Sword and sheath
- Credit Line:
Transferred from the India Museum in 1879
- Museum number:
- Gallery location:
Islamic Middle East, Room 42, The Jameel Gallery, case 9E 
This sword once belonged to the Iranian ruler Shah Tahmasp. Many of the finest works of Islamic art were created during his long reign (1524–76). The blade of the sword is inlaid in gold with Arabic lettering. The inscription includes Shah Tahmasp's titles and genealogy, as well as quotes from the Koran.
Watered steel blade inlaid with gold; steel quillon and mounts, inlaid with gold; scales walrus ivory (?); scabbard wood with stamped leather; silver chape inlaid with niello.
Object history note
In form the sword of Shah Tahmasp closely resembles that of the Ottoman sultan, Mehmed II, in Topkapi. The latter is designed to be held with two hands and given the weight of Shah Tahmasp's sword, and its poor balance in its present form, it seems likely according to Allen (Hunt for Paradise, 2003) that it was designed as a two-handed weapon, and that it originally had a much longer hilt.
The inscription on the back of the sword contains the lineage of Shah Tahmasp. The historical texts attest to various different geneologies for Shah Isma'il, and thus for the Safavid dynasty but this is the most common version, taking his lineage back to the Shi'ite Imam Musa al-Kazim, and by implication back to the Prophet's son-in-law, 'Ali, and to his wife Fatima, the prophet's daughter.
Sword of Shah Tahmasp and scabbard, Iran, 1524-76.
Bibliographic References (Citation, Note/Abstract, NAL no)
Tim Stanley ed., with Mariam Rosser-Owen and Stephen Vernoit, Palace and Mosque: Islamic Art from the Middle East, London, V&A Publications, 2004; pp. 27, 28, plate 36
Lord Egerton of Tatton, Indian and Oriental Armour, London, 1896, p. 144, Cat. No. 755
Anthony North, An Introduction to Islamic Arms, London 1985, fig. 24, p.30
Labels and date
Sword of Shah Tahmasp and Scabbard
The genealogy of Shah Tahmasp is inscribed on the back edge of the blade. His lineage is traced back to Musa al-Kazim, one of the Fourteen Immaculates, and a descendant of Muhammad.
The inscriptions on the blade itself give the whole of the chapter of the Qur'an called 'Victory'. Swords and other arms were emblazoned with quotations from the Qur'an because they could be used in defending the lands of Islam, which was a religious duty.
The blade has been shortened, and the profile altered.
Watered steel and gold, ivory, stamped leather over wood, nielloed silver
Museum no. 3378(IS):1&2. Presented by Colonel Pennington, 1885 [Jameel Gallery]
Ex India Museum, presented by a Col. Pennington in 1855 and said to have come from Lahore
Steel; Gold; Leather; Ivory; Silver
Hammered; Inlay; Stamped
Arms & Armour
Middle East Section