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A "Tatar" style shamshir sabre

Number

M30.466

Origin

Ottoman Empire (hilt and scabbard); Iran (blade)

Time

The second half of the 17th century (hilt and scabbard); early 17th century (blade)

Technique

Forging, casting, chasing, engraving, inlaying, gilding, nielling

Material

Steel, silver, gold, wood, leather

Dimensions

Overall length (without scabbard) 940 mm; blade length 782 mm; scabbard length 806 mm

The curved, single-edged blade is made of high-quality watered steel. The forte of the blade on the obverse side is chiselled with a lobed circular cartouche containing an Arabic inscription against a reserved gold ground. The inscription reads: "I put my trust in Allah" (Quran 11:56). The silver hilt consists of a relatively small faceted ccruciform guard and a hexagonal grip integrated with a pommel, which is slightly tilted forward. Four grip rivets have domed heads, and the pommel is fitted with a silver loop to attach a wrist strap. The straight quillons terminate in faceted small balls. All parts of the hilt are chased and gilded with large stylized tulips and pomegranates surrounded by fine scrolling foliage in niello. In addition, there is a central eight-petalled rosette on each side of the cross-guard. The wooden scabbard is covered with dark brown leather. The silver scabbard mounts are decorated en suite with the hilt. The scabbard band is made with characteristic elongated "shoulders" resembling wings, and the locket features a counter rectangular protrusion. Two suspension rings are located on the back side of the locket and band. The scabbard chape differs somewhat from other mounts in ornamentation. Most likely, it was added later instead of the damaged or lost original chape.

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 form.

This unusual and rare sabre represents a striking example of the mixing of different cultural traditions. The intricate floral decoration of the hilt and scabbard mounts created using the nielling and gilding is typical of Turkish silver work of the 17th century, whilst their peculiar shapes were undoubtedly inspired by the so-called "Tatar" sabres. Such sabres were often found in the Ottoman Empire during the second half of the 17th and the first half of the 18th century, but they were most popular in Eastern Europe where different variations were known as ordynka and czeczuga. The origin of the "Tatar" sabres is still unclear. For different opinions on the subject, see Kwaśniewicz, W. Dzieje szabli w Polsce. – Warszawa, 1999. – S. 44-50. In any case, the craftsman who made the hilt and scabbard should have known the "Tatar" sabres well enough to copy them.

Some scientists, such as Howard Rickett, Philippe Missillier and Jacek Gutowski, believe that the presented example was mounted by Ottoman craftsmen in the first half or the middle of the 17th century (Ricketts, H., Missillier, P. Splendour des Armes Orientales: 4 Maj – 31 Juillet 1988: [Exposition Catalogue]. – Paris, 1988. – P. 32 and 160, no. 29; Gutowski, J. Katalog zabytków Tatarskich: w 3-ch t. Tom I. Broń i uzbrojenie Tatarów. – Warszawa, 1997. – S. 126, no. 82). Kirill Rivkin describes it as a Tatar-Circassian sabre with an Iranian blade, which was mounted probably circa 1700 by Turkish jewelers residing in Crimea (Rivkin, K. Arms and Armor of Caucasus. – 2015. – P. 171 and 172, no. 93). According to the version of Denis Toichkin, the sabre mounts could have been manufactured in the 17th century by Armenian craftsmen within the Ottoman Empire or the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth (Тоїчкін Д. Клинкова зброя козацької старшини XVI – першої половини ХІХ ст.: проблеми атрибуції та класифікації. – Київ, 2013. – С. 87, 372-373). Undoubtedly, the shamshir style blade is of Iranian origin. The ornate Ottoman sabre with a similar but slightly longer blade is in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York (inv. no. 1978.145, see Alexander, D.G., Pyhrr, S.W., Kwiatkowski, W. Islamic Arms and Armor in the Metropolitan Museum of Art. – New York, 2015. – P. 158-160, no. 59).

LITERATURE: 1) Ricketts, H., Missillier, P. Splendour des Armes Orientales: 4 Maj – 31 Juillet 1988: [Exposition Catalogue]. – Paris, 1988. – P. 32 and 160, no. 29; 2) Gutowski, J. Katalog zabytków Tatarskich: w 3-ch t. Tom I. Broń i uzbrojenie Tatarów. – Warszawa, 1997. – S. 126, no. 82; 3) Тоїчкін Д. Клинкова зброя козацької старшини XVI – першої половини ХІХ ст.: проблеми атрибуції та класифікації. – Київ, 2013. – С.. 373; 4) Rivkin, K. Arms and Armor of Caucasus. – 2015. – P. 172, fig. 93; 5) Косарєв Р.В., Нефедов В.В., Рівкін К. Зброя доби козацтва: Каталог історичних артефактів XV-XVIII ст. в 650 світлинах. – Київ, 2017. – С. 147; 6) 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. 131-133, №35.