The yatagan or yataghan (from Turkish yatağan) is a type of Ottoman knife or short sabre used from the mid-16th to late 19th centuries. The yatagan was extensively used in Ottoman Turkey and in areas under immediate Ottoman influence, such as the Balkans and the Caucasus.
Two Ottoman yatagans, 19th century.
|Type||Hewing knife / sabre|
|Place of origin||Yatağan, Turkey|
|In service||16th-19th century|
|Used by||Ottoman Empire|
|Barrel length||~0.60 m|
|Blade type||Single-edged, curved forward|
|Hilt type||Pronged sideways towards pommel, no guard; typically made from horn, bone or metal (silver)|
Yatagans consist of a single-edged blade with a marked forward curve and a hilt formed of two grip plaques attached through the tang, the end of the hilt being shaped like large ears. The gap between the grips is covered by a metal strap, which is often decorated. The blade varies from 60 centimetres (24 in) to 80 centimetres (31 in) in length and is curved forward (like the Iberian falcata, or Greek kopis), sometimes reclining backwards again towards the very end. This blade form is often referred to as being 'recurved'. While the back of the blade is made of softer steel, the sharp edge is made of hard, tempered steel for durability.
The hilt has no guard; 'bolsters' of metal connect the grips to the shoulder of the blade. The grip plaques are typically made from bone, ivory, horn or silver, and spread out in two 'wings' or 'ears' to either side at the pommel (a feature which prevents the hilt slipping out of the hand when used to cut). Regional variations in the hilts have been noted: Balkan yatagans tend to have larger ears and are often of bone or ivory, whilst Anatolian yatagans characteristically have smaller ears which are more often made of horn or silver, while Ionian coast Zeibeks carried T Hilt Yataghans. Sophisticated artwork on both the hilt and the blade can be seen on many yatagans displayed today, indicating considerable symbolic value. Having no guard, the yatagan fitted closely into the top of the scabbard; this was customarily worn thrust into a waist sash, retained by hook. The blade may have the Seal of Solomon motif pressed into the blade. Other popular imprints include the makers signature symbol, or text from the Quran.
The majority of yatagans date from the period 1750–1860, and from the number of plain, wooden-hilted weapons they were honest fighting weapons as well as ornate parade weapons. The more ornate examples were often worn as a status symbol by civilians, as well as military men, much in the way smallswords were worn in 18th century Western Europe. Occasionally blades were cut down from broadswords or cavalry swords, but in general the forward-curving single-edged blade was used. Verses in gold or silver are often laid along the blade. Silver hilts mounted with filigree and coral, for example, are associated with Turkish Yataghans; many of these are dated around 1800, although it wasn't uncommon for the blades to be dated much earlier. The most flamboyant scabbards are of wood, encased entirely with silver.
By contrast, in the later half of the 1800s, the prevalence of sword bayonets on military rifles gave rise to an entire style of mass-produced military bayonets known as "Yataghan style".
The yatagans used by janissaries (called varsak) and other infantry soldiers were smaller and lighter than ordinary swords so as not to hinder them when carried at the waist on the march.
The town of Yatağan in southwest Turkey (now in Denizli province) was famous for its yataghan smithing and in folklore is considered to be the birthplace of yataghans. According to legend, the town was conquered by a Seljuk commander and blacksmith named Osman Bey, whose cognomen was Yatağan Baba (Father Yataghan). Yatağan Baba later settled there and invented the yataghan type blades, and gave his name not only to the town, but to the weapon he invented and produced there.
But today scholars indicate yataghan type blades were used by Turks earlier than the 12th century. Recurve blades and "eared" handles can be traced back to Central Asia, where this type of bronze knives were found in several Bronze Age archeological sites. Etymology of the term "yataghan" is considered to come from Uzbek tribe of Kataghan or given because of the way the knife was carried in "lying down" fashion in the belt (yatağan means the one which lies down in Turkish)
One of the finest and earliest examples of the type was the weapon made for Suleiman the Magnificent, who ruled over the Ottoman Empire from 1520 to 1566. This specimen now lies in the treasury of the Topkapi Palace in Istanbul and is of particular interest since it is not only dated 1526/7, but also has the name of the artist who made it, Ahmed Tekelü, on the back of the blade. The hilt is of ivory overlaid with gold delicately carved with cloud bands and scrolls.
Balkan war museums display many examples dating from the decline of the Ottoman Empire (late 19th century).
- Merriam-Webster Online - Yataghan entry
- Abdullah KILIC, Turkish Cultural Foundation