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Thread: Shamshir vs Armor?

  1. #1
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    Shamshir vs Armor?

    Here is my second question:

    Would a shamshir be expected to have some armor-piercing or circumventing abilities? Or would the warrior switch to a mace or axe to deal with a heavily armored foe?

    Thank you for your time!
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  2. #2
    I don't think most shamshir were heavy enough to be expected to take on armor. Heavier weapons like axes or maces (or even a katar) were better at such things.

    I'm under the impression there wasn't a lot of heavy armor in the middle east. Chain mail, but no plates. I think it was too hot or something like that.

    I'm probably wrong, but that should get us started.

    -Ethan

  3. #3
    Historically; İn Ottoman armies heavy cavalry called "Tımarlı Sipahi"s(which were the backbone of Ottoman army) were wearing chainmail reinforced with plates callde "cebe"(there must be a specific term for this type of chain mail in English but I don't know) And these soldiers often fought with knights of Europe and other heavily armoured cavalry forces. Their main weapon(other than spear) was a type of battle axe called "sagir balta" and maces called "bozdoğan, şeşper" and "gürz". They were carrying saber as a secondary weapon.

    Actually my impression is, sword was generally used as a secondary weapon in the battlefield for most cavalry and infantry forces in east or west.

    Although it was not the primary weapon at the battlefield we can spaculate that a shamshir can penetrate a chainmail. I saw modern experiments that diffirent types of swords cutting through chainmail. So I think shamshir has a very good chance especially when used from a horseback.
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  4. #4
    Quote Originally Posted by Sancar Ozer View Post
    Historically; İn Ottoman armies heavy cavalry called "Tımarlı Sipahi"s(which were the backbone of Ottoman army) were wearing chainmail reinforced with plates callde "cebe"(there must be a specific term for this type of chain mail in English but I don't know)
    Like a coat of plates, or a brigandine? I guess it could also be scale, depending on how it all fit together.

    Here's an article about such things:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Coat_of_plates

    But yeah, I think a shamshir could poke a hole in armor, but slicing it seems a little more hit or miss (pun intended).

    Swords were indeed usually secondary weapons to the ones that could crush or chop things well.

    It would still be scary, though...

    -Ethan

  5. #5
    Well, Cebe was more like this:
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    "The relationship between West(Occident) and East(Orient) is indeed an example of a relationship of power and domination. Orientalism is thus a style of thought based upon an ontological and epistemological distinction made between the Orient and the Occident. It is a Western style of dominating, restructuring and building hegemony over the Orient.İt is an accepted grid for filtering through the Orient into Western consciousness, into the general culture."
    From "Orientalism" by Edward Said

  6. #6
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    Sorry to butt in with a slightly off topic point, but there was thread a while back with loads of pictures of Ottoman armour (I should know, I posted most of the pictures). Maces, axes and warhammers were widely used by various Muslim Middle-Eastern warriors from Medieval times until the early 19th century, probably to penetrate armour.

    Here's that thread BTW:
    http://forums.swordforum.com/showthread.php?t=71813

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    No single handed bladed weapon is capable of cutting through any sort of metal armour. As has been said, the sword is a secondary weapon in most cultures. Not even the katar is capable of penetrating anything but the lightest of mail armour. It isn't possible to generate enough force with a single underhanded thrust.

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    Thank you all very much for your responses--I find them very helpful, and I'm sure anyone with a similar question in the future will also. And thank you to Mr. Ozer and Mr. Gaballa for sharing the extra resources as well!

    Since obviously a mace or other specially-designed anti-armor weapon would be preferable to a shamshir against armor, would most warriors in possession of a sword also have a mace? I suppose I'm getting mixed up by the contemporary miniatures, which overwhelmingly depict swords being used in mounted combat, although here and there you see a mace or axe. One rather graphic miniature even had a scene with one warrior slicing another halfway through, despite his armor. And accounts I've read speak of swords shearing through helmets. I'll see if I can find examples when I wake up tomorrow.

