Antique Oriental and Arab Weapons and Armour: The Streshinskiy Collection
Antique Oriental and Arab Weapons and Armour: The Streshinskiy Collection (published 2010). The Streshinskiy collection of antique arms and armor contains 140 items from different Muslim countries spread over a wide geographical area. These items can be divided into 32 pieces from North, West and East Africa (items from Algeria, Morocco, Sudan, Western Sudanic Africa, Sahara, Somalia and Ethiopia), 9 items from the Arabian Peninsula (items from Saudi Arabia, Oman and Yemen) and 1 item from Iraq, 29 items from the Ottoman Empire, 4 items from Caucasus, 18 items from Iran and 3 items from Afghanistan, 42 items from India and 2 items from Indonesia. A closer investigation and analysis of the pieces in Streshinskiy collection show the international trade and exchange that has been taking place among nations for centuries. As Persian crucible steel blades were highly regarded and revered among many nations, there is no surprise to find Indian swords with tulwar handles fitted with magnificent Persian shamshir blades made of crucible steel (see items 121 and 122). Many Arab warriors also adored the quality of Frankish (European) swords and hence one can one Arab swords with European military sword blades (see item 40 and 7). There are imported French pistols which were adjusted for the Algerian market and inscribed with Arabic scripts (see item 16), Ottoman pistols with French designs (see items 52, 54 and 69) and a Caucasian flintlock musket equipped with a Persian barrel (see item 75). There is also a Corsican vendetta knife made for the Ottoman market with the surface of its blade etched to imitate the pattern of welded steel (see item 55).
The items are inscribed with descriptions, poems and religious verses in different languages stressing the international nature of the collection, such as gold-overlaid verses from the holy Qur’an on the forte of a blade of a Persian khanjar dagger (see item 83), etched verses from the holy Qur’an on the blade of a Sudanese kaskara sword (see item 21), religious statements from the hadith such as the Arabic inscription on the blade of an Arab sword (see item 40), gold-inlaid inscriptions of an Arabic saying on an Ottoman Turkish bıçak knife (see 52), the engraved and gilded Persian poem on a Persian pišqabz dagger (see item 85), silver-overlaid Persian poem on an Indian kolāhkhud helmet (see item 127), gold-overlaid inscriptions of a Turkish poem on a yatağan sword (see item 59), the etched insciptions in Devanagari on an Indian sosunpattah sword (see item 125) and gold-overlaid names of animals on the surface of a dhal shield from India in Hindustani (Urdu) (see item 129).
The collection not only shows a marvellous array of impressive number of pieces from various countries and cultures, but it also displays a significant number of items with excellent craftsmanship and quality. There are items that show a magnificent craftsmanship in carved handles made of white jade (see the Indian khanjar item 105), of rock crsytal (see the handle of an Indian khanjar item 108), of agate onyx (see the handle of the Ottoman bıçak knife item 52), bejewelled items (see the handle of the Indian khanjar item 106 decorated with diamonds, rubies and emeralds), magnificent enamelled handles (see the Indian kārd handles items 98 and 99 and the handle of the janbiyya dagger from Saudi Arabia item 34), marvellous filigree techniques on the scabbard and handle (see the Saudi Arabian janbiyya dagger item 33 and the Ottoman hançer dagger item 46), chased silver handle and scabbard (see the Moroccan koumyya dagger item 1), handles and scabbards made of rare materials such as rhinoceros horn (see the handle of Moroccan nimcha sword item 6) and crocodile skin (see the scabbard of the Sudanese kaskara sword item 21), fittings decorated with silver niello (see the scabbard fittings of the Ottoman kama item 56 and the stock cap of the Caucasian gun item 75), pistol stocks decorated with silver granulation (see the stock of the Ottoman pistol item 67 and the scabbard of the Caucasian kindzhla item 72), magnificent carved walrus ivory handles (see the handle of the Persian khanjar dagger item 81), beautiful chiselled steel handles and scabbards (see the handle and the scabbard of the Persian khanjar dagger item 83) and magnificent chiselled blades (see the Indian sosunpattah sword item 131), steel openwork (see the blade of the Indian katār item 112), raised gold-inlaying technique (see the bolster anf forte of the Persian kārd knife item 84), gold-overlaying technique (see the rim of the bowl of the Persian kolāhkhud helmet item 90) and silver-overlaying technique (see the surface of the Indian kolāhkhud helmet item 127).
