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Old 17th November 2010, 09:11 PM   #1
stephen wood
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Default VERY Unusual Marks on a Kaskara

...now, this is a quite old Kaskara which turned up at auction recently. As you can see, it has rather unusual marks (on both sides) - Magen David stamped with the same die and sets of Twig/Fly marks joined by Eyebrow marks (which the Catalogue described as scales)...

...the blade is 35 1/2", just under 2" at its widest. Flexible with a very shallow fuller extending halfway down. The crossguard has the bulbous quality which I have begun to associate with older examples.

I've never seen any marks like this on a Kaskara - has anyone else?

Many thanks, Stephen.
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Old 18th November 2010, 04:17 PM   #2
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Hi Stephen,

I have not seen these markings before...One of the 'obvious' interpretations of the, often called 'star of David' is an association with Judaism however, this is unlikely. The history of the symbol, according to some scholars, pre-dates the Israelites and is associated with the occult and Ancient Egypt.....

http://www.cephas-library.com/israe...inted_star.html

If they are correct (ie Ancient Egypt) then this symbolism would be known in and around Egypt, Sudan etc ,and perhaps , 'transported' via trading routes.

The 'eyelash' mark is commonly seen on Indian weapons....and the markings here seem to be a variation. Usually 3 dots, often arranged to form a triangle, are found either end of the 'eyelash' ...here it has the 'fly' mark (found on a number of Kasakara s etc from the region.) There are historical and trade connections between N.E. Africa and India (by sea) and the Arab trade routes overland so again, perhaps an adopted / adapted symbol.

Symbolism (assuming these are not 'makers marks) is notoriously hard to 'pin down' and are often open to interpretation .....these are my observations with no concrete evidence, I'm afraid.

Kind Regards David
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Old 18th November 2010, 05:15 PM   #3
Jim McDougall
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I have not seen this grouping of markings before either, and they do present some most interesting possibilities. I had written an explanation earlier, but it seems somehow that post was transmitted to the 'Island of Lost Luggage' .

The so called 'twig' markings in the top set of markings are from these types of marks well known on Italian blades appearing in various arrangements and later copied in degree on Solingen blades. It remains unclear how these may have been applied on native blades and to what degree.

It seems that these markings seen here reflect a theme which seems to occur in various perspectives, that of cosmic symmetry, and which may be the case with the well known dual crescent moons (dukari) on Tuareg and many Sudanese blades. This seems to be carried even further in these markings, where the paired twig marks are joined by a rocker often associated with the dentated pairs of marks noted by David and known as eyelashes.

In this case, these are described as scales, which goes directly to the theme which seems apparant here, that of balance. In Islamic doctrines, al Mizra, the scales, are an important theme and applied in many writings and studies.
Again, balance is a key tenet, and here these markings symbolic of scales appear as paired symbols to carry out that representation.

The six pointed star, as David has noted, of course is typically associated with the Magen David, or Jewish star, but as he well notes, the symbol has been in use in many cultures and religions long predating its use in Judaism. In actuality it is most often seen as interlocking triangles, and characteristically represents balance and harmony. It was a well known symbol used in early times by the Ottomans as early as the 11th century in principalities known as Beyliks, and was used in North Africa in the regencies in Algeria and Tunis in the 16th century and of course probably later.

With this symbol well established in Ottoman parlance and in keeping with the Islamic attention to balance in so many perspectives, perhaps these symbols were incorporated into these markings in that sense. As noted, this does seem to be an earlier example, and it is worth noting that one point of entry for blades into the North African trade sphere was through regions in Tunis and Algiers. Possibly these may have been 'acceptance stamps' of some sort, or possibly later as makers marks, which were often carried on in tradition much as they were in Europe.

While the symettrical application pertaining to balance and harmony seems plausibly placed with these observations in my opinion and at this point, it is hard to say whether the purpose was talismanically or religiously placed or simply makers or acceptance marks of quality.

