“Shashka” cosac cavalry sabre, Russia 1881
The shashka originated among the mountain tribes of the Caucasus, the earliest depictions of this sword date to the late 17th century, though most extant shashkas have hilts dating to the 19th century. The earliest datable example is from 1713. Later, most of the Russian and Ukrainian Cossacks adopted the weapon. Two styles of shashka exist: the Caucasian/Circassian shashka and the Cossack shashka. In 1834 the Russian government produced the first military-issue shashka pattern.
The blades of non-regulation shashkas were of diverse origins, some were locally made in the Caucasus, others in Russia, some were manufactured in Germany, mostly in Solingen, and displayed imitations of the ‘running wolf’ mark of Passau.
The typically Circassian (Adyghe) form of sabre was longer than the Cossack type, in fact the Russian word shashka originally came from the Adyghe word – Adyghe: Cэшхуэ (Sashko) – meaning “long knife”. It gradually replaced the sabre in all cavalry units except hussars during the 19th century.
Russian troops, having encountered it during their conquest of the Caucasus (1817–1864), preferred it to their issued sabres.
At this time there were three types of non-regulation shashka:
- The Caucasus type, where the handle almost sits inside the scabbard, this type was used by Kuban Cossack and tribes from the Caucasus. The only problem was with this type of shashka was that in the rain, water could go down into the scabbard. This type of shashka was very light (300–400 grams), very flexible and strong. The best and most famous shashkas of this types were Gurda, Volchek (running wolf symbol on the blade).
- The Don Cossack shashka, which has a straighter blade. The weight of this shashka is around 1 kilogram.
- The Terek Cossack shashka, the handle, like the Don Cossack shashka, does not go inside the scabbard. It is very light and strong.
The first officially regulated Russian military shashka was the 1834 pattern, also called the “Nizhegorodka”. This was followed by the 1838 pattern shashka. In 1881, two patterns were introduced: a ‘Cossack’ pattern, which was typical in not having a guard, and a ‘dragoon’ pattern, which was much more like a standard sabre in having a brass knucklebow, and was derived from the 1841 dragoon sabre. The blades of the two types were, however, essentially identical.
The Cossack Hosts (not full-time regiments) used non-regulation shashkas until 1904, when they received their own regulation pattern.
The Communist government introduced the 1927 pattern, which was very similar to the 1881 Cossack pattern; production of this pattern continued until 1946. The last pattern shashkas to be introduced were the 1940 patterns for ‘line commanding personnel’ and generals – both had knucklebows.