Antiquities > Other Metal Antiquities

New Gallery: Bronze Weaponry of Western Asia

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Robert L3:
Note: Since this thread started, I have changed the gallery title from "Bronze Weaponry of Western Asia" to a more inclusive "Weaponry of Western Asia." The rationale for that renaming is provided in the 10/9/2021 entry in this thread.

My new collecting area is, I suppose, a natural evolution from earlier purchases of bronze Parthian-type arrowheads, which I had started collecting to give my Parthian and Elymaean coins some tangible context. I recently decided to reach even further back into Iranian history, to the regional antecedents of Parthia.

Some History
In the second millennium BC, long before the Parthians dominated the Iranian plateau and, with the Elymaeans, the plains of Khuzestan, the area between the Caspian Sea and the north end of the Persian Gulf was inhabited by diverse groups of people (Kassites, Hurrians, Lullubi, Kutians, Elamites, etc.), some whose ancestors had been in the region since at least 10,000 BC. Other groups - including the Aryans whose descendants would go on to found the Median and Achaemenid Empires in the first millennium BC - more recently migrated to the area.

The people who occupied the region in antiquity produced impressive metal works. According to P. R. S. Moorey (in Ancient Bronzes from Luristan) the metal industry in this area was established “from at least the later fourth millennium B.C.” Starting with the plundering of some Iranian sites in the 1920s, and continuing with sanctioned excavations starting in the 1930s, many splendid metal objects have been found at numerous sites within the region of ancient Luristan in the Zagros Mountains of western Iran, as well as in the Iranian provinces of Gilan and Mazandaran at the southern end of the Caspian Sea. Gilan, which is basically the area corresponding to what would become Parthia-dominated Media Atropatene, includes the archaeological sites of Marlik, Deylaman (Dailaman), Kaluraz, Tomajan, among others. Excavated objects include zoomorphic figurines and finials, bowls, pins, horse bits and other objects associated with horsemanship, and jewelry.

In addition to utilitarian and ornamental sculptural objects produced in gold, bronze and terracotta, many weapons have been found in these areas of Iran. Such arms consist of swords, daggers, dirks (edged weapons measuring between 36 cm and 50 cm - if smaller it's, technically, a dagger; if larger it's, technically, a sword), spear tips, axes, arrowheads, and maces. Three thousand years ago nomadic horsemen who served as mercenaries in regional conflicts would purchase such metal weaponry as they traveled through towns in the area. When they died their weapons were buried with them. As Moorey states, “…even the poorest male graves appear to have contained a few simple weapons; the richest were amply stocked with them.” Accordingly, many of the ancient Iranian daggers, lance blades, and so forth that one spots in museums and on the market, are from graves.

The Generalized Usage of “Luristan,” “Marlik,” and “Amlash”
The term “Luristan” is liberally applied as the attribution for artifacts from the whole region. That usage of “Luristan” may be expedient, but it is certainly not always accurate. Some dealers acknowledge this by placing the word in quotation marks in their listings: “Luristan.” Certainly a percentage of such specimens did not originate in Luristan-proper (which occupied a mountainous portion of western Iran), but may have been products of other, relatively close, Western Asian (and perhaps Central Asian) regions. As Moorey writes, “…there are many tools and weapons reported from Luristan which might well have been made…in Elam, Mesopotamia, or possibly even North Syria.”

Similarly, “Marlik” and “Amlash” are sometimes used for ancient weapons and other wares from across northern Iran, despite the fact that Marlik was actually a single excavated mound in the vicinity and Amlash is a distinct geographical area within Gilan. One also encounters the generalized “Marlik Culture” or “Amlash Culture” in descriptions of ancient objects from the region. Of the two phrases, the former may have more legitimacy. Wikipedia’s entry for Amlash states that the word “Amlash…does not have any real archaeological meaning when used with the word culture.” The impreciseness of such attributions is implicit in a statement like this, from Houshang Mahboubian’s Art of Ancient Iran: “Amlash is a small village situated between the Caspian Sea coast and the heights of the Dailaman (Deylaman) region, but for the art world the name has come to describe all the villages in the area.” Charles K. Wilkinson echoes the sentiment in his Art of the Marlik Culture: “The designation ‘Amlash’ has been used quite loosely as the place of origin for many antiquities that have come from other, sometimes unknown, sites in the province of Gilan.” And again from Moorey: “Unfortunately neither the description ‘Luristan’ nor ‘Amlash’, as commonly used, has any exact geographical or chronological significance.”