The attached coin photo is a Moroccan coin c 1873 showing use of the star.

A fascinating example, and I would like to hear more ideas on these markings from out there in the think tank!!!

All best regards,
Jim
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Old 19th November 2010, 05:46 AM   #4
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For what it is worth, the six pointed star of David is often found on yataghan blades.

Judaism is the closest religion to Islam, so the existence of shared symbols is not that surprising.

From what I have read, Jim's explanation of the star as two triangles is spot on, with the number three holding a sacred meaning in the Muslim tradition, as it is interpreted to refer to the unity of Allah, Mohammad and Ali.

The circle with a dot symbolizes Heaven. However, there are no dots in the center of the sword markings, unlike in the star on the coin. There is no doubt however, that the Star of David is loaded with apotropaic significance and serves as talisman, a shield of sorts.

Another explanation could be as an attempt to copy the symbol from the blades, imported to Abyssinia from Britain, where it is present on the proofs at the base of the blade. If true, the marking would serve a dual purpose as a talisman and a stamp of quality.

Regards,
Teodor
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Old 20th November 2010, 03:09 PM   #5
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That's a very nice sword. That continuous taper is also unusual for Kaskaras. Keep in mind that there were many jews nearby Ethiopia where this blade may have come from and there was also a jewish community in Khartoum, no doubt of artisans and traders.
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Old 22nd November 2010, 02:25 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Michael Blalock
That's a very nice sword. That continuous taper is also unusual for Kaskaras. Keep in mind that there were many jews nearby Ethiopia where this blade may have come from and there was also a jewish community in Khartoum, no doubt of artisans and traders.


Excellent and very astute observations Michael, thank you, and thought it a good idea to look further into the possibilities as well. As you note, there was an Jewish ethnic group in Ethiopia whom I found have become known as the Falashas, however they are more preferably called by thier name for themselves, the Beta Israel.

This group were largely artisans and craftsmen and apparantly locally regarded rather derisively in a caste oriented perspective, with the term 'falasha' having a meaning something like 'outcasts' in Ge'ez, the early language in Ethiopia. They were apparantly blacksmiths for the Christian rulers in then Abyssinia, and as such of course did make some weapons and mount blades traded into the regions. It does seem that culturally this kind of regard was often held toward blacksmiths in many cases.
It is noted that the area they were largely situated in was mostly around Gondar.

The presence of a Jewish community in Khartoum is not surprising, and it is well known that Jewish artisans and smiths were present in Morocco as well, and often were present on many trade caravans across the Sahara. Despite these pronounced presences, it is doubtful that the Magen David appeared on weapons marked as Jewish symbols in my opinion.

Though the kaskara is known in Ethiopia, particularly in Danakil regions and in Eritrea, I am personally not familiar with any actually made in Ethiopia nor by the Beta Israel. It is known that many trade blades from England of course did have the familiar Star of Solomon (usually in the Wilkinson proof stamp surround) as well noted by Teodor, and the Lion of Judah was typically on the blades, but I dont know of any marked in this double stamped manner.


As always, looking for other variations, exceptions.

All the best,
Jim

Teodor, thank you for the kind note on my comments as well
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Old 23rd November 2010, 12:12 AM   #7
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...thank you all very much for your interest and comments.

I have just realized that I bid on this sword some months ago when it was part of a lot with a figure-of-eight Cutlass - listed as "Two old swords, one reproduction" (or words to that effect). I noticed the unusual marks but bidding started high and I didn't get it. I even thought of trying to contact the buyer as I assumed they were not interested in the Kaskara...

...they weren't, and it turned up, looking slightly cleaner, in another auction.

As far as I can tell the marks appear to be quite equally worn - applied at the same time.

