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Old 22nd May 2007, 12:06 AM   #1
Emanuel
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Talking Flyssa - I finally got one!!

Hello,

I was finally able to get a flyssa, the weapon that has obsessed me for quite some time. In 2005 I had gotten one on ebay, of the short variety, and a shipping error saw it snatched from my grasp. I got a refund at the time. (the exact same error happened twice more since)

Now the Bay comes through once again with this one. A 20 3/8" long affair in good condition but lacking the scabbard. That's a major loss, but at the price I got it I am quite happy. It was mislabelled and the auction ended in the middle of the night.

In her treaty on Kabyles sabres, Camille Lacoste-Desjardins notes that flyssa's made after 1850 were of a markedly lower quality than those made prior to 1850. She states that a number of tribes picked up production at a time when the flyssa was already obsolete as a weapon. Looking at the one I got and the way the little tacks that hold the brass on the handle, I wonder which type it may be. I suspect that the curved ones that look like hybrids with the "nimcha" daggers are of the later type and solely meant for ceremony/tourism.

As always, thoughts and comments would be much appreciated.
Regards,
Emanuel
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Old 22nd May 2007, 12:39 AM   #2
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hi manolo, how's the spine on yours?

mine is engraved, brass inlaid and fancy fileworked for about 2/3 the length of the blade spine.




the curved one i have (see the other flyssa thread from today) does not have any decorations on the spine & the brass is tacked on with a large number of flush tacks which are quite obvious, unlike the straight one where you need to look closely to spot them, and the guard is fairly flimsy sheet brass, the blade itself is quite thick, distally tapered, not like the wedding nimchas, and may be a transitional piece morphing from a real to a parade weapon.
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Old 22nd May 2007, 04:31 AM   #3
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Very nice flyssa gentleman. Here is my pride and joy this flyssa has some of the nicest inlay I have seen to date. My son made me promise never to sell or trade it because he wants it as a family heirloom.

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Old 22nd May 2007, 03:42 PM   #4
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Hey Lew, do you want to adopt me? I am only 31 years old
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Old 22nd May 2007, 05:25 PM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Flavio
Hey Lew, do you want to adopt me? I am only 31 years old


Flavio

I am 20yrs older than you so the idea is not too far fetched but then I would have access to your collection also

Lew
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Old 22nd May 2007, 06:06 PM   #6
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It's OK, then we can start the iter for the adoption
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Old 23rd May 2007, 10:23 AM   #7
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Hi Emanuel,
congrats......looks to be a very nice short flyssa..at last ..and like you I got mine cheaply, it was very dirty, the pictures were poor and it was listed as 'possibly a military bayonet'...

David


Lew. if the adoptions are freely available, count me in......as long as you could accept 'the raised eye brows'....I'm only 8 years your Junior.
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Old 4th July 2007, 03:58 PM   #8
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Well, here are some more pics, as it never hurts to have pics.
Kronckew, my flyssa is very much like yours, with near-identical floral decoration on the spine. Actually, this is also very much like that on Lew's example, but i think his lost some of the brass.
Now I wonder if these variations represent different artisan hands, or the same at different times. If we take it that these "high-quality" flyssa were the work of the Iflissen, then did the same design persist over the years, or were most pieces produced in a short time period?
A detailed study of all of these would be interesting...anyone care to send me their flyssa for analysis?

I got around to uploading "Sabres Kabyles" by Camille Lacoste-Desjardinds. I've ranted on before about this treatise and I highly recommend it if you can read French... http://rapidshare.com/files/40972393/sabresKabyles.pdf

Emanuel
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Old 4th July 2007, 05:49 PM   #9
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A small one that seems to have slightly different decoration, 42cm out of scabbard. I think I read somewhere that these small one in particular are known as vipers and the scabbards carving reflects there nature. i might have it all wrong and mixed up. Sorry the pics are a bit limited, short of time.



