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Mamluk Saber Blade

Place of Origin: Egypt or Syria

Date: 14th-15th Century

Overall: 865mm

Reference: 070

Status: Sold

Full Description:

A wonderfully preserved example of a Mamluk sabre blade from the fourteenth to fifteenth century kept in a custom made timber storage scabbard.  Of high quality wootz steel, with a tight and complex ‘watered’ pattern.  Slightly curved, of thick cross section with a ridgeline on each side following the contour of the spine.  Without grooves or fullering and the Back-edge behind the tip defined by a simple bevel.  The contour of the back-edge drops slightly to meet the tip in what cutlers call a "spear" point.  Comparatively little distal taper from forte to beginning of back-edge, resulting in a heavy blade weighted towards the midpoint, suitable for powerful sweeping cuts at a gallop.

From the two blade markings, only the gilt cartouche can be currently deciphered, it reads:

Qur’an 61 (al-Saff), part of verse 13:

“Assistance from God and a speedy victory.”

These characteristics can be seen on saber blades attributed to various steppe-nomad groups originating in Central Asia during the early Middle Ages.  Tribes such as the Avars moved westward to southeastern Europe (the north Caucasus steppe, the Ukraine, and the Danube basin), and are credited with bringing the concept of saber (long-bladed hilt weapon with curved single edged blade) to the areas they conquered and settled.  The Mamluks were of Turkic stock from Central Asia, and made their entry into the Near East as slave-soldiers serving the succession of dynasties which ruled the Levant, Mesopotamia, and Egypt.   In time, their military prowess gave them access to the throne.

Earlier sabers of Central Asian type tended to be much narrower than on this example.  Often longer, almost straight, and quite thick in relation to width.    A well-preserved blade from the 13th cent. in the Muzeum Wojska Polskiego (inv. no. MWP 165x), has the well-defined ridgeline, and a long sharp back-edge, published - Jacek Gutowski (1997), Bron i Uzbrojenie Tatarów, no.16, p.83.

Analogous Published Examples:

  1. A mature form of this type of saber is in the Furusiyya Foundation collection, inv. R-992 (published in  no. 16, p.50-51).  The ridges are obscured by corrosion but still noticeable.  Dated to 14th-15th cent.
  2. A well-preserved example, likely dating to early 16th cent. in later Ottoman mounts ca. 1575, although there is no reason to believe that the blade could not be from the prior century or even before, is published in no.19, p.26.  The blade offered here has a close resemblance to the one published by Ricketts and Missillier in terms of overall proportions.
  3. Two Mamluk sabers in original hilts (Topkapi Sarayi 1/212 and 1/189, publ. in Ünsal Yücel, pl 55, 57.   
  4. Two further examples, Istanbul Military Museum 11598 and 257, published in Yücel, pl 58 and 75.

Examples in groups three and four are assigned a fifteenth century date, commensurate with the Furusiyya blade, except for Yücel pl 75 which is dated by inscription, which, if it truly reflects the date of manufacture, puts it at the beginning of the sixteenth century. These groups were selected from amongst the larger body of Mamluk sabers by virtue of their unfullered blades, it being apparent that the fifteenth century marked the beginning of a fashion for channeled blades which remained throughout much of the Ottoman period.  Ridgelines as on this example and on analogous specimens one and two above, began a phase-out during the same century.