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Old 24th April 2019, 11:51 PM   #1
TVV
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Default Nimchas in the Grand Master Palace Armory in Valletta

I recently visited the Grand Master Palace in Valletta and its armory is quite remarkable, but for me the most interesting part of the exhibits is the extensive collection of early nimchas. This thread is entirely about these nimchas and other Ottoman swords, and my intent is to share my pictures here. By nimcha here I would mean any sword with the characteristic hilt, including full size blades. There is in general surprisingly little known about the nimchas, and their origin, both when it comes to the blade and the hilt. The theory proposed by Anthony North is that they originated from the Italian storta, and a particular nimcha-like storta in the Met is presented as the sole evidence. But is it a case of a weapon, which influenced Islamic sword makers, or rather a case of a sword made to appeal to North African/Ottoman tastes? Given that there are not many similar examples around, I am leaning towards the second personally.

Anyway, let's start with some pictures. The exhibit is quite impressive, with a symmetric arrangement of nimchas of various length flanking a few Ottoman parade shields. Note how many guards are missing the knuckle bow - was it removed on purpose? During those times bucklers would have been used, so having a knuckle bow to take hits perhaps was not as important. I will leave it to HEMA enthusiasts to answer that one.
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Old 25th April 2019, 12:02 AM   #2
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Considering that the Great Siege of 1565 was perhaps the single most important event in the history of Malta, there are constant reminders about it during the Palace and Armory tour. However, while the armor of Grad Master La Vallette is preserved and on display, there is absolutely no way to make a reliable connection between the assortment of Islamic arms and the epic siege. The Armory's collection was amassed during the rule of the Knights of St. John from 1530 to 1798. The palace (and all of Valletta, really) was built in the end of the 16th century, start of the 17th century so we can therefore conclude that the majority of the arms were collected in the 17th and 18th centuries. The fighting between Knights and Muslims did not end with the siege, as the knights were actively engaged in piracy praying on Muslim merchant vessels.


Continuing with the pictures: there is a display of various arms, including an axe, some maces and firearms in the middle. More importantly, as far as this thread is concerned, there are also two interesting Ottoman swords. One is a karabella, of a type that is generally associated with the 18th century. The horn hilt has sadly cracked and needs to be restored, and the blade appears to be of an earlier type - 16th century perhaps. The other sword is even more intriguing - it is shorter, with a very unusual eyelashes (Gurda) marked blade. Both the blade and the fluted ivory hilt seem to mimic early Ottoman swords, but it looks more like something made in a European shop for export to Istanbul or to one of the major ports in the Maghreb.
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Old 25th April 2019, 12:05 AM   #3
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To the lower right of the center display there are more swords, with longer blades. Sadly, they are in a bit of a neglected state, with gunk and light rust forming on them. Two of them have really crude hilts with ugly washers under the rivets which to me appear to be modern replacements by someone with very little idea of what he was doing. The blades though are interesting, especially the one with astral (Peter Munich and imitators) motives, the only one such blade in the entire collection.
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Old 25th April 2019, 12:16 AM   #4
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To the left of the central display there are also more swords, and quite possibly the most interesting/important ones. There is one sword with a tortoise shell and silver hilt, belonging to a group of swords in the Met, the Hofburg, the Real Armeria and of course, the de Ruyter sword in the Rijksmuseum. These were collected all sometime in the mid 16th century, so this one is easy to date, and quite pretty. Note also the similarities in general shape to excellent nimcha Charles shared with us. There are two more nimchas next to that one,among them a yatghan-style hilted one with ivory scales and a brass bolster.

Furhter to the lower left, there are three very intriguing swords. One of them has a D-ring. This feature is usually associated with swords from Southern Arabia, Zanzibar and the Komoros, but there is no doubt this sword was collected in the Mediterranean and one occasionally finds such D-rings on Maghrebi nimchas. Note the straighter blade on this one and the crescent and star markings. There are two more swords next to the D-ring one: a sword with a fullered curved blade, and another sword with a great 16th century Mameluke blade: hard to see under all the dirt and rust, but all the characteristics of Mameluke blades are there. This is obviously not the original hilt of this blade, and sadly as of right now we have no way of telling exactly when it was mounted that way.

Anyway, this concludes the Valetta nimcha tour, hope you enjoyed the pictures and maybe you would have seen interesting things I missed and would have some further insights as to these swords and their history.

Teodor
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Old 25th April 2019, 12:47 AM   #5
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TVV
.......we can therefore conclude that the majority of the arms were collected in the 17th and 18th centuries.



