Persian Shamshirs in the State Hermitage Museum of Saint Petersburg in 2014 by Dr. Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani

Next to Iranian museums the State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg has one of the most beautiful collections of Persian shamshirs in their collection. The following article below by Dr. Manouchehr M. Khorasani (see also his article on the subject in shows some of these magnificent pieces:


A 19th century ritual sword (šamšir-e mostāqim: straight sword)  from Iran (Source: M. Khorasani Consulting). It was acquired in 1931 and was formerly held in the collection of Count Sergey Sheremekev’s collection.

A magnificent Persian shamshir with a Safavid period blade and Qajar-period fittings. the State Hermitage Museum provides the following description:

Steel, gold, leather, precios stones, enamel, forging, casting, chasing, carving. Iran, First half of the 19th century. Acquired in 1885-1886 from the Armoury of Tsarskoye Selo“.


The bolčāq ﺒﻠﭽﺎﻖ (crossguard) of the shamsir is made of gold and inserted with diamonds and precious stones as well as the kolāhak (pommel cap).  The handle slabs are made of ivory. The book Lexicon of Arms and Armor from Iran: A Study of Symbols and Terminology, Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani (2010) provides the following information on the term bolčāq ﺒﻠﭽﺎﻖ:

bolčāq ﺒﻠﭽﺎﻖ: (Haft Darviš) (n) handguard, crossguard of a sword; the term bolčāq is also used in the manuscript on futuvvat called “Haft Darviš” (seven dervish) which was probably written in naskh and is undated (Afshari & Madayeni, 1381:123).  Afshari and Madayeni (1381:123-4) attribute this book to the 11th or 12th century (17 or 18 A.D.) as it belonged to the library of Etezadol Saltane (the minister of science and mines) in 1296 hegira (1876 A.D.).  Afshari and Madayeni (1381:184) quote from this manuscript which says that one day a butcher who was a jawanmard went to Ali, kissed his hand and asked for help saying that his kārd became blunt very quickly.  Ali touched the bolčāq of his Zulfagar (the famous legendary sword attributed to Ali), rubbing it so long that a kardmal (a knife sharpener) was created.  Afshari and Madayeni (1381:184) further explain that bolčāq is originally a Turkic term describing the handguard which separates the qabze (handle) from the sword’s blade, tiqe-ye šamšir.


The magnificent Persian crucible Damascus steel blade as the pattern of Kirk nardeban (forty steps/rungs) in the western literature.  Persian manuscripts call this patttern pulād-e jŏhardār-e qerq nardebān : (New Persian) (n + adj + adj + n) watered steel with ladder pattern; a type of crucible steel with ladder pattern; known as forty ladder rungs (Romanowsky,1967b/1346:78).  Note that pulād ﭘﻮﻻﺩ (n) means “steel,” jŏharﺟﻭﻫﺮ(n) means “watered steel,” dār ﺪﺍﺭ derives from the verb dāštan ﺩﺍﺷﺘﻦ (to have), qerqﻗﺮﻖ (adj) means “fourty,” and nardebān ﻧﺮﺩﺑﺎﻥ (n) means “ladder”  This pattern is also known as čehlband  ﭼﻬﻞﺑﻨﺪ (forty straps) (see Lexicon of Arms and Armor from Iran; A Study of Symbols and Terminology (2010) by Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani, Tübingen: Legat Verlag.  For a detailed discussion of this pattern see Arms and Armor from Iran: The Bronze Age to the End of the Qajar Period (2006) by Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani, Tübungen: Legat Verlag.


The blade has a beautiful gold-inlaid maker’s mark which reads “amal-e Assadollāh Esfahāni (Isfahāni)” : (the work of Assadollāh Esfahāni).

This maker’s mark appears on a number of high quality Persian swords.  Other variants of this signature also exist as amal-e Assadollāh  (the work of Assadollāh), Amal-e Assad Esfahāni (the work of Assad Esfahāni), and Assadollāh Esfahāni (Assadollāh Esfahāni) – for more information see Moshtagh Khorasani (2006:156-163).  Dated swords with this maker’s mark complicate the issue even more.  There are seven dated examples that, rather than solving the mystery behind the smith Assadollāh’s life, only complicate the matter as the time span over which these swords are purported to have been constructed is too long for a normal human life, let alone the active life of a smith.  Among the swords discussed in the book Arms and Armor from Iran: The Bronze Age to the End of the Qajar Period, the earliest date is 992 Hegira (1583 C.E.), and the latest is 1135 Hegira (1722 C.E.), a time span of 139 years (Moshtagh Khorasani, 2006:156-163).  Even the positioning of the individual words in this phrase varies from sword to sword.  Taking all these factors into consideration, it seems unlikely or even fundamentally implausible that a single smith named Assadollāh produced all these blades.  It seems feasible and probable that “Assadollāh” ﺍﺴﺪﺍﷲwas a title of honor signifying the highest level of mastery in swordmaking.  The theory that some of these inscriptions were counterfeited to add to the value of a sword may be true of later swords bearing cartouches where one finds poorly executed inlayings or even overlayings, but all examples presented in the book mentioned above have inscriptions with finely executed calligraphy and workmanship and exhibit outstanding inlaying techniques.  If one assumes that the name “Assadollāh” ﺍﺴﺪﺍﷲwas the highest title given to an Iranian smith who had attained a very high level of mastery in making swords, the mystery of the existence of a variety of handwriting and calligraphy styles over a long period of time appears to be solved.  As mentioned by Mayer (1957-9:1), a person counterfeiting a fraudulent cartouche would most likely imitate the original as precisely as possible in order to deceive buyers since he attempted to sell his swords under a fake name.  Additionally, a counterfeiter would surely have ensured that the date on forged cartouches exactly matched the era of Šāh Abbās Safavid if there were only one famous smith named Assadollāh during the relevant period.  Another fact reinforcing the hypothesis that “Assadollāh” ﺍﺴﺪﺍﷲwas presumably an honorary title bestowed during the Safavid period is that there are three dated swords bearing the phrase of Amal-e Assdollah Esfahāni from the same time period, namely Amal-e Assadollāh Esfahāni 116, Amal-e Assadollāh Esfahāni 117  , and Amal-e Assadollāh Esfahāni and Bande-ye Šah-e velāyat Abbās saneye 135 (see Moshtagh Khorasani, 2006:156-163), all originating during the period of Šāh Sultan Hossein Safavid, who ruled from 1105-1135 Hegira (1694-1722 A.D.).  However, all three swords look different in many respects, especially regarding the handwriting style.  This is further evidence that, at least during the period of Šāh Soltān Hussein Safavid’s reign, various smiths signed blades using the signature Amal-e Assadollāh Esfahāni and further corroborates the theory that Assadollāh  ﺍﺴﺪﺍﷲwas, indeed, an honorary title.  . . . . . . .

