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  • Turkish Radio Hour
    [Here are a few pictures of yatagans: http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/images/hb/hb_1993.14.jpg http://arms2armor.com/Swords/yatagan5.jpg
    Message 1 of 1 , Oct 15, 2003
      [Here are a few pictures of yatagans:

      http://www.vikingsword.com/ethforum/messages/swordclo.jpg ]



      Art and arms might seem contradictory concepts, but like all human
      artefacts weapons have been a vehicle for artistic expression. The
      swords of many types and periods which we see in museums today have
      often been transformed into objects of such beauty by the craftsmen
      who made them that we forget they were instruments of war. The
      yatagan, a type of Turkish sword (which indeed became known in other
      countries as the 'Turkish sword') used from the mid-16th to late 19th
      centuries, was decorated with the same degree of craftsmanship as used
      to ensure the strength and sharpness of its blade.

      The yatagan is distinguishable from other types of swords by various
      characteristics. The pommel of the bone, horn, ivory or silver hilt
      spreads out in two wings to either side, a feature which prevents the
      sword slipping out of the hand in battle. A broad thick metal band
      covers the join between the hilt and blade. The richest yatagans have
      hilts of silver or copper gilt set with coral, emeralds, rubies and
      other precious stones, and similar decoration adorns the scabbards.

      Yatagan blades vary from 60 to 80 cm in length and are slightly curved
      towards the sharp edge. While the back of the blade is made of iron,
      the sharp edge is made of steel for strength. The flat of the blade is
      frequently engraved or inlaid with motifs or inscriptions, the latter
      sometimes literary, such as a line of poetry or reference to an epic
      legend, sometimes religious in content, such as a verse from the Koran
      or a prayer, and sometimes words expressing the thoughts of the
      sword's owner. There may also be the mark of the swordsmith, the
      declaration of God's unity, and words identifying the ruler of the
      time and wishing him victorious. Often the blade also has a Seal of
      Solomon motif consisting of a star formed by two superimposed

      The damascened inlay work on these swords was executed by engraving
      the design or inscription, filling the grooves with molten gold or
      silver, and finally grinding the surface smooth.

      Another method used for silver decoration was to lay fine silver wire
      to form the outline of the design, and it is this technique which is
      found most frequently on yatagan blades. A single sword was created by
      a number of craftsmen, each specialising in a particular field. While
      one made the iron and steel blade, another made the hilt, another the
      scabbard, and still another did the decoration, which as well as
      engraving and inlaying, included filigree and granulation. The amount
      of decoration and use of precious metals and stones depended, of
      course, on what the owner could afford. Yatagans were therefore often
      works of art that arouse our admiration today.

      Scabbard tips were reinforced to prevent the sword piercing the
      sheath, and decorated in the form of dragon, eagle or serpent heads.

      The yatagans used by janissaries and other infantry soldiers were
      smaller and lighter than ordinary swords so as not to hinder them when
      carried at the waist on the march.

      Since the edge was extremely sharp, the way it was wielded also
      differed, and when a swordsman was stronger than his opponent, he
      would fight with the back of the blade rather than the edge.

      There are two theories about the origin of the term yatagan, a word
      deriving from the Turkish verb yatmak, meaning to lie down. One theory
      is that it was placed flat in the leather bandolier used by the
      janissaries, and also held flat when in use. The second theory, which
      is considered most likely, is that it is named after the town of
      Yatagan in southwest Turkey which was conquered by a Seljuk commander
      and blacksmith named Osman Bey, whose cognomen was Yatagan Baba.

      Yatagan Baba later settled there, and gave his name not only to the
      town, but to the famous swords which were produced there. The swords
      of Yatagan are frequently mentioned in historic books and documents,
      and confirm oral accounts of the town's history, although yatagans
      were also made in all the major cities of the Ottoman Empire,
      particularly Istanbul, Bursa and Plovdiv.

      During the conquest of Istanbul the Ottoman army was supplied with
      gunpowder from Yatagan, whose swordsmiths also made other types of
      swords and daggers. For centuries iron forging was the mainstay of the
      town's economy, the smiths working in forges on the ground floors or
      next to their houses. Although today the people of Yatagan no longer
      make the swords for which they were famous in the past, this is still
      one of Turkey's most important centres of knife making. Here you open
      the door of one of the old-fashioned forges where the heat of the fire
      is raised by traditional bellows, to see a white haired and bearded
      blacksmith beating a redhot iron blade on the anvils, and his elderly
      wife swinging her hammer alongside her husband. The handmade blades
      which they produce are of a quality and beauty that no modern machine
      can match.

      * Abdullah Kilic is a journalist
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