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From Belluno to Agadez

 October 8, 2023    African Arms

Another evening and another study session. The sword in question this evening, a modified, single edged European back sword, converted in the Sahel into a double edged takouba. This is a particularly interesting sword showing great age (the blade is likely 17th century) with local modifications and an array of marks that make pinning down a likely point of origin much easier than usual.

The title of this small essay is of course purely a guess. This sword may have spent its entire life in the Sahel without going anywhere near Agadez, but there is equally a very good chance it did spend time in that area.

What is more clear is that it likely began life in Northern Italy, perhaps most specifically around Belluno. A great blade producing center at the time. Now a small town, there is still a working water powered trip hammer of the type that would have produced this blade not far away in Bienno.

A trip hammer similar to those used for blade forging. From Agricola's "De Re Metallica"

My blade is marked with several elements closely associated with blades produced in this region. Particularly the sickle like marks and the smaller star shaped marks. Groupings of crescent moons are also present.

The blade style, a simple triple fuller configuration with a single edge, was a popular type in the 17th century. Found across the continent and in its basic configuration as at home with a cutler in Solingen as one in Italy. Equally well liked outside of Europe, these blades pop up frequently in India, brought by the Portuguese and mounted in a style known as 'firangi'.

At some point this blade either made its way from Europe, across the Med., or perhaps an even more circuitous route from India across the Red Sea and then into the Sahel. The former is more likely. The blade was perhaps sent overseas as it had reached the end of its working life.

Its present state is certainly very worn. Whatever Sahel smith or cutler got their hands on it mounted it in the traditional way with a large spherical pommel. Decorated on the medial ridge.

The guard has a single brass plate forming a presentation face with typical decorative elements both cutout and engraved.

But the largest change was sharpening the back edge of the blade for most of its length. A thick spine was retained at the base. The result was a flexible and very sharp double edged sword although some of the rigidity and integrity of the blade was lost in the process.

The wear and tear on the edges indicates a long working life and the mounts are perhaps not the first the blade has worn.

This is a very unpretentious blade. It would not grab your eye at first, but beyond its beat up exterior and less than impressive proportions lies the story of a workhorse, spanning multiple continents. I like its honesty. It obviously did the job it was made for well and it is pleasing to see that it found a new life (likely for centuries) in the Sahel.