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Old 4th July 2007, 06:31 PM   #10
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as my earlier posts in this thread did not show the blade decorations, just the spines, here are the blades:
(last photo shows curved variant which has much the same decoration and carvings.
- and shows the replacement bands i added on the flyssa scabbard where they were missing. )





the slight variations in the decorations are almost like they came from the same shop and pattern book, but had different engravers with slightly different skills and emphasis. maybe they got bored making them all alike & added their own slight differences with artistic license.
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Old 4th July 2007, 07:52 PM   #11
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Hi Emanuel,
Thank you for posting this, and congratulations on finally obtaining an excellent example of these intriguing swords! Thank you also for always including interesting data, especially the comments on the work by Camille Lacoste-Desjardins. I have always wished I had access to this apparantly detailed work on the flyssa, the only in depth study I am aware of, but unfortunately I do not speak or read French.

Krockew, Tim and Lew thank you for also sharing your great examples as well !

When threads develop like this with such great input, it is especially rewarding to see the discussion including such comprehensive examples, and serious observations that better help us understand the weapons being studied.

As we have noted over the years, it does seem the 'flyssa' is a relative latecomer as a distinct form, and its development has been suggested to have come from the early Meditteranean sword forms such as machaira.This seems unlikely as there is no evidence of progressive development and the length of time with the forms unlinked is too long. It seems more plausible in my opinion that it came loosely from the deep bellied and virtually straight Ottoman yataghan of 16th c. ("The Age of Suleyman the Magnificent", 1990, p.64 #50), combined with the needle point form of blades on Circassian/Tatar sabres of c.16th-17th centuries. This hybridization would seem to have been an atavistic development that arose initially in the Grand Kabylie regions of Algeria, and generally held to have been armourers of the Ifflyssen tribe (hence the term 'flyssa').

The earliest known example (at least by narrative using the term) is said to have been presented to a Spanish envoy in 1827. The earliest known provenanced example I have found is one in the Foreign Legion museum in France, captured in combat in 1857. It is of the same form, motif and decoration seen in the well known examples generally seen.

That is primarily what is categorically known on the history of the flyssa from my own perspective, and it would be great to know of any earlier examples known, as well as any narrative data that might be included in material from the French military. It seems that more might be included on the actual use of these.

I agree that the smaller curved and almost dagger type examples are likely modern. I have seen the term 'wedding flyssa' used...is there any material authenticating the wearing of these weapons in wedding ceremonies?

We know that the geometric designs distinctly seen on the flyssa are primarily based on folk religious superstition, i.e. the triangular 'fibula' to protect from the evil eye. It is unclear what creature is represented in the stylized zoomorphic figure.......ideas??

On many flyssas there is a strange sort of hourglass figure usually toward to root of the blade....what does this represent?

Thanks very much everybody!

All best regards,
Jim

Last edited by Jim McDougall : 6th July 2007 at 04:56 AM.
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Old 5th July 2007, 02:48 PM   #12
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Hi Jim,
Desjardins offers some insight into the small flyssa variety. Refering to the decadence of the art of the flyssa, she states that production of smaller copies of flyssas began around 1850 to satisfy the Travelers' demand. The were produced by the Beni-Fraoucen and the Beni-Yenni tribes and more recently (late-1950s) at Bou-Saada. Sometimes they had little formal iron guards (p. 135).
I would guess that the wedding nimcha and Kronckew's curved flyssa are examples of this. So none of the sword/short-sword sized flyssas are any younger than the 1850s...

Cheers,
Emanuel
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Old 6th July 2007, 04:52 AM   #13
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Emanuel,
One of the things that has remained puzzling to me on the flyssa (that is one of the things )is the strange three dimensional hourglass shape seen in the motif on the blades of some flyssas. I wish I had an illustration, possibly anyone out there with flyssas might have one with this figure.

Years ago there were the occasional discussions on the flyssa and this topic came up, and nothing conclusive was ever revealed. The only suggestion that seemed to make sense was that this somehow represented a drum. The only drum I could come up with that had this unusual shape was the so called 'talking drum' form used by West African tribes. While these tribes included the Hausa, who of course also traversed the Sahara and were closely associated with the Tuareg, it seems odd at how this distinct geometric 'drum' shape would come up on a Kabyle weapon.

It is true that the Tuareg tribal units included a political unit controlled by a 'drum chief' whose authority was symbolized by a drum, and the Tuareg were, as the Kabyle, Berber, however would this symbolism have carried into Kabyle motif?

Can anyone come up with a photo of a flyssa with one of these in the blade motif, and any ideas on the plausibility of the drum being what is represented in the motif?

