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Old 23rd January 2021, 12:15 PM   #1
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Default The Arab Dagger

I stumbled on a very interesting article which might be interesting to some of you and so I would like to share this article from Kuwaiti collector of arms and armour, Abdallatif Ali Alnakkas.

Pictures are :

A South Arabian Figure c200 to 100 BC.
Typical Yemeni Jambiyas, Thouma, Abdi, Hadhramiya
Saudi khanjar or Ďgudaimií
Saidi Khanjar, Sur Khanjar, 'Shaibani' Decorated Khanjar
A close-up of gold and silver ĎShaibanií pin-work


The distinctive Arab dagger is one of the most iconic aspects of Arabian arms and armour. Beautifully decorated examples carry such artistic and cultural significances that they have earned places in the best museums and private collections around the world. The subject of the dagger is a deep one and, as it presents the researcher with many avenues to explore and hot debates to enter, this article aims to offer a summary of the characteristics of the more common types, with illustrations to aid the readerís studies.

Historically, these daggers were primarily used as self-defence weapons and, in one form or another, they have been used for centuries in the Arabian world. Indeed, ancient figures dating to pre-Islamic times show men wearing upon their waists large daggers in the same manner as most are worn today. More than this, the dagger also served, and still serves, as a status symbol with every male, from the humblest to the richest, wearing their jambiya as a sign of strength, manhood and self-sufficiency. Naturally, each weaponís design and quality of manufacture would mark the position of its owner on their social ladder and therefore they became one of the most important aspects of male dress.

A dagger could also be used for trade and there are various instances on record of owners using theirs as insurances upon taking out loans, or even selling the precious metals used to decorate their hilts and scabbards. Handles made of rhino horn are the most sought after as they are considered to age in the best fashion, be the most durable and provide an easy grip. Of course, they are now amongst the rarest due to the animalís endangered status. Regardless of handle design, it is often the blade of the dagger which is considered to be the most valuable part and the well-made, older blades are still held in higher regard than even richly decorated handles. Most Western researchers would call such a dagger a jambiya but the noun khanjar is also synonymous and so this article will use both terms were appropriate.

The Republic of Yemen

Typical Yemeni Jambiyas

Yemen lies at the southern edge of the Arabian peninsula and exploring the heritage of its jambiyas provides many valuable insights for collectors. This heritage stretches back many centuries and it is not uncommon to find heirloom jambiyas date-able to 500 years ago and earlier. Stylistic changes from then until now have been minor and the weapon is still worn as a part of daily male dress. The Yemeni is perhaps the most common type of jambiya encountered and it is worn widely, along with local variants, in the north of the country all the way to Najran, a Saudi Arabian city near the border with Yemen (where the local variant is called the mahaliya). As with all jambiyas, the quality of both hilts and blades can vary greatly, with the finer examples boasting precious metals and well made blades.

A prestigious type of jambiya is called the thouma (or, in other places in Yemen, the tuza,) and it is worn by the syeds and the judges, tucked to the side of a manís waist rather than in front of the stomach. The hilts are of familiar design with the most authentic examples fitted with slender rhino-horn hilts. The blades are wide, of high quality and the older examples are quite scarce. Most of the examples of the thouma that are easily available tend to be a marriage between a new blade and handle with an older scabbard.

A third type also exists within Yemen: the abdi. This type is often completed with a finely decorated curved scabbard and its attractive design has seen it spread over a large geographical area with local variations coming into fashion. One of these variants was famously worn by T.E. Lawrence and the Sharifs of Hejaz and, to this day, locals from Hejaz and Yemen still wear and preserve this style. The most sought after ones are made in India with fine Indian blades of exceptional quality.

The Yemeni example illustrated in the gallery here borrows greatly from Indian-made examples, and is fitted with an old blade and a good quality rhino horn handle. Non-local collectors sometimes call this style gusbi but this is something of a misnomer as that term refers specifically to the type of blade.

The Hadhramiya has a radically curved scabbard, a canvas for the application of many artistic elements, with varying levels of decoration according to the purchaserís wealth, from extensive filigree work to simple sheet brass decorations. The name, Hadhramiya, is in reference to the ancient city of Hadhramaut and this type is worn mostly by the well-off citizens of the city.

