Antiquities > Other Metal Antiquities

New Gallery: Bronze Weaponry of Western Asia

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Robert L3:
Here's an interesting new pickup, one that has some mystery about it:

It's an iron dagger that I will be listing with question marks:
Iron Dagger #01
Parthian? Early Sassanian?
Possibly from northern or northwestern Iran
c. 1st – early 4th century AD?
22.86 cm (9 1/16”)

Since I began collecting ancient weaponry a few years back, I’ve really wanted to acquire an ancient Parthian dagger or spearhead. Since I have collected Parthian coins for thirty-plus years, a Parthian edged weapon would be a real score for me. However, they are exceedingly rare. The few examples I’ve seen on the market were – in my admittedly amateur, only-semi-informed opinion – fakes. [Including, I suspect, one currently listed at auction (May 2022) from a seller with a bad rep.]

Parthian daggers, swords, and spearheads were typically manufactured in iron. Accordingly, the examples from museum collections and references that I’ve seen are usually in fair condition at best. None that have survived are in pristine shape, it seems.

The first image below shows some documented examples, with the top three in that image from the Iran Bastan Museum, the bottom three (a sword and two daggers) excavated from graves near the Iranian village of Vestemin in northern Iran.

The second image shows more examples of Parthian swords and daggers, this time from Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani’s Arms and Armour from Iran. These are from Gilan (NW Iran), and are housed in the collection of the National Museum of Iran in Tehran. As Khorasani points out, Parthian daggers “have quillons (cross guards) similar to the quillons of the Parthian swords…”

As for my new acquisition (at the links above), the seller's listing had it as 2nd century AD Roman. While that attribution is, perhaps, possible, I think it is likely inaccurate. It is unlike any legitimate Roman daggers or “pugiones” that I have seen, all of which have more ornate grips, often in addition to differently shaped and proportioned blades. Of course, I freely admit I am no expert with any of this material.

The challenge here, of course, is the dagger’s very economical form – an example of form following function, with no embellishments or other features that might definitively tie it to a specific culture and period. It could be ancient, but then again it could be medieval.

On the other hand, it seems quite similar to the Parthian swords and daggers of the 1st through 2nd centuries AD from north and northwest Iran. The thickness and shape of the quillon is a close match, as is the blade shape and length, and the tang-like grip – which I suppose might have been embedded or wrapped in another material in antiquity.

Complicating the attribution, somewhat, is the fact that some early Sassanian (3rd – early 4th centuries AD) edged weaponry from Gilan (northwest Iran) seems nearly indistinguishable from those of the defeated Parthians, although they have sometimes survived in slightly better condition. The third image below shows early Sassanian swords from Khorasani. (Later Sassanian edged weaponry became much more ornamented.)

Given my dagger’s relatively decent condition, I suppose it could be Sassanian rather than Parthian, assuming it is indeed from ancient Iran rather than ancient or medieval Europe.

I’m hopeful I’m on the right track, but I invite other opinions that might bust my bubble.

Wow.  Nice piece.

I would have assumed from the style that it was early medieval, possible steppe nomadic.  But having those documented fines is great.

In fact they show the continuity between the Roman stuff and the early medieval stuff....


Robert L3:
Just added three very interesting spearheads to the gallery. None is a run-of-the-mill, easier-to-acquire, undecorated tanged blade.

Each is likely from Western Asia. (Two of the three are almost certainly from the Gilan region of northwestern Iran, along the southwestern coastal area of the Caspian Sea.) Each likely dates to the Early Iron Age I and II in Iran (1200 - 800 BC).

One (#26) is possibly unique in its particular combination of form and incised decoration. For this one the attribution to Western Asia - and possibly Luristan - is speculative and is based on a slight resemblance to similarly profiled, rare Luristani spearheads I've seen, such as the one I reference in the listing.

Another (#27) is very large, measuring to almost 25”. It is not only the longest spearhead I now own, but also simply the longest weapon in my collection - period.

The third (#28) is a very rare type that I have wanted for quite a while. I have known of the type only from reference books - and a single other specimen I spotted on the market.

AE Spearhead #26:
This one (AE Spearhead #26) is a bit mysterious. Usually, I can ID my weapons with a fair degree of confidence using a number of scholarly references that I have access to. However, I’ve actually never seen any other spearhead quite like this one. The blade, which is very narrow and long, has a flattened diamond cross-section. Incised geometric decoration is occasionally encountered on ancient Iranian bronze weapons of the Early Iron Age (although more often on daggers and arrowheads), like on this hilt from my collection:

AE Spearhead #27:
AE Spearhead #27 is a type associated with Marlik, an excavated mound in Gilan in northwest Iran. The inhabitants of Marlik “seem to have flourished from near the end of the second millennium B.C. to the beginning of the first…contemporaneously with the last Middle Assyrian kings.” (Art of the Marlik Culture by Charles K. Wilkinson, Curator Emeritus of Near Eastern Art at the Met)

While I do already own one of these with long socket and leaf-shaped blade (AE Spearhead #20 in my gallery) – this new one, at almost 25", is double the length and therefore truly special. To give a sense of how large this new monster is, I am including a pic below of the two socketed Marlik spearheads as they currently reside, side-by-side in one of my display cases. I also include reference pics of the type from Christian Konrad Piller’s Untersuchungen zur relative Chronologie der Nekropole von Marlik (Investigations on the Relative Chronology of the Necropolis of Marlik) and Ezat O. Neghaban’s Weapons from Marlik.

AE Spearhead #28:
AE Spearhead #28 is a rare type also associated with Marlik. Its most striking (pardon the pun) feature is two bronze bands encircling the socket, to aid in securing the spearhead to the shaft. Reference illustrations of the type, from Piller and Neghaban, are below.

Virgil H:
Your collection is simply amazing. These latest pieces are incredible. Thanks for having your gallery.


Robert L3:
Thanks for the nice comment, Virgil. Much appreciated.


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