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Moro Armour

Place of Origin: Philippines

Date: 17th Century

Reference: 086

Status: Sold

Full Description:

An important Moro body armour of unusual form.The steel plates are chiselled with Islamic inscriptions in a style consistent with late Mamluk or early Ottoman armour of the sixteenth century.

The shirt consists of fifty-three iron plates attached together with large butted iron rings, assembled in a similar construction to Moro shirts from the Philippines, with a distinctive flared skirt.Related examples can be seen in the Islamic Arts Museum, Malaysia.However these are invariably nineteenth century and earlier examples have not been identified.

The inscriptions on the plates are Arabic honorifics commonly found on Mamluk objects. The maker of this shirt was somebody who has seen late-Mamluk or early Ottoman armour. The inscriptions include:

al-'izz li-mawla[na]

“Glory to our Master”

al-mawlawi al-amiri

“The Lordly, the Amir”

al-'alim al-'ali (?)

“The Learned, the Exalted (?) ...

al-amir al-dawadar (?)

“The Amir, the Dawadar (?),
the officer of al-Salih, the Just (?)”

al-amiri al-kabiri (?) al-ghazi

“The Commander in Chief,
the Ghazi”

Other words appear to be parts of Arabic benedictions, which are less indicative of Mamluk influence, and suggest rather early-Ottoman or Iranian influence.These include:



al-thana' wa al-ra[ha]

“Praise and ease”

The use of iron plates, and iron rings is unprecedented in Moro shirts which are typically made from brass or horn plates with brass rings.From the materials chosen and the unique Mamluk or Ottoman style calligraphy, it is evident that a Moro armourer or his patron saw examples of Mamluk or Ottoman armour, probably due to trade contact with the Ottoman Empire.From the beginning of the Muslim era there were extensive trade links between South East Asia and Jeddah where communities of Asian Muslim merchants settled and prospered, particularly in the spice and timber trade.One of these is likely to have commissioned this armour, styling it quite deliberately in the manner of the rulers of Egypt.

The maritime links between the Red Sea region and the Philippines are extensive.The Ottoman Caliphs in Istanbul assumed the leadership of the Muslim world and took the title ‘Custodian of the two Holy Places’ (Mecca and Medina) after defeating the Mamluks in 1517.Successive Caliphs rendered assistance to Muslim communities.Ottoman records show that in the sixteenth century gunners and gunsmiths were sent to Aceh in Sumatra to help fight against the Portuguese and the Dutch, each of whom sought to dominate the pepper trade.1The annual Hajj pilgrimage to Mecca and Medina, was under Ottoman control from 1517 to the early twentieth century.This unique shirt was commissioned at an unknown date by a pious Muslim who sought the protection that the words convey to the wearer.Further protection was sometimes acquired by dipping the garment into the well at Mecca which was believed to contain the water of Paradise.


  1. Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia, Symbols of Power and Beauty: The collection of the Islamic Arts Museum Malaysia, 2015, p.120-123.
  2. Donoso, Issac. ‘The Ottoman Caliphate and Muslims of the Philippine Archipelago during the Early Modern Era’. From Anatolia to Aceh - Ottoman, Turks and Southeast Asia, ed. A.C.S.Peacock & A.Teh Gallop.Oxford University Press, 2015.

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