The Wallace Collection

A sabre owned by Sarkar Mir Murad Ali Khan Talpur
Treasure of the Month - May 2008

A sabre owned by Sarkar Mir Murad Ali Khan Talpur

Mir Murad Ali Khan (d.1801)who commissioned the hilt of this magnificent sabre (OA1762), came from the ruling house of the Talpurs of Sind, on the Indo-Pakistan border.

In 1783 he founded the Hyderabad (Sind) ruling house. Judging by the numbers of swords bearing his name he had a substantial armoury.

The blade is a shamshīr which means ‘lions tail’ in Farsi (the graceful curve of blade said poetically to reflect the curve of a lion’s tail). In Persian society the shamshīr, was considered an object of great beauty. Thus the poet Nizami could describe the beautiful Shirin’s nose as shaped like a silver shamshīr, a prominent curved nose being considered the epitome of female perfection. Because of the dominance of Persian craftsmanship and culture at courts across the Near and Middle East, shamshirs were in great demand and were used with a variety of local hilts. In this instance the hilt, though inspired by a Persian form, has projecting disks at the pommel which are unique to Sind. Another Sindi feature is the loop on the upper suspension ring on the scabbard to for a small knife.

An inscription tells us that the blade was made by Muqim son of Muhammed Zaman Isfahani and dates from the mid seventeenth century. Few early Persian swordsmiths dated their work, but we know that Zaman was a pupil of Asadallāh Isfahānī, the famous Persian sword maker from the reign of Shāh ‘Abbās I (1587-1629) when Persian smiths were the best in the Islamic world. J. Chardin wrote in 1735 that the Ottoman Sultan sent Shah Abbas I a helmet and challenged anyone to produce a sword which could cleave it in two. Asadallāh made such a sword and as a reward the Shah remitted the tax on sword-makers, which continued until Qājār times (1795-1925).

In 1571 D’Alessandri wrote: ‘they (the Persians) use for arms swords, lances, arquebuses… their arms are also superior and better tempered than those of any other nation.’ A Carmelite priest in 1608 described how Abbas I : ‘enjoyed making scimitars, arquebuses, and saddles for horses…’ Such royal interest reflected traditional training for Persian princes, set out in manuals known as ‘Mirrors for Princes’ emulating karkaneh (workshops) directed by earlier Persian rulers such as Timur (1336-1405) and Uzan Hasan (1423-78).

The Talpurs followed this tradition, being noted collectors of watered steel blades and gun barrels. Thus agents across the Islamic world, paid enormous prices for fine examples. This blade is currently polished bright but in its original form would have had a dark grey pattern like watered silk, described in Persian by the word āb, literally, ‘water’, synonymous with ‘a bright sword’. In the period prior to scientific analysis, the quality or temperof a blade was considered to be indicated by its surface pattern or ferind (Persian and Arabic). The process by which the āb was brought out on a blade is called ābadāi or dabarā. The actual watered pattern or ferind is also called jauhar / johar (Arabic) meaning lustre, jewel or precious piece or watered steel, reflecting the value of a blade made from crucible steel.

Persian enamellers worked at the Talpur court in the nineteenth century decorating daggers and swords. This sword has steel hilt and scabbard mounts decorated with superb chiselled Alid and Qur’anic inscriptions including the famous: La fata illa Ali. La saif illa Dhu’lfaqar. (There is no warrior like Ali and no sword like Zulfiqar).
Similar chiselled work is found on a sword in the Military Museum, Tehran once owned by Fath Ali Shah, ruler of Persia, a contemporary of Mir Murad.

Further Reading

  • Guy Francis Laking, Wallace Collection Catalogues Oriental Arms and Armour London, 1964 (available in the Shop)
  • James Burnes, A Narrative visit to the court of Sinde Edinburgh, 1831.

© The Trustees of the Wallace Collection 2008. Text by Robert Elgood.