Akufion: The sword which kill emperor Nikēphoros II Phōkas


By Dimitrios Skourtelis, icon painter and historical scholar. He is also member of the Greek Academy of Historical European Martial Arts

Translation to English by George E.Georgas

What type of sword was the ‘Akufion’?


Leon the Deacon had given to us a description of how was this type of sword, but we are not absolutely sure about the shape and how the Byzantine warriors use it.

We are at the 11th of December of 969 after the birth of Christ. General Ioannis (John) Tsimiskis invade in stealth the Great Palace (in Greek: Μέγα Παλάτιον) with a squat of assassins warriors. The target is the emperor Nikēphoros II Phōkas the white death of the Saracens. He has only one think in his mind, to assassinate the emperor and take his throne.

The squad of assassins was hiding at the woman chambers of the palace.

The emperor was informed about the assassination attempt from a no name letter which delivered to him form a priest (‘…search the woman chambers of the Great Palace, there are hiding men-at-arms…’ in Medieval Greek: “…η γυναικωνίτις ερευνηθήτω, ενη άνδρες ένοπλοι καταληφθήσονται…”).

The Nikēphoros II Phōkas crown, the gospel, his imperial scepter, his sword were at the monastery of St. Athanasius of Mount Athos at Holy Mount (Athos).


The emperor gives the order to the arch chamberlain Michael to search the areas. Arch chamberlain Michael with the palace guards start to search the chambers but they found nothing. The squad of assassins was hiding well, because the wife of Nikēphoros II Phōkas was the head of this conspiracy. The empress suggest the emperor that is no need to lock his door of his small room, (I have to say that emperor Nikēphoros II Phōkas was a warrior king, he dislikes the wealth and he wore simple cloths, his room does not like a king’s room but a poor room of a soldier. He does not sleep on his bed because he knows that his people were suffering, so he always slept on the floor. But I have to add that in the end of his life became a tyrant) and she should go to see him if he was safe in the night. Off course this was a lie and the emperor who was full in love with his pretty but evil heart wife trust her words and left his door open. At night the assassins were climb the wall and found shelter at the roof of the Great Palace. From there they were waiting to come with boat the general Tsimiskis.


When he came, they thought a rope and help him to climb the wall of the palace. After that all of them were climbing down until they reach the window of the emperor’s room. But they had a surprise, they found the room empty. All of them they start to fear. They thought that the emperor was informed and the palace guards were searching for them. Those fears go away when a servant who was support the empress Theophano guide them to the pray room of the Great palace, where the emperor slept on the floor in front of the Holy icons. The assassins awake the emperor, they stroke him, they torture him and finally they decide to kill him. Look what Leon the Deacon wrote:

‘…and someone stroke him at his back with an akoufion and the blade go thought and pass his chest. This type of weapon was made from iron and it was long, the blade was like the beak of the heron. The only difference of the blade and the heron’s beak was that where the nature makes the heron’s beak almost straight but the blade has a small curve at the point witch was also extremely sharp. This was the end of life of emperor Nikēphoros II Phōkas …’ (InGreek:…Το όπλο εκείνο ήταν σιδερένιο και μακρύ, μοιάζει με το ράμφος του ερωδιού στο σχήμα, με την διαφορά πως όσο η φύση το έκανε ίσιο στο πουλί, το όπλο απλώνεται σε ελαφρά καμπύλη καταλήγοντας σε αρκετά μυτερή αιχμή. Αυτό λοιπόν ήταν το τέλος του βίου που βρήκε τον Αυτοκράτορα Νικηφόρο…”)

St.Mercury with a common Byzantine sword (paramerion)

We have too many one edged curved swords in Byzantium. The most common was the paramerion. But those swords were common in use so this born a question, why Leon the Deacon describes the akufion if it was common in use in the imperial army?

Somewhere Leon wrote that this weapon it can do extremely great injuries from one who knows how to use it and because of its design. If someone read his book he can understand that this weapon was also rare in Eastern Roman Empire.


St.Nikitas with a common Byzantine sword (paramerion)

Ancient Thracian Rompaias

Dueling lesson, between a Greek hoplite with the use of short sword, against a swordsman using a Thracian Romphaia. Equipment courtesy of livinghistory association Koryvantes.


So from the above we can understand that the akufion was not a common curved sword, it was not obviously a saber and it was not a paramerion. So how it was? We have two ideas:

  1. Probably the akufion was a variation of Thracian rompaia. Thracian rompaia was a two handed sword, some of them were a type of pole arm. This weapon can do a strike and thrusts such that it was described in Leon’s book. Off course it was not a pole arm because this weapon is not good for stealth missions.
  2. Akufion was a prototype slashing and thrusting weapon which adopted from the knights of Western Europe and it was such as faussar, warbrand or falchion. All of them have a common characteristic, the strong strikes from their one edge blade.

The ‘akufion’ of the bible of Morgan or  Maciejowski. Watch the left knight ridingis horse and using his two handed sword. Image taken from the Morgan Bible (Folio 10 Verso – top).

A similar type of weapon we can observe 300 years after the assassination of emperor Nikēphoros II Phōkas in a manuscript. From the Bible of Morgan or  Maciejowski. The sword has an extremely similarity with the description that gave to us Leon Deacon on his book. From the other hand it like also to the Thracian rompaia but with a major different. The curve is from the other side than the Thracian rompaia. This weapon is the descendant of this exotic Byzantine sword witch called ‘akufion’. But also give to us the information that the Byzantines design and construct this weapon 300 years before their western European brothers.

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