Yatagan Sword: The Sword That Gives Eternal Sleep
What’s in this article?
The Yatagan sword is a single-edged weapon from Turkey that has a recurved shape and looks like something between a cleaver and a saber. It was an infantry sword that was generally used by the professional troops of the Ottoman Empire called Janissaries.
This article will discuss the Yatagan sword and everything associated with it. We will start off with its different regional variations and general characteristics. Then we will go over its many uses as well as its very interesting history. Finally, we shall conclude with how it stands up against other swords from history.
Regional Variations of Yatagan
The Ottoman Empire spanned three continents and many lands with different cultures and backgrounds. As their influence spread, the mastercraft of Turkish swords was naturally accepted and used by these peoples too. That is why the Yatagan has different variations depending on which region it came from.
The Balkan Yatagan comes from the Balkan regions, or modern-day Serbia, Croatia, Romania, and other countries. This variation is easily recognized by its much larger ‘ears’ – two sets of pommel openings at the bottom of the handle. These ears were often made out of bone or ivory.
Anatolia is the modern-day heart and center of Turkey. It was the epicenter of Turkish swordsmithing in the Ottoman Empire and even still to this day. The Anatolian Yatagan usually have much smaller ears and are made out of silver or horns. This style of Yatagan is the most common Yatagan.
The Ionian coast is the western part of modern Turkey. Here, mainland Turkey meets the Aegean Sea, and many battles have been fought in this region. This variation of the Yatagan is most often called the Zeibek Yatagan, Zeibeks being guerilla fighters and the Turkish militia on the west coast. These variations usually have a T-shaped handle that offered users a better grip than other styles at the time.
Characteristics of the Yatagan Sword
The Yatagan is the sword of the Turkish Janissaries, the professional troops of the Ottoman Empire. Most of the warfare and conquests of the Ottoman Empire can be directly linked to the Janissaries. The most visual and easily recognized trait of the Yatagan is the slight forward and back curve that is on the single-edged blade.
The blade of the Yatagan sword has a slight inward curve. It ends with a pointed tip which means that it can also be used for both slashing and thrusting strikes.
The blade of the Yatagan sword has a full tang, meaning that part of it enters the handle for better durability. This blade has a forward curve ending with a broader blade tip, which is very common for Turkish swords. This is something called the Yalman and can even be seen on the Turkish Kilij swords.
Many inscriptions and decorations were added to the curved blade because this was also a ceremonial weapon. The neck of the blade would often be gilded with Islamic writings or the owner’s name. The blade could also be made from Damascus steel too.
The length of the blade on the Yatagan wasn’t all that long. It was usually 23 to 27 inches (60 to 70 cm), making it fairly similar to the Falcata, Kopis, and Sica swords.
As this Ottoman sword was mainly used as a backup weapon, it needed to be light and easy to unsheathe. This led to the decision to have no guard on the sword. No guard meant that the sword could be lighter than usual but would offer no protection for the user’s hands.
The Yatagan’s handle was straight most of the time but could’ve been very slightly curved too. It has a very short handle which went perfectly with the short length of the sword itself. The handle directly connects to the blade because the Yataghan doesn’t have a guard.
The handle was added to the blade and usually made out of wood, but it could also be made from bone, ivory, or even metal like silver. It was often painted or dyed and had many inscriptions added to it, like Arabic Islamic quotes or Turkish sayings.
Usually, the Yatagan handle had an overall length of around 4.7 inches (12 cm), making it the perfect length for one-handed use.
The Yatagan has different variations of pommels depending on the region where it comes from. The pommel was typically either T-shaped, L-shaped, or rounded. It occasionally had two ‘ears’ sticking out from either side of the pommel. Those ears are why it’s sometimes called the ‘eared’ sword by the local populace.
All of these pommels offer excellent hand support for fast slashing strikes. Sometimes, the user would attach a rope or tassel to the ‘ears’ to give even more support and control over the Yatagan.
The Yatagan was mostly used by soldiers known as the Janissaries. These soldiers often had to walk long distances to defend the empire or expand its borders. That is why the scabbard was mostly made out of leather so that it would be light. It was usually carried on the side or the back of the belt.
The scabbard of the Yatagan is curved just like the blade and made wider than needed so the broadened tip can easily fit inside. It was made out of wood, leather, and even silver. It was also usually heavily decorated, especially if it was owned by a nobleman.
Size & Length
The Ottoman warriors used the Kilij as their primary long sword for battle, especially in mounted warfare. That is why they needed something shorter and easy to carry around but also powerful; that is where the Yatagan sword shines.
It was considered a light shortsword and was held with one hand. The overall length of the Yatagan was 23 to 35 inches long (60 to 90 cm), making it the ideal weapon for soldiers to carry around during long marches, and it was easy to use in melee combat. Also, this length allowed the Yatagan to easily be unsheathed and sometimes even used as a throwing weapon.
