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Thread: Saladin's sword

  1. #1
    Join Date
    Feb 2002

    Saladin's sword

    Read the following article taken from the website below:

    "Saladin's sword
    The finest Damascus steel was made by a process known only to Indians

    Saladin the Saracen had a steely edge over Richard the Lion-hearted. Sir Walter Scott, in his romance The Talisman, describes a meeting of the two mediaeval monarchs who crossed swords in the Crusades.

    After examining an iron bar that Richard cut in two with his sword, Saladin took a silk cushion from the floor and placed it upright on one end. "Can thy weapon, my brother, sever that cushion?" he said to King Richard.

    "No, surely," replied the King, "no sword on earth, were it the Excalibur of King Arthur, can cut that which poses no steady resistance to the blow."

    "Mark, then," said Saladin and unsheathed his scimitar, a curved and narrow blade of a dull blue colour, marked with ten millions of meandering lines and drew it across the cushion, applying the edge so dexterously that the cushion seemed rather to fall asunder than to be divided by violence.

    Scott mentions that the sabres and poniards of the Ayyubid troops were of Damascene steel.

    The original Damascus steel-the world's first high-carbon steel-was a product of India known as wootz. Wootz is the English for ukku in Kannada and Telugu, meaning steel. Indian steel was used for making swords and armour in Persia and Arabia in ancient times. Ktesias at the court of Persia (5th c BC) mentions two swords made of Indian steel which the Persian king presented him. The pre-Islamic Arab word for sword is 'muhannad' meaning from Hind.

    Wootz was produced by carburising chips of wrought iron in a closed crucible process. "Wrought iron, wood and carbonaceous matter was placed in a crucible and heated in a current of hot air till the iron became red hot and plastic. It was then allowed to cool very slowly (about 24 hours) until it absorbed a fixed amount of carbon, generally 1.2 to 1.8 per cent," said eminent metallurgist Prof. T.R. Anantharaman, who taught at Banares Hindu University, Varanasi. "When forged into a blade, the carbides in the steel formed a visible pattern on the surface." To the sixth century Arab poet Aus b. Hajr the pattern appeared described 'as if it were the trail of small black ants that had trekked over the steel while it was still soft'.

    The carbon-bearing material packed in the crucible was a clever way to lower the melting-point of iron (1535 degrees centigrade). The lower the melting-point the more carbon got absorbed and high-carbon steel was formed.

    In the early 1800s, Europeans tried their hand at reproducing wootz on an industrial scale. Michael Faraday, the great experimenter and son of a blacksmith, tried to duplicate the steel by alloying iron with a variety of metals but failed. Some scientists were successful in forging wootz but they still were not able to reproduce its characteristics, like the watery mark. "Scientists believe that some other micro-addition went into it," said Anantharaman. "That is why the separation of carbide takes place so beautifully and geometrically."

    Francis Buchanan and other European travellers have observed the manufacture of steel by crucible process at several places in Mysore, Malabar and Golconda from the 17th century onwards. The furnace sketched by Buchanan shows that crucibles were packed in rows of 15 inside a pit filled with ash. A wall separated the bellows from the furnace, with only the snout of the bellows sticking out through the wall. Each crucible could contain up to 14 ounces of iron, along with stems and leaves.

    The crucible process could have originated in south India and the finest steel was from the land of Cheras, said K. Rajan, associate professor of archaeology at Tamil University, Thanjavur, who explored a 1st century AD trade centre at Kodumanal near Coimbatore. Rajan's excavations revealed an industrial economy at Kodumanal.

    A sword bit excavated from there had a thin layer of high-carbon steel on the cutting edge. Apart from this, there was a coating of thin white layer, probably to protect the edge from rust!
    . "

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Feb 2002
    New England

    Any article that makes historical claims based on the writing of a Victorian novelist needs to be taken with several large grains of salt....

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Feb 2002
    Yes Adam, That is exactly the point. It is interesting to note that in this article Saladin has a curved saber, but he should have used a straight sword accoring to Osprey.



  4. #4
    Join Date
    Mar 2002
    Austin, Texas USA
    It is interesting to note that in this article Saladin has a curved saber, but he should have used a straight sword accoring to Osprey.
    Not only according to Osprey, but also our esteemed Moderator, who wrote on the topic in the Ethnographic Edged Weapons Forum
    I do not know if any of Saladin's swords are known to exist. There are undoubtedly those who claim that this or that blade was his, but authentication will be difficult in most cases. Please keep in mind that the "scimitar" (a form of saber, a curved single edged blade) was probably not known to the Arabs during the first century or so of the Islamic era. The early medieval Arab sword was most often double edged and straight (though straight single-edged ones do exist). The saber was introduced by the waves of steppe nomads, mostly Turkic speaking but later including Mongols, which swept into the Middle East during invasions, or were hired as mercenaries by Arab rulers. Even though, the adoption of curved blades was gradual and slow. Most of the swords used by Muslims during the time of Crusades were in fact straight and double edged, just like their European counterparts. Indeed, as late as the mid 1400s, the Ottomans who besiege Constantinople were still armed to a large extent with these straight swords.
    For references, see:
    Nicolle, David, ARMS AND ARMOUR OF THE CRUSADING ERA, 1050-1350: ISLAM, E. EUROPE, ASIA, London: Greenhill 1999.

    Zaky, Rahman, "Medieval Arab Arms", in ISLAMIC ARMS AND ARMOUR (ed. Robt. Elgood), London: Scolar Press 1979.

    AS-SUYUUF AL-ISLAAMIYYA WA SANAA'UHAA (Islamic Swords and Swordsmiths), Kuwait: Centre de Recherches sur l'Histoire, l'Art, et la Culture Islamiques, 1988 (Arabic text)

  5. #5
    Join Date
    Apr 2002
    Provence, France


    Do you have any references where it would be possible to find sources about weapons from Saladin times, apart of David Nicolle. I am speaking of books that can be bought of find out for a french man.
    And apart of this I know that the Manual Saladin has commanded to write for his army has not been published in french, but is there any translation in english ?


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