Short Sword (Yatagan) from the Court of Süleyman the Magnificent (reigned 1520–66)

Sword maker: Workshop of Ahmed Tekelü (possibly Iranian, active Istanbul, ca. 1520–30)

Date: ca. 1525–30

Geography: Istanbul

Culture: Turkish, Istanbul

Medium: Steel, gold, ivory (walrus), silver, turquoise, pearls, rubies

Dimensions: L. 23 3/8 in. (59.3 cm); L. of blade 18 3/8 in. (46.66 cm); Wt. 1 lb. 8 oz. (691 g)

Classification: Swords

Credit Line: Purchase, Lila Acheson Wallace Gift, 1993

Accession Number: 1993.14


Exquisite workmanship and lavish use of precious materials distinguish this sword as a princely weapon. It is almost identical to a yatagan (Topkapi Palace, Istanbul) made in 1526 or 1527 by the court jeweler Ahmed Tekelü; for the Ottoman sultan Süleyman the Magnificent (r. 1520–66). There can be little doubt that the Metropolitan's sword was made in the same imperial workshop, probably for presentation to a high-ranking courtier.

The gold incrustation on the blade depicts a combat between a dragon and a phoenix against a background of foliate scrolls. These figures, like the gold-inlaid cloud bands on the ivory grip, are Chinese in style and were probably introduced into Ottoman art through contacts with Persia. The extremely high relief of the delicately modeled goldsmith's work, and the use of rubies for eyes, silver for the dragon's teeth, and a pearl set into the phoenix's head, exemplify the opulence and refinement of Ottoman luxury arts.

This sword is one of the earliest known yatagans, distinctly Turkish weapons characterized by a double-curved blade and a hilt without a guard. Yatagans were commonplace in Turkey and the Balkans in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries and served as sidearms for the elite troops known as janissaries.