Military Review

Old Russian saber: weapons with a reserve for modernization


Saber of the X century from the collection of the State Historical Museum. According to the customs of that time, before putting into burial the saber was bent and spoiled. Wikimedia Commons Photos

In service with the Russian warriors there was a diverse blade weapon. The sabers of various kinds remained the longest in service. The first such samples in the Old Russian army date back to the 10th century, and the full use of the saber continued almost until the beginning of the 20th century. Thus, the saber turned out to be the most enduring type of cold steel in our army. The main features of the sabers, laid more than a thousand years ago, turned out to be useful even later.

Weapons from the steppes

It is known that the first versions of the saber appeared in the VII-VIII centuries. and quickly spread throughout much of Eurasia. Due to a number of characteristic features, the saber was a convenient weapon for an equestrian warrior, which contributed to its rapid spread in different regions. In the future, similar weapons appeared among the Eastern Slavs.

Ancient Russia met with a saber in the IX-X centuries. in connection with the raids of nomads. The first to recognize such weapons were the principalities in the South and Southeast, who took upon themselves the main blow. The Old Russian army followed foreign innovations and tried to adopt the best ideas and best practices. The same thing happened with the saber, however, it was far from immediately possible to reveal its potential.

Typology of elements of the hilt of the saber according to "Old Russian weapons" A.N. Kirpichnikova

At the turn of two millennia in Russian rati, two new weapons appeared at once - a sword and a saber. The sword quickly took a dominant position and became the main blade weapon. Over the next several centuries, the saber was inferior to him in terms of distribution and mainly remained a specialized weapon.

It is curious that in the first period the saber was not only a weapon of a warrior, but also a status item. It is to this period that several interesting finds relate. In a number of burials, sabers with skillful decoration were discovered, showing the status and position of the owner in society.

In the XI-XII centuries. there is an increase in the number of sabers, and at the same time, an increase in their share in rati. New technologies were mastered, which allowed to increase output. In parallel, saber propagation is observed. If earlier they were used only in the southern principalities, then from the XI century. reach Minsk and Novgorod.

Design features

Sabers of Ancient Russia almost did not differ in design from similar weapons of other countries. The development of the design was carried out in approximately the same way as abroad. Over time, the shape and size of the blade changed, and in parallel the hilt improved.

Sword and sabers of different kinds. Illustration from the book of A.V. Viskovatova "Historical description of clothing and weapons of the Russian troops "

The earliest Old Russian sabers had a single-blade blade about 1 m long, about 3-4 cm wide, with a slight bend. By the XII century. the blade became longer by 10-15 cm and became slightly wider. The bend also increased and the mass increased. Thus, later sabers differed from their predecessors in a greater force of chopping impact, as well as higher cutting rates. These trends continued in the future, which in the future led to the appearance of even more curved sabers.

The early Old Russian sabers, mostly richly finished, were distinguished by the relative complexity of production. During the forging, welding of iron and steel plates was carried out, and the finished blade was decorated with copper or gold wire. Later, as the saber spread, simpler technologies were used. Iron sabers with a welded steel blade or cemented whole-iron specimens were found. Naturally, such sabers were not decorated in any way.

The hilt was changing quite actively. There are several basic types of guards and tops, characteristic of different periods and regions. Initially, in Russia there were direct guards with balls at the ends, also found in other countries. Subsequently, the shape of these products changed. The thickenings disappeared, the ends lengthened and bent for greater ease of cutting and additional protection of the hand.

Other sabers from different eras. Illustration from the book of A.V. Viskovatova "Historical description of clothing and weapons of the Russian troops"

Hiking and horseback riding

Due to the correct ratio of length, width and bending, the saber has a combined cutting-cutting action. The double-edged end also allows injections. Thanks to such qualities, the saber can be used by an infantryman or a horseman. In some situations, it has advantages over a sword with a straight double-edged blade.

