Sword from Siberia

These images were e-mailed from Russia and are of what is suspected by the submitter to be a nomadic sword of the VI-VII Century, made in the state of ancient Turks in Altay-region (South Siberia). The length of the blade is 730 mm. with a rhombic cross-section. The submitter is interested in knowing of similar examples in order to verify the age and place of manufacture as well as the potential value. Please e-mail your comments to forum@vikingsword.com

David A. Counts sent the following insights on 12 Aug 1998:

I am not a scholar or "expert," but the request for information on the "Sword from Siberia" intrigued me. The following is my speculation: the apparent angle of the tang and the "sleeve" below the guard are similar to 10-13th Century AD Central Asian finds I have seen line-drawings and photographs of, but the guard itself was quite unexpected ... more Western in appearance to my eyes ... also the fact that the weapon appears to be a straight, double-edged sword rather than a proto-saber seem to argue for either the earlier 7th Cent. AD date or a hybrid of influences in design for a 13th Cent. AD "Russian" weapon. The straight blade argues that the submitter should seek out 4th-7th Cent. AD Chinese, Hunnish, or Sassanian survivals for examination. The tang angle and sleeve suggest the submitter should seek out 10-13th Cent. AD Central Asian survivals for examination. Of course there may be survivals that are right on point with the example shown, but I am unaware of them.

If I'm stating facts that the submitter has already considered and either eliminated or pursued, please forgive my redundancy. If these are thoughts he/she would like to pursue, let me know and I'll send what few references (mostly Russian) I have that deal with this topic, and - where I have the info - note what museums possess the comparative weapons in
question. [I just don't want to type out a lot of stuff the submitter has already thought about.]

Questions for the submitter: Is the blade actually double-edged? What is the weight of the weapon? Can I purchase photographs of the weapon for my personal files? What material was used for the guard and sleeve? If the sword is single edged, is the edge on the side of the sleeve?

Value ... if I had the cash (I don't) and I knew the blade was authentic and from anywhere between c.600-1300 AD, I'd readily pay $ 5,000 US for it ... and I suspect it may be worth significantly more.

Thank you and the submitter for sharing. I don't know if my note is of any use, but thank you for the fun "problem."

...and followed up with these references on 15 Aug 98:

Here is a start at more detailed notes about articles and texts that deal with early swords that might help provide a context for the "Siberian Sword." I have tried to identify what museums actually possess specimens.

Nickel, Helmut. About the Sword of the Huns and the "Urepos" of the Steppes." Metropolitan Museum Journal. No. 7. 1973.

· Figures 1, 2, and 3: Iron sword from north Iran. 5th-6th Cent. AD. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, Rogers Fund 65.28.
· Footnote 5 discusses other survivals of this configuration in private Swiss collections, the Louvre, and the Tenri Sankokan Museum, Tenri University, Tokyo.
· Figure 10: Iron sword from Imperial tomb Pei-Chueu-Shan near Lo-Yang, Honan Province, China. About 600 AD. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, gift of Clarence H. Mackay, 30.65.2.

Grancsay, Stephen V. Two Chinese Swords from about A.D. 600." Essay 24 is a reprint from The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin of September 25, 1930 in …Arms & Armor … Essays by Stephen V. Grancsay from The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 1920-1964. ISBN 0-87099-338-0.

· Figure 1: Iron sword from Imperial tomb Pei-Chueu-Shan near Lo-Yang, Honan Province, China. About 600 AD. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, gift of Clarence H. Mackay, 30.65.2. (same as Figure 10 from the Nickel article)
· Figure 2: Iron sword from Imperial tomb Pei-Chueu-Shan near Lo-Yang, Honan Province, China. About 600 AD. The Metropolitan Museum of Art, gift of George D. Pratt, 1930, 30.65.1.
· Reference is also made to similar swords in the Tokyo Academy of Fine Arts.
· Of possible interest is Essay 40 which is entitled "Three Primitive Japanese Swords" and illustrates in Figure 1 a Japanese sword of the 6th Cent. AD, Fletcher Fund, 1932, 32.13.2 A-B.

