Lot 111
  • 111

A rare crusader sword from the Mamluk arsenal at Alexandria, Germany or Italy, late 14th century

Estimate
30,000 - 50,000 GBP
Sold
31,250 GBP
bidding is closed

Description

  • steel, leather
  • 125.5cm.
the straight double-edged steel blade steadily tapering towards a fine tip, with a straight and perpendicular cross-guard, the hilt with leather grip surmounted by a disc-shaped pommel, inscribed at the blade, with the St. Irene arsenal mark and further crusader marks

Catalogue Note

inscriptions

‘One of what was made anew in the days of our master, the king of commanders al-Sayfi al-Nasiri Aristay (Sayf al-Din Aristay). Made a bequest to the armoury in the protected port of Alexandria’

This fourteenth-century sword, as well as being an exceptional example of its kind, provides as fascinating testimony of the Crusades and the manner in which arms employed in the conflict passed through diverse hands.

This type of sword generally associated with Italian or German manufacture, belongs to a small group of weapons deposited in the eastern Mediterranean, a rare survivor of the Christian and Muslim crusading battlefields. This sword, however, is extraordinary for its condition and for the range of insignia and inscriptions it displays, which provide a clear insight into the individual history of this object.

The presence of the Maltese cross, engraved three times in circles along the length of the blade, reveals the original purpose of this sword. Adopted as the emblem of the Knights of St. John, this distinctively religious sign – the eight points of the cross representing the eight Beatitudes pronounced by the Sermon on the Mount – declares a militaristic ambition, as the symbol of a Christian solider-brotherhood who waged war for the control of the Holy Land. The presence of these engravings on this fourteenth-century sword firmly places this weapon in the context of the crusades.

Invoking the name of Sayf al-Din Aristay, the governor of Alexandria between December 1400 and May 1401, the engraving commemorates the donation of the weapon to the Mamluk arsenal of the city, during the brief appointment of this public official. After being forged in Christian lands, the sword evidently fell into the hands of Muslim warriors; indeed, the academic Ludvik Kalus notes that many similar swords of typical form, with lengthy double-edged blades and disc-shaped pommels, were presented by Mamluk fighters to this armoury during this period, in an act of religious ritual (Kalus 1982). An engraving beneath this, of a zoomorphic, horselike form, bears a similarity to two swords, including one in the Nasser D. Khalili Collection (Alexander 1992, pp.76-8, no.32) which have also been ascribed to the governorship of Sayf al-Din Aristay. 

Other insignia marked on the reverse of the blade bear witness to the sword’s further travels from this arms storehouse in Egypt. Two circular, abstract stamps, located beneath the hilt, record that the sword was later deposited in the church of St. Irene in Istanbul. Enclosed by the outer walls of the royal Topkapı Palace, St. Irene was used as an arsenal by the Janissary corps of Sultan Mehmed II, after the Turkish conquest of Constantinople. This holy, Byzantine edifice became the repository for an entire corpus of Crusader swords, similar to this lot, which were captured as booty by Islamic Crusader armies, to be inherited later by the Ottoman Empire.

For similar inscriptions, see Kalus 1982, pp.42-45 and Alexander 1992, p.76, cat.32.
Close