For more information on this topic read the entry amal-e Assadollāh Esfahāni in the Lexicon of Arms and Armor from Iran; A Study of Symbols and Terminology (2010) by Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani, Tübingen: Legat Verlag. For more information see:

Moshtagh Khorasani, Manouchehr (2010). Persian Swordmakers (Armeiros Persas). In: Rites of Power: Oriental Arms(Rituais de Poder: Armas Orientais), Casal de Cambra: Caleidoscópio, pp. 41-55.


Moshtagh Khorasani, Manouchehr (2013). Les Légendaires Forgerons Iraniens Assadollȃh et Kalbeali. La Revue de Téhéran Mensuel Culturel Iranien en Langue Française. No. 90, 8e Annee, Mai 2013, pp. 20-40.

The next gold-inlaid cartouch is the symbol of bodduh in numbers;

bodduhﺒﺩﻭﺡ : (Dehkhoda) (n) the name of a genie or an angel who can do miraculous things, whose name is written by letters or numbers in occult sciences.  Certain characteristics are attributed to this angel. For example, if one writes its name on an envelope, the letter will certainly arrive.  Therefore, it serves as the angel for protecting the letters.  It is a secret telesm ﻂﻠﺴﻢ(talisman).  The are certain beliefs regarding this sign.  For example, when a traveller has this sign, he would be able to travel day and night without getting tired, or a pregnant woman would be able to give birth without fearing a miscarriage.  The term bodduh ﺒﺩﻭﺡ is also used to conjure feelings of love.  It consists of the even numbers 2, 4, 6, 8 or 8, 6, 4, 2.  The numbers are equivalent to the lettersﺐ, ﺩ, ﻭ, and ﺡ of huruf-e jomal ﺠﻤﻝ ﺣﺮﻭﻑ.  Anandeaj reports that bodduh is the name of an angel who died and left this world and whose name is gold-inlaid on swords and daggers and is used for protection. (Digital Lexicon of Dehkhoda).  For more information on this topic read the entry bodduhﺒﺩﻭﺡ in the Lexicon of Arms and Armor from Iran; A Study of Symbols and Terminology (2010) by Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani, Tübingen: Legat Verlag.


For another classification of Persian crucible steel see:

Moshtagh Khorasani, Manouchehr (2011). Tabaqebandi-ye Fulād-de Johardār bar Asās-e Nosxehā-ye Xatti (Classification of Persian Watered Steel on the Basis of Old Manuscripts). Journal of the Iranian Studies. Faculty of Literature and Humanities. Šahid Bāhonar University of Kermān. Volume 9, Number 18, Autumn 2010, pp. 243-281.


Varband (scabbard fittings) are also made of called and inserted with diamonds.


The wooden scabbard consists of two parts glued to each other and covered with the precious  sāqari ﺳﺎﻏﺭﻯ or kimoxt ﻜﻴﻤﺧﺖ (shagreen leather), which is the skin of the back of the horse and donkey that is used as a special leather.  The book  Lexicon of Arms and Armor from Iran; A Study of Symbols and Terminology (2010) (Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani, Tübingen: Legat Verlag) provides the following entry on this type of leather:

sāqari ﺳﺎﻏﺭﻯ: (Rostam al Tavārix) (n) shagreen leather (Āsef, 2003/1382:90). Shagreen leather was often made from the skin of jackass (donkey) hindquarters.  According to Dehkhoda, saqari ﺳﺎﻏﺭﻯ is a type of leather made of the hide of jackass hindquarters.  Its surface is rough.  Saqari ﺳﺎﻏﺭﻯ can be obtained from the hindquarters of a horse as well as zebra hide.  With regard to the processing and tanning of shagreen leather, Chardin (268) states that significant amounts of this leather was made in Iran and exported to the Indies (India), Turkey, and neighboring kingdoms.  He states that shagreen was made from jackass (donkey) hindquarters, and a seed called toxm casbini, (seed of casbin that is said to be black, hard, and larger than the mustard seed).  Toxm ﺗﺨﻡ stands for both “egg” and “seed” in Farsi as Chardin rightly says.  He further states that the name shagreen comes from the Persian word saqari, meaning “hindquarters.”  According to Chardin, this was the name of any animal they rode on, similar to the English word “steed,” and this name was given to this sort of hide because it was made of an jackass’s hindquarters.  The coarse hides were dressed by tanners with lime.  They used salt and galls in the tanning process instead of bark, which, according to Chardin, was sufficient due to the hot Iranian climate.  Floor (2003:383) quotes Olmer, who stated that sagari was primarily prepared in Yazd and describes it as a type of tanned leather made of the skins of a horse or donkey and, sometimes, even that of a cow.  The cleaning of the skin was performed using almost the same method as that used for sheepskin.  Olmer explained that before applying the barley treatment to the skin, the tanners covered them with small, dried grains and let them dry.  The grains worked their way into the skin, resulting in unevenness of the surface and a grained appearance.  After the skins dried, they were soaked in water with fermenting barley, causing them to swell.  The workers, then, used somāq ﺴﻤﺎﻖ leaves (rhum coriaria) for the tanning process.  Olmer reports that these leaves contained much tannin.  Floor (2003:383) also quotes Consul Abbot, who provides more information on the making of shagreen leather in Esfahān.  He said that this leather was made from the raw hides of horses.  They spread the wet skin on a level surface, threw small, round seeds over it, and trod upon it.  After the skin partially dried, they shook off the seeds, shaving the surface of the hide to remove all but the indented parts that gradually rose again to their former level, producing the bumps on the shagreen.  Then, they applied a preparation of copper and sal ammoniac to the reverse side, which penetrated to the front, coloring it green.