Tokyo National Museum: Museum of Art, Osaka; The Nihon Keizai shimbun; and Television Osaka. Cultural Contacts between East and West in Antiquity and Middle Ages from USSR. 1985 Exhibition Catalog.

· Figure 143 is an iron, "Byzantine" sword from the "Peresshepinsky Hoard" north of the Black Sea. State Hemitage.

further annotated references received on 16 Aug 98:

Repsime Djanpoladian and Anatolij Kirpicnikov. Mittelalterlicher Sabel mit einer Armenischen Inschrift, Gefunden im Subpolaren Ural. Gladius. Volume X. 1972.

· Figure 1 is an Iron Sabre with an Armenian (!) inscription found in the subpolar Urals, in the Archaeological Institute, Academy of Sciences, Leningrad. The slightly angled tang and sleeve is very similar to the "Siberian Sword," but the guard is the more common smaller guard of Central Asia, and the blade appears to be slightly curved, single-edged proto-sabre of c.1100-1300 AD. Also found as Illustration 1543 in Dr. Nicolle's Arms and Armour of the Crusading Era cited below.

David C. Nicolle. Arms and Armour of the Crusading Era 1050-1350. Volume 1: Commentary and Volume 2: Illustrations-all are line drawings. (ISBN 0-527-67128-2 for the set) … There is a vast amount of material in this work, so be warned that (a) I might have missed something of interest and (b) Dr. Nicolle has updated some of this work in other sources since the publication of this work in 1988.

Eastern Eurasian Steppes …

· Illustrations 15A-M … Kirghiz Sabres, 10-12 Cent. AD. All are shown as straight to slightly curved single-edged proto-sabers with wedge cross sections. There is a wide variety of surviving guards, though none are on point with the "Siberian Sword." Illustrations are after Khudyakov cited below.

· Illustrations 16A-B … Kirghiz Single-Edged Swords 10-12 Cent. AD. These weapons have been ceremonially "killed" and are very distorted. The cross-section is more complex … katana-like according to Dr. Nicolle. Illustrations are after Khudyakov cited below.

Western Eurasian Steppes …

· Illustrations 31A-B … Swords from Zhitimakskiye and Murakaevskiye, 10-11 Cent. AD. Single-edge, wedge-cross section bladed proto-sabers. Illustrations are after Mazhitov cited below.

· Illustration 33 … Sword from Murakaevskiye, southern Urals, 10-11 Cent. AD. Like the previous weapons, but the guard, though of thicker proportions, appears to have a proto-langet and flaring terminals like those of the "Siberian Sword."

· Illustrations 36P-Q … Sabres from the northern Caucasus, 10-12 Cents. Illustrations after Pletnyeva cited below.

· Illustrations 37A-D …Swords from the Kursk and Kiev area, Ukraine, 9-13 Cent. AD. In the State Anthropological Museum, Moscow. 37D shows an interesting feature of asymmetrical guards on some proto-sabres: the guard is of full length on the edged side of the blade and truncated on the back side of the blade. Dr. Nicolle states such guards are in art of Indian and those parts of Afghanistan and Turkestan under strong Indian influence. See also Illustration 48D.

Illustration 49L … Sabre, Peceneg, 12 Cent. AD. Illustration after Pletnyeva cited below.

Eurasian Steppes, Mongol Period …

· Illustrations 51A-B … Sabres, Kazakhstan, 13-14 Cent. AD. Illustration after Pletnyeva cited below.

· Illustration 52A … Sword-blade, souther Urals, Bashgirt, 13-14 Cent. AD. Illustration after Pletnyeva cited below. See also Illustration 55H.

· Illustration 69 … Sabre, Kuban, 14 Cent. AD in the State Historical Museum, Moscow. See also Illustrations 70E-F.