Given the looseness with which some of these words and phrases are used, it would seem that a term like “Northwestern Iran” and, occasionally, the even more general “Western Asia” is both safer and more honest for cataloging purposes. Although it is likely that most or all of the weapons in my gallery are indeed from Western Asia – with the majority being from ancient Iran – it is possible that some may be contemporaneous Aegean or Central Asian products. I am bucking the “Luristan” trend – meaning I will not be rubberstamping all items as “Luristan.” Instead I am using “Western Asia” for most pieces in my growing collection. I have decided to only use more specific place names (e.g. “Northwestern Iran,” “Israel,” etc.) when I can, with some confidence, more narrowly pinpoint an artifact’s geographical origins. Furthermore I am using terms like “possibly Marlik” or “probably Luristan” only when my research strongly points in those directions.

Dating the Weapons
The types of weapons in my gallery are generally dated to c.1200-800 BC, although some organic material from a Marlik tomb did date, based on a radiocarbon test, to even earlier, to the mid-15th century BC. (source: Often this type of bronze weaponry is listed with the descriptor “Bronze Age.” However, in Western Asia the Bronze Age ended c.1200 BC. Technically, then, these weapons – despite being bronze – are from the early Iron Age of Western Asia. More specifically, they are from the Iron Age I (c. 1200 - 1000 BC) and Iron Age II (c. 1000 - 800 BC). (I don't seek out material from Iron Age III, c. 800 to the formation of the Achaemenid Empire around 550 BC) The oldest item in my collection is the oddball that actually is from the Bronze Age in Western Asia: the one Canaanite blade (AE Dagger #01), which dates to the early to mid 2nd millennium BC.

In my next post I will discuss the challenges of purchasing and cataloging these types of items. After that, I will start posting links to my initial gallery entries.

Robert L3:
Purchasing Ancient Weapons
Buying from trusted dealers is an absolute must for anyone considering a move to this collecting area. Over the past year I have grown to implicitly trust a small selection of dealers who regularly stock authentic weaponry. Although in some cases I pay more when working with these dealers, the peace of mind it provides is well worth the additional cost. The fact is, there are many, many fake Luristani (and Chinese and Greek) bronze weapons on the market, particularly on eBay. Some such fakes are easy to spot – others are much harder. Red flags may include perfectly symmetrical blade bodies exhibiting none of the vagaries of time, completely intact barbs on arrowheads, overly smooth surfaces, evidence of artificial patination, as well as identical looking patinas across entire seller inventories. Notwithstanding the legit sellers in the UK and China, it seems that an inordinate number of fakes, as well as possibly kosher specimens with no provenance provided (one has to wonder about looting with such items), are sold from particular eBay dealers in those countries. Some of these same dealers are listed on the NFSL for their coin sales. To state the obvious: when possible it is advisable to purchase provenanced material, ideally from old, respected collections – and from well established, reputable dealers. I am fortunate in that I was able to purchase some pedigreed specimens from several important ancient weapons collections – specifically, those of Axel Guttman, Shlomo Zeitsov, Walter Steinberg, John F. Piscopo, and Johan Dæhnfeldt.

In addition to forgeries of weaponry, one may occasionally see, on eBay in particular, some horrid bronze figurines listed as Luristani. Legitimate sculptural objects from ancient Luristan are often beautiful and truly impressive in their craftsmanship. Sellers of the dreck should, obviously, be avoided for the purchase of weapons.

Cataloging – Using References
Although most collectors and sellers of ancient weaponry do not provide references to scholarly sources for their specimens, I consider it important to do so despite the challenges that accompany such a decision. There are a number of references that one can use for attribution, including books and articles written by I. N. Medvedskaya, Ezat O. Negahban, P. R. S. Moorey, Houshang Mahboubian, Christian Konrad Piller, Alex Malloy, Oscar White Muscarella, and others. Unfortunately the attribution/citation process can be frustrating since information is piecemeal, spread across many sources - very few of which would qualify as true corpuses. Most are limited in their coverage of weaponry, with many discouraging omissions in their catalogs, to be of consistent help as references. Others are too narrowly focused (on particular aspects of the weaponry) to serve as broader references for attribution - I refer here to publications like excavation reports or articles specializing on some particular variety of weapon, such as penannular guard daggers or "iron mask" swords.