    Thanks again!
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    Everyone has been made for some particular work, and the desire for that work has been put in every heart.
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    just a small story here... way back ... me and my bros made a foot square piece of butted mail (not welded)... put it on a stump and tried to hack through it with a hachet...even in bedded it into the wood.. we did cut a couple links but it didn't go through.. much to my surprise...

    so.. that test was done with a more solid backing than flesh... i bet the mail would be very troublesome to pierce with softer backing..

    i think the spear would be much better... all that force on a small tip..

    shamshir come in many sizes... some are lite and other are definitely heavy war saber's ... ... i think where the saber would shine is on the foot soldiers... i bet lots of them didn't have armor (as its expensive) and would be easy pickin's for a cavalry charge..
    - i would worry bout losing my head if i were them...

    or maybe i'm wrong ..

    Greg

  10. #10
    Quote Originally Posted by Dan Howard View Post
    No single handed bladed weapon is capable of cutting through any sort of metal armour. As has been said, the sword is a secondary weapon in most cultures. Not even the katar is capable of penetrating anything but the lightest of mail armour. It isn't possible to generate enough force with a single underhanded thrust.
    In the story of the battle at Swanfirth against Snorri (from the Ere-Dwellers saga, originating in the 13th century Iceland), Steinthor found that "the fair-wrought sword bit not whenas it smote armour, and oft he must straighten it under his foot". So clearly "smiting" armour with swords was not unheard off at the time, if you had a decent steel one that is.

  11. #11
    It depends what you mean by armour. I believe light or irregular cavalry often wore wadded cotton jackets, rolled turbans etc., and a light shamshir, with its sharp edge and drawing cut, would work better than most on these. For brigandine-style armour with metal plates in the quilting, there is every chance that it would hit or glance between them. But for anything more substantial, I think a cut with a light shamshir would have little chance of success, and it needed its sharp edge so much that the least contact with metal would make its owner wince.

    Against plate or partly-plate armour late in the age of chivalry, the war-hammer became the prime single-handed weapon. Swords weren't ineffective, either heavy, straight ones, or the longer, pointed estoc. I'm not generally very impressed by weapons reenactment classes on the History Channel, but the use of bluntened heavy swords on full plate does seem informative. The second hit was a lot easier to make than the first, and after three or four, the victim would be so damaged that you could hit him as you like, and make a little time to look scientifically for a gap in his protection. That was the time to bargain for ransom, if you had it. Plate didn't give that much protection against bone-breaking and disorientation, and mail hardly any. I believe there are ex-Roman British accounts of the Saxons knocking people down with their swords, then dispatching them with the sax-knife.

    It's a long time since I read the Norse sagas, but people frequently did get wounded through mail, which could already be well-made, although I don't suppose anyone knew what entry-level mail was like. I don't remember if this often involved swords, though spears and arrows it certainly did. Arrows found on the Nydam ship had long, needle-like points, with a barbed bulge behind. I think the idea was that this might burst a link if you were lucky, and would then be difficult to withdraw, but you could count on its doing him an inch and a half or so of no good, if it didn't.

    A very good book including pictures of Norse weapons is the two-volume "The Viking Age" by Paul du Chaillu (who is better known as an explorer and gorilla hunter, although I don't believe he realised they might mind.) It is Victorian, although reprinted and usually available on www.bookfinder.com

  12. #12
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Wallace View Post
    For brigandine-style armour with metal plates in the quilting, there is every chance that it would hit or glance between them.
    Brigandines had overlapping plates. There is virtually no chance of placing the edge or even the point of a blade between plates.

    It's a long time since I read the Norse sagas, but people frequently did get wounded through mail, which could already be well-made, although I don't suppose anyone knew what entry-level mail was like.
    There is a world of difference between getting wounded through mail and having the mail cut asunder by the weapon. There is little to suggest that Scandinavians wore much in the way of padding under their mail. They would be more susceptible to blunt trauma injury. Mail without significant padding is also far more susceptible to impaling damage from spears and arrows.
    Last edited by Dan Howard; 11-24-2007 at 04:11 AM.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dan Howard View Post
    No single handed bladed weapon is capable of cutting through any sort of metal armour. As has been said, the sword is a secondary weapon in most cultures. Not even the katar is capable of penetrating anything but the lightest of mail armour. It isn't possible to generate enough force with a single underhanded thrust.

