Abstract: The article examines a type of edged weapon – kabiani khmali – fascinating, yet little known to scholars outside of the Republic of Georgia. This type of cavalry swords supposedly emerged in the late 17th or early 18th century in Samegrelo and Imerety, regions of Western Georgia. Authors separately examine all distinctive features of the kabiani khmali starting with the one that gave it its name that literally means «sword in a skirt». This name was inspired by the peculiar form of its protective leather mantle arranged around the body of the sword’s scabbard in a manner resembling a skirt. The authors benefited from the research ideas forwarded by Eduard von Lenz, the first scholar that drew attention to this type of edged weapon in his article «Eine Sabelstudie» published in Zeitschrift F?r Historische Waffenkunde in 1912.
The main purpose of the «skirt» was to protect the scabbard from soaking in horse sweat. Otherwise it would happen inevitably since the sword was kept below the saddle, between the horse’s flank and the leg of a horseman. Extra protection would not allow sweat to penetrate through the scabbard and ruin the blade of a sword. Having examined miniatures created for Middle Eastern manuscripts as well as works of some Western painters, the authors were able to trace the roots of this tradition to the 16th century. Other distinctive features of the sword that determined its functional characteristic are the hilt without cross guard and the pronounced (up to 300) angle between the blade and the hilt. Disclosing a number of historical parallels from different cultures and times authors explain that the tilted hilt of a kabiani khmali that puzzled Eduard von Lenz, had indeed a functional significance and was not just an attribute of a ceremonial type of weapon as it had been falsely assumed by foreign scholars. Two other features – hilt without guard and manner in which these swords and sabers were suspended link this type of weapon to the other distinctive edged weapon of Caucasus known as Caucasian or Circassian shashka.
The authors point at the similarity of functional and structural features between the kabiani khmali and the Caucasian shashka or the saber. Moreover, the review of Georgian written sources and manuscripts of the 17th – 18th century suggest that the kabiani khmali was not purely local Western Georgian phenomenon, but a part of a long process in the entire region of Caucasus, where Historical circumstances instigated development of new types of cavalry sword and saber. At the end of the article the authors describe in detail a few examples of kabiani khmali kept in museums of Georgia, Russia and Europe. A few swords from museum’s collections bear inscriptions on their hilts and their examination helped to identify the swords’ original owners, mostly members of prominent aristocratic families of western Georgia.
Keywords: edged weapon, kabiani khmali, sword in a skirt, hilt without crossguard, Georgia.