What is Afghani Ch’hura doing there? Is it also 17-18 century? Ottoman-Hotaki war?

And in the next array: short saber with yataghan-ish eared handle and no guard. Proto-shashka?

Theodor, do you have any idea whether there are museum provenance records and dates of entry?

The similarity of Maghrebi and South Arabian “nimchas” is plainly obvious to the point that some are virtually identical. Who was the donor and who was the recipient? Were there any exchanges of mercenaries? What might have been a role of the Ottoman forays into Southern Arabia starting in the middle of the 16 century? I think it might be a topic of a fascinating research.

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Old 25th April 2019, 03:06 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by ariel
What is Afghani Ch’hura doing there? Is it also 17-18 century? Ottoman-Hotaki war?

Theodor, do you have any idea whether there are museum provenance records and dates of entry?



No, I have no idea. Unlike the European armor and arms, which are extremely well studied, there is next to nothing on the Islamic ones. As you can see by their state of preservation, they have been neglected in more ways than one.

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And in the next array: short saber with yataghan-ish eared handle and no guard. Proto-shashka?



I could be wrong here but I do not see a Central Asian hilt - I see a nimcha blade adapted to an early yataghan hilt.
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Old 25th April 2019, 06:33 AM   #7
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thanks very much for this impressive array of photographs and your interesting commentary. This is a place I have always intended to visit , now I realise it is essential that I do !
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Old 25th April 2019, 10:37 AM   #8
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TVV



I could be wrong here but I do not see a Central Asian hilt - I see a nimcha blade adapted to an early yataghan hilt.



I am not implying anything Central Asian. But a weapon with saber blade, eared handle and no crossguard is a decent description of a shashka-like one. My question ( likely an unanswerable one) is whether we are witnessing a connection or just a parallel development. Something to put in the memory piggy bank;-)

As to the sorry physical state of nimcha blades... For a minute or two I thought that when I retire , volunteering going to Valletta and cleaning them might not be a bad idea. I could even donate WD-40, steel wool and Renaissance wax.

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Old 25th April 2019, 11:18 AM   #9
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Very impressive grouping! Thanks for these pics. The number of blade variations speaks volumes, even with the later long straight blades missing.

The knuckle guard lacking on some is well noted, as most seem like true "no thrills" fighting swords.

I did also note that one example(silver and inlay in a nice close up of the hilt) is decorated in a way very similar to some Moroccan snaphaunce, or afedali.
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Old 25th April 2019, 01:05 PM   #10
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This truly is an exciting and phenomenal look into this fascinating array of weaponry on Malta, and Teodor thank you for sharing these pictures!

This is an excellent insight into the weaponry which was seen in the dynamic and colorful history of Malta, the military orders there, the Ottoman corsairs (Barbary pirates) and so much of Meditteranean maritime history.

This is also a great look at the variations of the so called 'nimsha' swords we have been discussing presently, and whose origins and development are yet another speculative sword mystery.


These distinctly hilted swords and the typical widely flared point blades were apparently oriented toward maritime use as cutlasses and seem to be primarily associated with the Maghreb, and the Ottoman corsairs/pirates.
However, the hilt style also influenced various sword types throughout the Arab sphere which of course was vary much aligned with Ottoman in many areas.

As noted, it would be hard to classify many of these weapons represented in these collections as from any particular event (such as the siege) or for that matter directly associated with Malta itself or specific provenances. This is because Malta was so 'internationally' connected by trade, the military orders, and its key Meditteranean location so many of these weapons could have arrived there over extended time and from very diverse situations.

The Ottoman influences which were so widely diffused not only by the so called Barbary pirates, but Ottoman maritime operations in trade etc. clearly filtered through here over centuries. Malta itself engaged in its own 'privateering' to prey on these Ottoman vessels, which carried many materials from throughout the Ottoman Empire

That might account for the presence of what appears to be an Afghan 'choora' dagger, though it is obviously far more recent than many other weapons here .Also the ivory/bone hilted yataghan form (sans ears) with nimsha blade, which reminds me of certain similar hilts from Balkan regions I have seen with the 'oriental' influence favored through Europe in 18th c. .

What an incredible museum! and I'd love to see it in person, but this is great, thank you again Teodor!!!
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Old 25th April 2019, 03:23 PM   #11
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I also think made for a market to taste. Interesting to see the variations from the have chopper like sabre, to the piercing blade similar to the British blade before the 1908 or there about nickle plated thing used in ww1.
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