According to known data, the mass distribution of sabers in Russia was associated with the development of cavalry. It was the riders who were the main users of sabers, as evidenced by archaeological finds. Sabers were also used in infantry, but in smaller quantities and only in certain regions.

An old Russian saber was developed and used with the sword, and these two weapons could compete with each other. However, this problem was solved in the most successful way. In the infantry of most principalities, the sword remained the main blade weapon, and the saber was not able to noticeably squeeze it. The reverse processes were observed in the cavalry: first in the southern regions, and then onwards the saber began to supplant the sword.

Old Russian saber: weapons with a reserve for modernization
Saber attributed to Vladimir Monomakh. In fact - a product of the XVII century. Illustration from the collection "Antiquities of the Russian State"

Despite such processes, for several centuries the sword and saber remained the equal arms of warriors. There were no reasons for the disappearance of one sample and the greater spread of another. First of all, this was due to the specifics of the military-political situation. Opponents of Ancient Rus were simultaneously heavily armed European warriors and highly mobile nomadic horsemen. To combat them effectively, different means were required, which affected the arms of the Russian rati in different regions.

Great future

Similar approaches to arming warriors persisted over the next several centuries. However, in the XIV century. new processes began, the result of which was a change in the rati weapons complex. The development of armies and tactics led to a gradual reduction in the role of swords and an increase in the proportion of sabers. In addition, the new sabers kind of resembled swords and could show similar characteristics.

As a result, by the XV-XVI centuries. in the Russian army, a saber almost completely supplanted the sword. In addition, new samples of blade weapons with various features appeared. New types of sabers, adapted to solving different problems, were created independently or borrowed from foreigners. In later periods, the saber remained one of the main armaments of archers, local cavalry, Cossacks, regiments of a foreign system, etc.

Sabers of Minin and Pozharsky, XVI-XVII centuries. Illustration from the collection "Antiquities of the Russian State"

The development of sabers went by changing the shape and size of the blade, as well as by finalizing the hilt. Crucial were the technology of metal smelting and forging of finished products. The formation of the fencing school allowed us to more fully reveal the potential of weapons.

The great value of the saber was preserved in modern times. New types of such weapons were developed and introduced, including intended for specific military branches. The saber retained the status of the main cold steel of the Russian army until the end of the 19th century, when the mass introduction of drafts began. However, this did not lead to its early disappearance.

Ten centuries of development

The first sabers of Ancient Russia discovered belong to the X century. However, in fact, such weapons could appear a little earlier. Later sabers remained in service until the XX century. Thus, edged weapons with a curved blade and one-sided sharpening have been relevant for a thousand years, which can be considered a real record.

Naval officer sabers of the XIX century. Left - arr. 1855, on the right - arr. 1811 g. Photo by Wikimedia Commons

The reasons for such results should be sought in the successful concept and design of the blade. The saber is capable of striking and chopping (with a cutting action) blows, and is also relatively simple to manufacture and use. Through various changes of the blade and hilt, the saber can be modified to meet specific requirements, which has repeatedly happened in the past.

For several centuries, gunsmiths used the full potential of the saber, which led to well-known results. At first, this weapon was able to gain a foothold in Old Russian rati and in some areas to squeeze the sword, and then completely replace it. After this, the saber remained one of the main weapons for several centuries. Not all types of knives can boast of such survivability.

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  1. sen
    sen 20 November 2019 06: 24
    Oleg Kirsanov's article "The Blade of Heavenly Rain" (magazine "Weapon", N1, 2001) describes an ancient sword-saber found in Russia. One-sided sharpening, the point is like a saber, but the blade is almost straight. Although the blade is long (717 mm), the handle is nevertheless at an angle to the axis of the blade. It is convenient: "Thanks to this, the saber at the moment of impact does not form an obtuse angle with an outstretched arm, but becomes its direct continuation ...".
    1. Engineer
      Engineer 20 November 2019 12: 18
      The description is very similar to the weapon of the Saltov-Mayak culture. Khazars and their neighbors. They loved to mount the handle at an angle to the line of the blade.

