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SICA. TYPOLOGY AND FUNCTIONALITY

Cătălin Borangic
Sica. Tipologie şi funcţionalitate,
in NEMVS, an IV (2009), nr. 7-8, p. 22-73.
Translated by Codruta Rusu

For pictures and plates, click here



Feared sign of prestige, with a special spiritual load, the sica dagger is a reference point in the attempt to establish the proportions of the Thracian military phenomena on the whole, but especially the role in society of the military elite. Our approach tries to bring into discussion a typological repertory, with the artistic and spiritual implications that can be built around this weapon, with the necessary prudence, starting with the iconographical, archaeological, historiography sources, the symbolist interpretation and experimental archaeology.
One of the most characteristic curved weapons that can be found in the panoply of the Thracians is a sharp dagger, with a curved blade and a triangular section, with a “blood channel” along the blade and zoomorphic or geometrical motifs incised into it. The size of this dagger, generically called sica, varies between 25 and 35 cm length. The rashness, with which various curved weapons of medium size, dispersed in the Thracian world, of machaira or falx type, are considered to be daggers, has made it extremely hard to catalogue and to study the real daggers, despite de fact that the lasts are present, in a relatively big number, in archaeological contexts and also in representational art. The large number of pieces discovered, with various characteristics, but all specific for daggers, along with the ambiguity of the antic sources, obliges us to make a difference between daggers and small swords (machaira), which is possible only by taking into account the functional and physical characteristics of the weapons in discussion.
From a morphological point of view, starting with simple shapes, through successive transformations, at the end of the third century B.C. and the beginning of the next century, a final shape is reached, functionally and aesthetically elaborated, proper for a mixed warrior elite, whose arsenal contains also a Thracian component. The area covered by these warriors is the North – Western Bulgaria, Western Muntenia, a good part of Oltenia, with a consistent expansion in South – Eastern Transylvania, simply said: the archaeological and cultural grounds called Padea-Panagjurski Kolonii, where the inventory also contains curved daggers of the sica type.
From a typological point of view, though there is a strong tendency towards standardization, the sica daggers can be organised in three main types that differ only by morphological aspects, not functional.
The first type is characterised by its solidity, sometimes with a broken figure immediately after the blade’s middle part, with a short and sharp point, with a slight curvature, a short handle cane, usually of a triangular shape, that has a hole for the fixing rivet, close to the blade. The blade has incised ornaments and a "blood channel" deeply carved into it. These characteristics are not general, the only standing arguments for this type being the size and the shape approximately similar.
The second type, not very different morphologically speaking, doesn’t have the solid shape of the first type, but a longer blade, with a "blood channel", and keeps, most often, the haft’s tongue short and of a triangular shape.
The third type, more numerous, gathers a series of daggers characterized by a long blade, elegantly manufactured in most cases, by the ornamentation with incised circles or/and lines along the blade, the presence of the "blood channel", the haft’s tongue as long as the haft and a guard muff. These distinctive elements are found either all together, or some of the pieces present one or more of these cha-racteristic features. The sizes show a relative standardization, some-where around 30-40 cm length and approximately 3 cm width. From a chronological point of view, this type of dagger is dated mostly in the second and first centuries B. C.
The most frequent associations of weapons in the graves from the Padea-Panagjurski Kolonii group are spear tips, the helmet, the straight sword, shield bosses and the curved dagger, sometimes a coat of mail and chariots, and adding different pieces of harness: pasterns, bits, buckles. This type of funeral inventory, almost the same in the graves from where the daggers come, allows today the identification and reconstruction of some specific inventories, scattered along the time because of different reasons.
The daggers’ decoration, remarkably complex, offers them a sum of spiritual, artistically and symbolical valences. On the blade geo-metrical shapes were incised, but also eagles and snakes, in which case their schematization requires the existence of a certain “code”, or they were an emblem that underlined the membership of a certain brotherhood at arms or a certain social status.
From the facts presented above, it can be stated that the sica dagger represents an important historical artefact which, due to it’s importance and the role it played in the Thracian world, contributes to the understanding of the social and military mechanisms of this society and, through the special spiritual dimension, to the reception of a new side from the religious mosaic of this people. From all the curved weapons used in the Thracian area, the sica daggers are the only ones that make the connection between the Southern Thracians and the Thracians North to the Danube, being spread the same on both sides of the river.