EAA Research Consultant
Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Route 66
I think the late Anthony North said it best in his article from 1975 on a late 15th century Italian sword. In this he noted that students of arms are often faced with the dilemma in studying apparantly unrecorded types of hilts, to either cast them 'into the everlasting limbo of ethnographic material' or even worse , to dismiss as a '19th c. pastiche'.
The great thing about this thread is that we are gaining great input with outstandingly presented material concerning the nature of the ornate decoration on the kastane and what these elements represent. Rather than becoming an 'argument' it is a soundly conditioned debate, and to all of our good fortunes, most constructive. I have learned more in the remarkable material presented here than in most of the time I have studied these swords, clearly inadequately, so I am extremely appreciative.
It seems that the hilt guard configuration in the Maghrebi sa'if/nimcha swords and Italian swords of the mid to late 15th century are remarkably similar and the North African swords likely influenced by North Itallian swords rather than Spanish, according to Mr. North. In his article he also notes the comparison made by Charles Buttin between the nimcha/saif and Ceylonese kastane, though implying only superficial resemblance toward the guard system.
It would appear that the ring finger guards or quillons extending downward on developing Italian hilts were designed to protect the forefinger which was extended over the guard in Italian swordplay technique. Italian weapons and armour fashion distinctly influenced Spanish styles, though it would seem the downward projecting 'wings' on Nasrid swords of Spain may be more aligned with downward projecting guards of Persian style. In the idea that these were influenced by Jinete swords of North Africa, it is important to note that the Jinete forces by the 15th century were often supplied by Italy in weapons.
It is of course difficult to say exactly which influence may have impacted the clearly vestigial quillon grouping of the kastane, but seems likely that it is derived from some European form. Even prior to the Portuguese presence, the Arabs had long been trading in Sinhala, and the Sinhalese were probably exposed to the influences, as noted concerning the guns.
Returning to the hilt, while the lion is of course represented in both Portuguese and Dutch heraldry and symbolism, it seems that as a regal totem it had been long established in carvings, monuments, architecture and iconography in Sinhala from ancient times. It is my impression that the pommel of a sword, particularly on a highly and symbolically decorated court sword, would be considered a paramount place. The regal stature of the lion would naturally be considered for such position, while the highly revered 'supporting' creatures such as makara, would be placed in 'supporting' elements and features of the hilt .
The only instance I can imagine for variants or interpretations of the well established lionhead on the kastane would be if such examples were created by a warrior caste who had taken the 'protective' stature of the makara as a symbolic totem. The makara is seen in iconography as protective and supportive, much as warriors would be, as many occur in temples etc. in 'guarding' positions.
As noted it seems like by the 17th-18th centuries the kastane had become a courtly weapon and non combative in the Sinhalese context. The advent of firearms and artillery had significantly altered warfare there, much as elsewhere, and the swords became essentially regalia, though there were undoubtedly less opulent combat versions.
It would seem that we have opened the case for the development of the kastane into somewhat separate fields; that of the hilt configuration and guard system;the classification of the creatures in the hilt elements; and the nature of the blades, whether native produced or foreign.
Also, the case of courtly kastane forms and concurrent fighting forms as well as possible variants in the nature of the hilt decoration. Could there possibly be a regal Sinhalese form with the lion symbolically represented as well as an alternate form with a warrior rather than regal identity, with the makara as its totem?