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YATAGAN, THE TURKISH SWORD

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 triangles. 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 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. 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.

Ref: Abdullah KILIC, Photos Aslan YAVUZ / Skylife

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