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Old 21st April 2010, 12:50 AM   #1
Emanuel
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Default Oldest dated flyssa - appeal to EU/Spanish forumites

In her work, Sabres Kabyles (Journal de la Societe des Africanistes XXVIII, 1958) Camille Lacoste-Dujardin noted that the oldest dated flyssa was one presented to Spanish King Ferdinand VII in 1827 by Don Pedro Ortiz de Guzasti, Spanish consul to the Kingdom of Algiers. That reference came from the Catalogo de la Real Armeria de Madrid (Valencia de Don Juan, 1898). This catalogue is available online, scanned courtesy of google (http://www.archive.org/details/catl...trico00madrgoog), and the relevant bit identifies the flyssa as "G.170. Flissa de las kabilas", describes it and notes its length, 1,030mm.

Could any of our Spanish or Eu members try to track down and photograph this flyssa next time they pass by Madrid and visit the royal armoury? It would be interesting to compare this dated example to other ones and try to date some features.

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Emanuel
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Old 21st April 2010, 03:20 AM   #2
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Excellent post Emanuel!!! and thank you for the detailed cites for reference.
As you and I both know, we have long tried to establish the earliest known example of these distinct swords of the Kabyles, and this has remained one of the mysteries of ethnographic edged weapons.

It is interesting that this 1898 catalog by the Conde de Valencia de San Juan was the basis for Albert F. Calvert's 1907 "Spanish Arms & Armour". In the introduction he expresses gratitude to Don Lacoste.....I wonder of there might be a connection to Camille Lacost-Dujardin?

I hope our friends in Spain might help with the flyssa noted (G170). As I have mentioned in earlier discussions, the earliest provenanced example I have found was in the museum of the French Foreign Legion in France, and it was taken on campaign against Kabyles in 1857. In form and general motif it is identical to the well known form we see in collections.

All best regards,
Jim
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Old 6th June 2012, 06:22 AM   #3
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Exclamation Oldest dated flyssa

Hi everyone,

It's taken some time, but I finally got a picture of the flyssa at the Real Armeria in Madrid. Happily it is in very good condition, it still retains a leather belt and buckle.

At first glance, it is nearly identical to the classical flyssa form we know (see some of the flyssa in my collection, Dom's flyssa, and Madsen's flyssafor comparison). There are some differences though, most striking being the scabbard and the hilt. The scabbard has simpler carving, while the hilt's floral decoration is fuller and much better defined. No scratches. Every scroll is fully formed. Notice also the lack of "eye". The dog or camel head is blind. Only floral scrolls. I wonder if this was a one-off. Anyway, lots of questions come to mind.

This example does show that the flyssa as we know it was fully developed by 1827.

I realize the picture I attached has poor resolution. I will re-post better shots in a few days.

Any thoughts?

Emanuel
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Old 6th June 2012, 05:17 PM   #4
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Thank you so much for the update on this ever unresolved conundrum of the unique 'flyssa' Emanuel!!! Your tenacity is amazing and this is absolutely wonderful followup, exactly what is essential to discovering the deeply clouded past and development of these and many ethnographic sword forms.

Since the work of Ms. LaCoste, few arms scholars have undertaken any sort of serious approach to these mysterious and distinct swords aside from Louis-Pierre Cavalliere and you, leaving most of the description of these to the typical assumptions.

As you have noted, the apparant form itself seems to have been developed by the time of this example presented to the Spanish envoy in 1827. It seems that along with the form itself, many of the decorative designs and motif are essentially like the examples into the 1850s and beyond, and I have always been fascinated by thier origins and meanings as well. Here again, these do not seem to have been studied or analyzed beyond the work of LaCoste, and attempts to discuss them have not revealed much.

I recall however some years ago trying to learn more about an unusual 'hourglass' shaped image or device on the blade of one example I had which seemed unusual. As nearly as could be determined this represented a drum, an important symbol of rank or status in Berber and Saharan tribal heirachy.

