Kindjal
Caucasian Knives

Jack & Mikhail

Instead of "Russian Cossack Daggers" there might be a more appropriate term. 'Daggers' is inappropriate and is too generic, and the Cossacks did not develop it.

This style of weapon was indiginous to the Caucasus and Persia long before the Russian influence spread over that region. Most probably, the original configuration came from Rome. As far as I can determine, the kindjal was not necessarily a part of "Russian Cossack" regalia until after the conquest of the Caucasus c.1854.

Perhaps a better name would be "Traditional Caucasian short Edged Weapon" - or some such.

Regards,
George


George:

I can't agree more with what you are saying about the "cossack dagger". However, it depends on how much you really wish to go into the details of the subject in your presentation. It should be obvious for a not very prepared audience that dagger is a type of a short edged weapon, etc.- which definition can be given to a kindjal, as well.

I also think that dagger was brought to the Caucasian area by Romans where it transformed into what we know as kindjal. Have you ever seen the kindjal fight? Highlanders of Caucasus, use it as a short sword, not as a long knife (I am talking about the technique of fight), they are also wearing small shields of may be 10" diameter in their left hand. The fight is very fast and conducted in a short distance (which is obvious). I have seen demonstrations of fights on several occasions in Georgia, Azerbadzhan, and in Armenia.

So, should it be called dagger or kindjal, or short edged weapon? In the case of your presentation, although these kindjals were probably used by cossacks, they are all produced by smiths woking in Caucasian area, the local people. At the same time, kindjal was officially considered as a part of a cossack's ammunition- I would imagine that these kindjals were produced in Russia in large (army-demand) quantities and these kindjals can be called "Russian Cossack kindjals". As for your most beautiful pictures (this is an opportunity to thank you for sharing images with me prior to putting them on your web site!), I think it would be better to go with the historical truth and call them "kindjals" and adding the place of their origin. The short preface, however, can indicate that this type of weapon belongs to group of daggers of a likely Roman origin.

I am also confused by the often seen term "Russian Cossack". This may easily mislead an unprepared reader. Cossack is not a nationality. We know that this is a group of people united by the way of life and service they were provided to the Russian Empire. As you know, in the past they were even not allowed to have any household and to conduct any agricultural work. It was done on purpose: the government was feeding the cossacks, and the cossacks were protecting the borders of the country.

Mikhail


Gentlemen:

I am replacing the phrase "Russian Cossack Knife" with the term "Caucasian Knives". Certainly the generic knife covers anything short of a fair size sword and I have never seen a Caucasion kindjal of very large size. The quaddara from Persia and Kurdistan is of sword size but not as comfortable and well balanced and also is quite different in the decorative methods and motifs. Until Mikhail's comment, I had not connected the shape to the Roman gladius, which tactically is definitely a short sword and not a big dagger.

Jack


Regarding the short correspondence on the use of the term kindjal, though I am not fluent in Russian I do research in it; to my knowledge the word simply means a dagger (perhaps you can confirm this?) The actual term applied for that specific weapon, by both Muslim and Christian peoples of the High and TransCaucasus, is Kama. It is Turkic in origin and is found throughout Anatolia and as far west as Greece. Hope this information will be of use to you.

Sincerely,
O. P.


Dear George,

The term Kindjal is a Russian one and is not the term the natives themselves used. It was "Kama". Kamas are found in all sorts of sizes and some of them are certainly large enough to be called short swords, with blades measuring in excess of 23 inches. There also exists a single edged Azari variant that is even longer.

I want to ask though, if you or any of your Russian acquaintances may have heard of a Chechen law passed at some point in the middle ages that forbade the use of the tip of the kama in fighting (stabbing attacks) and allowed only for cutting attacks. A friend of mine and I have been researching how the weapons were held and used and such a law, custom or habit would account for some unresolved questions. Of course kamas were undeniably used specifically for thrusting as is evidenced by the swollen armor piercing points and "carp's tongue" designs often found.

Finally, the Cossacks took not only the Caucasian dagger (the Kama) and the Caucasian sword (the Shashka) but they also adopted the traditional long coat of the Caucasus, the Tcherkesska, with it's cartridge pockets. This equipment is Caucasian in origin and should not, I think, be attributed to the Cossacks (and as Mikhail pointed out, the term "Cossack" itself is a difficult one, as so many hordes existed with distinct differences, e.g. Don Cossacks, Kuban Cossacks, etc..).

Best Regards,
Oliver


Oliver:

I agree with everything you said but have never run across any reference to any Chechen law regarding restrictions on the manner of use of the 'long kindjal'. Different ethnic groups, with different customs and/or languages would have different names for essentially the same object. The typical kindjal, wherever made, is distinguished by geometric symmetry in blade and hilt, but the manner of its decoration and scabbard material and design and decoration of hilt varied from place to place.

I have always been under the impression that the kindjal probably evolved from the Roman short sword and that the Persian quaddara was the prototype of some of the very long 'kindjals', which it resembles in every respect except for size and, on some, inlaid Islamic inscriptions on the blade to the praise of Ali. Incidentally, the Persians (probably as late as up to the start of WWI) had armed some of their troops with a long, massive, single-edged weapon with multiple grooves near the back, and with a typical kindjal-style hilt. As I recall, the blade width increased somewhat toward the point, resulting in a rather wide curved cutting edge at the end. I have seen photos identified as a 'Persian doughboy' armed with such a weapon. The implication was that the weapon had been officially sanctioned in Persia and was in wide use.

The adoption of the Cherkess mode of dress, including the burka and gazeri, by forces in the Russian Imperial military (Cossack detachments, etc.) was undoubtedly accelerated during the period following the conquest of the Caucasus by the Russians c.1864. I had been told by the late Alexander D. that the personal guard of the Tsar, immediately after the end of hostilities, was composed solely of men from Shamyl's forces and that he trusted their loyalty implicitly. This says a lot. A man's word and pledge meant a lot in those days, especially among the Caucasians. The amalgamation of the Circassian mode of dress by the Russian court may have caused some confusion as to who was a 'real Caucasian' or a Russian in Caucasian dress, such as a Cossack.

Alex, who was a great collector, bibliophile, and historian once related the following story to me regarding Shamyl: At the time of the Caucasian campaigns, he had procaimed a law that any person in his domain who had any dealings whatsoever with the Russians, or who had even expressed any sympathy toward any negotiations with them, would suffer a certain number strokes of the whip in a public place. Shortly, it was reported to him that his own mother had expressed feelings that the bloodshed should cease and that some sort of amelioration should be arranged with the Russians. Since his law was immutable, Shamyl took the public whipping punishment himself!

Best regards,
George


I doubt that the effect of any actual law restricting point use would be more effective than the Roman Catholic edict against the crossbow. However, there may well have been social sanctions against point use under certain conditions. Western analogies would be jousts and the "code duello".

Jack

Aditional commentary is welcome. Address to george@arco-iris.com

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