Military Wiki

Turkish kilij from Topkapi Palace Museum

Turkish kilij. Taken by Russian troops under general Orlov, given by him to Louis-Philippe de Mellet. On display at Vevey historical museum. This type of sword with a short, broad blade is sometimes called a "pala."

A kilij (from Turkish kılıç, literally "a sword"[1]) is a type of one-handed, single edged and moderately curved saber used by the Turks and related cultures throughout history starting from the late Hsiung-nu period to the time of the Avar Empire and the Göktürk Khaganate, Uyghur Khaganate, Seljuk Empire, Timurid Empire, Mamluk Empire, Ottoman Empire, and the later Turkic Khanates of Central Asia and Eurasian steppes. These blades evolved from Turko-Mongol sabers that had been used over all the lands invaded and/or influenced by the Turkic peoples.


The upper sword appears to be an exaggerated parade piece or executioner's sword, the second down is typical of a later kilij, the third has the characteristics of an earlier kilij and the lowest one possibly has a later European-style blade. Imperial Armoury Topkapi Istanbul


The Turkish root verb "kır-" means "to kill, "to slaughter, to slay" with the suffix "-inç" makes "kır-ınç" (instrument of slaughter) becomes kılınç than kılıç. The kilij became the symbol of power and kingdom. For example Seljuk rulers carried the name Kilij Arslan (kılıç-arslan) means "sword-lion".


The Central Asian Turks and their offshoots begun using curved cavalry swords beginning from the late Hsiung-Nu period.[2] The earliest examples of curved, single edged Turkish swords can be found associated with the late Hsiung-nu and Kok Turk empires.[3] These swords were made of pattern welded high carbon crucible steel, generally with long slightly curved blades with one sharp edge. A sharp back edge on the distal third of the blade known as "yalman" or "yelman" was introduced during this period.

Several kilij from the Topkapi Palace Museum

In the Early Middle Ages, the Turkic people of Central Asia came into contact with Middle Eastern civilizations through their shared Islamic faith. Turkic Ghilman slave-soldiers serving under the Umayyad and Abbasid Caliphates introduced "kilij" type sabers to all of the other Middle Eastern cultures. Previously, Arabs and Persians used straight-bladed swords such as the Indo-Persian Khanda and earlier types of the Arab saif, takouba and kaskara.

During İslamizaton of the Turks, the kilij became more and more popular in the İslamic armies. When the Seljuk Empire invaded Persia and became the first Turkic Muslim political power in Western Asia, kilij became the dominant sword form. The İranian shamshir was created during the Turkic Seljuk Empire period of İran.[4]

After the invasion of Anatolia this sword type was carried by Turkomen tribes to the future seat of the Ottoman Empire. During the Crusades, Turks of Anatolia were the first target to be attacked by the European armies, and their curved swords were misperceived by Europeans as the imaginative "scimitar of the Saracens", the generic sword type for all "Orientals".

Evolution of Ottoman kilij

File:Kilij form.jpg

form of a typical kilij

The Kilij, as a specific type of sabre associated with the Ottoman Turks and the Mamluks of Egypt, was recognisable by the late 15th century. The oldest surviving examples sport a long blade curving slightly from the hilt and more strongly in the distal half. The width of the blade stays narrow (with a slight taper) up until the last 30% of its length, at which point it flares out and becomes wider. This distinctive flaring tip is called a "yalman" (false edge) and it greatly adds to the cutting power of the sword. Ottoman sabres of the next couple of centuries were often of the Selchuk variety, though the native kilij form was also found; Iranian blades (that did not have the yalman) were fitted with Ottoman hilts. These hilts normally had slightly longer quillons to the guard, which was usually of brass or silver, and sported a rounded termination to the grips, usually made of horn, unlike that seen on Iranian swords (Iranian swords usually had iron guards and the grip terminated in a hook-shape often with a metal pommel sheathing). The finest mechanical damascus and wootz steel were often used in making of these swords. In the classical period of the Ottoman Empire, Bursa, Damascus and the Derbent regions became the most famous swordsmithing centers of the empire. Turkish blades became a major export item to Europe and Asia.

In the late 18th century, though shamshirs continued to be used, the kilij underwent an evolution: the blade was shortened, became much more acutely curved, and was wider with an even deeper yalman. In addition to the flared tip, these blades have a distinct "T-shaped" cross section to the back of the blade. This allowed greater blade stiffness without an increase in weight. Because of the shape of the tip of the blade and the nature of its curvature the kilij could be used to perform the thrust, in this it had an advantage over the shamshir whose extreme curvature did not allow the thrust.[5] Some of these shorter kilij are also referred to as pala, but there does not seem to be a clear-cut distinction in nomenclature.

After the Auspicious Incident, the Turkish army was modernized in the European fashion and kilijs were abandoned for western-type cavalry sabers (which was itself evolved from kilij)[citation needed] and smallswords. This change, and the introduction of industrialized European steels to Ottoman market, created a great decline in traditional swordsmithing. Civilians in the provinces and county militia (zeibeks in Western Anatolia, bashibozuks in Balkan provinces), continued to carry hand-made kilijs as a part of their traditional dress. İn the late 19th century, Sultan Abdulhamid II's palace guards, the Ertuğrul Brigade (which was composed of nomadic Turkomans of Anatolia), carried traditional kilijs as a romantic-nationalistic revival of the earlier Ottoman Turkoman cavalry raiders. This sentiment continued after dethronement of the sultan by the nationalist Young Turks. High-ranking officer dress saber of early 20th century was a modern composite of traditional kilij, "mameluke" and European cavalry saber.

