Ethnographic Arms & Armour

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Jens Nordlunde 2nd December 2018 04:48 PM

Elephant swords
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These are seldom seen, at least I have only seen them in books, or read about them - like in The Book of the Sword by Richard F. Burton.
Another place where I have found them mentioned is in Athanasius Nikitin description of his travel to India in the 15th century - here is the description.
"The big elephants are mounted by tvelwe men. Each animal has two large probortys and a heavy sword, weighing a kentar (three pouds, about 100 lb.) attached to its tusks, and large iron weights hanging from the trunk."
Somewhere else I read that the war elephants had heavy chains in their trunks.
The attached picture is from the MET accession number 2015.103. Length 61 cm.

fernando 2nd December 2018 07:03 PM

Great picture, Jens.
Indeed citations of weapons mounted on elephant tusks may be read here and there but, seeing a picture of one of those, is a rare opportunity.
Probably there were more than one (sword) version; Alvaro Velho, for one, (1297-1490) speaks of (SIC)"a wooden house, in which four men fit in. And this elephant brings in each tooth five armed swords; so that in both teeth brings ten armed swords. The way they walk frightfuly, no one that can run will wait for them. And everything that they are ordered to do by the ones on top of them, they do it so thorougly like a rational creature; in a way that, if they are told to kill that one or do this or that, so they do it".
Whreas Grcia de Orta (1501-1568) speaks of adorned weapons similar to plow irons.

Ren Ren 2nd December 2018 08:19 PM


Originally Posted by Jens Nordlunde
Another place where I have found them mentioned is in Athanasius Nikitin description of his travel to India in the 15th century - here is the description.
"The big elephants are mounted by tvelwe men. Each animal has two large probortys and a heavy sword, weighing a kentar (three pouds, about 100 lb.) attached to its tusks, and large iron weights hanging from the trunk."

Let me offer my version of the translation from the Old Russian language. Sorry for my english.

"А к слоном вяжут к рылу да к зубом великие мечи по кентарю кованых, да оболочат их в доспехи булатные, да на них учинены городкы, да в городкех по 12 человек в доспесех, да все с пушками да с стрелами."

"Elephants have great forged swords tied to their trunk and tusks, weighing Kentar (Arabic: Kantar). Elephants are dressed in wootz armor. On their backs arrange turret. In each turret are 12 men in armor, all armed with cannons and arrows."

«да триста слонов наряженых в доспесех булатных да з городки, да и городкы окованы. Да в городках по 6 человек в доспесех, да и с пушками да и с пищалми, а на великом слоне по 12 человек. Да на всяком по два проборца великых, да к зубом повязаны великые мечи по кентарю, да к рылу привязаны великыа железныа гири».

«And three hundred elephants dressed in wootz armor with turrets on their backs. The turrets are bound with metal. In the turret there are 6 men in armor with cannons and guns. And on a great elephant for 12 men. On each elephant there are two great “proborets”, the great swords weighing Kentar are tied to their tusks, and a great iron weight is attached to the trunk.»

P.S. I do not know what “proborets” means, but I will try to find out.

mahratt 2nd December 2018 10:05 PM


Originally Posted by Ren Ren

Kentar - Russian measure of weight, introduced in the 15th century, which is equal to 2.5 poods (approximately 41 kg)

Richard Furrer 3rd December 2018 03:13 AM

I have seen them in India in rural museums. I will try to located the photos. They were massive in scale and thickness.

ariel 3rd December 2018 06:36 AM

Max Fasner’s dictionary: “ According to Prokopius, Kentar equaled 100 liters, and from the end of XVI century to 2 1/2 poods. A.K.Kazambek defines kentar as a unit of weight between 1 1/2 to 10 1/2 poods”,
Pood ( Russian пуд) as a unit of weight unofficially equals 40 pounds i.e. 18,1 kg , but was officially defined in 1899 as equal to 38.05 pounds, i.e.17.2 kg.

The hooker is which pound?
The very word funt came to Russia after English word pound.

Classical British pound is 453 gram, but official Russian pound ( funt) is only 405 gram, and Russian pharmacy pound ( funt) is 354 gram.

Thus, we really do not know the actual weight Nikitin referred to. Obviously, he could not use 2 1/2 poods as a kentar, since this was defined about 100 years after his death and we do not know precisely what kentar meant in the XV century. Was it 100 kg ( 100 liters) or 1.5 poods i.e. around 24 kg?

