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Antique 17th C. Mughal Indian Tulwar with a 16th C. Mamluke wootz watered steel shamshir blade

( ID: ia749 )

As one of most intriguing swords in our collection, this piece serves as an early example of a very fine Mughal tulwar from the 17th century, based on the  the quality of the hilt consist-ing of inlaid gilded copper or tombac.  Mounted with part of an heirloom blade originating from Egypt during the time of the Mamluke dynasty from the late 15th to mid 16th century, this piece features the characteristic chiseling and design of the Mamluke with remains of gold inlays near the apex of the engraving.  

The blade features a fine quality wootz and a deep, pronounced curve.  The sword extends 36 inches with a 31-inch blade.  Three examples of Ottoman Turkish shamshirs with Mam-luke period blades can be seen in the book Art of the Muslim Knight, pages 59-61. 

Developed originally in India, wootz steel technology features a system of isolating micro carbides within a matrix of tempered martensite.  The ancient metalwork specialist Herbert Maryon of the British Museum in London described the metal technique as: “the undulations of the steel resemble a net across running water … [the pattern] waved like watered silk… it was mottled like the grains of yellow sand.”    With roots in the Tamil Nudu region of the sub-continent, the technology was considered the most effective in the world for maximizing armor piercing potential.  The indigenous Indian population presented the invading armies of Alexander the Great with tribute ingots of wootz around 300 B.C.  From there, the process was refined over time throughout the world in Damascus, Syria; continental Europe; and later Great Britain, where the process underpinned the Industrial Revolution that began in the 18th century.  The Rajahs of India submitted tulwars, shamshirs, khanjars, in addition to other ancient swords and daggers manufactured with wootz to the International Exhibition of 1851 and 1862, whereby the pieces become coveted for the quality of their steel.

In addition to edged weapons wootz steel was used in the manufacture of many types of metalwork as well, including armor sets such as char ainas (or Four mirror), bazubands made with dark Persian Khorassan wootz are noted from the period of the Safavid Empire and throughout the Qajar period. Furthermore, axes or tabars and tabarzins, in addition to caligraphy scissors were made from wootz steel. 

Based on research at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, this time in Indian history saw the Mughal dynasty at the apex of its influence, as more of the subcontinent is incorporated into the empire.  Local royalty become continuously enlisted as generals in the imperial army, facilitating the expansion of Mughal culture and technology from art to architecture. 

Photo #1 of Antique 17th C. Mughal Indian Tulwar with a 16th C. Mamluke wootz watered steel shamshir blade
Photo #2 of Antique 17th C. Mughal Indian Tulwar with a 16th C. Mamluke wootz watered steel shamshir blade
Photo #3 of Antique 17th C. Mughal Indian Tulwar with a 16th C. Mamluke wootz watered steel shamshir blade
Photo #4 of Antique 17th C. Mughal Indian Tulwar with a 16th C. Mamluke wootz watered steel shamshir blade