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Scimitar

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Period: 17th–18th centuries
Medium: steel (blade), bronze (hilt, scabbard), velvet
Origin: Iran
Dimensions: length: 93 cm

This scimitar is known in Chinese as a waist sword (yaodao). The hilt and scabbard are made of gilded bronze with embellishments while a large portion of the scabbard is covered in velvet. The hilt has exquisite designs of the heads of four strange beasts with red eyes made of inlaid gems (or glass). The scabbard is fitted with a belt. The part of the blade nearest the hilt has a rhombic frame with a three-line Persian inscription in gold that reads Amal-e Asadollāh Isfahāni, indicating that the sword was made by a man with the name Asadollāh from the city of Isfahān.

An accompanying white leather label is inscribed with four scripts. The Chinese inscription states that the Panchen Lama presented this sword from Sindhu (Chinese Xizhu, i.e., India) as a gift to the Qianlong Emperor (r. 1736–1795) at the Palace of Tranquil Longevity (Ningshou gong) in the Forbidden City on the twenty-seventh day of the tenth lunar month of the forty-fifth year (1780). According to the label inscription, the sword was presented by the Panchen Lama while the Persian inscription notes Isfahān as the place of origin. Isfahān is the oldest and most well-known city of Iran. In the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, the city belonged to the Safavid dynasty (1501–1736), during which it flourished as one of the most prosperous urban centers in the world. The sixth Panchen Lama must have obtained the Persian scimitar while still in Tibet and then added it to the many gifts he presented to the emperor. The sword is not only physical evidence of intercourse between Chinese and Tibetan ethnic groups but also exemplifies historical exchange between Tibet and Persia. Archives entitled Records of Palace Works (Huoji dang) from the Imperial Household Department’s workshops record how the Qianlong Emperor believed the sword originally had velvet on the scabbard and a matching belt, so he made special orders for artisans to prepare purple velvet for the cover and a gold-thread belt. Consequently, the current scabbard-design and belt are the result of the Qing court’s alteration.

Chinese entry by Ma Shengnan
Translated and edited by Adam J. Ensign and Zhuang Ying

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