In the first quarter of the nineteenth century, the armies of the world began issuing their soldiers a brass hilted, short sword loosely based, according to the romantic fashion concepts of the time, on the ancient Roman soldier’s short sword: the gladius. The design most nations adopted was actually a copy of the French pattern sword with a double-edged blade and brass hilt, the Model 1831.
This attractive weapon, of questionable value in modern warfare (even then), was generally issued to artillerists, engineers and, in some countries, to the infantry. Most European armies, as well as those in the western hemisphere (including the United States Army), followed this trend. The Kingdom of Spain was no exception, issuing a French pattern weapon to its artillery troops in 1834.
Around 1843, Spain broke with the rest of the world and adopted a series of short swords of a more unique Spanish design, known in their native land simply as “machetes.” The artillery, engineers and infantry were all authorized similar side arms. These “Modelo 1843” machetes would serve Spanish fighting men around the globe until just before the beginning of the twentieth century.
In place of the double-edged “Roman” blade, those of the Modelo 1843 machetes were massive, single-edge blades with a clip point. It is this particular blade shape that distinguishes this family of edged weapons. This design was well-suited for the sword’s real intended use as a chopping tool and not a stabbing weapon.
Although blade size will vary slightly from sword to sword, in general, each is 415mm long and 60mm wide. The ricasso is often maker-marked (virtually all blades were forged at the arsenal in Toledo) and dated with the year of manufacture. The hilts were cast brass, but incorporated symbols traditional to Spanish militarism: the flaming bomb and the lion’s head.
Historians have not been able to document the exact date when these machetes were first authorized, but the nomenclature title “Modelo 1843” was regularly and consistently used to designate these side arms in Spanish military documents starting as early as the 1870s. Orders for blades date to 1850. A uniform print of Peninsular troops, dated 1853, pictures the infantry pattern in use and photographs show the artillery machete being worn in Cuba by the 1860s. The 1877 Infantry uniform regulations also illustrate a Modelo 1843 machete. In 1879, the infantry machete was ordered to be replaced by that of the artillery and engineers. The photo record, however, does not indicate that this was widely implemented.
ARTILLERY AND ENGINEER PATTERN MACHETE
The artillery and engineer pattern machete was produced in the greatest numbers, as both services used the same design and all foot troops of those branches were issued this as a combination tool and side arm. The brass hilt of this weapon has a straight cross guard that is rectangular in the center with round arms terminating in domed button finials, fish scale grips and a disc pommel cap embossed with a flaming bomb surrounded by an inverted scroll. This pattern is repeated on both sides of the hilt. Unit markings have been observed stamped on the reverse of the cross guard on many of the examples examined.
INFANTRY PATTERN MACHETE
Unlike the machetes issued to the artillery and engineers, those of the infantry were only issued to a select section of men in each regiment, the Gastadores. A Gastador is a pioneer infantryman, trained in the skills of a combat engineer. The Modelo 1843 was a handy tool for such duty.
The hilt was again cast brass with a lion’s head pommel, “feathered” grip and a cross guard with an elongated diamond shaped center, hexagonal arms and grooved finial. Examples have been observed with raised regimental numbers or the hunter’s horn insignia of the light infantry in the center of the cross guard.
CIVIL GUARD PATTERN MACHETE
A new addition to the Modelo 1843 family came in 1859 when the Civil Guard adopted a machete in place of the traditional, brass-hilted police saber. The blade was identical to that used on the earlier side arms. The brass hilt had a cross guard with a rectangular center flanked by arms in the form of reclining lions. The ferrule bore the initials “G.C.” (Guardia Civil) in bold relief. A quatrefoil design decorated the center of the ribbed grip and the pommel was in the shape of a knight’s helmet.
Although an impressive piece, the heavy machete proved unpopular with the members of this paramilitary police force and production was suspended in 1864. Examples continued to see service with the Veteran Civil Guard in Madrid, and examples are known to have come to the U.S. as souvenirs from the Spanish American War.
Modelo 1843 machete variations were also issued to some civil service workers. In the Byzantine complexity of royal Spanish governmental organizations, certain public works and road maintenance crews, like the Cuerpo de Ingenieros de Caminos y Canales, Peones Camineros, and the Obras Publicas also had police and paramilitary functions. Their machetes generally followed the lion-headed infantry pattern with the initials or emblem of their agency on the cross guard.
PHILIPPINES MACHETE TAGALO
The last member of the Modelo 1843 family could be called a ‘colonial cousin’ from the Philippines. Identified in at least one period source as the “Machete Tagalo,” this weapon does bear a strong family resemblance to the other examples. But like all distant relatives, it is a bit different. The blade is slightly shorter and more curved than the Spanish made models and no maker’s markings have been observed on any of the examples examined. The hilt is all brass with the typical straight cross guard, rectangular in the center with round arms and ball finials. The grip is a smooth hexagon with a long shaped ferrule. The pommel turns down and widens at the end with a domed cap.
It is known to have been carried by the Civil Guard in the Philippines, the Veteran Civil Guard of Manila and the Carabineros de Filipinas, a type of customs police. Its use may have extended to other corps on the archipelago, but these have not been documented. Photographs show its use by the 1880s, continuing to the end of Spanish rule in 1898.
No regulation has been found detailing this weapon and little is known of its origins. Even advanced collectors in Spain are generally unfamiliar with it, but specimens turn up with fair regularity in America as souvenirs of the Philippine campaign.
The scabbards of all patterns are similar. They are made of black leather with a brass throat and drag. A brass staple to secure the frog strap will be found on the throat. The frog is French in design with a strap and buckle to attach it to the scabbard. Those of the Infantry will be of black leather, the artillery and engineers used frogs of white buff leather and the Civil Guard dyed or painted their leather yellow.
LONG HISTORY FOR A SHORT SWORD
A new, lighter weight universal machete with a long yatagahn blade, iron hilt and checked wood grips was introduced in 1881 and was intended to replace all the different Modelo 1843 machetes. But the service days of this old Iberian warrior were not yet over.
Photographs taken in the late 1890s still show Peninsular artillerymen sporting their ancient machetes. At the same time, troops of the General Staff’s Topographical Brigade are known to have carried the artillery pattern as an individual tool.
Nor was the Infantry Modelo 1843 machete discarded. As the curtain fell on Spain’s tropical empire, the old lion-headed “Spanish Gladius” was still proudly being worn by the Gastadores of the numerous volunteer battalions of Cuban subjects who remained loyal to their King and Fatherland to the end.
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