Research Paper about Straight Swords of the Near East
Near Eastern Straight Swords - Past, Present, and Future
By L. Joy Arroyo
Swords of the Arabs and Israelites have long been a fascination of mine. While it is easy to get swept up and focus only on the scimitar, and other shorter, lighter swords, there are several significant examples of straight swords in the Near East that deserve attention. The most significant archaeological find of recent note in this particular category of near eastern straight swords is the Vered Jericho Sword, excavated by Avrahim Eitan near Jericho. Another modern-day example of near eastern straight sword would be the swords used by Shia Muslims during their Ashura rituals. A final example can be found, not in present day but in the future - i.e. the swords mentioned in the Dead Sea Scroll known as the War Scroll.
The Vered Jericho sword is unique example of a near eastern straight sword. This particular near eastern straight sword is described as being about 3 feet long, and about 3 inches wide. Made of iron, it has a hilt made of bronze, but also has a wooden grip. It is singularly amazing that a sword of this age was found intact, as the archaeological strata from which it came dated at approximately 620 B.C. (Shanks)
The use of near eastern straight swords can also be seen in the blood rituals of modern day Shia Muslims. The ritual of Ashura, held on the 10th of Muharram, involves the ritual use of swords to lament the death the Prophet Muhammad's grandson, Hussein, who was murdered approximately 1300 years ago. The Shia ritual involves bloodletting to commemorate his death and is seen as a promise by the Shias to never put down their swords until they have vanquished their enemies (Ali). One of the most interesting features of some of the near eastern straight swords used would be the narrow groove down the center of the blade, and the lack of a sword guard. This near eastern straight sword is a modern-day example of what appears to be an ancient design, which is mentioned in the prophecy of the War Scroll.
The prophecy of the swords to be used by the forces of light against the forces of darkness in a final apocalyptic battle described in the Dead Sea Scrolls shows not only the ideal sword of the ancient near east, but also describes a design in use today. The near eastern straight sword of this final apocalyptic battle have been minutely described from translation as follows:
"The swords shall be of purified iron, refined in a crucible and whitened like a mirror, work of a skilful craftsman; and it will have shapes of an ear of wheat, of pure gold, encrusted in it on both sides. And it will have two straight channels right to the tip, two on each side. Length of the sword: one cubit and a half. And its width: four fingers. The scabbard will be four thumbs; it will have four palms up to the scabbard and diagonally, the scabbard from one part to the other (will be) five palms. The hilt of the sword will be of select horn, craftwork, with a pattern in many colours: gold, silver and precious stones (Martinez)."
The near eastern straight sword, particularly one with a single or double groove that also lacks a guard, can be found in several obscure places. One of those obscure places to look - would be found at wildweapons.com.
(PART I OF II: Upcoming - near eastern straight sword and the Crusades!)
Ali, Sayed Akbar "Yesterday was Hobson Yobson" Jan 8 2009, May 15, 2009, http://syedsoutsidethebox.blogspot.com/2009_01_01_archive.html
Martinez, Florentino Garcia, The Dead Sea Scrolls Translated, 2nd ed. (Leiden: Brill, 1996), 99.
Shanks, Hershel "BAR Interviews Avraham Eitan," Biblical Archaeological Review 12/4 (1986): 30-38.