Place of Origin: Sana’a, Yemen
Date: 19th to 20th Century
Originating from Sana’a, Yemen, this splendidly ornamented jambiya dates from the late 19th or early 20th century and was probably made in the Jewish quarter known as Qaa’al-Yahud (or simply Qaa) (1). It boasts a higher quality than most, with the wooden scabbard finished with a large iron thouma that is decorated with silver and gold. The broad leather belt is lavishly adorned too, being stitched with gold and silver thread—the same precious materials used to decorate its iron mounts.
Both the purse-shaped mount on the belt and the scabbard’s thouma have pierced borders of beautiful Arabic calligraphy, and around the belt-mount there is a hemistich from the Qasidat al-Burda of al-Busiri (d. 1294):
“Whoever has the assistance of the Prophet of God,
If the lion should encounter him in the jungle, it will be meek before him.”
On the scabbard there are verses attributed to the uncle of the Prophet Muhammad, Hamza ibn ‘Abd al-Mutallib:
“Since Ahmad Mustafa is obeyed among us,
Do not defame him with violent speech,
For, by God, we shall not hand him over to any people,
Until we have first perforated them with our swords.”
The dagger is mounted on the inside of the belt and this was typical of these daggers and the way the males in Yemen wore them. The hilt is of horn, decorated with a series of silver nails, a feature found on earlier jambiyas from San’a, such as one now in the Nationalmuseet, Copenhagen (2) and purchased by the Danish orientalist Niebuhr in 1763. The blade itself is of the typically wide form associated with Yemeni examples, and has a raised central rib.
Provenance: European art market
(1) Elgood, The Arms and Armour of Arabia, 1994, p.88.
(2) Elgood, The Arms and Armour of Arabia, 1994, p.87, fig.9.36.