Mar 21, 2012

Weapons & Warriors: The Kilij of the Ottoman Cavalry

This week I’m doing a special Weapons Weekly on one of the grandfathers of the modern cavalry sabre, the Kilij. Unlike most other sabres, the Kilij had a special design that not only made it more dangerous than other sabres, but gave it an exotic appearance that fit well into the Turks that wielded it. The sabre was not a sword designed for fighting on foot such as the longsword and broadsword, but was specifically designed for cavalry. Sabres have curved blades that are sharp on only one side. Their blades were forged to handle slicing without shattering. The Kilij was one of the few sabres that were designed with thrusting as an option, but like all sabres, slashing at an opponent was still far more deadly.

The Kilij was a redesigned version of the Turko-Mongolian Sabre, which may have been the first sabre ever recorded in history. The Mongolians were notorious cavalrymen and had a heavy influence on Turkish culture after the Mongols invasions of the Turkish and Arabic lands. The difference between the Kilij and most other sabres is the tip. It had a double edged tip that flared out making the tip stronger and heavier. This added weight gave the Kilij an axe-like quality in that it was capable of cutting through bone with one swipe.

The popularity and effectiveness of the Kilij as a cavalry blade spread across Asia and Europe and people from all over the world came to the Turkish lands to find a swordsmith to make them a Kilij. The blade was made from carbon steel which is very sturdy, but not brittle. In early encounters, many Europeans confused the Kilij with the scimitar, but the two blades were not the same at all. The Scimitar’s extreme curvature does not allow for thrusting at opponents. The Kilij may not be as effective as a longsword when thrusting, but it was still quite capable, making it more versatile than the scimitar.

One of the most infamous men in Europe was known to have used a Kilij in combat, even when he wasn’t on horseback. Most artists have drawn this notorious villain with broadswords or longswords which were more common in Europe at this time. Since this man is better known for impaling his prisoners on wooden poles and displaying them around the walls of his castle, I won’t critique the artist’s historical inaccuracies. Vlad the Impaler was a huge fan of the Kilij, and he never lost a fight involving swords. The lighter weighted sabre was faster than other European made blades, but with the weighted tip it was still capable of removing an opponent’s head just as easily. This faster blade may have given Vlad a slight advantage, especially since he spent much of his youth traveling in the Turkish lands. He trained with the Kilij for much of his youth from the same people who created these swords.

 During the 1800’s the Kilij was redesigned with a shorter and wider blade. The shorter blade was not curved as much as the longer version and made it even more effective for thrusting. Eventually the Kilij was phased out for the European style sabre that was lighter and longer as gunpowder began modernizing the Cavalry. The European sabre was actually created using the same designs as the longer Kilij without the flared tip.

I hope you enjoyed this edition of Weapons and Warriors, click here to view the entire catalog of weapons and cultures. Thank you, see you next week.


  1. These blades really are beautiful. The style is undeniably Turkish. So lovely and graceful looking. Kickass that Vlad used this kind of sabre. :-)

    1. Vlad is one of the most exciting people I've ever studied in history, and putting aside all the vampire mythology that came later. That guy was very passionate and obsessed.