The scabbard chape tah-e qalāf is also made of gold.


This Persian shamshir has engraved and gold-inlaid spatulated quillons.  The pommel cap is also gold-inlaid.  The handle slabs are made of walrus ivory.  The blade is made of Persian crucible damascus steel. The blade has three cartouches.  The upper and middle cartouches are the original ones from the Safavid period to the blade and are gold inlaid.  The lower cartouche is gold-overlaid and added to the blade during the early Qajar period.

The upper cartouche reads bande-ye šāh-e velāyat Safi . The book “Lexicon of Arms and Armor from Iran: A Study of Symbols and Terminology” provides the following entry for this phrase:

bande-ye šāh-e velāyat Safi : (New Persian)(n + n + n + n) literally means, “The subject/ slave of the kingdom/ dominion/trusteeship of Ali, Safi.”  This translates into the following:  “Safi is the representative of Ali’s rule and acts on his behalf.”  Note that bande ﺑﻨﺪﻩ (n) means “slave/subject,” šāh ﺷﺎﻩ (n) means “king,” and velāyat ﻮﻻﻴﺕ (n) means “country, trusteeship,” and Safi ﺼﻔﻰ (n) is a king’s name.  ……

For the same cartouche on royal pieces of Iranian Military Museums see “Arms and Armor from Iran: The Bronze Age to the End of the Qajar Period” (Moshtagh Khorasani, 2006444, cat.80; 446, cat.81; 448, cat.82).


The gold-inlaid cartouche in the middle reads Yekšanbe Helāl Šahr Kār Mehr Ali which means “Sunday the first day of the month the work of Mehr Ali.”

Note that a smith named Mehr Ali made a dated pišqabz in 1109 hijra, dedicated to Mohammad Mehdi Khan Zand.  For more information and to see the dagger consult the book “Arms and Armor from Iran: The Bronze Age to the End of the Qajar Period”, Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani, 2006, which explains:

The date, 1190 hegira, is 1776 A.D.[1]  Additionally, the name of the owner is engraved on the back of the blade close to the handle: Sahebe Mohammad Mehdi Khan Zand (The owner Mohammad Mehdi Khan Zand).  The name of the smith is gold inlaid on the blade and reads, “Mehr Ali.”  There is a spade-shaped eyelet at the base of the handle with engraved inscriptions on one side, Howal Kafi (one of the names of God, meaning that God is independent and without needs), and on the other side, Howal Bagi (another attribute of God, meaning that he is eternal).

[1]  This is within the reign of Karim Khan Zand, who ruled from 1163–1193 A.D. (1750–1779 A.D.) (see Safaraz & Avarzamani, 2004/1383:275).


The lowest cartouche is the royal seal of Fath Ali Shah Qajar which reads “Abu al Seif al Soltān Fath Ali Šāh Qājār” (The father of the sword Fath Ali Shah Qajar).  A number of royal shamshirs attributed to Fath Ali Shah Qajar which are kept in the Military Museum of Tehran have the same cartouche which is the royal seal of Fath Ali Shah Qajat.  To see these examples see “Arms and Armor from Iran: The Bronze Age to the End of the Qajar Period”, Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani, 2006, Tübingen: Legat Verlag.


A Persian shamshir with a typical wedge-shaped blade with a high curve. The handle slabs are made of ivory.


The blade has a beautiful crucible damascus blade with the pattern pulād-e jŏhardār-e mošabak, watered steel with net pattern; a type of crucible steel with woodgrain pattern (Romanowsky, 1967b/1346:78).  For more information on this pattern see  Lexicon of Arms and Armor from Iran; A Study of Symbols and Terminology (2010) by Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani, Tübingen: Legat Verlag.

For another classification of Persian crucible steel see:

Moshtagh Khorasani, Manouchehr(2007). The Magnificent Beauty of Edged Weapons Made with Persian Watered Steel.Journal of Asian Martial Arts, 9 Volume 16, number 3, pp. 8–21.


The Persian blade has three catouches: The upper cartouche is a bodduh sin in numbers. The lower is a maker’s mark amal-e Assadollāh (Work of Assadollah), The carouche in themiddle reads: bande-ye šāh-e velāyat Abbās.

For the meaning of this pharse see the entry bande-ye šāh-e velāyat Abbās from the book Lexicon of Arms and Armor from Iran; A Study of Symbols and Terminology (2010) by Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani, Tübingen: Legat Verlag:

bande-ye šāh-e velāyat Abbās: (New Persian) (n + n + n + n) literally means, “The subject/ slave of the kingdom/ dominion/trusteeship of Ali, Abbās.”  This translates into the following:  “Abbās is the representative of Ali’s rule and acts on his behalf.”  Note that bande ﺑﻨﺪﻩ (n) means “slave/subject,” šāh ﺷﺎﻩ (n) means “king,” and velāyat ﻮﻻﻴﺕ (n) means “country, trusteeship,” and Abbās ﻋﺒﺎﺱ (n) is a king’s name.  For this inscription see Moshtagh Khorasani (2006b:430, cat.70; 432, cat. 73, 434, cat. 74; 435, cat. 75; 436, cat. 76; 438, cat. 78; 441, cat. 79; 451, cat.85; 453, cat.86; 454, cat.87; 456, cat.89; 475, cat.107; 481, cat.112; 526, cat.151; 541, cat.162).