    Allow me to say it is not compleately correct,Dan. This summer autumn seazon I was in ethnographikal expedition to Georgia,Caucasus. I examined at least 12-15 mail shorts of 18-19 century, that were shown to us by highlanders. On few i could see a clear reaps , after close observation it is obvios cuts from edged weapon, some of the rings that were semi damaged bore sign of impact from the blade stroke. My guess is that curved blade of saber or shashka are responsible.

  14. #14
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    All of the 18-19th century mail items I have seen would be classified among the lightest of mail variants. Many of the 19th century African shirts I've seen aren't even riveted.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Dan Howard View Post
    All of the 18-19th century mail items I have seen would be classified among the lightest of mail variants. Many of the 19th century African shirts I've seen aren't even riveted.
    I see your point,Dan, but again the question is about cutting abilities of shamshir , which was used extensively in this time period. and shamshir is a weapon of Middle East. So lets examen Turkish ( osmanly)and Persian chain mails of earlier period , say 17 cent. , can we really say these are heavier type of chain mail?

    Respectfully,

    VK

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    Quote Originally Posted by Greg T. Obach View Post
    just a small story here... way back ... me and my bros made a foot square piece of butted mail (not welded)... put it on a stump and tried to hack through it with a hachet...even in bedded it into the wood.. we did cut a couple links but it didn't go through.. much to my surprise...

    so.. that test was done with a more solid backing than flesh... i bet the mail would be very troublesome to pierce with softer backing..

    i think the spear would be much better... all that force on a small tip..

    shamshir come in many sizes... some are lite and other are definitely heavy war saber's ... ... i think where the saber would shine is on the foot soldiers... i bet lots of them didn't have armor (as its expensive) and would be easy pickin's for a cavalry charge..
    - i would worry bout losing my head if i were them...

    or maybe i'm wrong ..

    Greg
    Hi Greg! Unbelivable, but we also were doing this kind of experiments some time ago. hacking chain mail never worked for me either. It took me about a year of torturing beef legs raped in peace of chain mail. I admit though, chain mail was of modern cheep making( soft) , but I am on another hand not as strong as warriors of that time.. never the less.
    Try to cut , jerking your saber back just at right moment of impact, ( that you have to get feel for by practising a "little"). Then see what happened!!!
    , in my opinion quite a flesh wound. I wanted to reach bone , but never came close. After all, chain mail does its work of protection. I think it would make differense between flesh wound and having no limb.
    Realy, try what I told you, you will be surprised at result.

    Oh, most important do hit the target with upper point of the blade curvuture, point more toward the tongue. actually, you should examine you saber blade, there two usable parts, one - lower than tongue , is for cuting ( remember again -fast and energetik hit like explosion, but not HACK!remember jerk with wrist and shoulder, so blade kind of moves across target. Little hint - if you feel you actualy cutting - not right, not goning to work, it means you lost momentum. So shorter! but more energetic!
    I dont think I make much cense here. I am not good at explaining, need to improve my English. If you get any of it just try ok, you will see the diference.

    All the best!

    VK
    Last edited by Vahtang K.; 02-11-2008 at 12:57 AM.

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    Greg! One more thing, though I am sure you would not do it, I say it just in case . Use modern functional reproductions, do not ruin antique blade. let me assure you will ruin at least one modern.

    All the Best!
    VK

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    Mister Moderator! Just realise that I've created off topic. I apologize for that, I got carried away by memories. Not going to happen again!

    VK

  19. #19
    Thought I would drop in 2 cents...

    It was mentioned that modern chain mail is soft...but the fact is that the majority of antique chainmail was as soft or softer. Probably better constructed, but mostly made from wrought iron which is softer than today's mild steel. Methods for consistently making hardenable steel did not appear until relatively late in the life-span of swords and armour. Which also points out that the swords were generally quite soft as well. The Norse quote specifically mentions the need to straighten the sword frequently, and a sword needs to be pretty soft to take a set so easily. A well-made modern reproduction is almost guaranteed to perform BETTER against chainmail than its ancient forebears for the simple fact that the edge is much harder and will not simply roll over.

