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Early Tibetan Sword

Place of Origin: Easten Tibet, Kham Region

Date: 15th-16th Century

Reference: 100

Status: Sold

Full Description:

An important and early Tibetan short sword with high quality openwork iron fittings.  It shares several features with a sword in the Metropolitan museum, New York (acc. No.36.25.1465a, b), which is dated as sixteenth to eighteenth century.  This example is believed to be earlier, fifteenth to sixteenth century, due to the style of ironwork.  LaRocca discusses this in a book of an exhibition held at the Metropolitan museum, New York, 2006, titled ‘Warriors of the Himalays: Rediscovering the Arms and Armor of Tibet’.  He provides examples to illustrate that open ironwork from as early as the fifteenth century would have a naturalistic and organic nature that we see on the sword shown here.  The dragon on the scabbard also matches with his descriptions; fierce, with a long sinuous body and four claws, one of which is opposed to the others.  A further example of fifteenth century open ironwork to corroborate these conclusions, and in directly comparable with our sword, is a pencase in the Newark museum (1).  It not only shows the thick bifurcating scrollwork typical of this period, but like our sword has multiple dragons and a deer leaping through foliage.

The hilt has a lozenge-shaped cross section, with an attached iron pommel, pierced with scrolling tendrils on one side and chased decoration to match on the rear.  Three iron short cone-shaped protrusions sit on top of the pommel, which are typical of swords made in Eastern Tibet, Kham province.  The Metropolitan museum, New York, have an example with the same protrusions, although of a different type ( 36.25.1460) (2), and La Rocca points out another similar example in the National Museum of Natural History, Washington with provenance stating it was made in Poyal, once part of the Kingdom of Derge and now part of the Ganzi Tibetan Autonomous Prefecture in western Sichuan province.  The central wooden grip is covered in ray skin, with eight applied brass lozenge-shaped studs.  The lower part of the hilt has a further iron fitting decorated in the same way as the pommel, with a corresponding throat piece attached to the top of the scabbard.

The wooden scabbard has the same lozenge cross-section shape, and is covered with a black leather covering.  The bottom is fitted with a U-shaped frame of iron, the front decorated with scrollwork, and in the center of the frame an iron panel in the shape of an arrow.  This central panel has the same thick scrollwork but with a deer leaping through foliage, and an undulating dragon grasping a flaming pearl.

The blade orientation in relation to the hilt indicates that this sword was designed to be stored at the front of the body in a sash with the blade edge pointing upwards.  Single edged, with an oblique tip, the blade displays a hairpin pattern comprising four light-coloured lines on a grey background which is the result of the forging process where alternating folded rods of hard and soft iron are combined with the goal of creating a blade which is both strong and flexible.  The heel of the blade shows a swirling pattern, an unusual feature, which is described in the sword chapter of the Tashi Namgyal text as ‘flowing and swirling designs’ (3).

(1) Reynolds, From the Sacred Realm, 1999, p.108, plate 51.

(2) LaRocca, Warriors of the Himalayas, 2006, p.164-165,

(3) LaRocca, Warriors of the Himalayas, 2006, p.168.


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