Iron sword in a lacquered scabbard with carved wood fittings

From China
Han dynasty, 3rd-2nd century BC

Lacquer vessels have been used in China since Neolithic times (around 7000 BC). In the Shang dynasty (about 1500-1050 BC) and Western Zhou dynasty (1050-771 BC), lacquer decoration became more sophisticated, based on shallow, carved designs. In the fifth to fourth century during the Eastern Zhou period, new techniques and styles appeared, along with improved methods of construction.

The special element of this new style was interlacery. This sword with its lacquered scabbard and carved wood fittings is among the finest surviving examples of early interlacery. The four fittings - a round pommel, hilt, slide and chape - are carved with complex designs of dragons and snakes. There are traces of painted lacquer decoration on the slide, and of gold on the pommel.

The interlacery originated with bronze. A famous vessel from the tomb of Marquis Yi of Zeng, buried in around 433 BC, exemplifies this decorative development.

Find in the collection online

More information


J. Rawson (ed.), The British Museum book of Chi (London, The British Museum Press, 1992)


Length: 85.000 cm (scabbard)
Length: 85.000 cm (scabbard)

Museum number

Asia OA 1978.12-18.1


Brooke Sewell Fund


Find in the collection online

Search highlights

There are over 4,000 highlight objects to explore