A thewa style hilted shamshir sabre




India, Rajasthan (Pratapgarh)


19th century


Forging, casting, chasing, engraving, gilding, fusing, gem-setting


Steel, silver, gold, brass, rubies, glass, wood, velvet


Overall length (without scabbard) 935 mm; blade length 790 mm; scabbard length 833 mm

An Indian silver-gilt hilted shamshir decorated with thewa work. The blade of conventional form is made of watered steel. The obverse side of the blade is engraved with four inscriptions. The longest Arabic inscription reads: "There is no hero other than Ali, there is no sword other than Zulfaqar". The meaning of other three inscriptions within cartouches is not completely clear. The gilded silver hilt consists of a straight hexagonal grip, slightly curved downward quillons and unusually wide triangular langets that are decorated with green-colored glass panels with gold depicting various hunting scenes in a manner derived from the Kotah miniature painting. The pommel and quillon ends are formed as lion heads set with ruby eyes. The wooden scabbard is covered with dark green velvet. The chape is made of brass. 

COMMENT. Shamshir is the most common type of Iranian sabre, which has a strongly but smoothly curved, single-edged blade. In addition, the blade is narrow but rather thick and is perfectly smooth, although there are rare exceptions. The shamshir was probably fully formed and has achieved recognition in Iran by the end of the 16th century, when the country was already united under the rule of the Safavid dynasty (1501-1722). It turned out to be an effective slashing weapon, whereas the use of the point for stabbing was difficult owing to the excessive curvature of the blade and required special skills. The blade itself was most often made of watered steel but was rarely decorated. However, many shamshirs exhibit impressive craftsmanship in both blade quality and overall decoration. During the 17th and 18th centuries, the shamshir has become widespread in the Islamic world. Iranian watered-steel blades were highly valued not only in the East, but also in the West. In other countries, both imported Iranian-made blades and locally produced Iranian-type blades were generally mounted in accordance with traditional national styles. Local versions differ from the classical Iranian shamshir not only in decoration but often in the hilt design. 

The presented sabre comes from Pratapgarh, one of the districts of the modern Indian state of Rajasthan. Pratapgarh has long been famous for the thewa art, which consists in fusing sheet gold with transparent colored glass to create exquisite patterned units of jewelry. The word "thewa" means "setting" in Rajasthani. An intricately worked-out thin sheet of highly refined gold (thewa ki patti) is applied onto molten glass and is merged with it forming a single whole. The glass is treated by a special process to create a dazzling effect, which in turn highlights the intricate gold work. Craftsmen intentionally use red, green and blue colors corresponding ruby, emerald and sapphire. The finished glass plate can be framed in metal and built into the item of jewelry. The thewa work is a very complicated and long process requiring detailed elaboration and skillful fusing of gold with glass. The thewa art originated during the Mughal period (1526-1858) in Pratapgarh district, where it is still flourishing nowadays. Thewa style weapons are very rare. A sabre with a similar hilt can be seen in the Mehrangarh Museum in Jodhpur, Rajasthan (inv. no. ARM/76/50). Judging by the inscription on the knuckle-guard, it belonged to one of the Pratapgarh rajas. 

LITERATURE: Сиваченко Е. Сталь и Золото: Восточное оружие из собрания Feldman Family Museum = Steel and Gold: Eastern Weapons from the Feldman Family Museum Collection. – Киев, 2019. – С. 334-3335, №124.