This past month I’ve been on the road writing a series about Greece for the travel blog Gadling. One stop was the famous Athens War Museum, which traces the history of armed conflict from the days of the hoplites to modern times.

The collection of weapons is impressive, with the largest sections reserved for the Greek War of Independence and World War Two. The section on the Balkan Wars is especially rich in color sketches by frontline soldiers. I was especially eager to see these after reading Philip Jowett and Walsh’s  Armies of the Balkan Wars, the most interesting Osprey title I read last year.

Besides what you would usually expect from a national military museum, there are several oddities in the collection that may be new even to seasoned military historians. Here are a few. If you have any information on these, please share it in the comments section!


At the bottom of this display case is a kaskara sword from late 19th century Sudan. The scabbard is made of crocodile skin and includes two small daggers. The flaring end is purely stylistic; the blade is actually straight. A similar sword can be seen in Plate C of my Armies of the Adowa Campaign, depicting the Mahdist warriors the Italians faced in their first colonial ventures into the Horn of Africa. Their victories against the Mahdists gave the Italians an exaggerated sense of confidence that would prove fatal when they faced the more organized Abyssinian army of Emperor Menelik.


There was no information about this item. It appears to be a strange dagger of African Muslim manufacture. There is Arabic writing along the side that’s probably verses from the Koran. Just how this weapon was used is a mystery, although central Africa is home to many strange throwing daggers that look impossible to hold, let alone throw! It appears that part of the handle is missing and was probably made of wood or strips of leather wrapped around the metal. If anyone out there can read Arabic, I have a large-format photo I can send you where the writing is legible.


This is a five-barreled Nordenfelt machine gun dating to 1880. These Swedish-made guns were used by the Greek Navy and several other navies, including the Royal Navy. A lever was pushed back and forth to fire each of the barrels in a volley or in succession, depending on the model, and the barrels would automatically reload. While widely sold, they were thought to be underpowered and inaccurate and were replaced within a decade by other brands such as Maxim. Thus they saw very little use in combat.


Here’s a Krupp-Schuman Mobile Armored Carriage, model 1894. It carried a 57mm gun with a range of 6 kilometers. The sign says it was used by the Central Powers during World War One and was captured by the Greeks from the Bulgarian Army in 1918. I can’t imagine these were terribly useful in the war of position on the Western Front, and so they were shipped off to the Bulgarians to use in an attempt to foil the Salonika Campaign. Note that there’s no motor. This was obviously meant to be dragged by a team of horses and set into position.

Sean McLachlan is the author of several titles for Osprey Publishing and the Civil War novel A Fine Likeness.