In spite of all beautiful decoration methods, rare materials and breath-taking craftsmanship, one should never forget that the core of making each valuable weapon in the best was the quality of its blade, i.e. the quality of its steel. Different criteria was used in the past to judge the quality of the steel in weapons such as colour, density of pattern, the sound upon striking and even taste. Persian and Arab manuscripts offer information about a wide range of names that were used to describe different patterns of crucible steel. The legendary fame of the crucible steel, the so-called Damascus steel, reached not only the countries in the Middle East, India, Sri Lanka and North Africa but it also reached European countries where they highly regarded the efficiency and beauty of blades made of this legendary material. A legendary material that European knights learned to fear in their crusades against the Arab and Turkish warriors defending the Muslim territories against the invading crusaders. Hence many legendary accounts were associated with the efficiency of the crucible steel and recounted. Thus watered steel blades were not only famed for their beauty but also their durability, ductility and edge-retention qualities. The Streshinskiy collection shows a number of magnificent Persian blades made of crucible steel, such an Indian tulwar sword mounted with a Persian shamshir blade with the pattern of pulād-e jŏhardār-e qerq nardebān (watered steel with forty ladder rungs pattern also known as the ladder of the Prophet Mohammad) see item 121, a Persian shamshir with a beautiful crucible steel blade see item 88, a beautiful Persian kārd knife with a crucible steel pattern of pulād-e jŏhardār-e mošabak (woodgrain pattern) see item 84. The collection also has a number of beautiful Indian blades made of crucible steel such the Indian khanjar dagger see item 104 and Indian pišqabz dagger see item 103. There are also Ottoman examples made of crucible steel such as a beautiful hançer dagger from Ottoman Turkey see item 45 and a magnificent Ottoman bıçak knife see item 54. There is even a very rare example of an Arab dagger from Saudi Arabia fitted with a beautiful crucible steel blade see item 33. These blades are made of crucible steel meaning that the steel was liquid during the smelting process, leading to a relatively homogenous steel content with virtually no slag. This is the type of steel highly regarded and revered in the Middle East and Indian and also appreciated by Europeans. Althgough different attempts have been made to replicate the crucible steel, no one has been able so far to imitate the beautiful crucible steel patterns and blade shapes of the Persian blades from the Safavid period (see Moshtagh Khorasani, 2008j).
On the other hand in Ottoman Turkey, Persia (Iran), India and Arab countries, welded or layered steel was also made in a process similar to the forging process of Japanese Nihonto swords or Indonesian kris making. These oriented welded blades also exist in the Streshinskiy collection such as the blade of the Ottoman kılıç see item 57, the Persian barrel of the Caucasian gun see item 75, the blade of the Indian khanjar dagger see item 105 and the blade of the Indonesian badek dagger see item 140 just to name some examples.
The book Oriental and Arab Antique Weapons and Armour: The Streshinskiy Collection also analyzes different period Arab, Indian and Persian manuscripts that report about different types of swords and also different patterns of the crucible steel, such as Risalat Fi Jawahir al-Soyuf [A Treatise on Swords and Their Essential Attributes] by al-Kindi, Al-Jamāhir fi Marefat al-Jawāher [Sum of Knowledge about Precious Stones] by Abureyhān Beyruni, Nŏruznāme [The Book of Nŏruz] attributed to Omar ben Ebrāhim Khayyām-e Neyšāburi, Javāhernāme-ye Nezāmi [Nezāmi’s Book of Precious Stones] by Mohammad ibn Abi al-Barakāt Jŏhari Nezāmi, Bayān al-Sanā’āt [Description of Crafts] by Hobeyš ben Ebrāhim ben Mohammad Taflisi, Ādāb al-Harb va al-Šojā-e [Customs of War and Bravery] by Mohammad ben Mansur ben Said Mobārak Šāh Fakhr-e Modabbar, Tansukhnāme [The Book of Minerals] by Khāje Nasireldin Tusi, Arāyes al-Javāher by Abolqāsem Kāši, Gŏharnāme [Book of Jewels] written by Mohammad ben Mansur, and Ta’id Besārat [Aid to Sight] by Mirzā Lotfallāh. The reference list is based on 151 references (40 primary sources and 111 secondary sources).