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p6 Acinaces

Article by James Yates, M.A., F.R.S.,
on p6 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

ACINACES (ἀκινάκης), a Persian sword, whence Horace (Carm. I.27.5) speaks of the Medus acinaces. It was a short and straight weapon, and thus differed from the Roman sica, which was curved (Pollux, I.138; Joseph. Ant. Jud. XX.7 §10. [Sica.] It was worn on the right side of the body (insignis acinace dextro, Val. Flacc. Argon. VI.701), whereas the Greeks and Romans usually had their swords suspended on the left side.

The form of the acinaces, with the method of using it, is illustrated by the following Persepolitan figures. In all the bas-reliefs found at Persepolis, the acinaces is invariably straight, and is commonly suspended over the right thigh, never over the left, but sometimes in front of the body. The form of the acinaces is also seen in the statues of the god Mithras, one of which is figured in the cut on the title-page of this work.

An engraving of three bas-reliefs of men in long robes, each with a small straight sword attached to his belt. They are figures of Persian military men wearing the characteristic short sword known as the acinaces.

A golden acinaces was frequently worn by the Persian nobility, and it was often given to individuals by the kings of Persia as a mark of honour (Herod. VIII.120; Xen. Anab. I.2 § 27, 8. § 29).a

The acinaces was also used by the Caspii (Herod. VII.67). It was an object of religious worship among the Scythians and many of the northern nations of Europe (Herod. IV.62; comp. Mela, II.1; Amm. Marc. XXXI.2.)b

Thayer's Notes:

a The acinaces was so characteristically the mark of a Persian grandee that when Florus paints his picture of Antony's un-Roman and monarchical depravity, the scimitar is right there along with the sceptre and the gem-studded robes (II.XXIIV.11.3).

b No more than the Cross among Christians, very likely; with which there are iconographic resonances. For the "Sword of Mars" and its connection with Attila, see Bury's note.

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Page updated: 1 Jul 13