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AN EXTREMELY RARE FATIMID OR AYYUBID SWORD
AN EXTREMELY RARE FATIMID OR AYYUBID SWORD

EGYPT OR SYRIA, 10TH TO EARLY 14TH CENTURY

Details
AN EXTREMELY RARE FATIMID OR AYYUBID SWORD
EGYPT OR SYRIA, 10TH TO EARLY 14TH CENTURY
With straight double-edged broadsword blade with double fuller on each side, bronze quillions tapering to the ends and terminating in small knops, the centre of the quillion with pronounced triangle, the top of the hilt also of bronze and terminating with faceted knop, the grip of the hilt now lacking, corroded
33cm. (84cm.) long

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Andrew Butler-Wheelhouse
Andrew Butler-Wheelhouse

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Lot Essay

This sword is a rare early survival. Professor Ewart Oakeshott, who wrote a report on the sword in March 2011 (a copy of which is available on request), attributed the sword to Fatimid Egypt or Syria largely on the basis of a sword in the Louvre with a hilt of bronze, which aside from differences in detail, is of the same form and construction as our sword. It too has a bun-shaped pommel, with a sleeve which comes down to enclose the top of the grip. The lower hilt consists of a straight lower guard, and above it a further cylindrical sleeve enclosing the lower end of the grip. Like our sword, the Louvre example has no surviving grip (perhaps the two swords had hilts of the same degradable material). However, what it did have is a highly decorated inscription from which it is attributable to Egypt 10th/11th century. Oakeshott goes so far as to mention that the inscription, which runs across the face of the short lower guard comprises verses from Qu'ran, CXII, sura al-tawhid. He suggests that this was used because the verses detail the identity of Islam as opposed to other faiths, indicative of the fact that the sword was used in a time associated with jihad - for instance when the Fatimid Caliphate was embroiled in defending Islam against the aggressive expansion of the Byzantine Empire.

The blade of our sword is long and broad, double edged with double fullers on each face. During the Fatimid period and into the 13th century, Middle Eastern blades were nearly all straight - very similar to their European counterparts. A Fatimid paper fragment depicting a battle between Arabs and Knights in the British Library shows one of the participants holding a long straight sword (Anna Contandini, Fatimid Art at the Victoria and Albert Museum, London, 1998, no. 14, p. 13). Miniatures from the Mamluk period show the continuation of the form, although curved swords begin to appear more frequently. The continuation of the form is depicted in a miniature from the Maqamat of Hariri in the British Library, ca. 1275-1300 (Or.9718, Duncan Haldane, Mamluk Painting, pl.21, pp.62-63). Copied in Syria, this miniature from the Maqamat shows a warrior with a sword of very similar form to the present hanging from his waist. Not only is the sword similar in basic shape and with the rounded bun-shaped pommel, it also shares the panel around the top of the sheath just beneath the quillons. Designed to keep the blade completely protected from the elements, this no doubt numbers against the reasons for the remarkable survival of the present sword. A similar sword, also now lacking its grip, which is attributed to 12th - 14th century Egypt or Syria is in the Furusiyya Art Foundation Collection (Bashir Mohamed, The Arts of the Muslim Knight, Milan, 2007, no. 11, p.42).
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