RUSSIAN EDGED WEAPONS OF THE 19TH CENTURY

by Eugene Mollo

The Military-Historical Library "Military Past" No. 2

Translated from the Russian by George

FROM THE AUTHOR:

The present monograph is intended to be a guide to collectors of Russian edged weapons and for workers in museums. In it will be given detailed descriptions of all officially confirmed forms of palashes, shapas, sabres and shashkas, which had been in the armament of Russian troops during the 19th century.

The author knows from experience how difficult it is sometimes to identify this or that example of edged weapons, not having at hand a precise and systematic guide, something which we have not had until this time.

It would seem that it would be difficult to be the first to establish such a guide, working abroad (outside of Russia), but the author, happily, presents oneself as the owner of a collection of Russian edged weapons, which includes practically all of the described forms.

INTRODUCTION

The beginning of the 19th century in Russia coincides with the beginning of a new tsardom and, simultaneously, with the beginning of a long-lived struggle with Napoleon. During this struggle, illuminated with the dawn of the Moscow fire and crowned with the entrance of Russian troops into Paris, the Russian army was reorganized and enlarged many times. The production of edged weapons was also improved and expanded.

Russian edged weapons of the end of the 18th century were very similar to those of the Prussia. Here is how this circumstance is explained by Vistakov, our renowned military historian:
"Emperor Peter III, nurturing a particular respect toward the Prussian King Frederick the Great and, finding his military establishments useful, desired to bring them into the Russian Army, and established during his short reign, as in its organization, so also in its uniforms and armament, significant changes, and into which Prussian troops were taken as examples, having covered themselves with glory in the protracted struggle with the main states of Europe". The same may be repeated in regard to his son, Emperor Paul I.

From the beginning of the reign of Emperor Alexander I, the Prussian influence begins to be replaced by French influence. The old genius of Frederick the Great dimmed in the rays of glory of the greatest new genius - Napoleon.

With us Russians there exists the custom to criticize these foreign influences on our military art, but critics generally forget, that the organization of our regular army and the art of conducting a regulation battle were adopted by us from the West. This is the way Peter the Great looked upon this matter when he raised his goblet in a toast to his teachers, the Swedes, on the day of his Poltava victory. Russia, certainly, learned much from such outstanding western commanders such as Carl III, Frederick the Great, and Napoleon, and their influence on the development of Russian military art was, undoubtedly, beneficial.

The Russian military genius manifested itself with unusual strength during the victorious war with Napoleon, after which the Russians no longer borrow uniforms and armament from the Prussians, but instead, the Prussians begin to assimilate the dress and armament based on Russian examples.

The influence of the French on Russian edged weapons reached its zenith in the beginning of the reign of Emperor Nicholas I, when the only difference between Russian and french arms were the hall marks. After that, the French influence begins to give way to that of the east, namely, to that of the Caucasus. Toward the mid 19th century, from the alloying of these two influences - the French and the Caucasian, there developed a basic type of Russian edged weapon - the Russian shashka.

The reign of Emperor Alexander II is particularly rich in examples of edged weapons which were in the armament of Russian troops. Afterwards, at the very beginning of the reign of Alexander III, a reform was implemented, known by the name "system of 1881", which led all Russian edged weapons to a single form. In brief form, such was the history of Russian edged weapons of the 19th century. Now let us turn to the state of the armament of Russian troops in the beginning of the period we are investigating, and also the methods of production of edged weapons in Russia in the end of the 18th and beginning of the 19th century.

THE STATE OF ARMAMENT OF THE TROOPS DURING THE BEGINNING OF THE 19TH CENTURY.

At the end of the 18th and the beginning of the 19th centuries, there did not exist the uniformity in the armament of troops which we have become accustomed to seeing now-a-days, even the weapons themselves were not uniform because it was fabricated manually by arms makers, working at home. The overall production was not large. The first order of business was to confirm new forms of edged weapons - and the other to make it in sufficient quantity and to carry out a re-armament. For this reason, edged weapons remained in military service for a very long time - up to the coming of its utter uselessness. In the armament of various military services were found weapons of various types of different tsardoms. Various modifications were widely implemented. To the hilt of one type would be attached the blade of another.

In the archives of the Armament Division of the Main Artillery Administration there have been preserved some interesting information concerning the manner in which the Nijegorodsk dragoon regiment was re-armed in 1817: "The Nijegorodsk dragoon regiment reports that it has 527 palashes, which are no longer of utility in the regiments, which it cannot surrender due to not having received any (new) swords", and the condition of these weapons was made evident when it was surrendered: "on these palashes and swords, the hilts, some are soldered, some are partly or totally broken, the edges are dangerous, with notches, dull, rusted through, the scabbards with burnt leather, the end pieces and support fittings are bent and with holes, and all-in-all it is of the old style" (proceedings of the 1st. board, No.209, 1818). Let us notice that besides the lamentable condition of these arms, that it was also not uniform, since both palashes and swords were in the armament of the Nijegorodsk dragoons.

The weaponry that was surrendered in such a condition was not junked, but was sent to various shops for repair and re-manufacture. In 1826, the commander of the St.Petersburg Arsenal reported that, "the arms shop under my jurisdiction is engaged in the re-manufacture of 3858 palashes and 13,000 swords, and acording to a preliminary trial we conducted, it turned out that 20 palashes and 20 swords were re-manufactured by 17 workers in 7 days - it follows that, for the remanufacture of the aforementioned number of palashes and swords, 8 years will be required, including holidays". (Archive of the Main Artillery Administration of the Staff of the General-Feldstehmeister, 1926, No.3126).

During the reign of Emperor Nicholas I, when new types of edged weapons were confirmed, exactly similar to French types, the modification of captured French arms was widely practiced - to French hilts were attached Russian blades, and vice-versa. Weapons of this sort had remained in the armament of Russian troops almost to the beginning of the first World War, that is for the duration of 87 years.

MANUFACTURE OF EDGED WEAPONS IN THE 18TH & 19TH CENTURIES.

During the 18th century, Tula was the main manufacturing center of edged weapons and firearms - where even at the end of the 16th. century at the government owned Kuznetsk suburb there had settled "arquebus gunsmiths". The armourers of Tula constituted a private guild, working under the stern supervision of the government. All the armourers were registered in a special book. They were not allowed either to leave the guild nor even to absent oneself in order to act on one's own authority. Each master was given a yearly standing order for work to be completed within a specified time, or a government order at a specified fixed price. Severe punishment threatened the non fulfillment of the order. Only after the completion of the requirement did the armourer have the right to work for himself.

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