We are independent & ad-supported. We may earn a commission for purchases made through our links.

Advertiser Disclosure

Our website is an independent, advertising-supported platform. We provide our content free of charge to our readers, and to keep it that way, we rely on revenue generated through advertisements and affiliate partnerships. This means that when you click on certain links on our site and make a purchase, we may earn a commission. Learn more.

How We Make Money

We sustain our operations through affiliate commissions and advertising. If you click on an affiliate link and make a purchase, we may receive a commission from the merchant at no additional cost to you. We also display advertisements on our website, which help generate revenue to support our work and keep our content free for readers. Our editorial team operates independently from our advertising and affiliate partnerships to ensure that our content remains unbiased and focused on providing you with the best information and recommendations based on thorough research and honest evaluations. To remain transparent, we’ve provided a list of our current affiliate partners here.

What is a Cutlass Sword?

By Brendan McGuigan
Updated May 17, 2024
Our promise to you
WiseGEEK is dedicated to creating trustworthy, high-quality content that always prioritizes transparency, integrity, and inclusivity above all else. Our ensure that our content creation and review process includes rigorous fact-checking, evidence-based, and continual updates to ensure accuracy and reliability.

Our Promise to you

Founded in 2002, our company has been a trusted resource for readers seeking informative and engaging content. Our dedication to quality remains unwavering—and will never change. We follow a strict editorial policy, ensuring that our content is authored by highly qualified professionals and edited by subject matter experts. This guarantees that everything we publish is objective, accurate, and trustworthy.

Over the years, we've refined our approach to cover a wide range of topics, providing readers with reliable and practical advice to enhance their knowledge and skills. That's why millions of readers turn to us each year. Join us in celebrating the joy of learning, guided by standards you can trust.

Editorial Standards

At WiseGEEK, we are committed to creating content that you can trust. Our editorial process is designed to ensure that every piece of content we publish is accurate, reliable, and informative.

Our team of experienced writers and editors follows a strict set of guidelines to ensure the highest quality content. We conduct thorough research, fact-check all information, and rely on credible sources to back up our claims. Our content is reviewed by subject matter experts to ensure accuracy and clarity.

We believe in transparency and maintain editorial independence from our advertisers. Our team does not receive direct compensation from advertisers, allowing us to create unbiased content that prioritizes your interests.

A cutlass sword is a slightly curved, broad short sword. They are most well-known from the classic 19th century style used on ships. Often they feature hilts that have cupped guards, and decorative wrapped handles. They feature both a slight stabbing point and a sharpened cutting edge, and are substantial and weighty weapons.

The name, cutlass sword, itself derives from the Latin cultellus, a form of culter, which was a plowshare. From Latin it came through the French and into Italian as coltellaccio, a form of the word for knife. The cutlass sword is also sometimes known as the curtal axe, curtelaxe, or curtelace. All of these terms refer to the exact same weapon, and were simply different historical words used to describe the cutlass sword.

In the world of naval warfare, especially, the cutlass sword has often been seen historically. The cutlass sword in this context is often referred to simply as the naval side arm, and was the weapon most often seen on a sailor through the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries. The cutlass makes for an ideal side arm on a ship for a number of reasons, relating to its size, weight, and simplicity.

Firstly, its heft and sharp edge made it an ideal implement outside of combat, for cutting through canvas sheets, thick ropes, and even wood. Secondly, its short length made it perfect for fighting in the often cramped quarters of a ship, or in the rigging. And lastly, unlike the rapier, the cutlass required relatively little training to use well, making it perfect for sailors whose lives were not dedicated to fighting.

When most people think of the cutlass sword, they actually think of pirates. As early as the mid-17th century pirates were using cutlasses as their weapon of choice, and they soon became iconically connected to the pirate lifestyle. The very simplicity of a cutlass made them perfectly suited to the pirate way of combat, as well as their overall demeanor. Simple weapons, meant to get the job done, whether the job was cutting rope or cutting down enemies, the cutlass fit the pirate mystique.

Eventually the cutlass became less and less popular as a weapon among seamen, as swords themselves gave way to firearms. Their use held out far longer than swords on land, however, likely because of the constant worry about wet powder and the need for a backup weapon. As late as 1935 the British Royal Navy was still using the cutlass in landing parties, and in the United States Navy soldiers were still carrying the 1917 model cutlass during World War II.

On land, the cutlass is perhaps best associated with the Ottoman Empire. The cutlass sword was widely used by Ottoman cavalry, especially Mamluks, who were often not allowed to carry weapons. Because of their use as an agricultural implement and general tool, cutlasses were often allowed to be carried in the Ottoman Empire, even during times of peace when weapons would normally be withheld from the Ottoman slave soldiers.

WiseGEEK is dedicated to providing accurate and trustworthy information. We carefully select reputable sources and employ a rigorous fact-checking process to maintain the highest standards. To learn more about our commitment to accuracy, read our editorial process.

Discussion Comments

By anon933099 — On Feb 14, 2014

The one thing this article did not tell me was whether the cutlass was used by officers and other ranks or only by other ranks.

WiseGEEK, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.

WiseGEEK, in your inbox

Our latest articles, guides, and more, delivered daily.