Next to Iranian museums the State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg has one of the most beautiful collections of Persian shamshirs in their collection. The following article below by Dr. Manouchehr M. Khorasani (see also his article on the subject in Academia.edu) shows some of these magnificent pieces:
A 19th century ritual sword (šamšir-e mostāqim: straight sword) from Iran (Source: M. Khorasani Consulting). It was acquired in 1931 and was formerly held in the collection of Count Sergey Sheremekev’s collection.
A magnificent Persian shamshir with a Safavid period blade and Qajar-period fittings. the State Hermitage Museum provides the following description:
“Steel, gold, leather, precios stones, enamel, forging, casting, chasing, carving. Iran, First half of the 19th century. Acquired in 1885-1886 from the Armoury of Tsarskoye Selo“.
The bolčāq ﺒﻠﭽﺎﻖ (crossguard) of the shamsir is made of gold and inserted with diamonds and precious stones as well as the kolāhak (pommel cap). The handle slabs are made of ivory. The book Lexicon of Arms and Armor from Iran: A Study of Symbols and Terminology, Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani (2010) provides the following information on the term bolčāq ﺒﻠﭽﺎﻖ:
bolčāq ﺒﻠﭽﺎﻖ: (Haft Darviš) (n) handguard, crossguard of a sword; the term bolčāq is also used in the manuscript on futuvvat called “Haft Darviš” (seven dervish) which was probably written in naskh and is undated (Afshari & Madayeni, 1381:123). Afshari and Madayeni (1381:123-4) attribute this book to the 11th or 12th century (17 or 18 A.D.) as it belonged to the library of Etezadol Saltane (the minister of science and mines) in 1296 hegira (1876 A.D.). Afshari and Madayeni (1381:184) quote from this manuscript which says that one day a butcher who was a jawanmard went to Ali, kissed his hand and asked for help saying that his kārd became blunt very quickly. Ali touched the bolčāq of his Zulfagar (the famous legendary sword attributed to Ali), rubbing it so long that a kardmal (a knife sharpener) was created. Afshari and Madayeni (1381:184) further explain that bolčāq is originally a Turkic term describing the handguard which separates the qabze (handle) from the sword’s blade, tiqe-ye šamšir.
The magnificent Persian crucible Damascus steel blade as the pattern of Kirk nardeban (forty steps/rungs) in the western literature. Persian manuscripts call this patttern pulād-e jŏhardār-e qerq nardebān : (New Persian) (n + adj + adj + n) watered steel with ladder pattern; a type of crucible steel with ladder pattern; known as forty ladder rungs (Romanowsky,1967b/1346:78). Note that pulād ﭘﻮﻻﺩ (n) means “steel,” jŏharﺟﻭﻫﺮ(n) means “watered steel,” dār ﺪﺍﺭ derives from the verb dāštan ﺩﺍﺷﺘﻦ (to have), qerqﻗﺮﻖ (adj) means “fourty,” and nardebān ﻧﺮﺩﺑﺎﻥ (n) means “ladder” This pattern is also known as čehlband ﭼﻬﻞﺑﻨﺪ (forty straps) (see Lexicon of Arms and Armor from Iran; A Study of Symbols and Terminology (2010) by Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani, Tübingen: Legat Verlag. For a detailed discussion of this pattern see Arms and Armor from Iran: The Bronze Age to the End of the Qajar Period (2006) by Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani, Tübungen: Legat Verlag.
The blade has a beautiful gold-inlaid maker’s mark which reads “amal-e Assadollāh Esfahāni (Isfahāni)” : (the work of Assadollāh Esfahāni).