It seems that the ancestry of the flyssa debate remains at a level of impasse and has been dormant for years with some still contesting the probable source of these unique swords to Ottoman yataghans. While it seems clear that Byzantine decorative motif is likely in the characteristic designs in much of the flyssa's motif, the deep bellied blade seems likely to derive from the early versions of the yataghan. The early Meditteranean weapons that are claimed to be the true ancestors probably are in degree through the same groups of swords that indeed came from the kopis and associated variations. However there is no progressive chronological line of development which can support direct descent from the ancient weapons, and the relatively recent development in my opinion looks to the Ottoman yataghan of straight back and deep belly form.
Interestly there is an example or possibly form of this type known in Italy from the 18th century (seen in Boccia & Coelho) which looks remarkably like the flyssa. This of course begs the question, did these also develop from the Ottoman weapons from the conflicts between them and the North Italian city states, and could the form have diffused through the profound trade in North Africa and North Italy? Clearly other Italian forms have been the source of influence for numbers of North African edged weapons well established in these pages on the forum, so is this a plausible suggestion?

The only qualifying suggestion that might redirect to the Ottoman influence without the Italian twist is that the Kabyles, while not as I understand ever taken over by the Ottomans, had powerful influence from them. The flyssa is held in Kabyle tradition as the key element in a young mans rite of passage, and he must obtain his sword as well as his 'fortune' in order to marry (as I was once told). While the traditional flyssa of course is the standard however the yataghan is admired even beyond these, and I wonder if that affinity for these Ottoman weapons as influential symbols of status may have led to the earlier and distinctly Berber form which has become known as the flyssa.

All best regards,
Jim
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Old 15th June 2012, 05:12 AM   #5
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Hi Jim,

Thanks for coming in on this
I will look for the Boccia & Coelho reference you mention. Are you thinking of a sword like the storta?

I will be back home in a few days and will upload higher resolution pics of this flyssa and others and maybe make an inventory of all the markings on the documented examples. I will also check them with those reported by Lacoste-Dujardin.

The flyssa's misteries have not been exhausted yet

All the best!
Emanuel
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Old 15th June 2012, 05:32 AM   #6
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Hi Emanuel,
Actually I think the Boccia & Coelho example is more like a dagger, I'll see if I can possibly get a scan of the illustration. It is a monster book and not sure my scanner will allow, maybe a photo will do.

Looking forward to the pics and inventory of the markings in LaCoste....absolutely the mysteries of the flyssa remain elusive, but they cannot be forever with you on the trail!! Its good to have you back here on the adventure!

All the best,
Jim
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Old 4th October 2012, 09:59 AM   #7
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Hi Jim!

Been a while, and back in India for round 2.
Haven't gotten around to any of that inventory work I'm afraid. I am going to add some detail shots of this flyssa however. Unfortunately the Real Armeria only saw it fit to send me one picture, of one side only. No idea of what the spine or the other side looks like. Oh well...

All the best and drive safe!
Emanuel
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Old 4th October 2012, 10:01 AM   #8
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The blade...
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Old 4th October 2012, 10:03 AM   #9
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And the scabbard...

Notice the decoration surrounding the belt loop, doesn't it look a lot like fabric? It's like the scabbard maker chose to mimic the look of woven garments into the scabbard.
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Old 5th October 2012, 12:45 AM   #10
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Fantastic Emanuel!!!! and its wonderful having you back here again. I think we have come a long way on the flyssa mysteries, but as you know, a long way to go. We have some great projects going on a number of the weapons forms, and its good to have you back with your specialty in these.
India!!!?? How long will you be there?

All the very best,
Jim
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Old 7th October 2012, 12:29 AM   #11
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Hi Emanuel,

I just found your interesting thread about the Flyssa, it seems you have much knowledge in this field.
Have you, or any other member ever found or seen a Flyssa with such a wide blade? Length is 79 cm and at the widest point on the blade short over 5 cm. It is also not so pointed, as a Flyssa normal is, but real heavy. Could it be that it was used for a special function? I have a theory, but would like to hear first if somebody would know something.

