The Maurader, Weathered Cutlass
Romanticized and vilified in literature and film, pirates have been the subject of endless fascination. Pirates of course, are any group of sailors who prey upon other ships, stealing money or goods and sometimes harming or killing the crew. Eye patches seem to have something to do with piracy as well, but no one can really figure out what.
It's hard to say when pirating first started. There are reports of pirates as far back as ancient Greece, and possibly even before, but the pirates that most people think of are the ones from the 17th through the 19th centuries. This was a time when governments actually sanctioned piracy against their enemies (apparently, it was okay to steal from and murder people as long as they were considered enemies of your country). Under these government laws, anyone could attack ships belonging to an enemy country and keep anything that they could recover from the ships. Crews that took advantage of these laws were called "Privateers," which was French for "mean guys with parrots," or "men who drink rum." Well, okay. Privateer isn't really French at all. But "souffl�" is, and it means a "light fluffy dish of egg yolks and stiffly beaten egg whites mixed with cheese or fish or fruit."
Many countries encouraged privateers, including England, Spain, America, France, and many North African countries (these African countries formed the heart of the infamous Barbary Coast pirates). And while the idea of privateers might have sounded good when it was first thought up, it lost some of its charm later on. Here�s why: The privateers theorized that, "Hey, if I can get 100 gold a month attacking enemy ships, I could probably get 400 a month attacking any ship." They began testing that hypothesis and, soon, there were hundreds (thousands even) of former privateers attacking any ship that came near them. Thus began the Golden Age of Piracy.
Pirates may have been a lot of things, but they were rarely inefficient. Ship-based life called for cleanliness, order and efficiency in all things. Which is why the cutlass was a favorite of the yo-ho-ho crowd. The weapon was both sword and shield: a vicious blade at one end, a dazzling basket hilt on the other. The blade was short enough to be swung recklessly (without fear of getting caught in rigging or masts) and wide enough to do real damage when it hit. The baskethilt provided excellent hand protection and could even be used as a small shield. The curved blade allowed for fast, efficient cutting and looked pretty good, too.
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The exact origin of curved swords is something that has been debated for years. It is generally accepted that the majority of curved swords came from the East.
Curved swords most likely manifested somewhere around Egypt, with the appearance of the khopesh (a weapon somewhere between sickle and sword).
Since then, a number of curved swords began appearing in the East and westerners took to calling such curved swords �Scimitars.� Technically, there isn�t one sword that is called a scimitar; the term refers to the entire group of curved swords that came from East (excluding the Japanese curved swords). The term may be a derivative of �Shamshir,� which was a thin curved sword from Persia, although the shamshir wasn�t really popularized until the 1500s. Other scimitars include the Turkish kilij (think of the massive cleaver swords from Aladdin and you have a fairly accurate picture), and the Indian Tulwar (somewhere between a shamshir and a kilij). Some smaller curved weapons from the east include the Kopis (a knifelike curved blade that probably was the predecessor of the Khopesh), the Nepalese kukri and the hook-handled falcata of ancient Spain.
Curved swords weren�t confined to the east, of course. As the scimitars developed in the east, the west was catching on to the trend. Sabers and cutlasses were slowly conceptualized and developed in Europe. The curved blades were ideal for charging horsemen who tended to lose their straight blades in the bodies of their haplessly impaled foes. The curved sabers could slash opponents and slide off as the horsemen rode by. Another advantage was that curved blades were more compact than straight ones, so horsemen were also able to slash from side to side without worrying about trimming the ears off their horses.
Sailors also liked this compact size, since ship-board combat was often in very close quarters, with a vexing amount of wooden obstacles for swords to get embedded in. This explains the stereotypical image of the pirate holding a cutlass, reinforced recently by Johnny Depp, Orlando Bloom and Kierra Knightley in the movie Pirates of the Caribbean.
A back sword is a sword that has only one edge. The non-sharp edge of the sword is known as the �back� of the blade. These swords often are curved. Examples of back-swords include most cutlasses, sabers and what westerners refer to as �Scimitars.�
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