Also part of the next entry from the same book:

bande-ye šāh-e velāyat : (New Persian) (n + n + n) the slave/subject of the king of that country/trusteeship.  Note that bande ﺑﻨﺪﻩ(n) means “slave/subject,” šāh ﺷﺎﻩ(n) means “king,” and velāyat ﻮﻻﻴﺕ(n) means “country, trusteeship.”  This is a phrase that frequently appears on Safavid blades is bande-ye šāh-e velāyat… in combination with the name of the Safavid king who ruled at that time.  The phrase amal-e Assadollāh appears often with the phrase bande-ye šāh-e velāyat Abbās .  According to Digital Lexicon of Dehkhoda, bande ﺑﻨﺪﻩ means “subject” or “slave.”  Obviously, people who serve or inhabit the realm ruled by a king are his subjects.  velāyat ﻮﻻﻴﺕmeans “kingdom” or “ruled land”; therefore, a king has a velāyat  ﻮﻻﻴﺕ  to rule.  Dehkhoda further states that the person to whom velāyat-e Ali relates considers himself the representative of Imām Ali and, consequently, rules and governs on his behalf.



A Persian shamshir with a steel handle and a highly curved blade. The State Hermitage Museum states that this shamshir was acquired in 1885-1886.  It was formerly held in the Armoury of Tsarskoye Selo.


The gold-inlaid maker’s mark reads “amale-e Kalbeali Esfahāni 1019” (The work of Kalbeaöo Isfahani 1019).   1019 stands for the Gregorian year 1610-1611- For more information see part of the entry amal-e Kalbeali from the book Lexicon of Arms and Armor from Iran; A Study of Symbols and Terminology (2010) by Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani, Tübingen: Legat Verlag:

amal-e Kalbeali: (New Persian) (n + n) the work of Kalbeali (dog of Ali).  Note that amal ﻋﻤﻞ (n) means “work,” kalbﻜﻟﺐ (n) means “dog,” and Ali ﻋﻟﻰ (n) is the name of Hazrat-e Ali.  The expression “The dog of Ali” is used to show the devotion of the maker to Hazrat Ali , the first Imam of the Shiites.  This maker’s mark is also a mystery as different swords with different handwriting and calligraphy with this maker’s mark exist.  The existence of different phrases of the signature of “Kalbeali” indicates that there were, indeed, different smiths who signed their swords with this title.  There are three different types: a) amal-e Kalbali , b) amale-e Kalbeali Esfahāni, and c) amal-e Kalb-e Ali ibn Assad-e Esfahāni.  The name “Kalbeali” is sometimes written as one word asﻜﻠﺒﻌﻠﻰ, and it is written in two words on other cartouches as well as ﻋﻠﻰﻜﻠﺐ.   Even the reference to the father, Assadollāh, is different.  One cartouche bears the expression, Ibn Assad Esfahāni  , whereas another cartouche reads, Ibn Assad Zahābdār .  The inscription, Valad-e Kalbeali ibn Assad Zahābdār, reveals that the smith wanted to stress that his grandfather had the title “Assadollāh” ﺍﺴﺪﺍﷲ, the highest level, or wanted to stress that he was a seyyed (descendant of the Prophet Mohammad’s family), for a detailed discussion of the maker’s mark of Kalbeali ﻜﻠﺒﻌﻠﻰ, see Moshtagh Khorasani (2006:163-167).  Assuming that Assadollāh ﺍﺴﺪﺍﷲ was an honorary title, one is faced with the problem of interpreting the phrase Amal-e Kalbeali ebn Assad  (“the work of Kalbeali the son of Assad”).  In this regard, Mayer (1957-9:2) states that there were two sons of Assadollāh ﺍﺴﺪﺍﷲ, Kalbeali ﻛﻠﺒﻌﻠﻰ and Esmāil ﺍﺴﻣﺎﻋﻳﻞ.  He asserts that only one blade is signed “The work of Esmāil son of Assadollāh. ………………………”

The blade has also a gold-inlaid bodduh sign in numbers.



A Persian shamshir with a curved blade and a raised backedge (yalman). The handle is the shape of karabela hilt. The downward quillons end up in dragon heads. The State Hermitage Museum attributes this shamshir to the late 17 century (or early 18th century) and adds that it was acquired in 1885-1886. It was formerly held in the Armoury of Tsarskoye Selo.


The handle slabs are made of ivory with  the steel crossguard decorated with gold-overlaid floral design.


The blade has an engraved and gold-inlaid maker’s mark amal-e Mesri Mo’alam.  For this maker’s mark see the book Lexicon of Arms and Armor from Iran; A Study of Symbols and Terminology (2010) by Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani, Tübingen: Legat Verlag which provides the following entry:

amal-e Mesri Mo’alam or amal-e Mo’alam Mesri : (New Persian) (n + n + n) the work of Mesri Mo’alam or the work of Mo’lam Mesri.  Note that amal (n) means “work” and Mesri Mo’alam (n) is a name.  A sword signed by amal-e Mesri and attributed to Sāh Safi is kept in the Military Museum of Tehran.  For more information see Moshtagh Khorasani (2006:444, cat. 80; 538, cat.159).

The forte of the blade is also gold-overlaid in floral design and also the inscription in Persian reads:

Ze huše Falātun domaš tiztar [upper part]

Ze abruye deldār xunriz tar [lower part]

Its edge [literally, tail] is sharper than the intelligence of Plato!  It sheds more blood than the eyebrows[1] of the beloved.
[1] Persian literature always refers to eyebrows as one of the physical beauties of women (author’s observation).  For the same inscription on Persian qaddāres see Arms and Armor from Iran: The Bronze Age to the End of the Qajar Period by Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani, 2006, Tübingen: Legat Verlag.


A highly curved Persian shamshir with a handle with walrus ivory slabs. It has a wooden scabbard covered with shagreen leather. The State Hermitage Museum attributes this shamshir to the first half of the 18 century and adds that it from the Winter Palace. The crossguard (bolčāq) has an engraved inscription Bismellah al Rahman al Rahim (In the name of God, most benevolent, ever-merciful) in the gilded background.


