What are saber swords?

A guide to saber identification: Reliving the glory of horse-mounted cavalry

Military strategists and weaponry makers throughout history have given special attention to the needs of the cavalry and infantry. Knowing that these two parts of the army would either make or break a war, special types of swords and arms are distributed, improving the army’s efficiency.


Sabers are swords that are usually made with curved, single-edged blade. Sabers belong to the category of backswords, for they often have thick leading edge that acts as support for the blade. This definition is not universal however. There are sabers that are straight and double-edged, particularly the US Civil War sabers. Sword collectors are thus likely to define sabers as swords that are used primarily for the mounted soldiers with a full hand guard.

Parts of saber

parts of saber swordOne of the most identifying marks of a saber is its hand guard. Sword collectors, curators, and historians agree that sabers have large guard that covers the gripping hand. It is oftentimes a one-handed grip, with a cross guard extending towards the pommel.

The length of the saber’s blade varies from culture to culture. For instance, the 1860 US Heavy cavalry saber measures to about 0.91meters. The French sabers have lengths that vary from 0.97meters or longer.

Sabers are worn in many distinct ways too. The Central Asian cavalries often wear their sabers with waist-mounted belt. The US civil war armies wore theirs by mounting their swords on the saddle. The French on the other hand wore their swords through a shoulder belt called baldric.

History of the Saber

saber swordsWhen the sabers first appeared in Europe in 10th century, it was believed to have been brought by Hungarians. The saber of the olden times drew much similarity with significantly-curved scimitars (the sword of Ancient Egypt and Turks) and broad, flat-bladed falchion. The Italian sword master Francesco Antonio Marcelli first mentioned about saber in his treatise on sword fighting in 1686.

It was in the middle of 18th to 19th century that the fencing with the saber was considered fashionable. European commanders, notably the French, have relied upon the slashing power of sabers for the heavy and light cavalry. Sword masters disagreed amongst each other on the merits of the saber for duels. British masters like George Roland in 19th century considered it as a weaker sword compared to foil. The modern day saber for fencing survived largely due to favorable opinions about it and martial art techniques advocated by Italian masters.

Use of sabers

The sabers were used as slashing weapon and intended for the cavalry. Napoleon Bonaparte won his battles through strategic shock and routing tactics carried out by mounted, saber-wielding soldiers. Sabers were also distributed to the warring Confederates and Union forces during the American civil war in later half of 19th century. They were continued to be used for the cavalry in First World War.

The development in arms technology brought firearms to the battlefield. The Napoleonic shock and routing tactics became useless in the face of revolvers, heavy artillery, and bullets. Sabers were promptly discarded, and the horse mounted cavalry was replaced with armored tanks. Saber was used in some European governments in dispersing crowd, especially in violent civilian street protests in 20th century. This brutal, bloody dispersion was later on outlawed and the saber was replaced with wooden batons, tear gas, and rubber bullets.

Ceremonial Saber

As sabers began to wane in function in the battlefield, some countries adopted sabers as ceremonial swords for their Armed Forces. The American army is notable in this regard. Its ranks of military officers in the Navy, Cost Guard, and Marine officers are fitted with dress or ceremonial sabers. Some richly embellished swords are given to distinguished military officers for noteworthy accomplishments.

Modern Saber

Today, you can still enjoy sword fighting using sabers. In fact, this sword is now recognized as one of three fencing rapiers used in many local and international sporting events. For starters, you can continue on reading the related articles Fencing Rapiers and Fencing Saber for more information.

On the other hand, you can also take advantage of lucrative antique market by trading or collecting genuine antique European and American sabers. There are also many other collectible sabers that you can choose from: Napoleonic swords, French sabers, and Japanese cavalry swords. Find more information by reading on the list of related articles below.

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