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Zhanmadao (斬馬刀)
A zhanmadao "horse butchering dao" from a Qing dynasty illustration, 1766
TypeInfantry anti-cavalry saber
Place of originHan dynasty, China
Production history
VariantsPossible changdao, miaodao, wodao, zanbatō
LengthApprox 200+ cm
Blade lengthApprox 150+ cm

Blade typeSingle edged, straight for most of the length, curving in the last third.
Hilt typeTwo handed

The zhanmadao (Chinese: 斬馬刀; pinyin: zhǎnmǎdāo; lit. 'horse chopping saber') was a single-bladed anti-cavalry Chinese sword. It originated during the Han Dynasty (206 BC – 220 AD) and was especially common in Song China (960–1279).

General characteristics[edit]

The zhanmadao is a sabre with a single long broad blade, and a long handle suitable for two-handed use. It was used as an anti-cavalry weapon, dating from Emperor Cheng of Han, made to slice through a horse's legs.[1] This is mentioned in the "Wu Jing Zong Yao" a Song Military Manual from 1072.[2] It featured prominently against the Jin armies in campaigns between 1129 and 1141.[3]

There was also an earlier weapon called the zhanmajian "horse beheading jian" that existed during the Han dynasty, so called because it was supposedly able to cut off a horse's head.[4] However, another source says that it was an execution tool used on special occasions rather than a military weapon.[5]

Surviving examples include a sword that might resemble a nagamaki in construction; it had a wrapped handle 37 centimetres long making it easy to grip with two hands. The blade was 114 centimetres long and very straight with a slight curve in the last half.

Similar weapons[edit]

Possible variations of these Chinese swords were the changdao, miaodao, and wodao. The sword may have been the inspiration for the Japanese zanbatō; both are written with the same characters and have been said to have been used for killing the horse and rider in one swing.[6]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Yang, Jwing-Ming (1 March 1999). Ancient Chinese Weapons: A Martial Artist's Guide. YMAA Publication Center Inc. p. 65. ISBN 978-1-886969-67-4. Retrieved 27 January 2013.
  2. ^ "The Mongol Siege of Xiangyang and Fan-ch'eng and the Song military". deremilitari.org. Retrieved 6 November 2010.
  3. ^ Scott, Richard Bodley; Gaukroger, Nik (22 September 2009). Empires of the Dragon: The Far East at War. Osprey Publishing. p. 107. ISBN 978-1-84603-690-3. Retrieved 27 January 2013.
  4. ^ Lorge 2011, p. 103.
  5. ^ Zhan Ma Dao (斬馬刀), retrieved 15 April 2018
  6. ^ Breverton, Terry (26 April 2012). Breverton's Encyclopedia of Inventions: A Compendium of Technological Leaps, Groundbreaking Discoveries and Scientific Breakthroughs that Changed the World. Quercus Publishing. p. 18. ISBN 978-1-78087-340-4. Retrieved 27 January 2013.