A highly curved Persian shamshir with a handle with walrus ivory slabs. The State Hermitage Museum attributes this shamshir to the 17- 18 century and adds that it from the Winter Palace. The crossguard (bolčāq) is beautifully gold-overlaid with the inscription Bismellah al Rahman al Rahim (In the name of God, most benevolent, ever-merciful).


A Persian shamshir made of crucible steel with a raised backedge (yalman).  The handle slabs are made of walrus ivory.  The steel crossguard is decorated with gilded image of a lion hunting a deer (for a detailed explanation of this symbol see “Arms and Armor from Iran: The Bronze Age to the End of the Qajar Period” by Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani (2006).


The upper gold-overlaid cartouche reads Bismellah al Rahman al Rahim( In the name of God, most benevolent, ever-merciful). The length of the blade is gold-overlaid with a Persian poem.


For a technical analysis of Persian crucible steel see:

Moshtagh Khorasani, Manouchehr and Zahra Karamad (2008). The Microstructure and Elements of Persian Crucible Steel, Pāyām-e Bāstānšenās (Journal of the Archaeology of the Islamic Azad University of Abhar), Volume 5, No. 9. Spring and Summer 2008, pp. 6–26.


A highly-curved Persian shamshir with a typical wedge-shaped blade. The wooden scabbard is covered with shagreen leather.


The handle slabs are made of walrus ivory and the steel crossguard and pommel cap are engraved. The State Hermitage Museum attributes this shamshir to the 18 century and adds that it was acquired in 1885-1886.  It was formerly held in the Armoury of Tsarskoye Selo.


A highly-curved Persian shamshir with downward quillions and a karabella hilt. The crossguard is made of steel and decorated with gilded floral design.  The handle slabs are made of stag horn.

The blade is made of Persian crucible damascus steel and has a central fuller. The State Hermitage Museum in Saint Petersburg attributes this shamshir to the 19 century and states that it is from the Winter Palace.


A straight sword šamšir-e mostāqim from the second half of the 19th century. It was acquired in 1926 from the Marble Palace. The handle is made of steel with downward quillons.  For a detailed analysis of this types of swords see “Arms and Armor from Iran: The Bronze Age to the End of the Qajar Period” (Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani, 2006, Tübingen: Legat Verlag):

“Lebedynsky (1992:56) provides a brief analysis on Qajar straight swords.  He states that the later straight swords (such as Qajar straight swords) share the same features as their medieval ancestors.  These Iranian swords of the 17th and 18th century have blades with a rounded tip, downward quillions, and a three-lobe pommel and, thus, share the same feature of the grip as on some older swords”.

For more information on Iranian straight swords also see:


A 19 century ritual sword (šamšir-e mostāqim: straight sword) from Iran. It is from the Winter Palace.

For another article on Iranian straight swords see:

Moshtagh Khorasani, Manouchehr(2008). Dragons Teeth: The Straight Swords of Persia. Classic Arms and Militaria, Volume XV Issue 1, pp. 21–25.

Moshtagh Khorasani, Manouchehr and Iván Szántó (2012). Straight Swords in Iran: A Continuing Tradition (A perzs pallos: egy töretln hagyomány). In: Persian Treasures – Hungarian Collections (Perzsa Kincsk – Magyar Gyüjtemények), pp. 39-51.


A 19 century ritual sword (šamšir-e mostāqim: straight sword)  from Iran. It was acquired in 1931 and was formerly held in the collection of Count Sergey Sheremekev’s collection.

The Iranian Army: 1900-1921

Prior to World War One (1914-1918; also known as the Great War) Iran lacked a single unified standing army capable of resisting military invasions, a situation that lasted until 1921.

When the Great War ended in 1918, Iran’s military situation was dire. There were now four distinct military forces, in which each acted according to different interests: (1) the Qajar government national army (2) the Persian Cossacks (3) the South Persia Rifles and (4) the Gendarmerie.

(1) The Qajar Government force. Nominally the “national army”, this was in fact a highly ineffective force. Military equipment (especially guns and cannon) were mostly outdated and of substandard quality. Iranian arsenals were also poorly managed. The last military acquisitions were Austrian artillery pieces that had been delivered to Iran in 1898 (negotiations for more purchases had been made in 1901). Iranian troops were still using obsolete percussion and matchlocks, but there were numbers of more modern Snider and Martini (single-shot breech-loading) rifles becoming available.

1-Qajar troops-Germanic helmetsVery interesting photo of an assembly of Qajar troops prior to World War One; these troops show marked imperial German influence as seen by a number of troops wearing “Germanic” type helmets. The backpacks of the above troops resemble those worn by imperial German and Austro-Hungarian troops (Source: Russian Guns.Ru website).

The Iranian military of the early 1900s was in a desperate state. While Iran had on paper a total of 150,000 troops at Mozzafar e Din Shah’s time, barely a fraction of such troops could be raised when World War One began in 1914. The few available troops were hardly effective as a fighting force. Farjollah Hosseini, the Chief Consul of Iran to England in the early 1900s summarized the desperate state of the Iranian military as follows:

“…the military office is nominally 70,000 men but is officially nil as numbers of our formations have never seen service…it would take six months to get our army to move if we were to mobilize available formations. We have no weapons, no ammunition reserves, no military schools…no military regulations, no factories and no battleships” [Unit for the Publication of Documents-Office of International Political Studies, 1991, pp. 92]

While Hosseini’s observations regarding military factories and schools were somewhat exaggerated, much of what he told the British was accurate. Many Iranian officers lacked knowledge of modern military doctrines, and most troops were poorly trained and disciplined, and morale was low.