The other two "star" marks below are firstly, acid etched on an old, very flexible European blade, mounted, it would seem, as a Kaskara (Anthony North agreed that it was older than we are used to seeing mounted as such and suggested an Italian, possibly Venetian origin). The other what might be a late 19th/early 20th century commercial mark - I have only seen this mark twice before.
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Old 24th November 2010, 03:46 PM   #8
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To the wind!

I am always grateful to Stephen for posting such intriguing examples of the kaskara, and the opportunity to do research to learn more on them, in particular of course the markings. Though there are not many out there who choose to follow this field, or at least, who make themselves known to us, I enjoy seeking as much as I can find and sharing it here.

I think with this example, most unusual with this pentagram star, there may be a great deal of apprehension in coming forward with suggestions. Beyond the most obvious, which is the almost cliche' associations of these kinds of stars to varying aspects of occultism, there are distinct associations to certain symbolism aligned with Islam. Like many, if not most, symbols, interpretation depends on those who interpret them, and which application appears correct.

Although I cannot claim any authority or expertise in these subjects, I am willing to research as much as I can, and try to add suggestions. I have indeed spent many hours looking through what resources I could to move forward with these, and hopefully at least provide a direction for thoughts on this unusual marking. Naturally, my writing is seldom brief, so for the intrepid readers who do chose to do so, I thank you.

When this kaskara was first posted last August by Stephen (as linked) it was noted that the blade did seem European, and I am inclined to agree with Mr. North, it could well be North Italian, and possibly early 19th century as near as the turn or slightly earlier. Cavalry swords of this period were often long and straight for dragoons, and the fuller extended full blade length to the tip, if I understand correctly was termed 'center point'.
The talismanic grouping of celestial symbols is characteristic and widely used on trade blades, and it is most curious that the sun face is absent, and in particular is the point of discussion...why the pentagram or five point star?

It is worthy of note first of all, that this symbol is by no means isolated to any particular religion, group or idealism and is extremely ancient, as is the six point star. As it appears on a kaskara, with an apparantly earlier European trade blade, and is applied incongruently with acid etching, it would seem to suggest that this was done in the latter 19th century even early 20th. In these times of course, this style of acid etching was well known on kaskaras during the Mahdiya though typically with thuluth style etching of Islamic script.

The star itself is of interlaced character, and remarkably similar to the device in the center of the Moroccan flag. While this had formerly been a six point star, it was changed by Royal Dahir (decree) on 17 Nov 1915. The reason for the change is unclear, however it is plausibly suggested that it may have been to represent the Five Pillars of Islam. Naturally this may be disputed as there are various perspectives since the actual meaning was not specified in the decree. It is interesting that this type star is termed the Seal of Solomon much as is the six point star.

Obviously, the kaskara is not known to have ever been used as far west as Morocco, nor in Algerian regions where the takouba was widely known. This would not preclude however, the adoption of this or other symbols diffused trans Sahara by trade, tribal interaction and Pilgramages eastward.

The political climate in the North Africa post Mahdiya was tumultuous to say the least. As WWI evolved, by 1915 there were complex intrigues taking place between the major powers involved, and most certainly among the tribal groups and Islamic sects and factions throughout regions overall.
The Tuareg rebellions in Saharan regions against French dominion in 1915 and 16 , and concurrent struggles of the Senussi movements against the British and French were in great order fueled by the Ottoman-German alliance. In these years Darfur was powerfully involved, and the sultan, Ali Dinar, was killed by the British in 1916.

I would suggest that this star may have been applied in this fashion as a symbol reflecting the concepts possibly held in the example seen on the Moroccan flag of 1915, suggesting a distinct awareness of the form in the Islamic factions caught up in these geopolitical conflicts. A further thought, and admittedly purely speculative, is that this is placed directly above the crescent moon, and the two symbols are notably present in the Ottoman representation on their flag.

With regard to the stamped star on the other example, I would consider it is most likely a representation of commercial device of early 20th century, and quite possibly taken from British trademarks or symbols during the Sudan occupation. It seems I have read of cases where natives often adopted these symbols and used them talismanically on huts over doors and other similar applications. The influx of British commercial goods would certainly have increased potential for such incidence.