This maker’s mark appears on a number of high quality Persian swords. Other variants of this signature also exist as amal-e Assadollāh (the work of Assadollāh), Amal-e Assad Esfahāni (the work of Assad Esfahāni), and Assadollāh Esfahāni (Assadollāh Esfahāni) – for more information see Moshtagh Khorasani (2006:156-163). Dated swords with this maker’s mark complicate the issue even more. There are seven dated examples that, rather than solving the mystery behind the smith Assadollāh’s life, only complicate the matter as the time span over which these swords are purported to have been constructed is too long for a normal human life, let alone the active life of a smith. Among the swords discussed in the book Arms and Armor from Iran: The Bronze Age to the End of the Qajar Period, the earliest date is 992 Hegira (1583 C.E.), and the latest is 1135 Hegira (1722 C.E.), a time span of 139 years (Moshtagh Khorasani, 2006:156-163). Even the positioning of the individual words in this phrase varies from sword to sword. Taking all these factors into consideration, it seems unlikely or even fundamentally implausible that a single smith named Assadollāh produced all these blades. It seems feasible and probable that “Assadollāh” ﺍﺴﺪﺍﷲwas a title of honor signifying the highest level of mastery in swordmaking. The theory that some of these inscriptions were counterfeited to add to the value of a sword may be true of later swords bearing cartouches where one finds poorly executed inlayings or even overlayings, but all examples presented in the book mentioned above have inscriptions with finely executed calligraphy and workmanship and exhibit outstanding inlaying techniques. If one assumes that the name “Assadollāh” ﺍﺴﺪﺍﷲwas the highest title given to an Iranian smith who had attained a very high level of mastery in making swords, the mystery of the existence of a variety of handwriting and calligraphy styles over a long period of time appears to be solved. As mentioned by Mayer (1957-9:1), a person counterfeiting a fraudulent cartouche would most likely imitate the original as precisely as possible in order to deceive buyers since he attempted to sell his swords under a fake name. Additionally, a counterfeiter would surely have ensured that the date on forged cartouches exactly matched the era of Šāh Abbās Safavid if there were only one famous smith named Assadollāh during the relevant period. Another fact reinforcing the hypothesis that “Assadollāh” ﺍﺴﺪﺍﷲwas presumably an honorary title bestowed during the Safavid period is that there are three dated swords bearing the phrase of Amal-e Assdollah Esfahāni from the same time period, namely Amal-e Assadollāh Esfahāni 116, Amal-e Assadollāh Esfahāni 117 , and Amal-e Assadollāh Esfahāni and Bande-ye Šah-e velāyat Abbās saneye 135 (see Moshtagh Khorasani, 2006:156-163), all originating during the period of Šāh Sultan Hossein Safavid, who ruled from 1105-1135 Hegira (1694-1722 A.D.). However, all three swords look different in many respects, especially regarding the handwriting style. This is further evidence that, at least during the period of Šāh Soltān Hussein Safavid’s reign, various smiths signed blades using the signature Amal-e Assadollāh Esfahāni and further corroborates the theory that Assadollāh ﺍﺴﺪﺍﷲwas, indeed, an honorary title. . . . . . . .
For more information on this topic read the entry amal-e Assadollāh Esfahāni in the Lexicon of Arms and Armor from Iran; A Study of Symbols and Terminology (2010) by Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani, Tübingen: Legat Verlag. For more information see:
Moshtagh Khorasani, Manouchehr (2013). Les Légendaires Forgerons Iraniens Assadollȃh et Kalbeali. La Revue de Téhéran Mensuel Culturel Iranien en Langue Française. No. 90, 8e Annee, Mai 2013, pp. 20-40.
The next gold-inlaid cartouch is the symbol of bodduh in numbers;
bodduhﺒﺩﻭﺡ : (Dehkhoda) (n) the name of a genie or an angel who can do miraculous things, whose name is written by letters or numbers in occult sciences. Certain characteristics are attributed to this angel. For example, if one writes its name on an envelope, the letter will certainly arrive. Therefore, it serves as the angel for protecting the letters. It is a secret telesm ﻂﻠﺴﻢ(talisman). The are certain beliefs regarding this sign. For example, when a traveller has this sign, he would be able to travel day and night without getting tired, or a pregnant woman would be able to give birth without fearing a miscarriage. The term bodduh ﺒﺩﻭﺡ is also used to conjure feelings of love. It consists of the even numbers 2, 4, 6, 8 or 8, 6, 4, 2. The numbers are equivalent to the lettersﺐ, ﺩ, ﻭ, and ﺡ of huruf-e jomal ﺠﻤﻝ ﺣﺮﻭﻑ. Anandeaj reports that bodduh is the name of an angel who died and left this world and whose name is gold-inlaid on swords and daggers and is used for protection. (Digital Lexicon of Dehkhoda). For more information on this topic read the entry bodduhﺒﺩﻭﺡ in the Lexicon of Arms and Armor from Iran; A Study of Symbols and Terminology (2010) by Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani, Tübingen: Legat Verlag.
For another classification of Persian crucible steel see:
Moshtagh Khorasani, Manouchehr (2011). Tabaqebandi-ye Fulād-de Johardār bar Asās-e Nosxehā-ye Xatti (Classification of Persian Watered Steel on the Basis of Old Manuscripts). Journal of the Iranian Studies. Faculty of Literature and Humanities. Šahid Bāhonar University of Kermān. Volume 9, Number 18, Autumn 2010, pp. 243-281.
Varband (scabbard fittings) are also made of called and inserted with diamonds.
