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Old 11th September 2012, 05:21 PM   #1
randallstorey
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Default Help identifying kaskara

Hello everyone and a thanks in advance for any advice to a first time poster.

I bought the kaskara shown in the photos in the late 1980s and after coming across this forum thought that someone may be able to provide some detailed info on it.

Underneath the tang the number 557 is stamped in arabic numerals within a rectangular indentation. The number might be 857 or 357, and this photo shows it from the right hand side where i believe you can see the last two numbers, five and seven.

Two fullers running about 80% length of the blade. The text within them is raised (i assume this isnt done bas relief so was wondering how). The text repeats only a few characters over and over, those being 'II' 'I' and combinations of a paranthses and greater/lesser than symbols, for example (> or >). I do not know how clear that has come across in the photos and am not sure my unsteady hands will allow much better, but obviously willing to try on request.

I am a professional medievalists (my website is medievalstudies.co.uk) and am under no illusion about the origins of this kaskara, but what a strong, sharp, well made thing it is. I told Lee upon joining, this is the closest I'm likely to come to owning a medieval long sword!
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Old 11th September 2012, 06:14 PM   #2
Jim McDougall
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Hi Randall,
Welcome to the forum, and thank you so much for posting a kaskara! As you have noted, there are of course distinct similarities to these broadswords of the Sudan and those of medieval Europe. Actually many 'medieval' broadswords have been created using old kaskara blades brought back from the campaigns in the Sudan over a hundred years ago, as described by Ewart Oakeshott in some of his works. Though there are occasionally European blades found in the actual examples in North Africa, most are trade blades from Germany of early 19th century to about 1870s.

I hope you can try to get more detailed photos, especially of the markings on this example. You have amazing patience having had this sword since the 1980s!!! my curiosity would have had the best of me the next day!!!
I do think that what you have is a most interesting example in that the fullering seems of more desirable type of these blades of latter 19th century form, and these markings are intriguing.

Thank you for joining us, and look forward to more pics!

Best regards,
Jim
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Old 11th September 2012, 06:40 PM   #3
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I've tried again but that's the limit with my phone's camera, it just wont focus any more clearly at that distance. The scripts run the full lengths of both fullers on both sides of the blade. It is hard to tell if it is a full arabic script as some of it is covered by corrosion and much is worn down. I can never be certain that I am seeing a more varied script than a few symbols because much is covered by corrosion, much is worn smooth and various pits and disfigurements in the metal blend in with the script.

I am infatuated with it, but only had Stone available to me at the time in Oklahoma. When I moved to England in the 1990s i was able to focus on medieval armaments and never cared to know more about this until now. Nineteenth/twentieth century Sudanese was enough for me even though I was working in collaboration with the Royal Amouries and they offered to look at it for me! i dont think I wanted to share it, it was mine all mine, until now
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Old 12th September 2012, 01:35 AM   #4
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Quote:
Originally Posted by randallstorey
Underneath the tang the number 557 is stamped in arabic numerals within a rectangular indentation. The number might be 857 or 357, and this photo shows it from the right hand side where i believe you can see the last two numbers, five and seven.

Two fullers running about 80% length of the blade. The text within them is raised (i assume this isnt done bas relief so was wondering how). The text repeats only a few characters over and over, those being 'II' 'I' and combinations of a paranthses and greater/lesser than symbols, for example (> or >). I do not know how clear that has come across in the photos and am not sure my unsteady hands will allow much better, but obviously willing to try on request.
Welcome on board "randallstorey"
too kind from you, if you offer us, other photos taken with "focus"
your signs > and > could be a digits ... 7 and 8 ...
also, you've to take in consideration, that Sudan is particularly affected with the talismanic effect, as many other Muslim countries
these signs might be to conjure the evil eye
if I've pics with better resolution, I should be more formal
best regards

ŕ +

Dom

ps/ please before next Saturday,
I'll flew to Cairo for several months,
and my library ... will remains in Paris
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Old 12th September 2012, 10:02 AM   #5
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That's a beautiful kaskara you have there, I hope you are able to get hold of a digital camera that shoots macro photos so we can see the details.

As you probably already know the best results are usually given by shooting outside but out of direct sunlight.