Thanks
Wolf
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Old 8th October 2012, 05:57 AM   #12
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Hello Wolf,

You have a very nice flyssa! I am amazed by the delicacy of the handle decoration. Those scrolls are very fine.
I have a flyssa in my collection with a very deep-bellied blade like yours, but closer to 100cm long. Unfortunately it lost the brass covering on the handle. I am not at home but as I recall it does reach about 5cm at its widest (second to last from the bottom in the attached pic).

Your example, and a number of such mid-sized flyssas that have been posted on the forum over the years, seem to be better suited to slashing. The narrower blades were possibly used in estoc by cavalry. There is no concensus on their manner or use, and the only source on the topic, "Les Sabres Kabyles" by Camille Lacoste Dujardin, related the words of a French general that had seen them used only by infantry, very often in ambush situations. Supposedly the recurved edge was particularly well suited to decapitations. This should be taken with a grain of salt I think. I don't believe in very specialized weaponry, not on the scale of use seen of flyssa. Ultimately flyssas were likely used much like straight sabre patterns, likely by cavalry, but not excluding infantry.

Another possibility regarding the narrow-wide difference may be due to sharpening. Perhaps newly forged flyssas actually had a very deep and wide belly, and were subsequently narrowed after much sharpening. A similar result is often seen on old Indian tulwars.

Regardless, these are indeed quite heavy blades, with a forward balance. My fencing knowledge is too limited to imagine the fighting style that used them.

What are your thoughts on this?

Incidentally, please see the Big Flyssa Thread for links to the old discussions on the subject. It does need some updating.

Regards,
Emanuel
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Old 10th October 2012, 10:38 PM   #13
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Hi Emanuel,

thanks for your answer in the forum.
Unfortunately I also don't know how this weapons are once used. Once I read in a museum file used from foot soldiers and like a stabbing weapon. That makes sense to me, because of the mostly very long pointed tip.
I also don't know if the Kabyle once practiced beheading, but if so, this sword would be perfect for such a purpose. The length, the heavy weight and extreme stong blade, sharp on one side and up to 1 cm on the neck, all this points could speak for a beheading sword. Sure for close combat it would also work, but is with only 79 cm not so perfect. It could be also the reason, why you will not find so much of it.
Okay....all that only thoughts.....
Below a picture which show again the differences between a normal, a long and this heavy example.

Best wishes
Wolf
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Old 12th October 2012, 06:12 AM   #14
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Hello Wolf (and Jim! we seem to have another flyssa enthusiast ),

You have a lovely flyssa set, they're all quite beautiful. Seeing the short one in comparison to the classic longer ones I find it quite appealing. It looks hefty and quite good as a short side-arm.

If you can read French I highly recommend this website, Algérie Ancienne it is a compendium of hundreds of contemporary French publications on Algeria spanning France's dominion over the Maghreb. It includes both ethnographic publications such as the Revue Africaine, and personal travel accounts and military reports. All documents are available for download in PDF format.

I have not yet found any clear mention of the use of flyssas but I have only read a dozen or so articles from that website.

I can send you a copy of Camille Lacoste Dujardin's article on "Sabres Kabyles" if you read French. It relates the account I mentioned in my earlier post about the beheading use of flyssas.

Best regards,
Emanuel
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Old 12th October 2012, 06:16 AM   #15
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Hi Jim,

I've been in India now for close to a year now. Loving it! Haven't found any weapons though. They're illegal here and the police is quite serious about arms.

In regards to the flyssa, I wonder if there is some correspondence from the Spanish consul to King Ferdinand that might mention and explain the flyssa he brought back. There might be something there...and of course, the Ottoman archives might have loads of relevant information.

All the best!
Emanuel
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Old 15th October 2012, 04:50 PM   #16
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Dear Emanuel,

thanks for your friendly words :-)
Even I don't speak French, I would be happy if you can send me a copy of Camille Lacoste Dujardin's article on "Sabres Kabyles". My friend Mauro from Italy speak French and together I'm sure we will work it out.
My email is wodimi@gmx.de .
You're right it would work effective as a short side-arm, no question.
Thanks at first and if you have time you can have a look (sure all other member too) under www.africanarms.com . I just started to build up a new page to share my passion with friends with the same virus.