Dimensions of a sword of Sultan Beyazid II, 16th century

Terminology and names of parts of a classical era Turkish kilij

Adoption by Western armed forces

A British Hussar general with a scabbarded kilij of Turkish manufacture (1812).

Following the Ottoman invasion of Balkans, European armies were introduced to the kilij, though Greeks, Russians, Ukrainians, Poles, other Slavs and Hungarians were not strangers to this sword type from their earlier encounters with Turkic nomads such as Bulgars, Khazars, Pechenegs, Cumans and Tatars. Russian cossacks and the peoples of the Caucasus adopted a variation of nomadic Tatars' kilij as the shashka. The Kilij first became popular with the Balkan nations and the Hungarian hussar cavalry after 15th century, the sabre taking the name of szabla. Around 1670, the karabela (from Turkish word karabela: black bane) was evolved, based on Janissary kilij sabres; it became the most popular sword-form in the Polish army. During 17th and 18th centuries, curved sabers that evolved from Turkish kilij, were widespread throughout Europe. As the Mamluks were of Turkish descent, the Egyptians bore Turkish sabers for hundreds of years. During the Napoleonic Wars, the French conquest of Egypt brought these beautiful and functional swords to the attention of the Europeans. This type of sabre became very popular for light cavalry officers, in both France and Britain, and became a fashionable sword for senior officers to wear. In 1831 the "Mamaluke", as the sword was now called, became a regulation pattern for British general officers (the 1831 Pattern, still in use today). The American victory over the rebellious forces in the citadel of Tripoli in 1805 during the First Barbary War, led to the presentation of bejewelled examples of these swords to the senior officers of the US Marines. Officers of the US Marine Corps still use a mameluke pattern dress sword. Although some genuine Turkish kilij sabres were used by Westerners, most "mameluke sabres" were manufactured in Europe; their hilts were very similar in form to the Ottoman prototype, however, their blades, even when an expanded yelman was incorporated, tended to be longer, narrower and less curved than those of the true kilij.


Turkish language has a rich terminology involving swords, swordsmithing, parts and types of blades. Below is listed some of the terminology about names of the main parts of a kilij and scabbard in order of the term, literal translation of the Turkish word, and its equivalent in English terminology of swords.

Term Literal Translation Equivalent in English Sword Terminology - Meaning
Taban Base Overall metal body of the sword that is composed of tang and blade
Namlu Barrel Blade
Kabza Hilt Hilt
Balçak Guard
Siper Cover Quillion
Kuyruk or Tugru Tail Tang
Kulp or Boyun Grip or Neck(of the Handle Grip
Kabza başı Head of the handle Pommel
Perçin or Çij Rivet Rivet
Ağız or Yalım Mouth Edge
Sırt Back Back
Yiv, Oluk or Göl Chamfer, Groove or Lake Fuller
Set Bank Ridge
Namlu boynu Neck of the blade Central narrow section of the blade
Yalman Double edged end section of the blade
Mahmuz Spur the bulged section in the blade's back, between neck and yalman
Namlu yüzü Face of the blade Flat of the blade
Süvre or Uç Point or Tip Point
Kın Scabbard Scabbard
Ağızlık Mouthpiece Locket
Çamurluk Bumper Chape
Balçak oyuğu Guard Cavity Section of the locket where handguard fits in.
Bilezik Bangle The part that attaches scabbard to carrying rings
Taşıma halkası Carrying ring Carrying ring
Gövde Body Main part of the scabbard

In popular culture

  • The kilij was featured in an episode of the Spike show, Deadliest Warrior, in which Vlad the Impaler fought Sun Tzu. The damage caused by the sword was compared to a jian, and was voted by the show's commentators as the most destructive one-handed sword on the show.
  • In Assassin's Creed: Revelations, Yusuf Tazim has a Turkish Kilij (incorrectly spelled as 'Kijil' in the game) as his personal weapon.
  • The Kilij is one of the curved sword type weapons in From Software's cult hit video game Demon's Souls.

See also


  1. Unabridged - kilij entry
  2. Çoruhlu, Yaşar "Erken Devir Türk Sanatı" p.74-75
  3. Ögel, Bahaaddin, "Türk Kılıcının Menşei ve Tekamülü Hakkında"
  4. Khorasani, Manouchehr "Arms and Armour from Iran"
  5. Stone and LaRocca, pp. 356-357.


  • Stone, G. C. and LaRocca, D. J. (1999). A glossary of the construction, decoration and use of arms and armor in all countries and in all times. Courier Dover Publications. ISBN 0-486-40726-8.
  • ÖGEL, Bahaeddin, "Türk Kılıcının Menşe ve Tekamülü Hakkında", A.Ü. DTCF Dergisi, 6, 1948
  • The Kilij and Shamshir. Turkish and Persian sabers

External links

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