Qajar TroopsA small Qajar army detachment prepares to march (Source: قشون‌ نظامی ایران در زمان قاجار and Public Domain). Note the slovenly state of their appearance, such as boots, gear on belts (or lack of), unkempt uniforms (note person in the rear with oversized military coat). Due in large part to the Qajar administration’s mis-management, cronyism and corruption, the Iranian army by the early 20th century was poorly equipped and trained to defend the country’s borders against Russian, Ottoman and British (or British-Indian) intrusions. 

By the onset of the First World War, the Qajar army had ceased to be an effective military force capable of combating and repelling invasions from modern and well-equipped foreign armies.

Qajar Army Music BandFrench postcard with photograph of a Qajar military band attired in red-blue uniforms (Source: Fouman).

A serious obstacle against serious military reform was corruption in just the militayr apparatus but the Qajar government and society as a whole. Put simply, corrupt officials in important posts (civilian and military) often placed their personal wealth, personal interests and status ahead of their country’s interests. As a result, regular army troops, conscripts and levies continued to suffer from arrears in pay. The army even failed to provide its troops with adequate food, housing and a whole host of other essential services. To make matters worse, these same troops would also often see their personal income pocketed by their corrupt officers. Forced to make ends meet, Iranian soldiers were thus forced to engage in low-level vocational services and odd-jobs in the civilian sector such as hard labour and gardening. All of this meant time taken away from regular military training and preparedness. All of this in turn translated to increasing anger and resentment among ordinary Iranian troops.

Selling bread Tehran qajar eraShopkeepers at a bread outlet in a Tehran street in the early 20th century (Source: Due to arrears in payments or outright theft of monthly payments by their superior Qajar officers, many regular troops had to find other jobs just to make ends meet. 

The weaknesses of Qajar army forces allowed for foreign governments to invade Iran at will and to  sponsor breakaway movements on Iranian soil.

Tribal levies normally support the central government but increasing Qajar weakness and disorganization in Tehran meant that recruiting these troops for the regular army became increasingly difficult. Thus, while these warriors remained effective in combatting (though not stemming) foreign invaders, tribal warriors became increasingly beholden to the security issues of their respective local provinces rather than the country as a whole.

(2) The Persian Cossack Brigade. This was first formed in 1879, with the arrival of Colonel Alexei Ivanovich Dumantovich to Tehran with a Cossack contingent. The Persian Cossacks were essentially modeled and trained by Imperial Russia. These were essentially under Russian command and served imperial Russian interests in Iran.

1-Persian Cossack reviewElements of the Persian Cossack Brigade in Tehran sometime in the early 20th century, possibly in the 1910s prior to World War One; note the Persian sabres (Source: Russian Guns.Ru website).

The Persian Cossacks supported Czarist actions in suppressing the Constitutional Movement in Iran – notably the infamous bombing of Iran’s democratically elected Majlis (Parliament) by Colonel Vladimir Platonovitch Liakhov on June 23, 1908. The Persian Cossacks were finally disbanded on December 6, 1921.

(3) The South Persia Rifles (S.P.R.). This force had been formed by the British Empire by Fall 1916 on Iranian soil during World War One. Led mainly by British officers,  the S.P.R. worked to safeguard British interests (for the main part) in southern Iran, notably the Persian Gulf coastline and the new oil industry in Khuzestan province.

2-South Persian RiflesInteresting photograph (1917?) of British and Iranian officers of the South Persia Rifles (S.P.R.) of Shiraz, under the command of Lieut.-Col. W. A. K. Fraser, M.C., of the Central India Horse (Source: The Illustrated First World War). Note the description in the above photograph which clearly outlines the S.P.R.s objectives: “Guarding Our Interests in the Land of the Shah: officers of the South Persian Rifles”.

The S.P.R. had first recruited approximately 8000 Iranians and Indians into its force. Units of the S.P.R. were then stationed in Fars, Kerman and Bandar Abbas. The S.P.R. proved critical in suppressing anti-British revolts in the south during the war. At its height, this force was to have a maximum size of 11,000 thousand troops. Many Iranian politicians opposed the S.P.R., noting that this force was the British version of the Persian Cossack Brigade. London had assured that the S.P.R. would be turned over to Iranian control after the conclusion of the First World War. The force was finally disbanded in October 1921.

(4) The Gendarmerie. The Iranian parliament had voted as early as 1910 to hire officers from neutral countries with Sweden  soon chosen for the task. The Swedish mission led by Colonel H.O. Hjalmarsen arrived in Iran by May 1911 to quickly work towards building an indigenous Iranian gendarmerie. The mission proved successful.

Iranian Gendarmes-75 mm gunsThe most effective force of the Iranian military prior to and during World war One: the Gendarmerie – above are Iranian Gendarmerie posing with two 75mm (Shneider-Cruesot?) in Tehran prior to World War One (Picture Source: Morgan Shuster, The Strangling of Persia, T. Fisher Unwin, London, 1913, pp. 144, 152). Despite being a para-military force, the Iranian Gendarmes fought very well against opponents who enjoyed superiority in numbers and military equipment.  For more on the Iranian Gendarmerie, consult Stephanie Cronin’s article in the Encylopedia Iranica.

The Gendarmerie proved to be a highly motivated and relatively efficient force. These were the only forces loyal to the country and took no orders from Russia or Britain. They were however, a small force and despite their good training, lacked heavy weapons which prevented them from being able to repel foreign invasions.

Military Reform: Continuing Challenges until 1921

A serious problem for Iran was foreign, namely British and Russian interference: neither wished for Iran to have a strong, unified and modern national army. The British however, shifted their position, especially after the Bolsheviks overthrew the Czarist regime in Russia in 1917.

The Russians (Czarist and their Soviet successors) remained unfavourable to the notion of a modern, strong and militarily capable Iranian state. This is because if Iran were to possess a modern army, this would then be capable of repelling foreign invasions. Russia in particular was sensitive about this as it had conquered Iranian territory in the Caucasus and continued to harbour ambitions in not just northern Iran but all way towards the Persian Gulf. Despite having instituted a long-term and well-funded anti-Iranian cultural campaign in its conquered Caucasian territories, especially in the Arran-Shirvan region (Republic of Azerbaijan since May 1918), the Russians were deeply perturbed by the Caucasus’ historical ties with Iran. A reformed Iranian army and a strong national government in Tehran were seen as a threat by the Czarist regime in Moscow.