Best
Wolf
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Old 13th January 2019, 09:56 PM   #17
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Hi, maybe this is coming somewhat late. Earlier in the thread you discuss the Flissa in the Real Armeria, Madrid that came as a gift in 1827.
I believe that it can be seen in the 1907 inventory by AF Calvert (“Spanish Arms and Armour Being a Historical and Descriptive Account of the Royal Armoury of Madrid. London. John Lane. The Bodley Head New York, Lohn Lane Company 1907). The Flissa has number 1604 and is shown on Plate 217 as shown in the picture.
Regards Ole
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Old 2nd May 2019, 12:21 AM   #18
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I am wondering why the description of 1580 is listed as "Dagger of the Kabyles", which is a yatagan, while 1604 is the flissa listed as "gourma, or dagger". Could this have been a mistake on as the tags do not correspond to the descriptions between these two? Has anyone previously noticed this?

-Geoff
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Old 2nd May 2019, 03:25 AM   #19
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Its always great to see these old threads brought to life, especially as we have made so many new discoveries and perspectives in learning more on these many weapon forms. As can be seen, this particular one began in 2010, but we had been discussing these flyssa long before that.

The Calvert work is actually a rework of the earlier inventories by Don Juan de Valencia, compiled 1898 but actually completed many years prior. These works of course, though valuable references in degree, are not without flaws and errors. ….those pointed out here notwithstanding.

In our quest to discover the earliest known flyssa, the 1827 reference which refers to the one presented to King Ferdinand VII by Don Pedro Ortiz de Guzasti who was special consul to Algiers at that time. If the photos seen in this thread earlier of the example are correctly noted, we can see that the flyssa as a form was surely established by this time.

It has been held that the flyssa itself likely evolved as an interpretation of the deep bellied yatagan of the Ottomans (cf. 1580). As I mentioned some years ago, there is in "Armi Bianchi Italiene" (Boccia & Coelho, 1975) a knife/dagger from Naples dated 1774 (#774) as I have attached.
This has a remarkably 'flyssa' like look, and perhaps it may be considered to have some sort of connection to these edged weapons of Algeria and the Kabyles.
Whether the well known influences of Italian trade in the Algerian littoral might have influenced the form as evolved in Kabylia, or perhaps the Italians saw a fully developed flyssa form and it influenced a dagger form they fashioned. It would be hard to say, but the similarity is compelling.

The flyssa itself, has long been a puzzle as to how it was actually used. As far as I have known, there have been no recorded observations of these used in combat. There is I believe a painting showing Kabyles wielding these but artistic license cannot be ruled out. One of these captured by the French Foreign Legion in 1857 , though taken, does not indicate it was taken in combat. These are terribly unwieldy weapons, and have seemed to be a weapon which is that of a rite of passage, more ceremonial or traditional item rather than actually used weapon.

It would be interesting to see others views, and/or examples, and thought it worthwhile to reopen the discussion.
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Old 2nd May 2019, 10:01 AM   #20
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In the article mentioned above the whole history of flissa is explained: since the arrival of the Ottomans in the 16th c. and the specialization of the iflissen in this industry. Some flissa look like yataghans and others are more thin and North Africans. So the flissa date at least from the 16thc. no mystery to me.
No mystery at least after the 16th c. before???
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Old 2nd May 2019, 04:26 PM   #21
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The same thought went through my mind as well - after Ottoman contact the blade form changed to look more yataghan like.
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Old 2nd May 2019, 05:22 PM   #22
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Battara
The same thought went through my mind as well - after Ottoman contact the blade form changed to look more yataghan like.


Absolutely!


Now I have two questions:

Is the original flissa sword started with the Ottomans and evolved to a Maghrebi / North African shape with a long and narrow blade?