Hoping this information and my suggestions may be useful in bringing forward thoughts or discussion, corrections (by all means!). It is a complex thing trying to read into these markings, and any clarification would be greatly appreciated.

All best regards,
Jim
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Old 25th November 2010, 09:49 AM   #9
Iain
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I have been asked to contribute a few comments to this thread. I will tread lightly as my experience in kaskaras is somewhat less that most of the folks here.

However a few points.

It has been noted the use of the pentagram in Morocco and on their flag. However the pentagram as a symbol is found much closer to potential home of this kaskara - in Ethiopia. The flag of Ethiopia as generally seen is of cross bands of green, yellow and red. However the current flag includes a blue circle with the pentagram marked in yellow. This is not a particularly old design, but certainly shows that the symbol has meaning in Ethiopia.

I think the connection with the seal of Solomon could be key to understanding the use of this symbol. Ethiopia as a whole has a religious and mythical connection with Solomon, maintaining in fact that one of his offspring started the Ethiopian empire.

I am not aware of the pentagram being used in other areas of the Sahara (I checked a few references including Gabus' Symbols of the Sahara) but at the same time...

Solomon has importance in Islam (and various powers are assigned to him such as control over the wind and having Jinns as servants). In fact the ring of Solomon in some legends has the power to control Jinns. Given what we know of talismanic markings applied to kaskara which were supposed to grant powers to the user of the sword, it seems logical to me these marks were intended in much the same way.

So in a way we are back at Ethiopia as a maybe, but I am tending towards thinking it may not have anything to do with Jewish craftsmen or even Ethiopia.

I think the symbol and lore associated with it are well enough established in Islam that combined with the habit of talismanic marks it is quite possible it was applied locally in the Sudan?

Cheers,

Iain
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Old 25th November 2010, 04:50 PM   #10
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Excellent observations , thank you so much Iain!!! I hadnt thought of Ethiopia as I had already assumed that the six point star was most likely associated there if at all with the notes on the trade blades from Wilkinson. As I mentioned, these symbols were diffused widely as were many of the blades, so your knowledge on Saharan weapons is emphatically viable regardless which weapon we are looking at.
I really appreciate you adding these comments, and especially for pointing out the Ethiopian use of the star, which seems an even more logical possibility. I agree very much with your notes on talismanic application as well.

All the very best,
Jim
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Old 28th November 2010, 11:11 AM   #11
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To follow up on this, the sword Steven posted, any idea if the blade is European? It doesn't show the usual signs to me. I usually associated better defined fullers (broad, long etc) with European trade blades.

The pentagram is also used in Hinduism from what I've read. Sign against evil that sort of thing and hung outside homes. I know it's not directly related but given the volume of trade across the Indian ocean, I thought it was worth mentioning.

I'm still leaning towards a seal of Solomon interpretation. The double application of markings seems a pretty common thing with natively applied marks across the Sahel.

Maybe Ed can provide some insight into why various marks are often applied in pairs? I've never heard a definitive answer and it's something that applies to kaskara and other Sahel arms.

EDIT: I'm attaching another star I found on a Sahel weapon, the state sword of Gajere. Clearly Islamic in context and applied at the same time as the rest of the script and floral work.
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Old 28th November 2010, 07:10 PM   #12
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...is that from Nigerian Panoply? Very interesting - always thought that Gajere was Ottoman (although European originally).

I am certain that the blade I posted is not only European but older than we are accustomed to see mounted as a Kaskara. My criteria for judging imported/native blade often shift: Ignaz Pallme (1837) remarks that European blades imported are "badly rounded off". While the quality of the steel may be better, I am by now quite used to seeing wonky fullers on imported blades (and vice-versa). I expect to find more rust on a native blades - especially when kept in their scabbards. This, I should add, is down to observation.