Perhaps the most extensive and profusely illustrated of the available resources that are specific to the historical weaponry of Iran is Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani's Arms and Armor from Iran: The Bronze Age to the End of the Qajar Period. It is a beautiful and large book, with much information and lots of illustrations. Be aware, however: the medieval weaponry of Iran gets greater coverage in the book's catalog than does ancient weaponry.

Typological Similarities Across Distances
Yet another frustration is that, unlike coinage, the precise location of bronze weapons’ manufacture, as well as their specific cultural context and dating, usually cannot be precisely determined. Similarly shaped blades and arrowheads from the period have been found across ancient Iran – from locations that span Elam, Luristan, the Gilan region, and westward into Iraq/Mesopotamia. Typological similarities of weaponry from find spots across the area may be due to travel (as with the aforementioned nomadic horsemen, who likely traveled great distances with weapons in tow) and standardization of types across distances.

And, in fact, formal similarities between weapons may be noted well beyond areas in ancient Iran and its environs. According to N. K. Sandars, some of the region’s tanged dagger blades (Sandars’ Type A) “migrated” west to the Levant around 1900 BC, and from there – via Cretan trade – eventually inspired some types of Aegean daggers and swords. Conversely, according to Moorey (in both Ancient Persian Bronzes in the Adam Collection and Catalogue of the Ancient Persian Bronzes in the Ashmolean Museum), daggers cast with flanged hilts designed to accommodate bone or wood inlays (e.g. dagger #’s 03 and 04 in my gallery), were introduced to Iran from the West in the middle of the second millennium. Whichever way the influence flowed, the point is that the typological similarities may be seen across fairly broad areas, including well west of Iran.

Ambiguous Usage
There is yet another bit of muddiness that one encounters with some of these weapons. Arrowheads were typically quite large at this time – especially as compared to the Parthian and Scythian arrowheads from the area a thousand years later. That large scale has resulted in some ambiguity. Similarly shaped large bronze tips from the late second through early first millennium BC are sometimes listed as arrowheads, sometimes as lance/spearheads. In addition, similarly shaped tanged blades are designated as daggers in some listings and as lance/spearheads in others. The confusion is evident not just in dealers’ listings but also in scholarly articles and reference books. The obvious conclusion is that knowledge about the particular usage of some of the blades is not fixed. As a result, some of my blades are cataloged as “spearhead (or dagger blade?)” or as “arrowhead (or spearhead?)” when their exact usage – meaning which of these two specific usages – is not certain. Such terms, as used in my gallery, reflect the disagreements I am encountering with regard to usage as I research particular items.

Looking Ahead
As I am new to this collecting area, I am still hunting for a number of things that I have yet to acquire. Among the gaps I hope to fill is a reasonably affordable dagger with a penannular (crescent-shaped) guard enclosing the midrib at the junction between hilt and blade. This type seems to have been prevalent in Luristan and its environs during the Iron Age I and II, but such daggers are usually very pricey when they appear on the market. In addition, there are particular varieties of blades – particular profiles – that my collection lacks. So this will be an ongoing, protracted process.

Primary sources for some of the info above:
Iranicaonline, Artemis Gallery, Art of the Marlik Culture by Charles K. Wilkinson, Bronze and Iron Weapons from Luristan by Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani, Ancient Persian Bronzes in the Adam Collection by P. R. S. Moorey, Catalogue of the Ancient Persian Bronzes in the Ashmolean Museum by P. R. S. Moorey, (and .weapons2.htm), and

With my next post, I will begin introducing items from my collection. I hope to periodically update information here as I acquire new pieces and find time to photograph and catalog them.

Robert L3:
AE Arrowhead #01
This arrowhead was part of lot 27 in Christies Sale 5524, Axel Guttman Collection of Ancient Arms and Armour, Part 2, London, April 2004. The lot (“A LARGE COLLECTION OF NORTH-WEST PERSIAN BRONZE ARROWHEADS. 2ND/EARLY 1ST MILLENNIUM B.C.”) consisted of an ancient bronze bowl with sculptural handles, filled to the brim with arrowheads of this type. A number of the arrowheads have since appeared on the market. Each is similar, with elongated deltoid head and long tang.