I look forward to seeing any further pictures you are able to take.
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Old 12th September 2012, 11:11 AM   #6
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Hi Randall,

Having browsed your website in the past - very nice to have you here! Better photos will certainly help (try some pictures in daylight and outside, it should reduce the blur and shake issues) but I’ll try to add a few comments for a start.

This appears to be a very good quality kaskara with a European blade – the hilt with the flared tips is typical of older mounts. The most interesting aspect of the sword is the blade – two fullers is not typical for kaskara blades or European trade blades found in them. Usually three small fullers or one large fuller are encountered.

The only blades close to the region I can think off that feature this configuration are some Ethiopian saifs with imported blades. What is the length of your blade and is there a ricasso? The Ethiopian blades often feature extensive floral patterns in the same raised style you are describing.
Looking forward to more photos and helping to solve what this blade is and where it came from!

All the best,
Iain

(PS: Don’t lose hope for owning a real medieval blade in an African sword… )
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Old 12th September 2012, 01:06 PM   #7
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Thanks for the offers to help.

A more accurate description of the blade is
835mm long
39mm at widest point before tapering slightly near shoulders
fullers each 6mm wide and extend 560mm beginning 60mm down from the guard ricasso both sides of the blade extending 140-145mm.

I've included two more photos, one shows the 857 stamped near the shoulders but not obscured by the crossguard this time.

The other I hope is a better shot of the script. I had a professor of mine who studied Near East ancient history at Harvard take a look at it long ago and he too thought the script as such was glyphs and/or abbreviations which he did not recognised based on the limited number of characters throughout and the short patterns of repeating these characters interspersed frequently with vertical lines (ie the 'I' and 'II'), the latter I do not know if they are indeed characters, punctuation or decoration.

I was not hoping for anyone to try to decipher the script I was more hoping that someone would recognise its kind, but whatever can be gleaned is appreciated.
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Old 12th September 2012, 03:44 PM   #8
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hey mate,

I can see some decent Arab script there. Proper clear shots and maybe me and Dom can translate it :-)
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Old 12th September 2012, 04:02 PM   #9
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Ok thanks, might have access to better camera this Friday.

It is so humbling to be faced with a language which i cant even describe and do not have enough time to learn even the names of its basic characters! No wonder I remained quiet about it for so long haha.
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Old 12th September 2012, 08:01 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by randallstorey
Hello everyone and a thanks in advance for any advice to a first time poster.

I bought the kaskara shown in the photos in the late 1980s and after coming across this forum thought that someone may be able to provide some detailed info on it.

Underneath the tang the number 557 is stamped in arabic numerals within a rectangular indentation. The number might be 857 or 357, and this photo shows it from the right hand side where i believe you can see the last two numbers, five and seven.

Two fullers running about 80% length of the blade. The text within them is raised (i assume this isnt done bas relief so was wondering how). The text repeats only a few characters over and over, those being 'II' 'I' and combinations of a paranthses and greater/lesser than symbols, for example (> or >). I do not know how clear that has come across in the photos and am not sure my unsteady hands will allow much better, but obviously willing to try on request.

I am a professional medievalists (my website is medievalstudies.co.uk) and am under no illusion about the origins of this kaskara, but what a strong, sharp, well made thing it is. I told Lee upon joining, this is the closest I'm likely to come to owning a medieval long sword!


Salaams Randallstorey, These blades really do look medieval.. They appear on all sorts of hilts from Sudan, Ethiopia and Red Sea regions. I collected one with an Indian hilt and another from Saudia.

See post number #48 on http://www.vikingsword.com/vb/showt...thiopian+swords for examples of blades on Ethiopian swords.

Some have a lion with a flag on the ricasso(Luckhaus and Gunther) and these and others are scripted and/or florally decorated down the entire blade often with two channels. Indeed Germany was largely responsible for the vast quantities of blades that flooded into Africa in the 18th and 19th Centuries.
Regards,
Ibrahiim al Balooshi.