A good resource for delving further into the nuance of Yemeni jambiyas is Stephen Gracieís 2018 book entitled Jambiya: Daggers from the Ancient Souks of Yemen.

The Kingdom of Saudi Arabia

Although better known for its production of the long dharia daggers (those that are often wrongly called wahabbi daggers) the khanjar was also widely manufactured in Saudi Arabia - often with a style distinct from those made in the rest of the peninsula and fine examples of this type can be seen worn by the Kingdomís royal family. Mostly made using gold or silver, this kind of jambiya is smaller than others and can be confused with those made for children - an incorrect identification. Notable is that some examples of this style are associated with the regions of Nejd or Sharqiya and these show the influences of Omani filigree work, marrying this with the engraved designs used on the sheets of metal in a distinctly Saudi fashion and sharing similarities with swords produced in the area. Locally, this style of dagger is called both a khanjar and a gudaimi.

Historically, the southern parts of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia were once part of the Yemeni Imamate and thus the now smaller countryís styles and terminology have somewhat influenced the largerís. A good example of this amalgamation can be seen in the abdi pictured above that is favoured by both Yemenis and Saudis from the Hejaz region along with the type called the mahaliya already mentioned.

The khanjars of Oman are well represented in its heraldry and the Saidi type can even be seen in the countryís national flag, backed by crossed swords. Most Saidi daggers differ from other Omani styles by having complicated and fine filigree work on the scabbards and hilts. The proportions tend to be longer than other styles too and they have bigger blades offset by slender hilts. The historical origins are quite disputed but the name Saidi comes from its extensive wear by the ruling family of Oman and Zanzibar. One of the stories about its origin suggests that it was designed by a Persian princess who was married to an Omani sultan; while another suggests that the form was inspired by the staff of an African tribal prince - neither story has solid references and the overall hilt-design is not exclusive to Oman and Zanzibar as it can also be found amongst the Shariffs of Mecca who wear locally produced examples and in Nejd with variants produced in Riyadh and Ha'il.

While the dagger has now lost its status as an item of daily wear due to the modernisation of the country it can still be seen worn during weddings, Eid and other celebrations. In spite of a decline in popularity, production of such daggers has continued unabated and newer styles of decoration have been explored while the overall Omani look and design traditionally favoured has remained relatively static, incorporating each regionís local variations. The large rings found on the scabbards are simply decorative as is the formation of wiring that intertwines with them. Many Western collectors interpret the inclusion of the rings in a religious or talismanic sense but there is no strong evidence to support this viewpoint.

The sur khanjar is an elegant dagger, known for employing the use of gold and silver wires intertwined to form complicated, artistic patterns that are distinctly Omani. It is made by competent craftsmen who are sought after throughout the region and whose work greatly influenced types found in the modern day United Arab Emirates. Today, there is a resurgent need in Oman to produce examples that are equal to the older productions but the use of gold is rare due to the current fashions.

Identification of the third khanjar shown in the gallery above is hard to pinpoint compared to its comrades as its use reaches to lands outside of Omanís borders due to trade and tribal movements. Usually, this style shares the design of the Saidi khanjar when it comes to the scabbard but the hilt is usually T-shaped with tightly arranged silver pin-work adorning the front of the hilt. This style of decoration is called Shaibani in honour of an early maker.

To conclude, as we have seen, the topic of Arabian daggers is both rich and complex, and this can be said whether you are interested in the identification of them or the terminology used to describe them. This article aimed to offer a glimpse into the subject, an introduction showcasing the more common types that might be found today on the open market and in museums; and also to provide a glimpse of the great artistry and creativity of the makers of this venerable historical weapon.
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Old 23rd January 2021, 09:39 PM   #2
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Thanks for sharing, Gp.

I wrote this for Matthew Fordeís website. Original article can be found here:

Hopefully that soon all the information I gathered could be published and of help.
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Old 24th January 2021, 09:07 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by A.alnakkas
Thanks for sharing, Gp.

I wrote this for Matthew Fordeís website. Original article can be found here:

Hopefully that soon all the information I gathered could be published and of help.
thank you and you're welcome !
لا شكرا على واجب
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