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Old 21st April 2021, 01:14 AM   #4
Jim McDougall
Arms Historian
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Join Date: Dec 2004
Location: Route 66
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Thank you Ed,
I do have a profound fascination with the Sudan, and in fact I was involved in some research several years ago concerning thuluth and the Mahdist weaponry. While I cannot claim any particular expertise, I did learn quite a lot toward better understanding of these weapons.

While the swords (termed sa'if, but now colloquially known as kaskara) were not widely used tribally in Sudan prior to the Mahdiyya (1883-1898) but in degree were known to some tribes in the south. Clearly they became required as Mahdist forces assembled. However, during the time of the Mahdi until his death in 1885, there was not a notable use of thuluth in the manner seen in these profusely covered blades.

The Caliph, in succeeding the Mahdi, was faced with a dilemma. He needed to advance the Jihad, but the Mahdi who was a divine figure in the movement, had died mortally, which of course led to concerns.
He needed to find symbolic and fervor instilling means to inspire the Ansar onward, and legitimize his position as the leader acting on behalf of the Mahdi. The Ansar believed in the magic of the Mahdi, and the metaphor and similes of the 'Sword of the Mahdi' became key aspects of the ongoing Jihad.

The use of acid etched thuluth was a known process used by the Mamluks who had been situated in Sennar, and Shendy and they had been long standing purveyors of arms and armor as well as active in slave trading.

After the fall of Khartoum, the huge industrial complex, shops, tools and metal supply were captured, mostly move to the arsenal at Omdurman. Here the process of outfitting ordnance, weapons etc. was undertaken in huge volume. Here the familiar acid etched blades were produced, and not only on kaskara blades, but on many other weapon forms as they came in with the many conscripted forces from tribes in other regions brought their arms.

The thuluth inscriptions were intended to render each of these weapons effectively 'a sword of the Mahdi' and each warrior advancing in HIS charge. The phrases, invocations and platitudes are simply repeated, in more of a decorative manner, but still actual wording in degree. It was once thought they were more of an 'arabesque' and jibberish, and that to illiterate natives it didnt matter, but that was not the case.

To these Ansar warriors, their weapons were emblazoned with the words and spirit of the Mahdi, and they fully believed he was with them in battle.

This example is shorter as they were worn in scabbard over the shoulder and under the arm, sort of a shoulder holster. The lizard hide, much as with crocodile, is very totemic to these people traditionally. As Ed has noted, the brass guards were quite typical in these ersatz weapons produced for the Caliph's forces imbued with the spirit and magic of the Mahdi.

Most of the thuluth covered blades were consistent in totally covering the blade, and the breaks with these roundels is more consistent with the Mamluk style motif, on the sa'if from which the kaskara evolved. It was these Islamic broadswords, not Crusader examples as romantically held by early writers, that were the source for the kaskara.

These thuluth covered weapons were also used on the battlefield by the Holy Men who attended to those fallen with required blessings etc.

I agree with Ed on the Persian influences here, as while Sufi, they were filtered through the Arabian conduit, so these positions must be factored accordingly.
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