All the best,
Jim
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Old 29th July 2007, 06:21 PM   #14
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I wanted to bump this up because I would really like to see some serious discussion on these intriguing swords.
There absolutely has to be more flyssas out there, and I am hoping that somebody will be able to share the variations of inscribed markings on the blades (aside from the decorative geometric motif along the back .

Can anybody help?
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Old 30th July 2007, 09:11 PM   #15
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I wanted to thank Manolo, Kronckew, Lew and Tim for posting your examples of flyssa, which is very much appreciated. There has really been very little research done on these, with the exception of the references kindly noted. Sadly there appears to be little interest in them as evidenced in the cursory mention in most sources in English, and most attention to them seems to be confined to collecting examples.

I think there is a great deal to be revealed in further study of these unique swords and what better place to discuss them than here I am hoping that others out there who may own examples and have interest in them might come forward so we can learn more about them.

Cmon guys!!!

All the best,
Jim
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Old 30th July 2007, 10:42 PM   #16
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OK, here is mine, a short example similar to the one Tim posted, only not as nice. Similar symbols as well. Keep them coming guys.
Teodor
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Old 31st July 2007, 01:25 AM   #17
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Sorry Jim. I have only had time to lurk here lately, but, here is my contribution.

All the Best
Jeff
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Old 31st July 2007, 01:57 AM   #18
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Thank you so much Teodor and Jeff!!!! You guys are great!!
Those are both outstanding examples, and it is most interesting to see the sometimes subtle variation in the decoration. As always it would be incredible to find a way to assign regional or period consistancy to certain designs. The inlaid geometric brass triangles are of course apotropaic, but it does seem that the other geometrics may have other intrinsic meanings or symbolism.
I'm hoping that looking at the designs and motif in these we might get some ideas.
Anybody have any recommendations for resources on Berber symbols and designs. I recall reading that much of the symbolism from material culture from Berber regions is sometimes duplicated on the weapons.

All the best,
Jim
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Old 31st July 2007, 11:29 PM   #19
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Hi Jim!

Starting on p.146 of the Desjardins treatise, there is ample discussion of the decorative motifs. Even if one cannot read French, there are diagrams and tables. Desjardins' conclusion seems to be that the ensemble is purely decorative and is achieved through a combination of basic shapes depending on the shape and length of the blade. The whole is a balanced composition and there are no two symbols or images alike. She proposes that all of the old flyssa's demonstrate the same use of combinations of three blocks of decoration. The client is ultimately responsible for choosing the blocks from a choice presented by the smith, so perhaps we are not seeing any indications of social status based on decorative scheme.

Incidentally, I read some 19th century accounts of Algeria, and I encountered numerous passages describing Kabyle culture and ways. At one point there was mention of a young man leaving the village with his clothes and his flissa. When he had made a fortune, he would return to his village, buy a house and a yataghan and get married. It seems that the Ottoman yataghans coexisted with the flyssa, and it was more highly regarded than the latter.
Furthermore, it seems that Kabyles - while supersticious - did not use amulets and charms. If such is this case, the explanation of the dot/ball on the flyssa pommel as a ward against the evil eye may be incorrect. I will look for the texts again and provide the sources.
Lastly, Desjardins specifies that flyssa blades are mostly iron, with only slight carburizing. It seems that there is enough carbon content along the edge to allow hardening, but the interior and back remain low-carbon and soft. Could anyone do a test to confirm or refute this?

Forum member Berberdagger posted a document of different Berber symbols a while ago http://www.vikingsword.com/vb/attac...achmentid=18230 . Some are recognizable on flyssa's, but not all.
I'll translate and post the relevant passages in Desjardins...it'll take a bit though.

Best regards,
Emanuel

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Old 1st August 2007, 04:14 PM   #20
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Desjardins specifies that flyssa blades are mostly iron, with only slight carburizing. It seems that there is enough carbon content along the edge to allow hardening, but the interior and back remain low-carbon and soft. Could anyone do a test to confirm or refute this?


The only way to test this theory is to have one of our pieces rockwell tested and that would mean possibly ruining the blade with little dots from the testing. IMO most of these swords were probably forged from some type of round bar stock. I don't think that the source would be plain carburized iron more like a medium carbon steel with just enough carbon to have the edge hardened. If you look at Jeff's example you can see the temper line that starts just forward of the choil.