    On Greg's story about the hatchet and the chainmail, there is one important thing to remember: modern hatchets are almost invariably much thicker at the edge than an antique fighting axe. Therefore it would be much harder to penetrate the chainmail. Experiments we have done in the shop with one of our fighting axes vs. chainmail on stump have been downright frightening. As Greg mentioned, some of the links have simply been driven into the wood, while others have been sheared completely...and what a jolly sound they make tinkling on the floor! Regardless of whether the mail is sheared, it is clearly a devastating blow since no amount of padding will buffer against such an impact. The axe was actually more effective against plate, which provided its own support. In tests against historically accurate leg armour, the blade of the axe either heavily creased (deformed by more than 1") or sheared (if we caught a corner of the blade) the 16ga steel with relative ease. When we switched to the spike on the back of the axe, we punched through with penetration of about 3". I'll include a picture of the axe in question for a visual aid.

    Which brings us back to the question of shamshir vs mail...I tend to agree with everyone here that single-handed swords vs armor (other than leather) was a poor plan and was not used under ideal situations. However, I am sure that this situation arose pretty frequently due to loss of the primary impact weapon part way through a battle. After all, any weapon that can penetrate the armour is also pretty likely to become caught in said armour, and it is better to abandon in favor of the sword rather than spend time retrieving the axe/mace/hammer.

    I see a couple things working in the shamshir's favor in this situation. First, many shamshirs were made of wootz, which had a slight hardness advantage over most other materials of the time. This does not mean that it could slice mail, but instead that the edge would not be so terribly effected by a slicing blow across it. The second thing in favor of a shamshir is its speed and ability to maintain momentum after a blow. With an axe/mace/hammer, if the opponent catches the initial blow on his shield, all momentum is lost and a new blow must begin...during which time the opponent is not standing idle. With a shamshir, it is more likely that a shield would deflec the blow rather than stop it, and momentum can be carried into the next swing. Add these two together and you have a weapon that is well suited to keeping your opponent too busy to counterattack effectively while the curved edge seeks a gap in the armor. Having said this, I would still prefer an axe when facing an armoured opponent.

    The last thing I want to mention is that heavy cavalry vs heavy cavalry is not a great tactical move, since it wastes advantage. I am sure that it happened, but a good general would prefer to send cavalry against light infantry or archers since this is where the greatest advantage would be seen. In this situation, the shamshir would be preferred to other weapons since the curved blade is perfectly suited to
    "ride-by" killing of lightly armoured foes.
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    Thank you very much Peter!

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    Quote Originally Posted by Peter T. Swarz-Burt View Post
    It was mentioned that modern chain mail is soft...but the fact is that the majority of antique chainmail was as soft or softer. Probably better constructed, but mostly made from wrought iron which is softer than today's mild steel.
    Not only is it softer but wrought iron is far more ductile. Mild steel snaps much more easily and is a poor substitute for wrought iron in mail manufacture. Wrought iron links consistently outperform modern mild steel against all weapons. The quality of wrought iron in historical mail was always fairly high since too many (or too large) slag inclusions will prevent it from being drawn into wire.

  22. #22
    Dan,

    I see what you are getting at...softer material bends rather than breaks and therefore holds up better under impact. I am not sure that I entirely agree. Of course, I'm not sure I disagree, either, so I guess I will lay out my thinking.

    Mild steel is certainly less malleable than wrought iron, and being less fibrous, is more prone to crack across the wire rather than split along it under stress. However, neither one will break except under hard shear conditions or if repeatedly stressed at the same point, ie, bent back and forth multiple times. We have already mentioned that the padding worn beneath chainmail makes shearing blows almost impossible, and repeated stress seems unlikely. Therefore, I am not sure I see where the advantage of being softer comes into play. I have not had an opportunity to test wrought iron mail, but my tests on mild steel mail have shown that it is pretty much impossible to cut unless backed up by wood or something similarly stiff.

    I can see how some of the different methods of construction would favor wrought iron over mild steel. Welded mail would have cleaner welds in wrought iron than in mild, since wrought is substantially easier to forge weld. Similarly, the added malleability of wrought would be an advantage in rivetted mail, since it would be less sensitive to the stress risers caused by flattened and pierced ends. In butted mail, however, I would think the stiffer mild steel would hold together far better than wrought iron.

