubur, I don't think your Algerian suggestion was misplaced, and was reasonably deduced, but the Ottoman denominator can be safely applied broadly and to include the Balkan regions. I also disagree with this being a tourist item as per your notes on the Hijra date (1334=1915). The idea of some commemorative date on an authentically fashioned dagger seems most likely, and as well observed, has nothing to do with flyssa development.

Thank you both for the well explained and appropriately placed correction, well done and much appreciated.

Jim
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Old 9th June 2019, 11:31 PM   #9
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If we are sill talking about a flissa dagger marked “Napoli”, there is no need to postulate Ottoman or Greek roots.
There was an old Neapolitan cutler dynasty named Labruna. In the mid- 19 century Giuseppe Labruna produced high end regulation swords for the military, but his forte was Ottoman weapons. He even made yataghans for Austro-Hungarian Croat Pandours. Thus, a flissa would not be a surprise. My bet is that if this flissa dagger could be carefully examined, there might be even his stamp. His descendants continued into the 20 century, but this is too new for me and I do not know the details about them.
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Old 10th June 2019, 08:13 AM   #10
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Thank you Jim, you're a wise man and a gentleman as always!

Ariel I think you nailed it. Just for comparison the French Bichaqs made by Manceaux, Paris sold by Oriental arms...

Best,
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Old 11th June 2019, 09:04 PM   #11
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Thank you very much Kubur!

You and Ariel have pointed out a key phenomenon of late 18th early 19th c. the production of Ottoman style arms for officers of elite cavalry units in Europe who favored flamboyant 'oriental' fashion and weaponry.
The Austro-Croat Pandours were a prime example and this explains the occurrence of these European marks etc. on what might otherwise seem Ottoman or even Asian.
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Old 21st June 2019, 10:30 AM   #12
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Hello,
I saw this dagger that was auctioned yesterday, but I didn't buy it. I am adding it to the thread because this is clearly a Flyssa/Bichak (not Yatagan) hybrid.
My best guess is that it was made in Algeria in Bichak form for some reason, though it is clearly a Flyssa.
Jim, I am not claiming that this has to do with the origin of the Flyssa - it does not look even nearly old enough. I just want to suggest that Ottoman and North African styles were connected. It makes sens if you think of the history of these places and the maritime traffic between them, but here is an actual piece that shows it.
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Old 21st June 2019, 03:48 PM   #13
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Thank you very much Motan! that is a most helpful entry, and very applicable here. I had honestly not considered the 'bichaq' in the flyssa scenario before Kubur and Ariel brought it to my attention, and while effectively a 'knife' it certainly fits in with the flyssa 'spectrum'.

What you note on Ottoman presence and influences in North Africa is of course well observed. The Ottomans were very present throughout the North African littoral and this 'empire' was far reaching carrying their influences throughout.

As you note, while not necessarily an element of flyssa development, this weapon reflects the overall influences that were likely present in its development. It is as also noted, not necessarily of great age, but it must be remembered that traditional weapon forms typically drew from those of long ago.

It is well known that the proper terms and nomenclature are often confounding in discussing these weapons, but your method of describing them in explanatory manner is much appreciated, as is this excellent entry.
Thank you very much,
Jim
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