AE Arrowhead #02
Triangular bilobate ribbed head, stem, medium length tang

AE Arrowhead #03
Bilobate ribbed head, stem and long tang

AE Arrowhead #04
Rare type, apparently associated with Marlik, with curving “wings” with rounded ends, blade edges convex near point and wings, concave in middle, medium length tang

AE Arrowhead #05 (or spearhead?)
Elongated deltoid, bilobate ribbed head, long stem and tang

AE Arrowhead #06
Bilobate ribbed head with barbs, stem and long tang

AE Arrowhead #07
Triangular bilobate ribbed head with stem and long tang

AE Arrowhead #08
Triangular/deltoid bilobate head with shallow wide rib, medium length tang, and interesting delta-shaped gouge on one side (presumably an intentional mark)

AE Arrowhead #09
Triangular bilobate ribbed head, short stem, medium length tang, small nick in one edge

AE Arrowhead #10 (or spearhead?)
Lanceolate, prominent rib, short stem and tang, chipped. This leaf-shaped tip was listed as a spearhead, but fits the description of some ancient Iranian arrowheads.

AE Dagger #01
This small dagger blade is from the Shlomo Zeitsov collection. It is likely the oldest blade in my collection, dating to the early to mid 2nd millennium BC. It was sold by the collector’s nephew, who reports that it was found in Israel. It is tang-less and has three rivet holes.

AE Dagger #02
Long triangular ribbed blade, squared shoulders, four rivet holes (two rivets still in place), broken tang. Ex- Johan Dæhnfeldt collection.

AE Dagger #03
Flanged hilt with no wood or ivory remaining, blade and hilt cast in one piece

AE Dagger #04
Flanged hilt with no wood or ivory remaining, single rivet hole in wedge-shaped pommel, low broad midrib, blade and hilt cast in one piece. From an old British collection, acquired in the 1970's.

AE Dagger/Short Sword #01
Long triangular blade, prominent rib, medium sized tang, with thick point for piercing armor – a feature that was rare in antiquity. Metal bent at one edge of base. Ex- Johan Dæhnfeldt collection.

AE Dagger/Short Sword #02
Long tapering form, winged guard extending from the ricasso, prominent midrib, chips along one edge. From a private Danish collection of ancient weapons.

AE Dagger/Short Sword #03
Rounded shoulders and broad, flat central midrib curving outward at shoulders, tang broken, some roughness, chips, and encrustations. From a private Danish collection of ancient weapons.

AE Spearhead #01 (or dagger blade?)
Ribbed blade with rounded shoulders, slightly concave edges, long tang, broken tip, encrustations

AE Spearhead #02 (or dagger blade?)
Tapering triangular blade with rounded midrib, nearly square (very slightly deltoid) shoulders, and flat tang

AE Spearhead #03 (or dagger blade?)
Tapering triangular blade with slightly rounded shoulders, broad flat midrib, long tang

AE Spearhead #04
Ovate blade with curved shoulders, sharper tapering near point, flat midrib, squared-sectioned tang with sharp bend at end

AE Spearhead #05 (or dagger blade?)
Triangular blade, square shoulders, broad flat rib, rivet hole in long tang

AE Spearhead #06 (or dagger blade?)
Rounded shoulders, pronounced midrib, slightly concave edges, long tang

AE Spearhead #07 (or dagger blade?)
Rounded shoulders, pronounced midrib, rivet hole in tang

AE Spearhead #08 (or dagger blade?)
Triangular blade with high shoulders that taper greatly toward point, very pronounced midrib, slightly concave edges, long tang with rivet hole. Ex- Johan Dæhnfeldt Collection.

AE Spearhead #09
Ovate blade with curved shoulders, sharper tapering near point, flat midrib, and squared-sectioned tang. Ex- Johan Dæhnfeldt Collection.

AE Spearhead #10
Ovate blade with curved shoulders, sharper tapering near point, flat midrib, and squared-sectioned tang with sharp bend at end. Ex-Private Danish collection of ancient weapons.

AE Spearhead #11
Tapered long blade with prominent midrib, sharper tapering near point, round shoulders. Ex- Johan Dæhnfeldt Estate Collection.

AE Spearhead #12
Tanged ribbed blade, small stem, straight blade edges at base, then tapering toward point

AE Spearhead #13
Deltoid ribbed blade, slightly rounded shoulders, long tang with sharp bend at end

AE Sword #1
Tapering ribbed blade, round shoulders, rat-tail tang, tip missing and end bent (possibly a deliberate act in antiquity)

Jay GT4:
Amazing collection Robert.  I'll enjoy taking some time to view it all.

Wow, Bob, it is a great gallery of the Ancient Weapons... +++

Congratulation  ;)



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