      No. 14 indicative
      1. marshes
        marshes 20 November 2019 13: 27
        Quote: Engineer
        The description is very similar to the weapon of the Saltov-Mayak culture. Khazars and their neighbors. They loved to mount the handle at an angle to the line of the blade.

        It seems that the British in the 18th century appeared, light cavalry-green hussars. Yes to this day as a ceremonial weapon.
  2. Flooding
    Flooding 20 November 2019 08: 00
    Against the armored warrior, the saber in the hand of the walking warrior no doubt lost the sword with its weight and piercing effect. In equestrian combat, yes, the saber revealed its chopping potential in full.
    Who will tell me, an amateur, what is the name of the extension of the blade of a saber at its tip?
    1. Freeman
      Freeman 20 November 2019 09: 11
      Quote: Flood
      ... Who will tell me, an amateur, what is the name of the extension of the blade of a saber at his point?

      This part of the blade is called Elman.

      1. Flooding
        Flooding 20 November 2019 09: 37
        Right Thanks.
      2. sivuch
        sivuch 20 November 2019 12: 44
        By the way, Turkish sabers have a pronounced elman, and in Persian it is practically absent
        1. Flooding
          Flooding 20 November 2019 14: 49
          Probably the weight (width) of the blade matters.
          For a heavy blade, its need is not so important.
          Again, what period are we talking about.
          During the ubiquitous distribution of armor, the effectiveness of thin and light chopping blades is very doubtful.
  3. tlauicol
    tlauicol 20 November 2019 08: 03

    in Weapons a lot of good sabers. But getting hard. harder to catch and see
  4. Krasnoyarsk
    Krasnoyarsk 20 November 2019 08: 43
    = and also relatively easy to manufacture =
    Controversial statement.
    1. Kote Pan Kokhanka
      Kote Pan Kokhanka 20 November 2019 12: 05
      It depends on what you compare it to!
      The complexity of the product is paradoxically not in form, but in the method of forging the blade and the complexity of the hilt and proud!
      1. Astra wild
        Astra wild 20 November 2019 13: 24
        Kotia, and you are not a blacksmith by chance, what are you commenting on? I ask without ridicule. You know from some colleagues in the comments you can see the profession
        1. Kote Pan Kokhanka
          Kote Pan Kokhanka 20 November 2019 17: 58
          No dear Astra, unfortunately with metal, I'm not friends! I love wood, but also not at the level of cabinetry, but so an amateur!

          1. Karen
            Karen 20 November 2019 18: 19
            I somehow had several cubes of hazelnut of ten-year drying ... I gave a sidekick, and they put them on the stairs in the house ... I still regret it - the misuse of wood has gone ... Anglo-Saxons are very asking for it around the world - for butts from guns ...
          2. Astra wild
            Astra wild 20 November 2019 18: 42
            Kotya, you + were well cut out the street name and house number. And what does the rifle have to do with it, I am able to distinguish a rifle from a rifle, but to determine which rifle it is? Have you really made a bed?
            Realized: You made a case for your rifle.
            1. Kote Pan Kokhanka
              Kote Pan Kokhanka 20 November 2019 19: 19
              Air rifle IZH-38s. Butt, bed and wooden box of my work. He made work colleagues as a present for his son.
  5. restless
    restless 20 November 2019 09: 10
    The last picture shows a cleaver of the lower ranks of artillery. The museum of the Peter and Paul Fortress presents similar samples, but the name is a cavalry sword, also has a bend about 3 cm wide and about 120 cm long, a single-sided blade with a sharp end, the same cleaver as the siblings of that sword ...
    1. tlauicol
      tlauicol 20 November 2019 09: 17
      not simular. another cleaver
    2. marshes
      marshes 20 November 2019 13: 32
      Quote: restless
      The last picture shows a cleaver of the lower ranks of artillery. The museum of the Peter and Paul Fortress presents similar samples, but the name is a cavalry sword, also has a bend about 3 cm wide and about 120 cm long, a single-sided blade with a sharp end, the same cleaver as the siblings of that sword ...

