The shamshir originated in Persia and spread throughout the former Ottoman Empire and beyond into India and even the Philippines. The strongly curved blade was enduringly popular and absolutely ideal for delivering a devastating cutting stroke, and was very effective at delivering rising, descending and hooking style thrusts, as well. Typically, the curved shamshir blade had a narrow cross section and a sharp point, with a simple brass or steel crossbar hilt and an equally straightforward handle made from wood or animal horn that terminated in a distinctively bulbous pommel. This pommel was offset slightly to help the hand resist centrifugal force when making a hard cutting stroke.

The shamshir is a type of saber with a curve that is considered radical for a sword: 5 to 15 degrees from tip to tip. The name is derived from Persian شمشیر shamshīr, which means "sword" (in general).  Typical pre-Islamic Iranian blades used for warfare were straight (for example, see Acinaces). Curved blades in this period were used primarily for hunting, though examples of curved swords used in battle are present in Greek depictions of Achaemenid Persian soldiers. The curved scimitar blades became popular after the Mongol invasions. The sword now called "shamshir" was popularized in Persia by the early 16th century, and had "relatives" in Turkey  (the kilij), Mughal India (the talwar), and the adjoining Arabian world (the saif). 

These blades all were developed from the ubiquitous parent sword, the Turko-Mongol saber. The shamshir is a one-handed, curved sword featuring a slim blade that has almost no taper until the very tip. Instead of being worn upright, it is worn horizontally, with the hilt and tip pointing up. It was normally used for slashing unarmored opponents either on foot or mounted; while the tip could be used for thrusting, the drastic curvature of blade made accuracy difficult. Like Japanese blades, there is no pommel, and its two lengthy quillons form a simple crossguard. The tang of the blade is covered by slabs of bone, ivory, wood, or other material fastened by pins or rivets to form the grip. The shamshir was similar in design to its contemporaries, the Indian Talwar and the Saif.

Emile Glockner "The Blade" 1900