Sword from the Arsenal of Alexandria
Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, NY
About the work
This is a rare Medieval sword for which we have a detailed provenance. One part of the blade is marked with a cross and the letter “w.” The cross indicates an original Christian owner, and the style of the sword indicates it was made in Europe. An inscription on the blade reads, in Arabic, “Donation of al-Mālik al Mu
ayyad Abū al-Nasr Shaykh to the armory in the frontier city of Alexandria [in the] year 822 [A.D. 1419]." From that, and from the physical evidence of the weapon itself, we can surmise that a European swordsmith fashioned this steel blade and steel-and-wood hilt sometime before 1419. Possibly, a North African soldier took this sword as booty after a Crusades-era clash with a European army in the Aegan or the Levant. Or perhaps, the king of Cyprus sent this sword to the Sultan as tribute. Either way, in 1419, al-Mālik al Muayyad Abū al-Nasr Shaykh donated the sword to the Mamluk armory in Alexandria. There, it joined a large collection of other European arms. At the time, the Mediterranean port city of Alexandria in Egypt was on the frontier between the Mamluks and the Byzantines and Ottomans to the north. By the mid-1500s, the Ottomans had captured the sword as part of their defeat of the Mamluks. It resided in the Ottoman Arsenal in Istanbul until 1922, when that empire was just about to fall. At that time, a New York buyer purchased it and brought it to the United States, bequeathing it to the Metropolitan Museum of Art upon his 1928 death.
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