Zulfiqar (saber with split point)

321.a

This ceremonial saber is highly unusual because of its cleft tip. This feature is found on a small number of swords inspired by the legendary sword known as Dhu’l fiqar or Zulfiqar (“Possessor of spines”). The most distinctive feature of Zulfiqar was its notched tip—in fact, fractures in the tip were not uncommon in early wootz blades from Arabia.

According to legend, Zulfiqar was captured by Muhammed’s forces at the Battle of Badr in 623/4 C.E. Muhammed eventually passed the sword to his son-in-law Ali. Zulfiqar ultimately became an important emblem of Islam, inspiring many interpretations by swordsmiths over the ages.

This particular example may have been used in the Shi’ite religious plays popular in Persia. Its split tip was a virtuoso achievement by a master craftsman, but certainly not the work of Assad Allah, whose name appears on the blade. Assad Allah was the most famous of Persia’s renowned swordsmiths, and his name was often used to enhance the status of a blade.

Description

Watered steel blade split axially from tip for about 8"; the blade shows signs of layering of metal. Bas-relief serpent on both sides of blade, for 3/4 of length. The head of the serpent is directed toward the grip and the eye, tongue, and a neck band are rendered in brass inlay. Blade has brass inlaid maker's mark ("Made by Assad Allah") in form of 2 lobated cartouches filled with "koftgari" script. All-steel pistol-grip hilt, with silver "koft-gari". Straight crossguard, hexagonal in section, with pyramidal terminals. Narrow langets on both faces of blade for 1 1/2". The hilt appears to be Persian, Qajar period, though of better workmanship than other examples. Long, curved saber blade of wedge section, with a nearly flat back without false edge. For about 8" of its length from the point the blade is vertically divided along its axis, producing side-by-side blades, each of which is finished in itself. On both faces, from about 1/3 of the length below the grip, and extending almost to the point, is an undulating serpent produced in bas-relief. The head of the serpent is directed toward the grip, and the eye, tonge, and a neck band are rendered in brass inlay. Above the head on the obverse of the blade are two decorate lobated cartouches also in brass. The larger of these contains Arabic script which reads 'Made by Asad Allah" (Lion of God); the other script is illegible. The blade is fitted with a kilij hilt of two pieces of iron, with silver koft gari decoration of leaved tendrils, repeated triangular motifs, and peacok's 'eyes' (?) at the pommel-end. The crossguards are short, straight, and of rectangular section, with pyramidal terminals of octagonal section. The hilt is extended down in a long, narrow ecusson cut at the end with notches. The grip is relatively long, oval in section, with a low dip at mid-length of he palm. It terminates in the usual rounded so-called 'pistol-grip' form, but is not pierced. The blade appears to be held into the grip only by friction and a white/grey gum of some type, visible at the ecusson.

Curator's Comments

The maker's name alludes to Assad Allah Isfahani, who is discussed in Meyer, Islamic Armourers, 26-29. Many pieces preserved bear his name, and the likelihood is that most of these are spurious, not unlike the European blades marked "Andrea Ferrara." (WJK 28 September 2000) According to another version, not so well documented, the Prophet Muhammad carried a sword with a notched tip whose form came to him in a dream. Per Phillip Tom, this could have been used as a Shi'ite passion play ceremonial piece. The serpent motif is common on regalia swords of this type, though the swords are more commonly straight double-edged types. Per Oliver Pinchot visit fall 2007: Blade is also late 19c Qajar, but exceptionally good. The serpent is a metaphor for speed. The apparent blade/hilt mismatch is typical for these pieces.

Bibliography

Mayer, "Islamic Armourers and their Works," pp. 26-29, for a survey of the maker and works attributed to him.
Cf. this to cat. no. 1 (inv. no. 762) of Jatagane aus dem historischen Museum von Kroaten in Zagreb. This is dated 1188 AH (1774/75).

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