    This also makes me wonder whether part of the hard/soft comparison comes from the fact that most modern mail is made from cold drawn mild steel, which is just about as hard as mild steel can get. Wrought itron wire was also cold drawn, but wrought is less prone to work hardening than mild steel, so this would have less of an effect. Perhaps in those cases where softer mail will work better, the mild steel could be annealed either before or after assembly to more closely match the performance of wrought iron. Just a thought.

    Back on the topic of cutting mail with a shamshir, though, I am still of the opinion that a wootz shamshir would have a better chance against wrought iron links than mild steel links. In the rare situation where the mail was actually put under solid shear stresses, I think the harder mild steel would provide better protection than wrought iron. The wrought iron would give more with the blow, being easier to bend, and this would mean more damage to the wearer. Even if we accept that the mild steel would be more easily sheared (which I am not convinced of), even the loss of a couple links would be better than having the links bend under the blow. If the links bend, then the force of the blow remains concentrated, even if the edge itself is not allowed through. After all, even if it is almost impossible to penetrate mail with a single handed sword, this does not mean that the blow is not doing damage. One of the advantages that plates have over mail is the ability to spread impacts over a larger area.

  23. #23
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    The material is largely irrelevant for the subject of this thread. I've never heard of any extant example of mail apart from the very lightest of variants that has been proven to have been sheared through with a single handed blade and the few decent tests I have encountered come to the same conclusion. The chances of being able to cut through mail over padding on a moving target with any single handed sword regardless of steel quality is so low as to be statistically negligible. If you were reduced to using your sword then you would aim for vulnerable extremities such as the elbow, hip, or collarbone where blunt trauma could cause some damage through the mail.

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    Hello! Sorry I've missed many of your responses, I'm studying abroad in Ireland and don't have as much time as I used to to regularly return here. And a special thank you to the smiths as well as Mr. Vahtang K for their first-hand knowledge of metallurgy and/or historical artifacts.

    I think I should elucidate my question. In reading about Middle Eastern and Central Asian warfare and weapons, I've encountered a decent number of miniatures depicting a shamshir or other variant of the steppe saber shearing through helmets and even armored torsos. Now, these miniatures weren't easy to write off as mythological, e.g. a Shahnameh manuscript etc. Rather, some of them payed a great deal of attention to detail and were historical documents written by generally levelheaded and sober-minded scholars or chroniclers. Though it brings to mind certain European medieval manuscripts I've seen of the tale of King Arthur fancifully cleaving through great helms as a product of his mythological might, I would hesitate to dismiss these manuscripts out of hand, because unlike that kind of text, they don't seem to be trying to bolster the image of an individual warrior as fantastically strong. Rather, in some of the minitures, this bisection of an armor-wearing rider is in the periphery of a great battle scene with no special emphasis. All of these factors lead me to believe it very well could and did happen on the battle field, enough that many accounts and miniatures depict it almost regularly.

    With regards to another method of circumventing armor, simply stabbing through it, many swords were designed to do such a thing. Here are two with reinforced points for bursting maille links:

    http://www.persianmirror.com/Article...gory=94#Target

    http://www.oriental-arms.com/item.php?id=1194

    Would many shamshir also have a reinforced tip for such a thing?

    Here is some typical 17th Century Indian mail:
    http://www.oriental-arms.com/photos.php?id=2514

    An extremely sturdy-looking 18th century example:
    http://www.oriental-arms.com/photos.php?id=440
    Last edited by Shayan Q.; 02-12-2008 at 07:16 AM.
    Horse perpetually struggled to outreach the wind, to outrun space itself. Other animals ran only when they had a reason, but the Horse would run for no reason whatever, as if to run out of his own skin.
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    Everyone has been made for some particular work, and the desire for that work has been put in every heart.
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  25. #25
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    It is a myth that the points are reinforced to "burst" through mail. They are reinforced to stop the tip breaking off when the weapon incidentally encounters bone or armour. The amount of force that is required to defeat riveted mail is greater than the amount of force that a person can generate with a one-handed thrust. Tests have been cited on the Antique Armour Forum here.

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