Last edited by Ibrahiim al Balooshi : 13th September 2012 at 06:47 AM.
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Old 12th September 2012, 09:31 PM   #11
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Here is another image of a double fullered Ethiopian blade remounted in a style, I am told, consistent with work from Sanaa (unfortunately, search as I can, I cannot find the thread where this whole sword was discussed).
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Old 13th September 2012, 02:31 AM   #12
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Oh that's gorgeous isnt it. Do you know if it is that etching or engraving?
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Old 13th September 2012, 06:07 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Lee
Here is another image of a double fullered Ethiopian blade remounted in a style, I am told, consistent with work from Sanaa (unfortunately, search as I can, I cannot find the thread where this whole sword was discussed).


Salaams Lee ~ Please see #48 on http://www.vikingsword.com/vb/showt...thiopian+swords
Regards,
Ibrahiim al Balooshi.
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Old 14th September 2012, 02:15 PM   #14
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2 high quality photos
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Old 15th September 2012, 02:28 PM   #15
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Good Afternoon Randall,
I think Lee might be on the right track. I have a feeling these marks, which seem to be partly erased, may mean something in Amharic or another Ethiopian language. With a little imagination you can see a similarity to the inscription on this tray. Can anyone confirm this is an Ethiopian language, or even a language at all, and if so what it says?
Many thanks
Richard
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Old 15th September 2012, 02:53 PM   #16
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Thanks for these interesting pics
unfortunately, no one Arabic letter has been determinated

I have been to have a look on Ethiopian/Nubian/Eritrean alphabet
the Ge'ez alphabet here attached (but I haven't time to analyse correctly)
has may be (?) some similitudes with the blade's inscriptions

apparently, I didn't saw a single date, even digit ??

I saw nothing, could be attributed to some talismanic practices
anyway, really amazing and gorgeous kaskara

all the best

ŕ +

Dom
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Old 16th September 2012, 07:36 PM   #17
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Thanks everybody. There does seem to be an Ethiopian tradition or preference for the double fuller as you have shown, and the lettering looks very similar in this instance including decorating within both fullers in this way.
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Old 16th September 2012, 07:54 PM   #18
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I am pretty sure now this is at least in the Ge'ez alphabet although I do not have the knowledge to tell you what language.

I can at least make out some of these characters: (if they don't show up here try visiting wikipedia: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ge'ez_script)

ዘ ፈ ር

Now the real question is... can anyone figure out what language its in?
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Old 16th September 2012, 09:42 PM   #19
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I very much agree with suggestions to the potential for Ethiopian connection to this blade, perhaps the entire sword as hilted. As has been noted by Lee, there are a number of these kinds of straight blades with double fullers mounted in San'aa which have notable Abyssinian inscriptions and markings.
This blade does not have the usual 'lion of Judah', Star of Solomon or other typically associated markings often with these kinds of motif, but the acid etched script does seem to correspond to Ge'ez or the alphabetic variations in the numerous dialects in Ethiopia.

I think that we must consider this etched application much in the way we do the heavily decorative thuluth motif on Mahdist period weapons. If I understand correctly, this is often repeated and interlaced using alphabetic characters which may have some distinct and intelligible meaning in the core of the inscription. These inscriptions were often applied by workers who were not necessarily literate, or non speakers of the language, so may have been applied in a rather artistic interpretation. I think that is why many of the thuluth inscribed weapons and items may not lend to literal translation, as many items whose motif is based on these kinds of script, and may well be the case here.

We know the kaskara was widely used outside the Sudan, into Eritrea and Ethiopia, so certainly this may be an example from these regions as well as possibly from tribal groups within any of them. As far as accomplishing a literal translation or identification of distinct alphabet, I am not sure it will be possible as this may be simply artistically applied motif based on one or a number of dialectic characters.
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Old 17th September 2012, 08:34 AM   #20
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For some examples of other Ethiopian blades turning up in kaskara this thread may be of interest:

http://www.vikingsword.com/vb/showthread.php?t=11390

Albeit curved blades...
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Old 20th September 2012, 12:48 AM   #21
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Just discovered that the numbers in cartouche are probably item numbers in contract lot. Apparantly Luckhaus & Gunther numbered thier blades at the forte around 1895-1900 though not in cartouche. I found notes with a pair of Cuban machete type blades with two close numbers, otherwise identical, suggesting being of the same lot. As Solingen was producing blades for a variety of markets in these times, perhaps this suggests this practice was being used by the firms in fulfilling blade contracts. As previously noted blades of these types were being supplied to Abyssinia at this time for straight blade shotels, and these often ended up rerouted in trade entrepots, so being on a kaskara quite expectable, especially since Eritrea and Ethiopia also used them.
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Old 20th September 2012, 09:19 AM   #22
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Thanks Jim, that's what I assumed the numbers indicated, and I'm fairly sure there is yet another very faint character or symbol preceding the numbers. Do we have any information on how many blades were produced per consignment? The kaskara in Stone's Glossary is also described as having a three digit number in cartouche as you put it. He thought that it indicated the Islamic year and that an AH was also stamped with the date, which supported his assertion that kaskaras often have medieval blades.

I've often wondered why he would make this assertion despite being so knowledgeable. Perhaps it was a current notion, along with the idea that medieval armaments could be purchased readily and cheaply up until the 1970s. I imagine upon inspection many of the latter would have been victorian reproductions which were handsome and were snatched up even though when they come to light now they are recognised as what they are. If so many medieval arms were kicking around a few decades ago, where did they come from and where are they now? I just don't believe that many survived.
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Old 20th September 2012, 03:17 PM   #23
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Quote:
Originally Posted by randallstorey
I've often wondered why he would make this assertion despite being so knowledgeable. Perhaps it was a current notion, along with the idea that medieval armaments could be purchased readily and cheaply up until the 1970s. I imagine upon inspection many of the latter would have been victorian reproductions which were handsome and were snatched up even though when they come to light now they are recognised as what they are. If so many medieval arms were kicking around a few decades ago, where did they come from and where are they now? I just don't believe that many survived.


Hi Randall,

I think you are spot on that this was simply the way of thinking at the time. There was an assumption that based on the appearance of the kaskara it must be derived from Medieval swords, then the crusader notion seemed obvious and of course once you established that wondering if you had a Medieval blade got a lot easier!

Not only were many items Victorian reproductions in my understanding an awful lot of kaskara blades got mated with Medieval style hilts and sold on as the genuine article.

Returning to your particular kaskara, I think has pretty much nailed this one down. A European blade for an Ethiopian saif repurposed in kaskara mounts. Any chance of photographs of the numbers and possible symbol in the same high quality as the shots you showed of the script on the blade? There could be a name or maker's mark stamped at the bottom of the forte near the tang but this sadly would probably be impossible to see without dismantling the hilt.

All the best,

Iain
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Old 20th September 2012, 06:41 PM   #24
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Stone was a brilliant arms collector and scholar whose long venerated and comprehensive volume has remained quite literally the backbone of every serious arms collectors library. While he was indeed remarkably knowledgeable, it is important to remember that he himself acknowledged the limitations of his work (first published in the 1930s) and clearly noted his hopes for others to follow in continued study and advancing knowledge on these arms.
His work served as the cornerstone for the ongoing study of arms, which I think continues here as it has for many years now, in comprehensively reviewing extant material and newly acquired arms for discussion.

In his description Stone noted the AH date, and that it was an Arabic blade, which do typically appear in cartouche, however they are not stamped but in Islamic script inlaid, so his description was entirely accurate as he never claimed it was stamped. These Islamic blades in kaskara were typically much earlier, but not necessarily medieval, and were typically either Ottoman or possibly Mamluk, presumably of high ranking members of the courts or individuals of high status. A good number of these highly decorated Islamic blades did survive as heirloom blades through many generations.



The common kaskara, was often mounted with trade blades, in most cases from Germany, but in some degree from Italy as well. It is important to note that the 'crusader' notion created the idea that these kaskara blades must be 'medieval'. In reality they are typically 'European', not necessarily medieval (though there are instances where some have been found). In most cases blades from Germany are known to have arrived in the Sahara as well as several other ports of entry most notably from sometime in the 17th century onward. Probably some of the earliest blade arrivals came through Saharan regions via Portuguese stations in west Africa, and diffused into tribal areas in these kingdoms who indeed used the broadsword in medieval fashion.

