On both sides:
‘This is a waqf of the Emir of Yalbugha, in the year 862 AH(?)’ (1457-58 AD)
Although the reading of the date is uncertain, it coincides with the style of its inscription and presumed period of manufacture. The date furthermore corresponds to those relating to the Emir Sayf al-Din Yalbugha b. ‘Abd Allah al-Baha’i al-Zahiri Barquq, who was named to the post of governor of Alexandria on 29 December 1438, a position he held for less than a year, passing away on 22 October 1439 (L. Kalus, ‘Donations pieuses d’épées médiévales à l’arsenal d’Alexandrie’, in Revue des Etudes Islamiques, t.L., Paris, 1982). A number of similar swords were donated by Yalbugha to the Arsenal of Alexandria confirming the suggested attribution of this sword (see Kalus 1982, pp.80-86, and Mohamed 2007, p.43, no.12).
Swords from the early Islamic period such as this example are extremely rare and characterised by their straight and double-sided blades. Swords belonging to the Mamluks and early Ottoman Emirs and Sultans are today mainly dispersed between the Topkapi Saray and the Military Museum, Istanbul. The swords in the Military Museum are said to be “[…] a series of extremely unusual swords that were brought back to Istanbul by the Ottomans after the conquest of Egypt as spoils of war and placed in the Arsenal” (ibid, p.124, no.83), explaining the presence of so many Mamluk examples in Turkish collections.
Of the very few extant examples of early Islamic swords, there are two reputed to have belonged to the Prophet and others said to have belonged to the early Caliphs and Companions, taken as booty from the Mamluks by the Ottomans after the battle of 1517. These survive in the Has Oda of the Topkapi Saray and are known as the ‘Blessed Swords’ or Suyuf al Mubarake. The Military Museum, Istanbul features similar examples to our sword with resembling mounts and blades and although they are identified as Mamluk and dated to the fourteenth century, they must have derived from the Ayyubid style of the Saif Badawi or the ‘Bedouin Sword’ (Yucel 2001, pl.80-83).
One sword of the twelfth century, belonging to Najm al-Din Ayyub, the father of Saladin, the conqueror of Jerusalem, made by Salim Ibn ‘Ali for Najm al Din (inv.no. 2355) has a quillon whose socket and guard is akin to that of our sword (Yucel 1988, p.77, cat.no.34). A related quillon can be found on a blade with Abbasid or Umayyad provenance (ibid, p.76, pl.33). For two other examples of comparable pommels and quillons found on fourteenth-century blades and identified as Mamluk, see Mohamed 2007, p.112, nos.11-12. A handful of blades related to ours in the Military Museum, Istanbul are on display (four in the galleries, with a similar number in the reserve collection but not in good condition) of identical size, temper, weight and quality of steel.
The early Mamluk Sultans were Turks from the Kipchak territories, and preferred the use of the sabre, a slightly curved slashing weapon, more suitable for mounted warfare than the Saif Badawi. There is evidence that Mamluks carried and used both types; however the Saif Badawi was reserved for investiture and enthronement ceremonies of the Emir, in honour of The Prophet, who had several straight, named blades (See Elgood 1979, p.203). This Arab tradition of the Saif Badawi was continued in Saudi Arabia, Zanzibar and Oman until the nineteenth century (Mohamed 2007, p.79, cat.43).