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Pesh-kabz, 18th century. Blade: gilt steel; hilt: gilt ivory or bone, Louvre Museum, Paris France.

The pesh-kabz or peshkabz is a type of Perso-Afghan knife designed to penetrate mail armour and other types of armor.[1][2] The word is also spelled pesh-quabz or pish-ghabz and means "fore-grip" in the Persian language. Originally from Iran, it is now widespread in Central Asia, Afghanistan, Pakistan and northern India.


All pesh-kabz use a hollow-ground, tempered steel single-edged full-tang blade with a thick spine bearing a "T" cross-section for strength and rigidity.[3][4] In most examples, a pair of handle scales are fixed to the full-tang grip, which features a hooked butt. The earliest forms of this knife featured a recurved blade, suggestive of its Persian origins, but later examples may be found with both recurved or straight blades.[5][6] The straight blade is the more common form in South Asia. In all variants the blade is invariably broad at the hilt, but tapers progressively and radically to a needle-like, triangular tip. Upon striking a coat of mail, this reinforced tip spreads the chain link apart, enabling the rest of the blade to penetrate the armor.[3][4] One knife authority concluded that the pesh-kabz "as a piece of engineering design could hardly be improved upon for the purpose".[4]

The knife is typically used as a thrusting weapon.[7] However, the wide hollow-ground blade also possesses considerable slicing performance, and as such may also be used effectively with slashing or cutting strokes. Its ability to be used as either a cutting or thrusting weapon has caused more than one authority to erroneously classify the pesh-kabz as a fighting dagger.[2][3][4][8]

Pesh-kabz are typically around 40–46 cm (16-18 inches) in overall length, with blades of approximately 28–33 cm (11-13 inches). When compared to other similar knives with T-section blades and reinforced tips, the pesh-kabz virtually indistinguishable, save for its length of blade. The otherwise identical kard or bahbudi (antiq.) has a longer blade (though still shorter than an Afghan sword such as the salwar yatagan)[9] and is considered a separate design,[10] while the chura, used by the Mahsud clan of the Pashtun Khyber tribe, is a slightly shorter version of the pesh-kabz.[4]

The pesh-kabz has a full tang and is traditionally fitted with walrus (دندان ماهی dandān māhi) ivory scales or handles),[11][12] but other examples have been found using ivory from the tusks of the rhinoceros, or elephant.[10][13] Still other knives may be found with scales of wood, agate, jasper, rock crystal,[5] horn, serpentine (false jade),[14] or metal.[4][6] The sheaths are typically constructed of metal or leather over wood, and may be inset with silver or precious stones.[2]


The pesh-kabz originated in Safavid Persia and is believed to have been created sometime in the 17th century to overcome the mail armor worn by mounted and foot soldiers of the day.[1] The term itself was first used to describe the front of a girdle worn by Persian wrestlers, indicating that the pesh-kabz was worn centrally as opposed to the kard and other blades which were worn at the sides. It soon spread to neighbouring Afghanistan and Central Asia before eventually being introduced to South Asia by the Mughals. After armor ceased to be worn by modern armies, the pesh-kabz retained its utility as a close combat knife, and many Pashtun tribesmen, particularly the Mahsud, Afridi, and Shinwari clans, continued to use the design, along with the chura and kard.

During their period of colonial rule in India, the British frequently referred to all Afghan blades of this pattern collectively as "Afghan knives" or "Khyber knives",[9][14] after the Khyber Pass that marked the transition from British India to the nation of Afghanistan. In India, manufacture of the pesh-kabz was centered in the northern city of Bhera,[14] now part of Pakistan. During the First and Second Anglo-Afghan wars, the pesh-kabz along with the Afghan knife was frequently the weapon of choice for finishing off wounded British and colonial troops, as the Afghan tribesmen did not take prisoners except for use as hostages.[15][16]

The pesh-kabz is still used today as a personal weapon as well as a ceremonial badge of adulthood for Pashtun and other Afghan hill tribes. During the Soviet occupation of Afghanistan, this knife was again the weapon most often used to execute captured or wounded prisoners, this time Soviet and Afghan army soldiers, pilots, and tank crewmen.


  1. ^ a b Lexicon of Medieval Knives and Daggers, retrieved 5 July 2011
  2. ^ a b c Shackleford, Steve, (ed.), Blade's Guide To Knives And Their Values (7th ed.), Krause Publications, ISBN 978-1-4402-0387-9 (1989), p. 406
  3. ^ a b c Paul, E. Jaiwant, Arms and Armour: Traditional Weapons of India (1st ed.), Roli Books, ISBN 81-7436-340-8, ISBN 978-81-7436-340-4 (2005), pp. 67-70
  4. ^ a b c d e f Stone, G. Cameron, A Glossary of the Construction, Decoration and Use of Arms and Armor: In All Countries And In All Times, Portland, Maine: Dover Publications, ISBN 0-486-40726-8 (revised, 1999), pp. 493-494
  5. ^ a b Egerton, Wilbraham, (Earl), A Description of Indian and Oriental Armour, London: W.H. Allen & Co., Ltd. (1896), pp. 102-109, 130
  6. ^ a b Pant, Gayatri Nath, Mughal weapons in the Bābur-nāmā, Delhi: Agam Kala Prakashan, South Asia Books, ISBN 0-8364-2473-5, ISBN 978-0-8364-2473-7 (1989), pp. 60-68
  7. ^ Ayres, James (8 July 2014). The Tactical Knife: A Comprehensive Guide to Designs, Techniques, and Uses. Skyhorse Publishing Company, Incorporated. p. 365. ISBN 978-1-62914-116-9. 
  8. ^ McNab, Cris (ed.), Knives and Swords, A Visual History, London: DK Publishing, ISBN 0-7566-5646-X, 9780756656461 (2010), p. 295
  9. ^ a b Hartrick, W. B., The Romance of King Edward's Swords, The Strand Magazine, London: Geore Newnes, Ltd., Vol. 30, July–December 1905, pp. 258-259
  10. ^ a b Balfour, Edward, The Cyclopædia of India and of Eastern and Southern Asia, Volume 1 (3d ed.), London: Bernard Quaritch (1885), pp. 162, 231
  11. ^ Ettinghausen, Richard, Studies in Muslim iconography I: The Unicorn, Washington, D.C.: Freer Gallery of Art, Occasional Papers, Vol. 1, No. 3, (1950), p. 127: The famous author and arms collector George Cameron Stone alleged that the custom of using ivory derived from walrus for knife hilts in the Near East arose because it was less likely to split than elephant ivory, while others, such as the Jesuit explorer Father Philippe Avril state that it was used because it was believed that walrus tusk had the property of staunching a hemorrhage.
  12. ^ Frederick, George F. (Ph.D.), Ivory and the Elephant in Art, in Archaeology, and in Science, New York: Doubleday, Page & Co. (1916), p. 238
  13. ^ Gemstones: Ivory, retrieved 6 July 2011
  14. ^ a b c Watt, Sir George, The Commercial Products of India, London: John Murray Publishers (1890, rev. 1908), p. 561
  15. ^ The First Anglo-Afghan War, retrieved 5 July 2011
  16. ^ Shultz, Richard H. and Dew, Andrea J., Insurgents, terrorists, and militias: the warriors of contemporary combat, New York: Columbia University Press, ISBN 978-0-231-12982-4, ISBN 978-0-231-12982-4 (2006), p. 164

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