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Old 2nd August 2007, 03:29 PM   #21
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OK, here is mine. It is VERY long (please see how it compares to normal yataghan), in reality it is more than 1 meter long. And it is very heavy, I even cannot imagine how one may wield it with one arm! It has whole steel construction, with hilt made from the same steel bar as the blade, decorated with brass.
Does anybody know, why all flyssas seem to be in a very good condition? Are they not so old?
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Old 2nd August 2007, 03:46 PM   #22
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i imagine it's a bit longer as it needs to be used from camel back, they're a bit taller than horses. an infantry/naval weapon is generally shorter as you do not want it hitting the ground as you swing it. on a horse/camel you want it long enough to strike an enemy on foot, so length would be appropriate. as far as musculature, practice makes perfect. there are very few of us nowadays who would spend the time to develop the musculature required for serious swordsmanship. or archery. who can pull a 150lb longbow at 6 aimed arrows/min for a half hour or more? they could at crecy & agincourt.

when i was measured for my naval officers sword, it was measured such that the tip missed the ground (deck actually) by 1 inch as it was gripped comfortably in my hand and pointed at the ground. i once saw another officer during a parade with a borrowed sword that did hit the ground as he was marching & saluting, the blade snapped and he was very embarrassed. it would have been even more embarrassing in the old days in a real battle. probably fatally so.

and, finally, men always like to brag about how long their weapon is....
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Old 5th August 2007, 11:53 PM   #23
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Thank you Jeff and Tatyana for adding your examples...and especially for the photos showing the detail on the motif!
Emanuel I really appreciate the notes on the Desjardins work, the data is very helpful.
It is interesting to see the variations in the motif, which seem quite subtle in the geometric designs, though it seems puzzling that it is noted that such motif was determined by the length and shape of blade. It seems the blades are always of basically the same shape, except those rare variant curved forms. It also seems puzzling that she states that the Kabyles though superstitious, do not use amulets and charms, while Berbers overall use essentially the same symbolics in material culture such as textiles, jewellery etc. as well as in tattooing.
The geometric designs in general Berber symbolism seem distinctly the basis for much of the motif on the flyssa, though as noted, the variation seems quite subtle. Although we are aware that the Berber term is applied loosely to geographically widespread confederation of tribes, it would seem that such symbolism would be consistant in artistic application regardless of interpretation. Actually in reviewing the standard illustrated glossaries of such symbolism it seems in my opinion somewhat contrived much as such interpretations of rock art symbolism and much categorically assembled material on symbolism.

While this assessment may be somewhat defeating in trying to find the meanings behind much of the motif on flyssas, I still believe there were more deliberately applied purposes in earlier examples. As has been noted in Desjardines, later flyssa became more widely produced and of course more degraded as typical of volume production, so decorative motif without meaning would be standard. This is much the same as the duplication of trade markings on blades intended to suggest quality for marketing purposes, or the application of thuluth script on Sudanese weapons.

Another interesting thing regarding 19th century Algeria and the young men returning from gaining thier fortunes, notes that they would then get a sword either yataghan or flyssa, but the Ottoman yataghan was more highly esteemed. This seems interesting since many earlier discussions refuted the idea that the yataghan could have had influence on the development of the flyssa since Ottomans never conquered the Kabyles.

I apologize for not responding sooner, I am occasionally out of computer signal area. I really do appeciate everyones responses in this and look forward to continuing discussion on the flyssas. All of you have shown excellent examples and it is great to look at them in comparison.

Thank you all again !!!!

All the best,
Jim
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Old 6th August 2007, 09:20 PM   #24
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2 more examples from the book "Edged Weapons in the Collection of the Russian Museum of Ethnography".
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Old 7th August 2007, 08:58 PM   #25
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Tatyana, thank you for showing the interesting photos from the Russian reference book. While the identification captions are incredibly vague and offer no help in studies, the photos are very nice, and despite the lack of information looks like an interesting book.

Actually, the lack of information is not atypical in the case of the flyssa, at least as far as resources published in English. The Desjardines work is the only work I am aware of that addresses these in depth, but many questions and as always more research is needed.