In the case of Takouba many blades are very clearly native-made - indeed there is, I believe, a scale of quality of Takouba blades, at the bottom of which are found local ones. Such a particular scale was also found among the Tigre.
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Old 28th November 2010, 07:45 PM   #13
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Hi Stephen,

Yes, from Panoply. I'm also not sure of the source of the blade. I doubt it's locally made and the floral decoration doesn't look all that common to the area, probably from the Maghreb instead.

Thanks for your thoughts on Euro blades, very helpful for me.

It's maybe a bit different situation with takouba - or just my point of view. Generally speaking the triple fullered blades with double half moons aren't European at least in my limited observations (Briggs seems to agree although notes the possibility of locally applied markings on import blades). Perhaps I should say usually as you can never rule out the odd possibility but I tend to think these are just nice native blades, not imported blades with applied marks. The obviously applied marks on imports I've seen are etched or scratched. Not stamped. There's a lot of nice European blades but an equal number of very nicely mounted native blades. I don't see spending that much time on good fittings for blades that were considered inferior. The older ones have good flex and good edge retention from what I can tell. So I don't believe the native blades always ended at the bottom of the scale. Of course that goes for takouba, but from the bit I know about kaskara I think it's generally the same?

Potentially important, I have seen good quality native blades turning up more frequently in the southern style brass hilts. Could be that high quality local production was absorbed closer to the source?

I'd agree on the steel quality, I see much more rust on native blades. I believe the iron composition is the contributing factor. Native blades are usually of Hausa manufacture (or Nupe potentially). Several Hausa cities had massive blacksmithing centers. A separate caste handled smelting and there was enough local ore production that I believe native blades would have been manufactured from native ore rather than imported ingots or bars. Beyond that one group of hereditarily trained smiths handled iron related smithing further sub grouped in large cities into bladesmiths. A second group handled 'white' metals such as brass, copper and silver. These are the Makčeran bakii and Maličeran farii respectively. The Tuareg were noted for having especially good relations with the smith castes among the Hausa (surprise, surprise ).

I'm not enough of a metallurgy expert to try and explain the details but I would guess the exact composition of the local ore is the reason behind the rusting differences and maybe less carbon? I don't feel like sacrificing any of mine for more detailed tests!

EDIT: The eyelash markings are indicated as potentially pointing to Spanish origin by Briggs. Time to look into pentagrams in Spain I think! Wild thought, could this be a blade made in an Islamic area of Spain, or a bit later in Morocco?

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Old 2nd December 2010, 11:30 PM   #14
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Another interesting thing about this sword is that there are watered patterns on the crossguard - very difficult to photograph but I will try.

I took it to the Arms and Armour Society meeting tonight at the Tower of London and no one had seen forging patterns like them in a kaskara crossguard before. The blade was said to be well-forged - older than what we usually see in kaskara.

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Old 8th December 2010, 02:20 PM   #15
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Just to add to the use of the Star of David on edged weapons it is seen on all British military issue swords of the Victorian period which have undergone a 'proof' test .. see pic
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Old 10th December 2010, 03:39 AM   #16
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Quote:
Originally Posted by thinreadline
Just to add to the use of the Star of David on edged weapons it is seen on all British military issue swords of the Victorian period which have undergone a 'proof' test .. see pic


Very nicely noted. I believe Wilkinson began the use of the Star of Solomon surround with the brass plug proofmark around the 1850s. Each maker or outfitter had thier own symbol or device in the brass plug, but there often seems to be some diffusion of use on some of these. It seems that is has often been suggested through the years that the star when first used may have signified Masonic associations, however even Wilkinson sources have indicated that the symbol was used as a quality mark since ancient times in the Middle East. There has been much use and application of the symbol in varying instances, leading to considerable misinterpretation in many cases.
It is important to note that in most cases, rather than a star, these are intersecting triangles.

All best regards,
Jim
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