photo.name
AKM963, Dagger (jambiya or khanjar) and Scabbard

© The Aga Khan Museum

 photo.name
AKM963, Dagger (jambiya or khanjar) and Scabbard

© The Aga Khan Museum

Click on the image to zoom

On Display
Dagger (jambiya or khanjar) and Scabbard
  • Accession Number:AKM963
  • Creator:signed by Faizallah Shushtari Isfahani
  • Place:blade: Iran, Isfahan; hilt and scabbard: Turkey
  • Dimensions:Length: 44.5 cm
  • Date:ca. 1700
  • Materials and Technique:
    Blade: steel, watered and iron cut
    Hilt: Nephrite, inlaid with gold and a single ruby
    Sheath: wood, overlaid with green velvet, steel (silver?) repoussé
  • Inscription on blade:
    On one side: Qur'an, chapter LXI (al-Saff), part of verse 13. “Help from God and victory near”
    On the other side: “O the Opener” and the signature Faizallah Shushtari Isfahani.

     

    This remarkable dagger marries a finely crafted blade from Safavid Iran (1501–1722) with a Turkish hilt from the Ottoman Empire (1299–1922). Both components—along with this scabbard—were likely produced in the 18th century, though how they arrived at such a union is unknown. The steel blade has been signed by Faizallah Shushtari Isfahani, the Persian metalsmith who forged this weapon. In addition to the metalsmith’s name, the inscription on the blade includes a Qur’anic verse (“Help from God and Victory Near,” from Sura 61 [1] and one of the 99 names of God (“Opener”), referring to the divine ability to remove obstacles. Such inscriptions would have underscored the owner’s piety as well as serving a talismanic function, protecting the owner from harm. Interestingly, Isfahani proudly gives the same prominence to his large-scale signature as he does the Qur’anic inscription; they are depicted in the same position on the blade, but on opposite sides.

Further Reading

 

Some information is known about Faizallah Shushtari Isfahani, who lived and worked in the late 17th to early 18th centuries in Iran, and whose nisba (place-name) associates him with the city of Isfahan. In 1707–8, he was commissioned by the Safavid Shah Sultan Husayn (r. 1694–1722) to make sets of steel door plaques for the Shrine of Imam Reza in Mashhad. His signature appears on a variety of other objects, including a small steel orange and a steel ewer which were donated by the Shah to the same shrine.[2] The blade of this dagger in the Aga Khan Museum Collection may also have been produced for the Shah. It is made of crucible steel, meaning that Isfahani used specific smelting and crucible techniques to create the wavy pattern on its surface.

 

How the blade made its way to the Ottoman Empire is unknown. It is possible that, after it was set into the opulent green nephrite hilt, it circulated as a royal gift. A similar combination of Persian blade with Ottoman hilt can be found in the Hermitage Museum, Russia.[3] Jade hilts inlaid with golden arabesques are very characteristic of Ottoman daggers, and the red gemstone on the end is also seen in Mughal Indian arms and armour.[4] A similar Ottoman dagger in the Furusiyya Collection, London has a jade hilt inlaid with gold and patterning of tulips and carnations on its steel scabbard.[5] Such floral patterning is uniquely Ottoman, and parallels other Ottoman arts from Iznik ceramics to textiles.

 

The Ottoman and Safavid dynasties have been termed “Gunpowder Empires” on account of their military successes based on the use of cannons and other firearms to greatly improve military tactics in the early modern period. Both dynasties produced opulent arts for the court, as can be seen in painting, architecture, textiles, ceramics, and metalwork as well as jewelled portable objects like the present dagger. The excellent condition of this object suggests it was most likely a ceremonial object never used in combat. Its sumptuous decoration, made from precious stones and gold, has more in common with a piece of jewellery than a functional weapon.

 

— Courtney Stewart


Notes
[1] This inscription is also found on a 17th-century Deccan dagger in the Furusiyya Collection. Published in Art of the Muslim Knight, (p. 228, no. 219.) This dagger also has a very similar quatrefoil motif.
[2] For a full list of the signed works by the artist, see Mayer, 32 and Persian Steel, The Tanavoli Collection, 524–5.
[3] Masterpieces of Islamic Art in the Hermitage Museum, Kuwait (no. 86; 30 and 117). This dagger is also a Persian Turkish combination, but it does not have a curved blade. Collection of the State Hermitage Museum, Russia (inv. no. OR-504).
[4] A similar hilt can be found in the Al-Sabah Collection (LNS 216 J ab) on a dagger attributed to Ottoman workshops, 16th century. This dagger also has a gold and jade matching scabbard.
[5] Published in Art of the Muslim Knight, 174, no. 162.


References
Al-Saleh, Yasmine. “Amulets and Talismans from the Islamic World.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/tali/hd_tali.htm (November 2010).
Allan, James & Brian Gilmour. Persian Steel, The Tanavoli Collection: Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000. ISBN: 9780197280256
Curatola, Giovanni, Manuel Keene, and Salam Kaoukji. Art from the Islamic Civilization: From the Al-Sabah Collection, Kuwait. Milano: Skira, 2012. ISBN: 9780500970348
Department of Arms and Armor. “Islamic Arms and Armor.” In Heilbrunn Timeline of Art History. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2000–. http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/hd/isaa/hd_isaa.htm (October 2004).
Ėrmitazh, Gosudarstvennyĭ. Masterpieces of Islamic Art in the Hermitage Museum. Kuwait: Dār al-Āthār al-Islāmiyyah, 1990.
Hales, Robert. Islamic and Oriental Arms and Armour: A Lifetime's Passion. Guernsey, U.K.: Robert Hales C.I.  Ltd., 2013. ISBN: 9780992631505
Ivanov, A. “A group of Iranian daggers of the period from the fifteenth to the beginning of the seventeenth with Persian inscriptions.” In Robert. Elgood, Islamic Arms and Armour. London: Scholar Press, 1979 ISBN: 9780859674706
Kaoukji, Salam. Precious Indian Weapons: And Other Princely Accoutrements. London: Thames & Hudson, 2017. ISBN: 9780500970805
L. A. Mayer. Islamic Armourers and their works. Geneva: Kundig. 1962.
Mohamed, Bashir. The Arts of the Muslim Knight: The Furusiyya Art Foundation Collection. Milano: Skira, 2008. ISBN: 9788876248771
Moshtagh, Khorasani M. Arms and Armor from Iran: The Bronze Age to the End of the Qajar Period. Tübingen: Legat-Verl, 2006. ISBN: 9783932942228

news_icon

Sign up for our newsletter Discover new Programs added regularly