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A silver-mounted shamshir sabre

Number

3433

Origin

Syria

Time

Late 18th or early 19th century

Technique

Forging, casting, repoussé, embossing, engraving, damascening

Material

Steel, gold, silver, wood

Dimensions

Overall length (without scabbard) 940 mm; blade length 810 mm; scabbard length 836 mm

The blade of conventional form is made of watered steel. The obverse side of the blade is decorated in gold koftgari with Christian symbols and Arabic inscriptions. The upper lobed cartouche with a Byzantine cross contains the inscription "In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit. Hey, God is the only one. Amen". The inscription within a circular cartouche reads: "O Guardian Angel". Another one long single-line inscription is disposed separately between two crosses pattée. It represents the full text of the Lord's Prayer reading “Our Father, Who art in heaven. Hallowed be Thy Name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven. Give us this day our daily bread, and forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us. And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil. For thine are the kingdom and the power and the glory forever and ever. Amen”. The reverse side of the blade is decorated with a small gold pentagram, which symbolized the five wounds of Jesus Christ or the five joys of the Virgin Mary in early Christianity.

 The hilt consists of a faceted cross-guard, a straight hexagonal grip and a faceted pommel cap tilted forward almost at a right angle. The base of the grip is tightly bound with thin silver wire. Each side of the cross-guard is decorated with a central large Latin cross and chevrons against a fluted ground. The remaining parts of the hilt are chased in relief with roses and are dotted with spiral borders.

 The wooden scabbard is encased in sheet silver. Both sides of the scabbard are decorated in repoussé with stylized floral motifs as well as large budded crosses and small Greek and Latin cross that are partly included into large oval-shaped cartouches. The floral design on the obverse side includes the stylized Arabic inscription reading "In the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit". In addition, two oval-shaped cartouches contain images of Jesus Christ crucified on a budded cross, and the Virgin Mary almost in full growth with uncovered head, flowing hair and prayerfully folded hands. Both figures are depicted without haloes, and Jesus also lacks a beard. The scabbard has two silver bands with bulging sides pierced like crosses pattée. Each band is fitted with one suspension ring.

COMMENT. Shamshir is the most common type of Iranian sabre with 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 presented sabre is a very rare example of the "Christian" weapons from the Arab-Islamic region. It was most likely made in the Ottoman Syria for one of the Arab Christians who was allowed to wear weapons. The fine watered steel blade was probably imported from Iran but decorated later with gold by a local craftsman. An identically mounted sabre is in the Dr. Werner Uhlmann collection in Germany (inv. no. SUW.852, see Geibig, A., Grieb, H. Kunstvolle Waffen des Orients: Ausgewählte Blankwaffen der Sammlung Werner Uhlmann vom Maghreb bis nach Indien / Sonderdruck aus dem Jahrbuch der Coburger Landesstiftung. – Coburg, 2015. – S. 146, no. 171).

 LITERATURE: 1) Сіваченко Є. Холодна зброя Сходу з колекції Олександра Фельдмана: [фотоальбом]. – Харків, 2009. – С. 6-7; 2) Тоїчкін Д. Клинкова зброя козацької старшини XVI – першої половини ХІХ ст.: проблеми атрибуції та класифікації. – Київ, 2013. –  С. 96. 3) 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. 80-83, №14.