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RARE 18th C. Mughal Indian Shamshir Sword with an enameled handle

( ID: is550 )


This rare Mughal Indian sword likely originates from the late 18th to early 19th century.  Mount-ed with a wide Persian blade and a chiseled forte on both sides and fine wootz pattern visible throughout, the handle of the sword is copper and inset with colored enamel. The sword in its entirety extends 36 inches in length, while the blade is 31 inches.

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 Victoria & Albert Museum in London, India experienced a shift in the power structure at this time, namely the role of the maharajas and their patronage of the arts, both in India and Europe.  This change nurtured the creation of ornate objects signifying royal status, power, and identity.  Artisans themselves began to be seen differently as well.  No longer were they merely considered craftsman, they had begun to emerge as a new professional class in the socioeconomic landscape of the subcontinent.  This trend would solidify as the British Empire developed a stronger foothold in the region.    

 

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