I very much appreciate the contributions placed by you and the others in this discussion, as every item offers compiled information and ideas about where to search for more data .

Best regards,
Jim
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Old 13th August 2007, 03:38 PM   #26
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Jim McDougall
Another interesting thing regarding 19th century Algeria and the young men returning from gaining thier fortunes, notes that they would then get a sword either yataghan or flyssa, but the Ottoman yataghan was more highly esteemed. This seems interesting since many earlier discussions refuted the idea that the yataghan could have had influence on the development of the flyssa since Ottomans never conquered the Kabyles.


Hi Jim!

I recall arguing that point a good bit and the mention of young Kabyles buying yataghans seems to throw a wrench in it. From all I could find, Kabylia never fell under Ottoman rule and yeniceri troops did not occupy the region. Now you and others did argue that this would not be an obstacle to direct trade, and the above mention seems to confirm this point. So Kabyles definitely had access to yataghans...now I question whether this means that the flyssa necessarily developed from the yataghan. Why would Kabyles produce a new weapon form if they had ready access to a more desirable one?
Kronckew made a point that I had been thinking about, namely the use of camels. The pommel of the flyssa itself looks like a camel head to me. But then I wonder whether camels were actually used along the coast, where the Ifflissen were located. Furthermore, Kabylia is a mountainous region.

Tatyana, the curved flyssa you showed has been discussed here before. Some may remember my panicked rants in the "curved flyssa in the St-Petersburg museum" thread

Lew, there is a flyssa on Oriental-Arms with a laminated blade (http://www.oriental-arms.com/item.php?id=2694) an interesting development which leads me to wonder how rare or common this is. Maybe we should start etching our flyssa's.

Jim, my belief that the flyssa developed independently of the yataghan is slowly falling appart. Here is a yataghan with decorations incredibly similar to those on flyssa's - http://www.oriental-arms.com/item.php?id=2703 identified as East European.

I'll keep playing the Devil's advocate as long as I can, and I will certainly continue the research.

All the best,
Emanuel
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Old 14th August 2007, 05:17 AM   #27
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Hi Emanuel,
Thank you so much for responding!!! It is great that you take such interest in research and discussion on these, and you have shown a great deal of perspective and compelling observations. I do recall your comments in discussions noting that Ottomans never took power in Kabylia, but it seems that such powerful influence would eventually infuse into the culture as has been noted. It seems that locally produced interpretations of the weapons of the Ottomans would in many cases not reach the status of the original examples, in using an extreme analogy for example, comparing a Corvette to a Ferrari (please guys, while there are certain basic elements that may suggest similarity....there is a key separation...$$$, and I love Corvettes anyway!!!...cant even afford one of those though).
The only puzzle here with the favor of the Ottoman yataghan over the flyssa would be, if the talismanic and symbolically charged decoration of the locally produced flyssa was so important, then why would the weapons of thier 'enemy' without such key symbolism be so sought after?

I too have considered the zoomorphic mystery of what in the world creature must be represented on the pommel of the flyssa, and as you have noted, the camel seems plausible. But then again, why camels when these do not seem likely in such mountainous regions? The flyssa is suggested to be a cavalry weapon, but how could cavalry be effective in mountainous areas of the Atlas which was home to the Iflissen. In previous efforts to discuss the actual manner of use for the flyssa, no translated narratives have ever appeared with descriptions revealing such information. If it was indeed used as seems most likely, for the thrust, why no guard to prevent slipping of the hand. If it was a slashing weapon, it seems awkward and ill balanced, at least in my own martially limited opinion.

If these questions have been specifically addressed by anyone over many years of discussions, I apologize for not having found such comments in the archives and would be grateful for correction.

Emanuel I really appreciate your willingness to discuss the flyssa further, and these comparisons of information available and answers to these many puzzling questions, we sort of all have to be devils advocates
Lets keep looking!!

All the best,
Jim
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Old 14th August 2007, 10:56 PM   #28
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Hi Jim,

Desjardins offers too accounts from French officers regarding the use of the flyssa. I translated that particular passage...