The Yatagan sword typically weighed around 1.7 lbs (800 grams). This allowed soldiers to carry it around without getting tired. They also could swing it during battle quickly without tiring.
Uses of the Yatagan Sword
The Yatagan is a short sword or sabre, sometimes even called a knife too, which was primarily used as a one-handed weapon. Thanks to its curve, it is a fantastic slashing weapon, but it can also be used for thrusting due to its pointed tip.
As with many other swords and sabers, the primary use of the Yatagan is warfare. Janissaries were the elite and professional troops of the Ottoman Empire, and being the infantry, meant that they were the biggest user of the Yatagan sword. There are many instances in history where the infantry was forced to march for months, and the light Yatagan made that easier.
It has a recurved shape just like a Kopis, Falcata, or a machete and was primarily made this way so that it can easily hack through the necks of the enemies. This was something that European armor couldn’t easily defend from.
Because of its shape and size, some believe that the Yatagan might also have been used as a throwing weapon. Its recurved shape and throwing tests definitely offer some truth to this claim. The maximum distance it can be thrown is around 6 meters, despite that some people believe it’s possible to reach 30 meters.
The Yatagan is a highly ceremonial weapon used in many Turkish dances even to this day. It was also very prestigious to own a high-quality sword like this. Many of the sultans had Yatagans that were specifically designed with many decorations and inscriptions.
Although it isn’t classified as one, there is one more variation of a Yatagan, and that is the Istanbul Yatagan. This variation was primarily a decorative and ceremonial weapon of the sultans. They were luxurious weapons that the finest craftsmen from around the world would arrive to create.
Daily Tool & Protective
Since it has the shape of a modern-day machete, some might say that the Yatagan could have been used similarly for everyday tasks. Soldiers could have used it for cutting down tall grass, rope, and daily activities that could help them out.
Although that might have been the case for some individuals, it is considered too long to have been used for farming or other tasks. However, many civilians had it strapped on their belts for daily protection, especially in hostile environments.
Modern & Beginner Friendly
Today the Yatagan sword is one of the most popular swords from the Ottoman Empire, and it is very easy to find in all sorts of modern media, especially in Middle Eastern countries. It is still very well respected in Turkey and can be found in traditional dances, given as a gift, or even used by various martial arts.
It might be the best Turkish Ottoman sword to begin training with since it is very light, and the design isn’t all that unorthodox compared to other swords, like the scimitar.
History of the Yatagan Sword
The Yatagan sword is a Turkish sword that is believed to have originated sometime in the late middle ages, around the 14th century. The first authentic findings that there are for the Yatagan are from the 15th century belonging to Suleiman the Magnificent. This sword has an inscription written on it dating it to 1526.
This sword was so widespread and used throughout many regions of the Ottoman Empire that it has several different legends connected to its origins. One of the legends is about Yatagan Baba. This was a Seljuk blacksmith as well as a military commander. He conquered a village in modern-day Denizli, Turkey, and made his new home there. Being a master blacksmith, Yatagan Baba developed the Yatagan sword, which was named after him and the village he conquered.
Another legend is that at one point during the Ottoman Period, the sultan had forbidden the use of long swords by the Janissaries in peacetime because of their insubordination. They were then forced to improvise, and ordered weapons made that didn’t technically constitute a long sword.
Whatever the case may be, the Yatagan proved to be a very good weapon for the Ottoman infantry. It was used by people throughout the Ottoman Empire from the 15th to the 19th century. It even influenced neighboring countries like the Russian Cossacks and armies in the Middle East. Countries in Europe would even go on to make Yatagan bayonets for rifles.
The Meaning of the Word Yatagan
There are four possible origins of the name Yatagan:
- The Turkish town Yataghan in southwest Turkey is known for its mastercraft of swords.
- From the Uzbek tribe named Kataghan.
- It was placed on the side or the back of the belt, which directly translates to Yatagan in Turkish.
- Laying down or putting to eternal sleep, which also translates to Yatagan, and we can safely presume was meant for the enemies of the Ottoman Empire.
Is the Yatagan Sword the most Unique?
The Yatagan is truly a one-of-a-kind sword. There simply doesn’t seem to be a sword that can compare to it during the time period it was used. The inwardly curved blade, the lack of a crossguard, and the “ears” all contribute to the item’s one-of-a-kind appearance.
It is possible that the Greek Kopis and, in particular, the Iberian Falcata or Sica had some sort of influence on the Yatagan. However, these swords hadn’t been used for almost a thousand years by the time the Yatagan began to see use in the 14th to 19th centuries.
It isn’t unique when compared to swords throughout history since there have been similarly shaped swords, but at the point of time at which it was created, it was unusual and very unique.
The Yatagan sword today is one of the most interesting and unique swords to come out of Turkey. It is a weapon that is well respected, and the same methods of crafting are still being done in Denizli, Turkey.