Two Ottoman yatagans, 19th century.
TypeHewing knife/sabre
Place of originYatağan, Turkey
Service history
In servicemid-16th–late 19th century
Used byOttoman Empire
WarsOttoman wars
Mass~0.85 kg (1.9 lb)
Length~0.75 m (2 ft 6 in)
Barrel length~0.60 m (2 ft 0 in)

Blade typeSingle-edged, curved forward
Hilt typePronged sideways towards pommel, no guard; typically made from horn, bone or metal (silver)

The yatagan, yataghan or ataghan (from Turkish yatağan),[1] also called varsak,[2] is a type of Ottoman knife or short sabre used from the mid-16th to late 19th century.[3] The yatagan was extensively used in Ottoman Turkey and in areas under immediate Ottoman influence, such as the Balkans, Caucasus and North Africa.[4]


Although weapons with features similar to yatagan were in use from the ancient times, its relation to them and its place of origin remains unknown.[3] R. Elgood suggests that yatagan is not a weapon native to Central Asia or Persia and it was adopted by Ottomans through their conquests, probably in Balkans.[3]

The yatagan consists of a single-edged[5] blade with a marked forward curve and a hilt formed of two grip plaques attached through the tang, the end of the hilt being shaped like large ears. The gap between the grips is covered by a metal strap, which is often decorated.

The yatagans (also called varsaks,[6] named after the Varsak Turkomans) used by janissaries and other infantry soldiers were smaller and lighter than ordinary swords so as not to hinder them when carried at the waist on the march.

The hilt has no guard; "bolsters" of metal connect the grips to the shoulder of the blade. The grip plaques are typically made from bone, ivory, horn or silver, and spread out in two "wings" or "ears" to either side at the pommel (a feature which prevents the hilt slipping out of the hand when used for cutting). Regional variations in the hilts have been noted: Balkan yatagans tend to have larger ears, often made of bone or ivory, whilst Anatolian yatagans characteristically have smaller ears, more often made of horn or silver, while Ionian-coast Zeibeks carried T-Hilt Yataghans.[7] Sophisticated artwork on both the hilt and the blade can be seen on many yatagans displayed today, indicating considerable symbolic value. Having no guard, the yatagan fitted closely into the top of the scabbard; this was customarily worn thrust into a waist sash, retained by a hook. The blade may have the Seal of Solomon motif pressed into the blade.[8] Other popular imprints include the maker's signature symbol, or a text from the Quran.[4][9]

Istanbul, Foça and Prizren were the main centers of yatagan production in the Ottoman Empire.[10]


See also


  1. ^ Merriam-Webster Online - Yataghan entry
  2. ^ "Kubbealti Dictionary - meaning of the word varsağı (varsak or varsagian), what is varsağı? (Turkish)". Kubbealti Lugati (Kubbealti Dictionary). Retrieved 2 September 2021.
  3. ^ a b c Elgood, Robert (2009). Ta ópla tēs Elládas kai tōn balkanikṓn geitónōn tēs katá tēn othōmanikḗ período. Athena: Polaris. p. 138. ISBN 978-960-6829-12-3.
  4. ^ a b Stone, George Cameron (1999). A glossary of the construction, decoration, and use of arms and armor in all countries and in all times: together with some closely related subjects. Mineola, N.Y: Dover Publications. pp. 676–677. ISBN 978-0-486-40726-5.
  5. ^ Elgood. pp. 147.
  6. ^ Somay, Bülent (11 November 2014). The Psychopolitics of the Oriental Father: Between Omnipotence and Emasculation. Studies in the Psychosocial. Springer. ISBN 9781137462664. Retrieved 4 August 2023. The yatagan used by Janissaries was sometimes called a varsak.
  7. ^ "19C Ottoman T Handle Zeibek Yataghan (Zeibek), Maker's Mark".
  8. ^ Elgood. pp. 142.
  9. ^ Elgood. pp. 148.
  10. ^ Elgood. pp. 141-144.