- Museum number
Iron sword with gold hilt and scabbard; the blade has been set into the scabbard the wrong way round and corroded in place; scabbard decorated with depressed scale on one side and with a central rib and applied spirals on the other; pair of P-shaped mounts on left side.
- Production date
Length: 15.40 centimetres (of hilt)
Length: 106.50 centimetres
Width: 7 centimetres (including mount)
Width: 4.50 centimetres (of scabbard)
- Curator's comments
Compare with gold scabbard of similar type acquired by the Louvre and published in 'Revue du Louvre' (1967), fig. 15, and second - more elaborate - example in the Metropolitan Museum of Art in NY ('Bulletin of the Metropolitan Museum of Art', 1965, p. 45). Others in the Abegg Stiftung in Switzerland; cf. also 'Arts de l'Iran Ancien' (Musee Borely, Marseille 1975), no. 248 (=Louvre). On scabbard chapes, cf. B. Overlaet, "Swords of the Sasanians, notes on scabbard tips", 'Archaeologia Iranica et Orientalis' (De Meyer, L. & Haerinck, E., eds), vol. II, pp. 741-55.
Unpublished Cernuschi catalogue entry
Iron sword with gold hilt, set in a gold scabbard
Said to be from Daylaman, Iran
6th - 7th century
L 106.5; L of hilt 15.4; W 7.0 (including mount), W of scabbard 4.5 cm.
Kent & Painter eds 1977: 156, no. 327; Painter 1977: 15; Bálint 1978: fig. 4.4; Overlaet 1982: pl. IIIc; Wilcox & McBride 1986: 43; Overlaet ed. 1993: 179, no. 40; Seipel ed. 1996: 243, 404, no. 94: Masia 2000: 282, pl. 19
London, The British Museum, ANE 135738 (1972-6-17,1)
A heavily corroded iron blade with an asymmetrical curving one-handed gold hilt, and lacking a guard, set the wrong way inside an elaborate gold scabbard. This has a pair of P-shaped mounts, each attached with three small gold rivets, with an additional pair of holes for attachment to the suspension slings. The exterior surface of the scabbard is decorated all over with a depressed scale or feather-like honeycomb pattern identical to that on one side of the hilt; the reverse of the scabbard has a raised medial rib running the length of the object and three pairs of gilded spirals attached either side of the rib below the lowermost suspender attachment. The scabbard may have been originally set with a separate chape, since detached.
A dozen or so Sasanian swords survive in museum collections. All are said to have been found in the thickly forested mountainous region of Daylaman, in north-west Iran, whence they are suspected to have been found in hill-top cemeteries. The heavily forested mountain terrain and relative inaccessibility of this region suggests that the inhabitants were comparatively isolated from their neighbours. Daylamites were renowned warriors, and the reported discovery of weaponry at sites in this region has been cited as evidence that this may be a longer tradition. However, this is nothing more than speculation without more secure archaeological evidence.
The present sword was purchased in 1972 from the London dealer Robin Symes. The acquisition history of similar published swords suggests that they were discovered during the 1960s. Most consist of straight double-edged blades set in decorated silver or gold scabbards with P- or R-shaped suspension mounts. These mounts were designed to suspend the swords at a convenient angle on the left thigh, and are depicted on the Taq-i Bustan relief, a 7th or early 8th century silver plate in the Hermitage, and Sogdian wall-paintings of the 7th and 8th centuries AD. This type of mount may derive from Central Asia and was used alongside swords with bridge-mounts which are shown on reliefs of Shapur I (r. 240-272), Varahran II (r. 276-293) and Khusrau I (r. 531-579), coins, silver plates and small figures. The scale decoration on the scabbard is found on a number of Sasanian helmets, including examples excavated at Nineveh in northern Mesopotamia (see cat. xxx = BM helmet). This elaborate all-over patterned ornament is characteristic of Late Sasanian arts and crafts, and most clearly seen on their dress and silverware. Another feature of these swords is the lack of a crossbar guard of the type otherwise found on earlier Sasanian swords as well as on post-Sasanian and Early Islamic depictions.
Swords and sword belts were listed among valuable booty prized by Arab fighters during the Islamic Conquest although it is uncertain whether this was due to their appearance or the quality of the sword blades. However, swords certainly were a status symbol in the Sasanian Empire: the position of Royal Sword-bearer is listed among high Court officials on Shapur I's Res Gestae on the Ka'ba-i Zardusht, and they are prominently displayed on Sasanian royal rock reliefs, which became a leitmotif repeated in miniature on terracotta figurines, carved bone and small bronze statuettes. Swords and bows recur as the overwhelming types of weapon used in combat or hunting scenes illustrated in Sasanian art. Contemporary depictions provide a rich source of evidence for swords and typologies based on the shape of their hilts, pommels, guards, chapes and means of suspension.
- Bibliographic references
Feuerbach A 2002a / The Glitter of the Sword: The Fabrication of the Legendary Damascus Steel Blades (p. 47, fig. 9)
Seipel W 1996a / Weihrauch und Seide: Alte Kulturen an der Seidenstrasse. Catalogue of the exhibition held at the Kunsthistorisches Museum, Wien, 21 January - 14 April 1996 (pp.243, 404, no. 94) (cat. entry by St J. Simpson)
Wilcox P & McBride A 1994a / Rome's Enemies, 3: Parthians and Sassanid Persians (pp. 43-44) (b/w photograph illustrated)
Ghirshman R 1963a (fig. 2)
Overlaet B 1993a / Splendeur des Sassanides. L'empire perse entre Rome et la Chine [224-642] (p. 179, no. 40)
Strathern P 1993a / The Silk and Spice Routes. Exploration by Land (p. 25) (used as an illustration)
Painter K 1977a / Gold and Silver in the Roman World (p.15)
Kent & Painter 1977 / Wealth of the Roman World. Gold and Silver, AD 300-700 (p.156, no.327)
Balint 1978 / Vestiges archéologiques de l’époque tardive des sassanides et leurs relations avec les peuples des steppes (fig. 4.4)
Overlaet 1982a / Contribution to Sasanian armament in connection with a decorated helmet (p. 197, pl. IIIc)
Demange F 2007a / Les Perses sassanides. Fastes d'un empire oublié (224-642) (cat.134, p.191) (entry by St John Simpson)
- On display (G52/dc7)
- Exhibition history
2006 14 Sept-30 Dec, Paris, Cernuschi Museum, 'Les Perses Sassanides ou les Fastes d'un empire oublié'
2005 Sept-2006 Jan, London, BM, 'Forgotten Empire'
1996 17 Jan-14 Apr, Austria, Vienna, Kunsthistorisches museum, 'Weihrauch und Seide – geld und Luxus aus dem Antiken Orient'
1995-2005 17 Nov-Aug, BM, G52/IRAN/20/4
1994 16 Jun-23 Dec, BM, G49/IRAN/20
1993 12 Feb-25 Apr, Belgium, Brussels, Musée Royaux d’Art et d’Histoire, 'Splendeur des Sassanides / Hofkunst Van des Sassanieden', no. 40
1977, BM, 'Wealth of the Roman World. Gold and Silver, AD 300-700'
1975 Jul-1990 Dec, BM, Iranian Room [IR] case 21, no. 5
- Missing the chape
- Acquisition date
- Middle East
- BM/Big number
- Registration number