Military Wiki
Sabre mg 7029.jpg
French sabre of the sailors of the Guard, First Empire.
Type Sword
Service history
Wars Napoleonic Wars, World War I
Production history
Produced c. 1800 - present
Blade type Single-edged or double-edged, curved bladed or straight blade, pointed tip.

The sabre or saber (see spelling differences) is a sword that usually has a curved, single-edged blade and a rather large hand guard, covering the knuckles of the hand as well as the thumb and forefinger. Although sabres are typically thought of as curved-bladed slashing weapons, those used by the world's heavy cavalry often had straight and even double-edged blades more suitable for thrusting. The length of sabres varied, and most were carried in a scabbard hanging from a shoulder belt known as a baldric or from a waist-mounted sword belt, usually with slings of differing lengths to permit the scabbard to hang below the rider's waist level. Exceptions not intended for personal carry include the Patton saber adopted by the United States Army in 1913 and always mounted to the cavalryman's saddle.


The English word sabre derives from the French sabre which is akin to the Hungarian szablya, Polish szabla, and Russian сабля (sablya). The word is believed to originate from the Kipchak Turkic selebe, with contamination from the Hungarian verb szab, which means "to cut" (cognate with the English "stab").[1]

Origins of the weapon

Medieval (12th century) Eastern European szabla blade.

Sabre-like curved backswords have been in use in Europe since the medieval period (falchion, Byzantinian paramērion which was inspired by the Avar Cavalry sword), but the introduction of the sabre proper in Western Europe, along with the term sabre itself, dates to the 17th century, via influence of the Eastern European szabla type. The weapon gained widespread use in the early 19th century, inspired by the Mameluke sword, a type of Middle Eastern scimitar.

The original type of Szabla or Polish sabre was used as a cavalry weapon, probably inspired by Hungarian or wider Turco-Mongol warfare. The Karabela was a type of szabla popular in the late 17th century, worn by the Polish, Lithuanian, and Ukrainian nobility class, the Szlachta. While designed as a cavalry weapon, it also came to replace various types of straight-bladed swords used by infantry.[2] The Swiss sabre originates as a regular sword with a single-edged blade in the early 16th century, but by the 17th century begins to exhibit specialized hilt types.


The briquet, typical infantry sabre of the Napoleonic Wars.

French Navy sabre of the 19th Century, "boarding sabre".

Lieutenant Colonel Teófilo Marxuach's M1902 Officer's Sabre and Scabbard at the National Historic Trust site at Castillo San Cristobal in San Juan, Puerto Rico

The sabre saw extensive military use in the early 19th century, particularly in the Napoleonic Wars, during which Napoleon used heavy cavalry charges to great effect against his enemies. Shorter versions of the sabre were also used as sidearms by dismounted units, although these were gradually replaced by fascine knives and sword bayonets as the century went on. The sabre faded as a weapon by mid-century, as longer-range rifles made cavalry charges obsolete, even suicidal. In the American Civil War, the sabre was used infrequently as a weapon, but saw notable deployment in the Battle of Brandy Station and at East Cavalry Field at the Battle of Gettysburg in 1863. Many cavalrymen—particularly on the Confederate side—eventually abandoned the long, heavy weapons in favour of revolvers and carbines. Although there was extensive debate over the effectiveness of weapons such as the sabre and lance, the sabre remained the standard weapon of cavalry for mounted action in most armies until World War I. Thereafter it was gradually relegated to the status of a ceremonial weapon, and most horse cavalry was replaced by armoured cavalry from 1930 on. In the Polish–Lithuanian Commonwealth (16–18th century) a specific type of sabre-like melee weapon, the szabla, was used. The Don Cossacks used the shashka, (originating from Circassian "sashho" - big knife) and sablja (from Circassian "sa" - knife and "blja" - snake), which also saw military and police use in the Russian Empire and early Soviet Union.

Adoption by Western Armed Forces

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

Europeans rekindled their interest in sabres due to their confrontations with the Mamelukes in the late 18th century and early 19th century. The Mamluks were originally of Turkish descent, the Egyptians bore Turkish sabres 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 weapon for senior officers to wear. The elegant but effective 1803 pattern sword that the British Government authorized for use by infantry officers during the wars against Napoleon featured a curved sabre blade which was often blued and engraved by the owner in accordance with his personal taste.

In 1831, the "Mamaluke" sword became a regulation pattern for British general officers (and is 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.

During the 19th and in the early 20th century, sabres were also used by both mounted and dismounted personnel in some European police forces. When the sabre was used by mounted police against crowds, the results could be appalling, as in a key scene in Doctor Zhivago. The sabre was later phased out in favour of the baton (or night stick) for both practical and humanitarian reasons. The Gendarmerie of Belgium used them until at least 1950.[3]

In the late 20th and early 21st century, swords with sabre blades are worn by most national Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine and Coast Guard officers. Some militaries also issue ceremonial swords to their highest-ranking non-commissioned officers; this is seen as an honorary since typically non-commissioned, enlisted/other ranks members are much more often given a cutlass blade rather than a sabre. Sword deployment in the modern military are no longer intended for use as weapons, and now serve primarily in ornamental or ceremonial functions. As such, they are typically made of stainless steel, a material which keeps its shone bright but is much too brittle for direct impacts and may shatter, let alone full blade-on-blade combat. One memorable ceremonial function a sabre serves is the Wedding Arch or Sabre Arch, performed for servicemen or women getting married.

Modern sport fencing

The modern fencing sabre bears little resemblance to the cavalry sabre, having a thin, 88 cm long straight blade. One of the three weapons used in the sport of fencing, it is a very fast-paced weapon with bouts characterized by quick footwork and cutting with the edge. The only allowed target area is from the waist up - the region a mounted man could reach on a foe on the ground.


In a marching band or a drum & bugle corps, the colorguard is a non-musical section that provides additional visual aspects to the performance. The marching band and colorguard performance generally takes place on a football field while the colorguard interprets the music that the marching band or drum & bugle corps is playing via the synchronized spinning of flags, sabres, rifles, or through dance. In the Winter colorguards, or Winter guard perform indoors on gymnasium floors and usually performs to interpret recorded music. Unlike in traditional, military colorguards, the sabre, and rifle are used as apparatus for spinning, tossing and as an extension to interpretative movement. The sabre is considered one of the more advanced of the equipment used by the guard members.

See also


  1. Marek Stachowski (2004). "The origin of the European word for sabre". Krakow.,%20SEC-9.pdf. 
  2. Alaux, Michel. Modern Fencing: Foil, Epee, and Sabre. Scribner's, 1975, p. 123.
  3. "BELGIUM SAYS 'NO' TO LEOPOLD". Pathé News. 3 August 1950. 

External links

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