The idea of medieval blades being easily obtained into the 1970s is of course more of the hyperbole noted in various writing and collectors assumptions. While captured blades of the crusades were often 'recycled' as thier steel was highly valuable, a good number were preserved as trophies and these are well known in references today. There were of course large numbers of these arms which survived in Europe, and did not really attract great interest until the romanticized literature of the Victorian period inspired the display of these artifacts in baronial decor. One of the most mitigating factors was that the demand inadvertantly created fabricators such as Ernst Schmitt in Munich who fashioned reproductions so authentic that in many cases museums displayed them as such until recent times. As the general public often could not be certain of authenticity, many actually genuine pieces were tossed into piles of arms being regarded as simply old steel of questionable virtue. Oakeshott describes one such sword found in New Zealand and horribly painted over which turned out authentically medieval.



The increase in volume of German blades into the Sudan came through both Red Sea trade and trade entrepots in Libya, around mid 19th century to the Mahdist period in 1880s through Omdurman (1898). Solingen had become hugely overspeculated around the Franco-Prussian war (1870-71), and there were hundreds of smaller firms producing as outsourced producers for the larger ones. These often ended up either amalgamated or ceasing, so the possibility of records is very slim. Factor in that imports of these blades most certainly ceased after Omdurman as the British and French occupied the Anglo-Egyptian Sudan in the condominium guarding interests in the Suez canal. Obviously they would be wary of rearming this nation for future insurgencies and one of the reasons huge volumes of these arms were collected was not for trophies, but to disarm these forces. The kaskara was an extremely deadly weapon in the hands of these tribal warriors.

It is far too complex to try to detail more of how geopolitical turmoil of these times affected circumstances with these blades, but I wanted to give at least some overview in hopes it might create further interest in understanding these important weapons.

All best regards,
Jim

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Old 20th September 2012, 08:44 PM   #25
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Thanks Jim. I was mistaken, Stone didnt say the date was stamped. He simply said 'dated and covered with inscriptions' which really doesnt explain where on the blade nor how the date was entered.

Do we not have any estimates of how many of these trade blades were being produced at this time then? As mine is '857' which I'll try to better photograph soon, I considered it might have been a lot of a thousand but wondered whether larger consignments were known or indeed whether a thousand was too large.
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Old 21st September 2012, 04:30 AM   #26
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Hi Randall,
Thank you for your responses and interest, its good to see serious interest in weapons history and learning more on thier background. As I mentioned there were many small firms producing blades in Solingen primarily for larger well established ones after the 1870s. While many of these had the markings of major firms added, sometimes those of importers as well, these virtually unmarked blades with only stamped numbers are unlikely to be identified further in my opinion. There were severe losses in the kinds of records which might reveal more of this kind of detail during extensive bomb damage and fires in WWII, though some Solingen history remains through references published previous.
We very much wish there were better records on this statistical detail on blades going into North Africa, but mostly what is available is scattered information in narratives and informational publications from public service records during occupation. You might read the outstanding paper by Ed Hunley (1984) which is among those here on the forum on the edged weapons production in Kasalla.
Many of the early adventure and exploratory narratives of the early 19th century suggest seemingly exaggerated numbers of blades entering the trade routes in tens of thousands, an unlikely number. In one narrative of much later in the century suggests several thousand per year in one trade location. The main thing to remember is that these blades were literally handed down generation to generation, and well into the 20th century there were blades being refurbished which had been around for many decades, perhaps even over a century in some cases.

You are asking the right questions though, and honestly we have been trying to find this kind of data for many years, and Ive been at it a good many myself. We've come a long way, and if you'll review the threads on file here you'll find many discussions which will add some interesting details on these fascinating swords.

All best regards,
Jim

For some much better illustrations of these type blades in kaskaras with Islamic inscriptions a good reference is "Introduction to Islamic Arms", an outstanding book by the late Anthony North.
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Old 21st September 2012, 08:26 AM   #27
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Perhaps I'm spoiled by the records available to medievalists and medieval Britain in particular. In addition to actual workshop accounts, contracts for provision of arms, purveyance etc, we can deduce army numbers and standards of arms requirements to make some informed guesses about quantities, qualities, economics and the impact on military and political organization. The upshot in this case being I have the sword in question!

I'll have a look at the works you've mentioned thank you very much, and this forum in itself is a trove.

Kind regards
Randall
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