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Shotel Sword: The Ethiopian Winner of Women’s Hearts 

Written by: David Mickov
Published On: May 4, 2023
Edited by: Juliana Cummings

The blades of African swords are unlike any others, thanks to their one-of-a-kind design and shape. The Ethiopian Shotel is one of them. Compared to other African swords, it stands out due to its uniquely designed sickle-shaped blade that offers different styles of use and certain combat advantages.

The Shotel is often called an African Scimitar blade due to its strong curve and is one of the most popular swords shown in modern media, such as movies, games, and anime. In this article, we will show you the different variations of a Shotel and the most common one. We will also examine its beautifully designed characteristics and how they were best used. We will touch on its history and conclude whether the Shotel is truly battle effective.

Types and Variations of Shotel Swords

Types of Shotel Swords 1
The different variations and shapes of the Shotel and Gurade African swords – Credits: Victorian Swords

The Shotel is a common sickle-shaped African sword in various sizes and styles. It resembles the Persian Shamshir in shape, especially in its prominent inner curvature. The main difference between these and Shotel swords is the curve that may be pronounced and begin at the guard, or it may begin on the blade itself after the ricasso or unsharpened part of the blade.

Shotel swords came in various shapes and sizes throughout history, from soft, curved blades used for slashing to hard, curved sickles used for getting around shields. The most commonly made and used Shotel is a curved sickle sword between these two designs.

The Shotel sword with a curved and not sickle-shaped blade is called the Gurade. This is a different sword usually mistaken for being the Shotel and was the main Ethiopian sabre in use.

Characteristics of the Shotel Sword

Shotel Sword with Details
The Shotel Sword from Ethiopia with details – Credits: Scholagladiatoria

Sickle-shaped swords have their blades in the shape of a sickle. The Shotel is a sickle-like sword with one of the strongest and most visually prominent curves; its biggest characteristic sets it apart from many other swords. It is a curved sword that requires different dexterity when being used.


Blade Fuller of the Shotel Sword
The double-edged blade with a fuller of the Shotel Sword – Credits: Scholagladiatoria

The blade of the Shotel is made out of steel and is heavily curved in a semi-circular sickle shape. The blade was commonly double-edged, meaning sharpened on each side of it, but there are cases where only the inner part is sharpened and used for cutting and chopping attacks. Sometimes the blade of the Shotel could be long or very short but was in the range of 25.5 to 31 inches (65 to 80 cm).

The blade of the Shotel usually has two sets of wider fullers on the side of the blade or a raised midrib which gives the blade a hollow diamond cross-section in the middle which is both aesthetically pleasing and makes the blade lighter. Sometimes this cross-section can extend to the blade tip.

The beginning part of the blade is unsharpened, giving it a ricasso trait, but the end of the blade tapers and forms a very sharp double-edged tip used for strong piercing attacks.


Guard of the Shotel Sword
A more strongly curved Shotel sword with a large type of guard handle – Credits: Oriental Arms

Shotel swords do not have a true guard, although there are some cases where the top of the handle opens up into a disc shape, creating a type of guard. This does not provide any type of real protection to the user’s hands as a crossguard would.

The Shotel does not have a real guard because it was usually paired with a sizable shield. Another reason is the movements of attacks and defenses, as well as the flexibility and versatility needed to perform with its heavily curved blade, which would be limited by a large crossguard.


Handle of the Shotel Sword
The most commonly used shape for the handle of the Shotel sword – Credits: Oriental Arms

Shotel swords are one-handed weapons mainly because of their handle size and length, which averages around 4 to 6 inches (10 to 15 cm). This is the exact proportion for only one hand to grasp it securely when carrying out the various attack motions of the long Shotel curved blade.

These handles are simple and usually made of wood in an hourglass shape, with the top and bottom being wider. 


Pommel of the Shotel Sword
The small metal piece cap acts as a pommel to the Shotel sword – Credits: Oriental Arms

Some Shotel swords do not feature any guard or pommel, a metal piece on the bottom of the sword to act as a counterweight for the large length and hold the full-tang blade together. There are rare cases, however, where a small brass disc or steel cap, which can even be engraved and decorated, is the sword’s pommel.


Shotel Sword in its Scabbard
The very long and pointy scabbard of the Shotel that resembled a tail when carried around – Credits: Victorian Swords

The scabbard is the placeholder of the sword when not in use to protect it from outer elements such as rain or corrosion. Shotel swords’ scabbards are usually made out of tooled leather. They are slightly longer than the blade itself so that they can resemble a tail on the wielder. However, this leads to the need to twist one’s arm when unsheathing it.

The sheathed Shotel was carried on the right or left side of the body and usually tied around one’s belts. The scabbard had a very pointy tip that could be gilded and heavily ornamented with rare and precious metals, sometimes pierced and engraved with braided spirals.


It was crucial that the weapon be lightweight and easily wielded, as it required fast and bizarre types of moves. Depending on its length and size, a common weight for the Shotel sword is between 1.5 to 2 lbs (0.7 to 0.9 kg), making it a fairly light sword.

Size & Length

This Ethiopian sword can come in various lengths, from a very small, almost sickle-like tool to an extremely long and almost unwieldable massive sword. Throughout history, Shotel swords that could be used effectively for combat and battle were around  31 to 40 inches (0.8 to 1 meter).

