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8. Ottoman Turkey Trebizond Sword encrusted with coral and turquoise, circa 19th c.

( ID: mc1257 )

Overall length: 101.6 cm

Blade length: 76.2 cm

Weight: 1.2 lbs

Price on request

A fine representation of one of the most well-known forms of Islamic and Ottoman arms, this coral and turquoise-encrusted sword is called, in Western collectors circles, a kilij, though the term translates in Turkish to denote “sword.” Now kilij is commonly used to refer to a sword with a deeply curved saber blade with a widened false edge, called a yelman. This example, a member of a well-known group of kilij encrusted with coral and turquoise are considered to be in the Trebizond or Trabzon style (Elgood 2009). Trebizond is a region of Turkey along the Black Sea coast. Interestingly, these swords are found to be worn by warriors from the Trebizond region, indicating that these were swords produced for primarily a local audience as opposed to the myriad types of swords and other arms produced for the curio trade, primarily in other parts of the Ottoman Empire, such as Syria. Elgood (2009) treats the topic of Turkish coral encrusted arms extensively and concludes that Trebizond is the most likely origin for these types of arms. Some date as early as the late 18th century while the coral-encrusted kilij encrusted kilij swords are 19th century. He further note that the coral would have been most likely traded to the region from Livorno or Greece. Documentary images of Sultan Abdülaziz's, 32nd Sultan of the Ottoman Empire, Armenian bodyguard, Nicham, show him wearing a near identical kilij, encrusted in turquoise and coral (Putnam 1894).

The stones adorning the hilt and scabbard of the sword have talismanic significance in Islamic societies. Al-Biruni (1989) writes in his 11th century treatise titled Kitāb al-jamāhir fī maʻrifat al-jawāhir, or the Book on Multitudes (of information) on the Jewels, that turquoise, which he terms sabaj, dispels the evil eye if it is directed at the carrier of the stone. This is ascribed to the stone’s softness as it likely to break with the softest of shocks. Al-Biruni further notes that coral, or bussad, is found in the “sea around Syria and Rome, where it joins Ifranjiyah (land of the Franks),” referring to the Mediterranean sea between Syria and France. This likely refers to the species of coral called corallium rubrum, or “precious coral,” which comprises the coral inlays on this sword. According to Al-Biruni, coral was supposed to prevent misfortune.

Examples of these swords are found in institutional collections but always of differing levels of quality and condition. The Metropolitan Museum features two examples of similar composition and form (Acc. Nr. 32.75.300a, b; 17.190.2101a, b) in addition to another in the Stibbert Collection (Acc. Nr.6167 published in Civita 2014 and dated to 1725-1775). Other examples can be found in private collections (Hales 2013). This example is of fine quality retaining the entirety of the encrusted coral and turquoise with the corals delicately carved with ribbing running in a lengthwise manner. The decoration forms a unified design around radially concentric circles with turquoise and coral. The blade of classic kilij form with gold inscriptions likely dating to the mid-19th century.

The overall condition is excellent with nearly the entirety of the original gilding over the copper remaining, also known as tombac. The reverse of the scabbard is chiseled with traditional Ottoman floral designs and with the images of either the Hagia Sofia or the Blue Mosque in Istanbul, indicating the religious origins underpinning the traditions of Islamic warfare with which these swords were associated.

References:

Al-Biruni (1989). Kitāb al-jamāhir fī maʻrifat al-jawāhir (The book Most Comprehensive in Knowledge on Precious Stones) Farlang: Islamabad.

Civita, F. (2014). Islam: armi e armature dalla collezione di Frederick Stibbert. Centro di della Edifimi. Firenze

Elgood, R. (2009). The Arms of Greece. Thames and Hudson.

Hales, R. (2013). A Lifetime’s Passion: Islamic and Oriental Arms and Armour, nos. 507 and 508

Putnam, F. W. (1894). Oriental and occidental, northern and southern portrait types of the Midway Plaisance : a collection of photographs of individual types of various nations from all parts of the world who represented, in the Department of Ethnology, the manners, customs, dress, religions, music and other distinctive traits and peculiarities of their race : with interesting and instructive descriptions accompanying each portrait, together with an introduction. St. Louis : N.D. Thompson

Photo #1 of 8. Ottoman Turkey Trebizond Sword encrusted with coral and turquoise, circa 19th c.
Photo #2 of 8. Ottoman Turkey Trebizond Sword encrusted with coral and turquoise, circa 19th c.