EAA Research Consultant
Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Route 66
These are outstanding references Ibrahiim, and thank you for the interesting link to the online reference on the Sri Lankan Moors, which indeed adds some important perspective to understanding some of the ethnic and colonial complexity of Sri Lanka.
As you have well noted, Anthony North does address the potential influences of Venice and Northern Italy on these swords, and specifically cites the distinguished French arms historian Charles Buttin:
"...Charles Buttin, who had a considerable number of Moroccan swords in his own collection, and published a paper on them, detected a number of influences in their very individual hilts. He pointed out their similarity to the indigenous sword of Ceylon, the kastane, and discussed their relationship with European swords".
(from "Les Poignards et Les Sabres Marocains', C.Buttin, Hesperis, TomeXXVI, 1939, p.1)
In this the distinct similarities in the guard systems of the hilt are noted, and in his closing comments, North states, referring to the North African hilts, that "...at least one of the influences of these hilts-and perhaps the strongest-came from North Italy-possibly as early as the 15th century".
from "A Late 15th Century Italian Sword" , A.R.E.North, 'The Connoisseur, December , 1975, pp.238-241)
It would seem clear that the influences of Venice in their powerful trade networks almost certainly introduced their weapon forms and styling into many cultural spheres . In this case it would seem that this style hilt configuration quite likely was filtered into Sri Lanka through the Arab traders who populated the Sinhalese littoral in their ports.
The guard and quillon configuration was specifically placed on the original Italian swords to correspond to their unique style in fencing techniques and as part of the developing hand guard systems of these swords. It would seem that this quillon arrangement was adopted by Arabian and of course the North African regions noted in more of a stylistic sense.
In the case of the kastane, while the hilt form is of course stylistically similar, it has become even more vestigial in the downward quillons next to the blade, and the terminals of the guard and quillon are vehicles for the subordinate beast heads.
The identification of the key figure on the hilt, the zoomorphic on the pommel, of course remains a quandary, and it seems in most cases must be considered specifically with each example as there appear to be numerous variations. Naturally in the scope of journalistic references the pommel beast is described by authors in much variation, which seem to reflect whatever sources they may have used in their research.
In one article for example, a kastane in a news item from 2008 is described as "..an ornamental sword that was the symbol of office of the Kandyan Lords, Kings, Adigars and the Dissawas" . The head on the pommel is described as a makara, and in the photo, I must note that the creature does appear to have a snoutlike feature, very much like the architectural makara figures I have seen.
This particular article was written for the Sri Lanka Express by Emmanuel Silva (April 5, 2008) and expressed great concern for these valuable antiquities being dispersed in auctions, flea markets etc.
Naturally, this material is included here in the discussion impartially, for consideration in the examination of data and detail as we work toward learning more on the kastane.