Western Iran and the Muslim Caucasus …

· Illustration 328 … Bronze relief from Dagestan, 13-14 Cent AD in the Hermitage Museum, Leningrad. I mention this because the feature I call the "sleeve" seems to be of uncertain function to me. Longer spine-like blade-reinforcements appear on the back of many 18 Cent AD Asian Indian swords. But in the context of the shorter sleeves like that on the "Siberian Sword," Dr. Nicolle states in this illustration (#328) that the sleeve along the edge is misplaced and that the sole function of this sleeve was to assure a tighter fit with the scabbard. My take on the shorter sleeve design was that it was designed to create a "ricasso" effect so the swordsman could loop his index finger over the guard for a more precise cut. The surviving swords with sleeves in Illustration 15 (above) all have their sleeves on the side with the cutting edge … which is what I thought would be more useful. Comments?

Hungary …

· Illustrations 1442-1445 … Hungarian Sabres of the 10-11 Cent. AD. From the National Museum, Budapest, the Museum of Balassa Balint, Esztergom, and the Military Museum, Budapest. All are single-edged, proto-sabers.

· Illustration 1462 … Hungarian Sabre, 12-13 Cent. AD. In the Military Museum, Budapest. This weapon has "uncharacteristically long quillions" similar to those of the "Siberian Sword."

Russia …

· Illustration 1550 … the "so-called 'Sword of Charlemagne,'" Kievan Russia or Hungary, c.950-1025 AD, in the Kunsthistoriches Museum, Vienna. I mentioned this to demonstrate a Central Asian style blade that was manufactured in Eastern Europe or Russia and ended up in the West. Possibly some elements of the "Siberian Sword" reflect a stream of influence in the opposite direcction.

Iran …

· Illustration 1556 … Broken sword blade from Nishapur, Khorasan, 9-11 Cent. AD, in the Archaeological Museum, Tehran. An example of a straight double-edged blade (like that of the "Siberian Sword?") common in the Mid-East prior to the adoption of the proto-sabre.

· Illustration 1557 … Straight, single-edged "Sabre" from Nishapur, Khorasan, 9-11 Cent. AD, in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, NY, no.40.170.168. The guard of this weapon is shorter and more ornate than that of the "Siberian Sword" but has a similar proto-langet and flaring terminals.

· For both Nishapur swords, also see James W. Allan. Nishapur: Metalwork of the Early Islamic Period. ISBN 0-87099-271-6.

Here are the Russian text resources …

Y. S. Khudyakov. Arms of the Yenesi Kirgiz 6-12th Cent. Novo Sibirsk. 1980. Line drawings and renderings only.

· Figures I, IV, VI, VII, VIII … all swords with sleeves are single-edged proto-sabers with a wedge cross-section.

· Table 1 classifies double edged blades with rhomboid or diamond cross-sections as c.500-c.900 AD for the Kirgiz.

· Table 16 provides arms overviews for three periods. Straight, double-edged swords appear in the c.500-c.800 AD category; and single-edged proto-sabers with sleeves appear in the latter two categories which cover c.800-c1200 AD.

· Obviously, I wish I could read Russian and possibly ferret out why the "Siberian Sword" has what appears to be mutually exclusive features based on these summary tables. Perhaps they require too much generalization and cannot provide detail that would help us.

N. A. Maxhitov. Grave Sites in the Southern Urals 8-12th Cents. Moscow. 1981. Line drawings and renderings only.

· Figure 3 shows a diamond cross-section, double-edged sword of c.700-900 AD.

· Figure 24 shows wedge cross-section, single-edged proto-sabers with and without sleeves of c.900-c.1000 AD.

· Figure 66 shows wedge cross-section, single-edged proto-sabers without sleeves of c.1000-1100 AD.