The majority of Kabyles were foot-soldiers (infantry). The rich men, Cheikhs and Maraboots, however, were mounted in battle. Berthelon describes an interesting maneuvre using the two types of troops. 'The cavalrymen take on horseback the foot-soldiers and drop them off at a chosen point. The foot-soldiers hide while the horsemen ride away in a simulated flight, drawing the attention of the enemy in an ambush by the foot-soldiers.' For such an ambush, the flyssa seems well suited. In this case, its thrust must be particularly fearsome. In the opinion of Colonel Lapene, 'This weapon is dangerous in estoc...The Kabyles rarely use it to slash unless it is for beheading. In that case they apply the in-curving part of the blade and pull strongly backwards in a drawcut.' (Desjardins, 134)

Desjardins is reserved about the last bit, arguing that such a maneuvre is too complex and time-consuming to execute in battle. She concludes that the flyssa was used by foot-soldiers equally well against infrantry and cavalry. In the case of the latter point, a footnote relates an account in which foot-soldiers used the flyssa to attack the horses and take them out of combat. I can picture such an action but I would also consider a half-swording maneuvre. The flyssa-wielder could grasp the spine of the blade for support and swipe at the legs of the horses...pure speculation of course.

I do not understand why thrusting swords must necessarily have guards. Spears do not have guards and they are the ultimate thrusting weapon. If the weapon is furthermore used against unarmoured soft targets, I don't think there would be any slippage. The flare at the base of the flyssa blade could conceivably hold the hand on the grip well enough. Someone should sharpen their flyssa and thrust through a quarter of beef or porc, and report the result.

Now if the flyssa is a predominantly thrusting weapon, why have the recurved edge? The ogive is perfect for hacking and slashing, and it seems like too much of a bother if its purpose was merely for cutting heads. Now the seconf flyssa posted by Tatyana has practically no recurve...I therefore think that the accounts given by this officer or that generalize too much. One may have seen a kabyle using a straight variety, while another might have seen one with a curved piece. Their conclusions would thus be conflicting.

I'm sure that the grunts of the French troops knew quite well how Kabyles faught...too bad the low ranks never get their stories published.

If Kabyles were essentially Guerilla fighters ambushing their opponents, perhaps the use of cavalry (horse or camel) was not needed. I ran accross some paintings and prints of the various French battles against the Kabyles and Algerians, and although they showed infantry troops bearing flyssa's I haven't seen any mounted ones. I'll keep looking and I will try to scan the good bits.

Best regards,
Emanuel

Last edited by Manolo : 14th August 2007 at 11:34 PM.
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Old 14th August 2007, 11:38 PM   #29
Emanuel
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I agree with Krockew about the weight and musculature. As an example I have this large, heavy tulwar with a thick blade. I found it very heavy when I got it some months ago, but since then I have been rootinely doing drills with it. It now feels much more wieldy in hand and I imagine that doing gatka for a couple of years would make it feel light as a feather.
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Old 15th August 2007, 08:32 PM   #30
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Hi Emanuel,
Thank you so much for your well thought out responses and specifically answered observations to the questions I had posted.
I would also like to thank you for sharing the information and translated passage from the very important Desjardins work. That data gives us some provenanced detail on the manner of use of these swords as well as the combat strategy used, which does seem as if guerrilla style warfare was most likely for these warriors.
You have made some very valid points in speculating on the use of these swords and as you have indicated, possibly the guard was not essential if these were used as you suggested. Naturally more contemporary narratives would be helpful in evaluating probable manners of use, and I completely agree, the letters or comments of the front line troops would be the final word. Unfortunately, the stories these men carried were seldom ever published and did not survive for posterity, at least as far as we know at this point.

I very much appreciate the way you engage in discussion on various weapons and for your contributions in sharing translationed material from the Desjardines reference. We all benefit from such sharing of material as well as well placed observations suggesting plausible answers to questions concerning these weapons. Over the years many members have also presented perspective on known material in varying degree and made similar suggestions, and your compiling these threads on the other thread on these discussions really helps in comprehensive evaluation as we consider the status of research to date.

It is great to see such constructive discussion inspired by such efforts, as can be seen by the keen participation with contributions from Lew, Tatyana, Jeff , Kronckew and Teodor.

I know that I sense a much better perspective on the flyssa at this point and again, thanks very much everybody!!!

All very best regards,
Jim
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