Uses for the Shotel Sword

Demonstrating the deadliness through cutting and piercing strikes with the Ethiopian Shotel sword – Credits: Forged in Fire

The Shotel is a one-handed sword. It is primarily a weapon for puncturing and gouging the victim’s vital organ, especially if they were using a shield as defense. This function is very similar to the European Falx sword.

The most important part about using the Shotel is the footwork and movement. Because of its strong curve, the traditional style of fencing or sword fighting, like a Longsword, is not practiced. Instead, jumping and hopping around armed with a large shield using swift attacks is key.

Combat & Warfare

Ceremonial Shotel Sword
The ceremonial Shotel sword used to look like a tail when worn by the nobles – Credits: Ancient Origins

In the early stages of its development, the primary use for the sickle-shaped Shotel Ethiopian sword was combat, warfare, and dueling. It is a sword that took a lot of training to use properly. Its biggest advantage was the unorthodox and unexpected attacks that could be inflicted on the enemy, although still limited in use.

The Shotel was mostly used with a very large shield. It is said to have been a  successful weapon used against Calvary to hook away enemy weapons or shields.

Ethiopians preferred swords such as the Kaskara and Gudare in large-scale warfare formations. Still, the Shotel was used in many duels because it made for spectacular fighting based on speed and agility. It also saw frequent usage in battles as a slashing and slicing weapon that could inflict large wounds on unarmored opponents.

Ceremonial & Weapon of Rank

Shotel Art
Emperor Menelik (20th century) on his throne with soldiers having the Shotel on their belts behind him- Credits: British Museum

With time the Shotel sword became a highly ceremonial tool and as a piece to distinguish certain nobility or ranking figures from the rest of the populace. Adding rare metals and having a pointy scabbards on its blades made it look like the tail of the person to impress others around them. 

Modern & Beginner Friendly

Like the Katana and Ninja swords, the Shotel sword today is one of the most popular, as it can be seen all over modern media. It appears in anime and video games such as Elden Ring, Dark Souls, and Age of Empires. It is commonly shown as a sword used for fierce attacks and fast riposte moves.

Shotel swordsmanship is also very frequent in HAMA (Historical African Martial Arts), where the unique styles of attacks and defense moves are studied in detail. Despite its popularity in martial arts and traditional African sword dances, the Shotel is not a beginner-friendly sword to train with, mainly because of its sickle-shaped blade.

History of the Shotel Sword

History of the Shotel Sword
Dejazmach Hailu, who held office during the reign of the Ethiopian national hero Tewodros II with a Shotel sword – Credits: Wiki Media

The Shotel is a curved and sickle-shaped sword that originated in the Ethiopian Empire, formally known as Abyssinia. Some trace this sword back as early as the 10th century BC when it was used by the Damotian people. 

This theory is that this type of sickle blade, known as the Khopesh Sword, was common in both ancient Mesopotamian and Egyptian civilizations and was passed down through the influence of ancient Nubia to modern-day Ethiopia.

Another theory is that the Shotel results from the constant nomadic tribal interaction along the Ethiopia Harar trade route along the Red Sea. This traces the Shotel as creation form based on the Congolese throwing knife and short sword known as Gile, used heavily in Ethiopia and Kenya. They share many common traits, such as the midrib of the blade, curve, and handle.

African warriors wielding the Shotel Sword
Eritrean Tigrinya tribe warriors in traditional dress with the Shotel sword in 1935 – Credits: Xoxo Eritreia

The sword was popular with foot soldiers and was often carried alongside combined with an impressive shield. Because of its design, it was very hard to master for the lay swordsman, and it took the experience of a seasoned warrior to do so, which led to the rise of special units using the Shotel known as the Meshenitai. In medieval times, the use of elite troops with the Shotel became known as Axurarat Shotelai, and they were highly popular against cavalry and unarmored opponents.

The main sword for battle and formations of Ethiopa was the Gurade. This led to the Shotel becoming a ceremonial and decorative instrument, but despite that, it was a sword still used in the Italo-Ethiopian wars in the 19th and 20th centuries.

Is the Shotel Sword Battle-Effective?

Large Shotel Sword
The sickle-shaped  blade of the Shotel sword offers both  advantages and disadvantages – Credits: The British Museum

The Shotel can be found in different battle accounts throughout history as an effective sword but only in particular combat situations. The curve and design of this sickle blade make it very cumbersome in large battle formations and one on one fights against armed opponents. 

“A great long Shotel with its silver ball,
Goes down with the women, and that’s all –
A first-rate sword with its silver knob,
Goes down with the women, that’s its job” 
– Natives of Abyssinia, as told in the Journal of Royal United Service Institution

Its sickle-shaped form was also very effective against unarmored opponents, primarily in Italy prior to World War two when it was used with the outer blade edge for cutting like a Falchion. When faced against a curved or straight sword, it fell short in almost every aspect.

There are historical instances where it is described as an ornamental piece for the nobility and to attract women. Whether these statements about the sword from the natives are true or not, this blade design is battle effective but not one of the strongest swords in the world.

Sources Cited
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