Or

is the pre-Ottoman flissa sword Magrebi / Berber evolved to a Yataghan-ish shape after the 16th c. ?
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Old 2nd May 2019, 05:37 PM   #23
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Kubur,

I believe the flyssa started as a local copy/interpretation of the yataghan. The ruling elite in Algeria was descendant from janissaries, stationed there, and the Ottoman influence in arms and fashion must have been quite significant. Elgood in the Arms of Greece mentions that there was a production of yatghans and pistols in the Western Balkans meant for export to the Maghreb. In fact, it is very possible that the typical North African yataghans with the small years are all Balkan made.

In other threads I have seen the claim that it was a matter of prestige for a young man in Algeria in the 19th century to possess a yataghan, but I am not sure of the source right now. It makes a lot of sense though - a yataghan would be the mark of someone, claiming descent from the janissary military and ruling elite. However, the yataghans imported from the Balkans were expensive, and their decoration and its symbolical meaning foreign to the locals, especially to the Kabyles. We see a lot of flyssas resembling yatghans in blade shape, so the theory would be that the Kabyles were looking for a cheaper locally produced version of the yatghan, to which they added their own symbolical decorative motives, such as zig-zag lines, etc.

Why the form then evolved into the long version, which seems horrendously balanced and basically not really good for any kind of fencing, I do not know. Jim may be right that it was just for adornment or maybe the long versions had some ceremonial meaning, but the earlier, shorter versions that are closer to yataghans were probably quite effective as a close quarters sidearm.

Teodor
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Old 2nd May 2019, 05:41 PM   #24
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I think the questions of the 'flyssa' have been based mostly on just how old a weapon is it? and how did it evolve?
The work "Sabres Kabyles" by Camille Lacoste-Dujardine does describe the history of the sword of the Kabyles from the Ottoman period, but the question has been, did it exist prior to this?

Basically all that can be somewhat agreed is that the swords in these regions probably derived from forms of either kopis, falcata or some form of these Mediterranean weapons. The general similarity to Ottoman yataghan of 16th century is noted, and Jose brings up a very good point, perhaps the design, whatever form it was in, assimilated that of that Ottoman form.

There are of course no mentions of 'flyssa' in early Arab accounts such as al-Idrisi (12th c) or Ibn Khaldun (14th c) as noted in Spring ("African Arms and Armor" ,1993, p.22), this is understandable as the term is modern (c. 1820s).
The first use of the term as previously discussed was 1827, but in the images of one also in earlier posts here reveal that this form was in place by then.

While the Kabyles managed to remain autonomous due to their remote and rugged regions, they were still in nominal contact with Ottomans, and I have understood they had strong affinity for the Ottoman yataghan. One of the key factors in the Iflisen form sword we are discussing (flyssa) are the decorations and unique styling.

So we know that the Kabyles had some type of sword in the time before 1827, and at that time the form we know as flyssa was evolved. With the Ottoman presence in the 16th c. perhaps versions of their existing swords influenced by yataghans adapted accordingly and into the form we recognize.
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Old 9th May 2019, 07:30 AM   #25
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I am still unsure about the origin or transitions of the flissa, though the yataghan seems to have had a strong influence from the Ottomans in the older deep belly flissas as much noted earlier. Reclus states that the flissa origin is modeled after the Roman gladium…

The West Kabyle highlands are occupied by the Flissa-um-el-Lil, or Flissa of the Night, called also Flissa of the Woods, descended of the warlike Issaflenses, who maintained a long struggle against the Romans. The Flissa of the Sea, another branch of this group, separated from their brethren by the Isser, the Ait- Waguennun, and other communities, were formerly noted armourers, whose swords, modelled on the Roman gladium, and worn by most of the natives, still take the name of " flissa." (Reclus, Elisée. The Earth and its Inhabitants, Africa: North-west Africa. D. Appleton, 1887. Book.), p.256

While Henry Maxwell comments on the design and usage of the sword and how that serves ergonomically.