The wooden scabbard consists of two parts glued to each other and covered with the precious sāqari ﺳﺎﻏﺭﻯ or kimoxt ﻜﻴﻤﺧﺖ (shagreen leather), which is the skin of the back of the horse and donkey that is used as a special leather. The book Lexicon of Arms and Armor from Iran; A Study of Symbols and Terminology (2010) (Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani, Tübingen: Legat Verlag) provides the following entry on this type of leather:
sāqari ﺳﺎﻏﺭﻯ: (Rostam al Tavārix) (n) shagreen leather (Āsef, 2003/1382:90). Shagreen leather was often made from the skin of jackass (donkey) hindquarters. According to Dehkhoda, saqari ﺳﺎﻏﺭﻯ is a type of leather made of the hide of jackass hindquarters. Its surface is rough. Saqari ﺳﺎﻏﺭﻯ can be obtained from the hindquarters of a horse as well as zebra hide. With regard to the processing and tanning of shagreen leather, Chardin (268) states that significant amounts of this leather was made in Iran and exported to the Indies (India), Turkey, and neighboring kingdoms. He states that shagreen was made from jackass (donkey) hindquarters, and a seed called toxm casbini, (seed of casbin that is said to be black, hard, and larger than the mustard seed). Toxm ﺗﺨﻡ stands for both “egg” and “seed” in Farsi as Chardin rightly says. He further states that the name shagreen comes from the Persian word saqari, meaning “hindquarters.” According to Chardin, this was the name of any animal they rode on, similar to the English word “steed,” and this name was given to this sort of hide because it was made of an jackass’s hindquarters. The coarse hides were dressed by tanners with lime. They used salt and galls in the tanning process instead of bark, which, according to Chardin, was sufficient due to the hot Iranian climate. Floor (2003:383) quotes Olmer, who stated that sagari was primarily prepared in Yazd and describes it as a type of tanned leather made of the skins of a horse or donkey and, sometimes, even that of a cow. The cleaning of the skin was performed using almost the same method as that used for sheepskin. Olmer explained that before applying the barley treatment to the skin, the tanners covered them with small, dried grains and let them dry. The grains worked their way into the skin, resulting in unevenness of the surface and a grained appearance. After the skins dried, they were soaked in water with fermenting barley, causing them to swell. The workers, then, used somāq ﺴﻤﺎﻖ leaves (rhum coriaria) for the tanning process. Olmer reports that these leaves contained much tannin. Floor (2003:383) also quotes Consul Abbot, who provides more information on the making of shagreen leather in Esfahān. He said that this leather was made from the raw hides of horses. They spread the wet skin on a level surface, threw small, round seeds over it, and trod upon it. After the skin partially dried, they shook off the seeds, shaving the surface of the hide to remove all but the indented parts that gradually rose again to their former level, producing the bumps on the shagreen. Then, they applied a preparation of copper and sal ammoniac to the reverse side, which penetrated to the front, coloring it green.
The scabbard chape tah-e qalāf is also made of gold.
This Persian shamshir has engraved and gold-inlaid spatulated quillons. The pommel cap is also gold-inlaid. The handle slabs are made of walrus ivory. The blade is made of Persian crucible damascus steel. The blade has three cartouches. The upper and middle cartouches are the original ones from the Safavid period to the blade and are gold inlaid. The lower cartouche is gold-overlaid and added to the blade during the early Qajar period.
The upper cartouche reads bande-ye šāh-e velāyat Safi . The book “Lexicon of Arms and Armor from Iran: A Study of Symbols and Terminology” provides the following entry for this phrase:
bande-ye šāh-e velāyat Safi : (New Persian)(n + n + n + n) literally means, “The subject/ slave of the kingdom/ dominion/trusteeship of Ali, Safi.” This translates into the following: “Safi is the representative of Ali’s rule and acts on his behalf.” Note that bande ﺑﻨﺪﻩ (n) means “slave/subject,” šāh ﺷﺎﻩ (n) means “king,” and velāyat ﻮﻻﻴﺕ (n) means “country, trusteeship,” and Safi ﺼﻔﻰ (n) is a king’s name. ……
For the same cartouche on royal pieces of Iranian Military Museums see “Arms and Armor from Iran: The Bronze Age to the End of the Qajar Period” (Moshtagh Khorasani, 2006444, cat.80; 446, cat.81; 448, cat.82).
The gold-inlaid cartouche in the middle reads Yekšanbe Helāl Šahr Kār Mehr Ali which means “Sunday the first day of the month the work of Mehr Ali.”
Note that a smith named Mehr Ali made a dated pišqabz in 1109 hijra, dedicated to Mohammad Mehdi Khan Zand. For more information and to see the dagger consult the book “Arms and Armor from Iran: The Bronze Age to the End of the Qajar Period”, Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani, 2006, which explains:
The date, 1190 hegira, is 1776 A.D.