Matthew Roper discusses various curved weapons from Mesoamerica that could be labeled a "cimeter" (scimitar).

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Matthew Roper

Matthew Roper, “Mesoamerican ‘Cimeters’ in Book of Mormon Times,” Insights: The Newsletter of the Neal A. Maxwell Institute for Religious Scholarship 28, no. 1 (2008): 2-3

Matthew Roper
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The Book of Mormon first mentions a weapon called a cimeter during the time of Enos (some time between about 544 and 421 BC). Speaking of his people’s Lamanite enemies, Enos says, “their skill was in the bow, and in the cimeter, and the ax” (Enos 1:20). Later, in the first and second centuries BC, the weapon was part of the armory of both Nephites and Lamanites in addition to swords and other weapons (Mosiah 9:16; 10:8; Alma 2:12; 43:18, 20, 37; 60:2; Helaman 1:14).

The term cimeter (spelling standardized in more recent English as scimitar) was, as Webster’s 1828 American Dictionary of the English Language defines it, “a short sword with a convex edge.” Although once considered an anachronism in the Book of Mormon, recent research and discoveries show that scimitars are now known to have been a significant weapon in pre-Columbian warfare.

Military historian Ross Hassig has identified a curved weapon known from postclassic Mesoamerican art which he calls a “short sword.” Approximately 50-centimeters (20 inches) long, this weapon was a “curved [wooden] sword with obsidian blades along each edge.” Like the macana or macuahuitl sword used by the Aztecs, it had a deadly cutting edge. In contrast to crushing weapons like clubs, it “carried more cutting surface, and each blade was backed by the wooden base that provided direct support; it was an excellent slasher and yet the forward curve of the sword retained some aspects of a crusher when used curved end forward.”

Hassig suggests that the weapon was a postclassic Toltec innovation. However, additional examples of such curved dagger and sword blades are also known at classic sites such as Comitan (before AD 1000) and at Teotihuacan (circa AD 450). A monument from Tonina, Mexico, which dates to ad 613, shows a noble posing with a curved “scimitar-like flint blade.” A figurine found today in the Museo Regional de Campeche, which is probably from this period, portrays a warrior wearing a death mask who grasps an unhappy captive in his right hand and a curved weapon in his raised left hand with which he is about to decapitate his victim. The weapon in the figure’s left hand has been called an ax by some scholars, but given its form it could appropriately be called a scimitar. Curved swords of varied forms are also found on preclassic monuments at Loltun, Izapa and La Venta, Mexico, and at Kaminaljuyu in Guatemala.

Most recently, examples of such curved scimitar swords have been discovered on several monuments at the Olmec site of San Lorenzo in southern Veracruz (dated 1500–900 BC). Monument 112 at this site portrays a figure who carries in his belt a curved dagger. Archaeologist Anne Cyphers, currently the leading archaeologist at the site, notes that Monument 78 shows a “macana” that “has a curved body with eleven triangular elements encrusted in the sides.” San Lorenzo Monument 91 also displays “an object in the form of a curved macana with 14 triangular points” including one on the tip. By its design, clearly this is the same form of curved weapon found in later postclassic art. These examples suggest that curved-bladed weapons or scimitars were not a late innovation in Mesoamerican arms, but were known from preclassic times just as the text of the Book of Mormon suggests.

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