Early 19th century Map of IranMap of Iran in 1805 before the territorial losses to Russia of the Caucasus and Central Asia. Iran also lost important eastern territories such as Herat  which broke away with British support (Picture source: CAIS).

Following the end of the First World War, the importance of forming a unitary and modernized military was finally instituted. As noted previously, the disbanding of the pro-Russian Cossack brigade (now under British command following the overthrow of the Czars by the Bolsheviks in 1917) and the pro-British South Persia Rifles resulted in Iran finally having a unified national army, one of the chief aims of the Constitutional Movement of the Early Twentieth century.

Farrokh article in New Book by Brill Publications: “Studies on Iran and The Caucasus (In Honour of Garnik Asatrian)”

Brill Publications in Leiden, which is a major international academic venue for scholarly works, has just published a seminal book entitled:

Studies on Iran and The Caucasus (In Honour of Garnik Asatrian), Leiden: Brill, 2015

The book has been edited by Uwe Bläsing, University of Leiden, Victoria Arakelova, Yerevan State University and Matthias Weinreich, along  with the Assistance of Khachik Gevorgian. The Bibliographia Iranica provides an overview of the table of contents…

Studies on Iran and Caucasus-Asatriyan-1

Front cover of the 2015 text “Studies on Iran and The Caucasus (In Honour of Garnik Asatrian), Brill, 2015“. As noted in the Brill webpage: “This unique collection of essays by leading international scholars gives a profound introduction into the great diversity and richness of facets forming the study of one of earth’s most exciting areas, the Iranian and Caucasian lands. Each of the 37 contributions sheds light on a very special topic, the range of which comprises historical, cultural, ethnographical, religious, political and last but not least literary and linguistic issues, beginning from the late antiquity up to current times. Especially during the last decennia these two regions gained greater interest worldwide due to several developments in politics and culture. This fact grants the book, intended as a festschrift for Professor Garnik Asatrian, a special relevance.” Professor Garnik S. Asatrian is the Chair of the Iranian Studies Department at Yerevan State University and the Editor of  the “Iran and the Caucasus” journal, BRILL, Leiden-Boston). Professor Victoria Arakelova (Associate Professor, Department of Iranian Studies, Yerevan State University) is the Associate Editor, of “Iran and the Caucasus”, BRILL, Leiden.

The textbook has also published an article by Kaveh Farrokh [The Military Campaigns of Shah Abbas I in Azerbaijan and the Caucasus (1603-1618). Studies on Iran and The Caucasus (Studies in Honour of Prof. Garnik S. Asatrian; Edited by U. Bläsing, V. Arakelova & M. Weinreich), pp. 75-95.] – below is the abstract for that article:

This paper provides an overview of the Safavid military forces and reforms at the time of Shah Abbas I (r.1587-1629), especially with the promotion of the new Ghulam units to counterbalance the traditional Qizlibash forces which had bought the Safavids to power at the time of Shah Ismail (r. 1502-1524). Other significant military reforms were the introduction of firearm units such as the Tofanchi (musketeers), Jazayerchis (bearers of larger and heavier muskets) and Toopchis (artillerymen). The introduction of these reforms proved instrumental in Shah Abbas I’s successes in expelling the Ottomans from Tabriz (1603) and Yerevan (1604), defeating the Ottoman counteroffensive in Azerbaijan (1605) and the capture of Shamakhi (1606) and Ganja (1606). Large numbers of Armenians, Kurds and Azeris had been displaced from their homelands by Shah Abbas I as a result of his scorched earth tactics against invading Ottoman forces in 1606-1607. Shah Abbas’ military successes led to the Ottoman-Safavid peace treaty of 1612 which affirmed all of the Iranian conquests since the recapture of Tabriz. The Safavid army had to fight a series of battles in Georgia (1613-1623) which led to a new Ottoman war (1616). The Safavid army defeated the Ottoman offensives in Yerevan and Ardabil (1616-1618) obliging the Ottomans to negotiate a new peace treaty which affirmed all of Shah Abbas’ conquests since 1603.


Rare drawing by a European traveller who witnessed the aftermath of the liberation of Tabriz by Shah Abbas I on October 21, 1603. Local Azari citizens welcomed the Iranian Safavid army as liberators and took harsh reprisals against the defeated Ottoman Turks who had been occupying their city. Many unfortunate Turks fell into the hands of Tabriz’s citizens and were decapitated (Picture Source: Matofi, A., 1999, Tarikh-e-Chahar Hezar Sal-e Artesh-e Iran: Az Tamadon-e Elam ta 1320 Khorsheedi, Jang-e- Iran va Araqh [The 4000 Year History of the Army of Iran: From the Elamite Civilization to 1941, the Iran-Iraq War]. Tehran: Entesharat-e Iman, p.63).

Studies on Iran and Caucasus-Asatriyan-2

Back cover of the 2015 text “Studies on Iran and The Caucasus (In Honour of Garnik Asatrian), Brill, 2015“. The Brill webpage cites the following scholars as contributors to the volume: Victoria Arakelova; Marco Bais; Uwe Bläsing; Vahe S. Boyajian; Claudia A. Ciancaglini; Johnny Cheung; Viacheslav A. Chirikba; Matteo Compareti; Caspar ten Dam; Desmond Durkin-Meisterernst; Kaveh Farrokh; Aldo Ferrari; Ela Filippone; Khachik Gevorgian; Jost Gippert; Nagihan Haliloğlu; Elif Kanca; Pascal Kluge; Anna Krasnowolska; Vladimir Livshits; Hirotake Maeda; Irina Morozova; Irène Natchkebia; Peter Nicolaus; Antonio Panaino; Mikhail Pelevin; Adriano V. Rossi; James R. Russell; Dan Shapira; Wolfgang Schulze; Martin Schwarz; Roman Smbatian; Donald Stilo; Çakır Ceyhan Suvari; Giusto Traina; Garry Trompf; Matthias Weinreich; Eberhardt Werner and Boghos Zekiyan.