"The Kabyles manufacture in the Flessa range of mountains iron yataghans of an extravagant shape, rendering them much sought after by collectors of arms; they are very broad and tolerably thick at the cutting part; thus they are very are narrow up to the grip; this gives great percussive force, and the shape so far is rational; but they have further a very long, very thin, and very narrow point which bends without elasticity, injured the power of cutting, and is but little adapted for thrusting. If the points were shortened, this heavy and ill-balanced weapon would be well constructed as an iron yataghan; the defects of the material, as regards fines of edge and rigidity of the blade, would be compensated for by volume; it would stand half way between the steel yataghan and the mace." (Marey-Monge, Guillaume Stanislaus; Maxwell, Henry Hamilton, Memoir on Swords etc (London: J Weale, 1860), p. 80-81

The long-needle blade type is absolutely ill-balanced but heavy enough to effectively be used through drawcut slashing rather than stabbing from horseback, possibly used for decapitating wounded prisoners. The deep belly form seems much more balanced, a stronger iron, greater quality in decorations, and more manageable to wield. I do think these forms were of earlier pedigree than the long-bladed designs that are often seen. Here is some that I have acquired through the years but maybe they can spark some more interest or conversation. Food for thought.
Geoff
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Old 9th May 2019, 05:21 PM   #26
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Geoff thank you so much for this great entry, and for sharing the nice spectrum of examples. I think this well shows the individuality of many of these, and how they are often tailored to the character and needs of the person acquiring each of them.
Also I would like to thank you bringing together some of the perspectives we have discussed concerning the possible origins of this basically Kabyle form, and most importantly presenting and citing these references.

It is true that many of the flyssa with differently shaped blades as seen could feasibly be used in the manner of other swords, however the hilt in my view remains one of the factors in use which seems ineffective.

The long needle point blade is of course the primary objective in observing these swords as a whole rather than the variants. One problem I have always seen pertaining to the idea of slashing/drawcut use is the ability to hold the grip securely with such an awkward and heavy blade, the momentum would seem compromising....but I am admittedly no authority on swordsmanship.
I was not aware of the Kabyles use of horses as they are essentially mountain tribes, but again, certainly some regions may be feasible for horsemen.
It is often noted that these 'flyssa' has some of the same deep ancestry with various 'Mediterranean' weapons and in turn Roman and Greek, but these influences are notably nuanced in many edged weapon forms.
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Old 9th May 2019, 05:55 PM   #27
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After the wise words of my favorite guru, here a flyssa yataghan
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Old 9th May 2019, 09:22 PM   #28
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To add clarification to what I was observing on the Kabyles, and that I had yet to ever see an illustration of any of them mounted, I have found references to' cavalry among the numbers of Kabyle forces over time. It does not seem to comprise large numbers, but as noted, present just the same.

Returning to the 'flyssa' , as we have discussed, the form we are familiar with (as seen in these examples) does not seem to have evolved until at least around end of 18th c. It does seem reasonable that some form of yataghan was probably present in the Kabyle kingdoms from some time earlier, and those of course probably were influenced by Ottoman examples of the 'deep belly' form.

The evolution of the blade long with needle point possibly evolved from Ottoman influences via their ethnic forces, such as Caucasian and Tatar, where these 'needle points existed on some of their sabres.

The term 'flyssa' coupled with yataghan, as Kubur has noted with the example he posted, seems rightly placed.

Attached are two more Kabyle illustration, which as typically seen, seem to emphasize their well known guns, and are dismounted.
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Old 9th May 2019, 09:54 PM   #29
ariel
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Old timers here might still remember Anthony Tirri’s assertion that Laz Bichaq was a direct descendant of Flissa. Diagonally-cut heel of the blade was one of his arguments.

In retrospect, he might not have been totally wrong. One way or another both of them were likely descending from the classic yataghan, and the similar heels as well as needlepoint points of their blades only support Tirri’s hypothesis.
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Old 9th May 2019, 10:11 PM   #30
Kubur
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
Attached are two more Kabyle illustration, which as typically seen, seem to emphasize their well known guns, and are dismounted.


Jim, the man to the left is a Persian prince...
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