A basket-hilted shamshir sabre




India, Punjab (hilt); Iran (blade)


Early 19th century (hilt); 18th century (blade)


Forging, piercing, inlaying, damascening


Steel, gold


Overall length 1045 mm; blade length 900 mm

The unusually long blade of conventional form is made of watered steel and exhibits a well-visible ladder-like pattern, known as kirk nardeban. The forte of the blade on the obverse side is inlaid in the tahneshan technique with a gold cartouche. It contains an Arabic inscription "The work of Assadollah" (a shortened version of the popular Iranian maker’s mark "The work of Assadollah Isfahani"). The hilt is made of plain steel in the Indo-Muslim style, but it has an untypical large spherical pommel and a side forked knuckle-bow supplementing the conventional front knuckle-bow. Both knuckle-bows terminate in stylized swan’s heads, which is common for Indo-Muslim marwari type hilts. The swan head motif is repeated on the pierced base of the side knuckle-bow. All parts of the hilt are decorated in gold koftgari with stylized floral and geometric motifs. No scabbard. 

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. Even the simplest examples have an elegant appearance. 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 hilt of this sabre represents a rare version of the Indo-Muslim hilt, which is distinguished a more complicated guard and a large spherical pommel, like in some pulouar type hilts. A splendid shamshir with an Iranian watered steel blade and a similarly shaped but bejeweled Indian steel hilt can be seen in the Royal Collection in London (inv. no. 11332). It is known that the sabre was presented by Asaf Jah VI, the Nizam of Hyderabad (r. 1869-1911), to Albert Edward, the Prince of Wales, the future King Edward VII, during his tour of India in 1875-76 (see Clarke, C.P., Birdwood, C.M. Catalogue of the Collection of Indian Arms and Objects of Art, Presented by the Princes and Nobles of India to H.R.H. the Prince of Wales K.G., K.T., K.P., G.C.B., G.C.S.I., &c. on the Occasion of His Visit to India in 1875-1876. Now in the India Room at Marlborough House. – London, 1898. – Case A, no. 1). 

Persian term "kirk nardeban" (literally "forty rungs") is used for to rare watered-steel blades exhibiting transverse linear patterns rhythmically repeated like the rungs of a ladder. Another name is "Muhammad's Ladder" (or "The Prophet’s Ladder"). Transverse patterns are created mechanically during the forging process. The blacksmith strikes out at the red-hot blade with a chisel and a hammer at regular intervals to force its crystalline structure to align into the straight lines in impact locations. The number of patterns varies from 20 to 50 per side depending on the length of the blade and the length of the intervals. Each pattern can be single, double or even triple. 

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. 340-341, №127.