· Figure 71 shows a guard with flaring terminals roughly similar to that of the "Siberian Sword" but with much thicker proportions … c.1000-1100 AD

S. A. Pletnaya. Eurasian Steppes in the Middle Ages. Moscow. 1981. Line drawings and renderings only.

· Much of what we have seen in prior works … Figure 5, a straight, double-edged (?) sword of c.500-600 AD; Figures 27 and 166, curved, single-edged proto-sabers without sleeves of c.800-1000 AD; and Figure 74, curved, single-edged proto-sabers of c.1000-1300 AD.

· If these age ranges and tentative dates seem pretty broad to you, you are not alone.

· Figure 33 was vague, but interesting, for it showed what appears to be a single-edged sword with an angled tang with a guard similar too (but still of thicker proportions) to the "Siberian Sword." The date range for this figure is a disappointing c.600-1000 AD (pretty wide indeed).

A specialized armour-piercing sword?

If in fact the "Siberian Sword" is a fairly rigid weapon (pronounced central section and limited flex … not that I expect the owner to test his find), perhaps we have an attempt to create a mail- or lamellar-armour piercing thrusting weapon similar in function (if not configuration) to weapons the Polish hussars would carry in the 17th Cent. AD. (For example, see Figure 104 of Andrezej Nadolski's Polish Arms. Warsaw: 1974.)

Usefulness of art resources …

I have also sent a print-out of the pictures of the "Siberian Sword" to a Central Asian sword specialist (who unfortunately is not on-line at this time). I will pass on his comments. He suggested the value of examining books on Central Asian art. One work that provides an overview of the types of art sources that provide sword examples is … William Trousdale. The Long Sword and Scabbard Slide in Asia. Smithsonian Contributions to Anthropology. Number 17. 1975.

David A. Counts forwarded the following insights from Philip Tom (1466 12th St.; Manhattan Beach, CA 90266; Fax: 310-939-0010) on 2 September 1998:

The sword is an outstanding specimen, judging from its apparent state of preservation. Few have come down through the ages in such fine condition. The general form (blade profile and section, and shape of the crossguard) is consistent with swords attributed to the 9th thru 12th cents. AD, unearthed in the Yenisei watershed (see ... Khudyakov, p.49). The most outstanding atypical feature of this "sword" (if indeed it be such, i.e. a double -edged blade) is its tang, viz.:

1. A downward cant--most sword tangs are in-line with the axis of the blade, for obvious reasons connected with the weapon's use. Curved or canted tangs are associated more with pallashes and sabers.

2. The apparent absence of rivet-holes to secure the grips, which is the norm on many of these, plus the very unusual series of rough notches along the edges which seem to facilitate attachment of some sort of adhesive.

Also, if this be a sword, I find it unusual that it have the collar on the base of the blade. The collar has an extension on only one side, which does not make a great deal of sense for a double-edged blade. It is a much more common feature of the medieval Eurasian SABERS, and occasionally of PALLASHES. Blade collars of this form survive with very little change on the sabers of China (where they are called t'un-k'ou) up thru the early 19th cent.

Seeing an asymmetrical tang configuration and collar, I am wondering if this weapon is indeed beveled symmetrically (i.e. having two true edges). Could the side opposite the collar extension possibly be a false edge of faux bevel, thus qualifying the piece as a sort of a pallash? Unfortunately, your photo reproduction [ a print out of the photographs at the Sword Forum site ] doesn't show the point. One would expect a sword tip to be spear shaped and a pallash point to be knife-shaped.

If you would look at Khudyakov, page 38, you will see two blades described as "pallashes" (i.e. straight, double-edged) which have been ritually "killed" for burial. One has a t'un-k'ou at the forte that appears almost identical to that on the sword presently under discussion. The drawing shows a medial ridge down the blade, also. Yet the weapon is called a pallash [by Khudyakov}, not a "mech" or sword.

Try to get more data as to this blade's cross-section, and tip configuration, and we can go from there.

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