EAA Research Consultant
Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Route 66
Thank you for your added attention to the dilemma of the 'Benin' sword, which I know some may feel a bit overplayed. However, as I had noted, it stands as a curious anomaly in the scheme of variations of these West African swords, and this one reflecting Sinhalese influence.
I think it is important to realize that our efforts to discover more on the proper classification, age and provenance of this interesting example are purely speculative, as are our evaluations of its elements. It is of course the same with those of Mr. Daehnhardt, who is of course no fool in his estimations, much as we are not. We all just do the best we can with what evidence we have, at least until new material or perspective is found.
My comparison of these two swords, the 'Benin' which was noted from 15th-16th c. and the example from 19th c. and presumably from the King Glele period as the brass lion was a leitmotif of his rule....was to note the remarkable similarity in the blade character of them.
Also that as pointed out, in the Benin example the cross is applied in brass (also seen on the axe pictured) just as the lion on the Glele sword of 19th c.
Could this have been a heirloom blade or regalia piece refitted with a 'lion' type hilt in the 19th c. with its form recalling 'influence' of Sinhalese type hilts and surely Indian or other Asian zoomorphic styles probably at least known in the colonial activity of those times? Art is what it is, interpretive, and it is hard to use such character to assign classification reliably when influences are so thoroughly diffused between different spheres.
The cross as a device on blades clearly may have derived from any number of sources which came from Christian contact despite its well established symbolism in tribal or folk religions not only in West Africa, but across the Sahara. The equilateral cross and variations are well known in tribal contexts typically as representing the four cardinal directions.
The ankh and its variants are of course known more to the east, and the Christian examples (crux ansata) of Coptic character are an interesting suggestion, but it seems a bit distant for consideration.
The mention of the 'cross' in Pharaonic tombs is of course not relevant except as an interesting note or curiosity.