      Maybe it's Broadsword, Celeb ..
  6. Fedorov
    Fedorov 20 November 2019 10: 54
    I’ve taxied in front of my nose in the museum (well, I gave money there), short. He took his sword, I don’t even know whose. Did not check. Heaven and Earth.
  7. Operator
    Operator 20 November 2019 11: 55
    The expected opposition of Russophobes: "You are lying" - the type could not have been with Russian sabers in the 10-13th century, since "everyone knows" that edged weapons were exclusively imported to Russia from Western Europe and were totally swords - Carolingians laughing

    Unchanged answer: ".......", - S. Lavrov (C)
  8. Undecim
    Undecim 20 November 2019 12: 26
    The earliest old Russian sabers

    The picture below shows one of two sabers found during excavations of the Zolotarevsky hillfort in the Penza region. The end of the XII - the beginning of the XIII century.
    1. Undecim
      Undecim 20 November 2019 12: 31

      This is how a modern replica of a saber and Zolotarevsky hillfort looks like, made in accordance with the proportions and dimensions of the artifact.
      1. hohol95
        hohol95 20 November 2019 14: 26
        It looks like finds in the Polovtsian graves.
        Nizhyn and the Tsemdolinsky burial ground.
        1. Astra wild
          Astra wild 20 November 2019 14: 31
          And what are these rings at the bottom right?
          1. hohol95
            hohol95 20 November 2019 14: 45
            Nizhyn. Saber and its stigma, bit, armchair, burial stirrups.
        2. Engineer
          Engineer 20 November 2019 14: 58
          You can add this saber of the 10th century Magyar type from Gochevo

          Unfortunately, I did not immediately find the images of the ancient Russian sabers of the same period (10th century)
          There are three
          Chernigov (Black grave mound) both in the Shestovitsky burial ground (mound 61 burial 4) and from the Donetsk settlement.
          But according to the description, it looks like a slight bend, the handle is inclined to the blade.
          1. hohol95
            hohol95 20 November 2019 15: 06
            "Technical espionage" of the 10th century! We took trophies, tried to repeat them. Then improve. Adapt for your battle tactics or create a new one. Etc!
            1. Engineer
              Engineer 20 November 2019 15: 21
              Maybe I didn’t even have to spy. The same Pechenegs were at times allies of Svyatoslav. You could just buy it.
              By the way, it turns out that the sabers of the steppes for almost 200 years have not changed
              1. hohol95
                hohol95 20 November 2019 15: 50
                In addition to the Pechenegs, there were Polovtsy with the Khazars.
  9. Tank hard
    Tank hard 20 November 2019 19: 07
    Good article. According to Kirpichnikov, the saber arose as an armament of an equestrian warrior from about the 1817th-1864th centuries on vast expanses from Altai to the Black Sea, from where it began to penetrate into Europe. Since about the XNUMXth century (mainly in the southern regions) in Russia, Russia also had its own centers for the production of these weapons. The role of cavalry is growing. The sword is a more versatile weapon, its double-edged blade is more suitable for dealing damage in hand-to-hand combat, but the greater convenience of the saber in use by the rider predetermined the advantage of the saber over the sword. It should be noted that as a result of the Caucasian Wars of the Russian Empire (XNUMX - XNUMX), the saber was supplanted by the saber, for objective reasons. I am waiting for an article about a checker from Ryabov Cyril. I will read it with interest. In general, I thank Cyril for the articles, they raise interest in edged weapons and the history of our country. hi
  10. Basarev
    Basarev 20 December 2019 20: 01
    And your long blade in Russia was not? After all, borrowing is from the west, then from the east. As if it was a completely rootless country that had nothing of its own.