[Click to enlarge] Shah Abbas I (r. 1587-1629) as depicted in a European copper engraving made by Dominicus Custos citing him as “Schach Abas Persarum Rex” or “Shah Abbas the Great monarch of Persia”. Note how Custos makes a particular emphasis on linking Shah Abbas to the “Mnemona Cyrus” (the Memory of Cyrus the Great of Persia). Shah Abbas’ victories over the Ottomans weakened them against the Europeans to the West, and especially in the Balkans and Eastern Europe.

Long Time Between Drinks

On a humorous note: A long time between drinks! A 1902 cartoon entitled “491 BC-1902 CE” in Puck magazine (v. 52, no. 1348, 1902, December 31) depicting “Persia” (at left) toasting “Greece” (at right) from a punch bowl labeled “Renewal of Diplomatic Relations” (Source: US Library of Congress).

The Izadkhast Fortress at Fars Province

The article below and the photographs originally appeared in the Historical Iran Blog.


The Fortress of Izadkhast is located in the Fars Province of Iran, roughly 135 km south of Isfahan. This historical complex has been situated on a natural base along with unique characteristics. The complex contains the castle of Izadkhast, one caravanserai and the Safavid-period bridge. The works inside of the castle belong to different periods from Sassanids to Qajars. The most important section of the complex is the castle that has been built on singular bedrock in a sand construction and close to the valley of Izadkhast. A bridge and a gate in the most accessible part of the complex made it possible to connect with the surrounding areas.

Izadkhast-1-old[Click to Enlarge] An old photo of Izadkhast (Picture source: Historical Iran Blog)

It is, in form of construction, unique but can be, from the-materials-used point of view, compared with Citadel of Bam, Rhine and many other citadels, castles built in provinces of Yazd and Kerman. The complex caravanserai can be compared with Safavid caravanserais especially the caravanserais in Isfahan-Shiraz Route.


Izadkhast-2[Click to Enlarge] Arched entrance way at Izadkhast (Picture source: Historical Iran Blog)

Inside the walls of the fortress, there are alleyways and passages that criss-cross it. Right by the front gate that goes over a moat, there are many homes that are now fully deserted while some are completely destroyed. According to the locals, as recent as the turn of the millennium, people still lived in the old part of Izadkhast but due to floods in the past two years, the homes were destroyed and people were forced to move. Most of the homes in the interior were constructed from wood and mud. The smallness of the bedrock led to agglomeration of built rooms. Hence, the smallness of rooms resulted in increase of floors, some as many as five stories high which in itself and considering the circumstances of its time is a remarkable architectural feat.


Izadkhast-3[Click to Enlarge] Walls and built-in tower structure at Izadkhast (Picture source: Historical Iran Blog)

The caravanserai at the castle dates back to the time of Safavid Dynasty (1502 – 1736). The front gate was burned down by Nader Shah’s soldiers camping there during a cold night as they were looking for firewood.


Izadkhast-4[Click to Enlarge] Panoramic view of Izadkhast (Picture source: Historical Iran Blog)

The bedrock on which the complex is situated on protected the castle from the foreigners’ attacks. The tall and almost perpendicular height, ranging from 6 to 15 meters, on three sides of the fortress made it almost impossible for enemies to gain access to the interior. And for further protection, on the fourth and shorter side, a moat 30 meters long, 4 meters across and 4 meters deep had been dug.


Izadkhast-5[Click to Enlarge] An overview of Izadkhast (Picture source: Historical Iran Blog & Abbas Soltani at

Many parts of the Izadkhast fortress have been destroyed as they have collapsed due to erosion and flooding. Inside the walled city, there are clear signs of damage from treasure hunters and unfortunately also graffiti on the walls.

Izadkhast-6[Click to Enlarge] An old alley at Izadkhast (Picture source: Picture source: Historical Iran Blog & Abbas Soltani at

Safavid Military Items housed in Istanbul’s Topkapi Museum

The Topkapi Palace Museum of Istanbul in Turkey is one of the world’s most important sites for the study of world history and civilization, on par with Museums such as the Hermitage (St. Petersburg, Russia), The British Museum (London, England), The Louvre (Paris, France), Iran Bastan Museum موزه ایران باستان (Tehran, Iran), Altes Museum (Berlin, Germany), Museo Nazionale Romano (Rome, Italy) and the Egyptian Museum المتحف المصري (Cairo, Egypt).

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAThe Enderûn Library at the Topkapi palace Museum (Source: Public Domain). The Topkapi is one of the most important museums of Persianate or Turco-Iranian civilization.’s previous posting on “Giosofat Barbaro’s Reference to the Identity of Shah Ismail and the Safavids” resulted in communication highlighting the housing of significant Safavid items in Istanbul’s Topkapi Museum. The source of this information is an article penned in the BBC on December 6, 2014 by Pejman Akbarzadeh entitled “ردپای فرهنگ ایران در موزه‌های استانبول” [The Footprint of Iranian Culture in Istanbul’s Museums]. Below are two Safavid military items (a helmet and a military standard) housed in Istanbul’s Topkapi Museum.

Safavid helmet-Topkapi-BBC-PersianSafavid helmet with mail (کلاهخود از دوران صفویه – موزه کاخ توپکاپی در استانبول), most likely captured during the wars between the Safavid and Ottoman empires; Topkapi Museum (Source: BBC Persian & Pejman Akbarzadeh).

Safavid Standard-TopkapiSafavid Battle Standard captured in the Battle of Chaldiran (August, 23, 1514) (درفش ارتش ایران در جنگ چالدران – موزه کاخ توپکاپی) (Source: BBC Persian & Pejman Akbarzadeh).