I am leaning to much lower numbers: from the practical point of view there is no need to create a super heavy cutting blade. It should be just massive enough to sustain any mechanical stress. Second, and most important, Fernando’s quote of 5 such swords on each tusk ( I.e. 100 up to 500 kg) would likely break it.

Richard’s info of actual presence of these implements in Indian museums gives the best way to figure it out: just weigh them:-)))

Jens Nordlunde 3rd December 2018 11:10 AM

Thank you for the interesting posts on the weight.
I should have added that the sword shown from the MET weighs 5lb 3oz. - 2362g.
I see no reason why the swords should be so heavy, that the elephant could hardly lift it, or that the elephant would easily be tired.

fernando 3rd December 2018 12:03 PM


Originally Posted by ariel
...Second, and most important, Fernando’s quote of 5 such swords on each tusk ( I.e. 100 up to 500 kg) would likely break it...

As i started by saying, these things don't have to be all of the same format, especially in such vast territory, and by the time there was no armour standardization ;) .
Certainly five swords in a set must be composed with units much smaller than a single one; completely a different apparatus ... not excluding that the narrator (who was in loco) had not taken his medication or the natives who told him about it were cheating.
You have in the other hand a different chroniclar comparing the ones he saw to plow irons. I assume this one 'saw' them (not told about), as natives would not use the plow iron term.


Originally Posted by Jens Nordlunde
...I should have added that the sword shown from the MET weighs 5lb 3oz. - 2362g.
I see no reason why the swords should be so heavy, that the elephant could hardly lift it, or that the elephant would easily be tired...

I don't know.These guys can carry a whole tree trunk in their tusks; i wouldn't think 2 1/2 Kilos is a great deal for them. Besides, them not being properly keen in fencing arts, these 'swords' must resist violent thrusts.

ariel 3rd December 2018 12:21 PM


I fully agree.

Afanasij Nikitin was a trader from Tver and, like all traders,was likely to exaggerate the weight of things he was trying to “sell”, be it at the market or recollection of Oriental marvels to his readers :-))))) Kind of physical or mental “ finger on the scale”.
I also cannot understand what was the purpose of attaching these cutting/slashing things to the tusks. Slashing/cutting requires lateral movement , so the trunk would be ideal.
I saw some examples of tusk swords, and they were straight like spears, which makes sense to me: stabbing function.

But.... Indian arms and Armour often defy our logic.

I actually witnessed elephants carrying tree trunks in Thailand. They do not put then on the tusks: they wrap their trunks around the object and carry it. I would guess that a day or two of carrying heavy objects on their tusks would break the ivory.

fernando 3rd December 2018 01:33 PM

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You are obvious right, Ariel; my bad :o

Here is what thy called The battle of Pashan begins ...


Jens Nordlunde 3rd December 2018 01:43 PM

Ariel, about breaking the ivory. Ivory from the African elephant was sought for rather than ivory from the Indian elephant - as it was said to be stronger.

Fernando, nice miniature. I have seen pictures of these 'daggers' as well, but only pictures.

ariel 3rd December 2018 03:50 PM

Yes, that is what I was talking about: a single stabbing thingie on each tusk.

African ivory might have been stronger for making sword handles, but regretfully to have stronger ivory of a battle elephant they would have to drag the entire living creature from Africa.
Taking into account that any respectable Indian army had to have 500-800 battle elephants , that would have been a major undertaking:-))))

Jens Nordlunde 3rd December 2018 04:46 PM

Ren Ren, thank you for the translation.
I have, in different papers, seen mentioned, that the towers on the elephants had from four to twelve men. If the twelve men is correct it would be a weight of about nine hundred kilo, plus the tower and the armour.
I would suggest that the number of men were less than twelve. First of all they would not have much room for movement, and secondly the weight to carry for the elephant, over many hours, might have been too much - although the elephants are very strong.
Not all the old authors are giving the correct numbers, some of them tend to overdo it a 'bit'.

Ariel, I do see you point. Even to day it would be a wee bit problematic to move maybe 30,000 elephants from Africa to India.

fernando 3rd December 2018 06:11 PM

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And the Mughal Empire style; suggesting pointless tusks ...


ariel 3rd December 2018 06:49 PM


These two examples introduce a mild doubt in the veracity of Nikitin’s and Velho’s descriptions of elephant swords. But, as I said, stranger things were happening in India.

The use of elephants as war machines might have been devastating to both sides. There are description of many battles in which the defenders conducted massive arrow ( and later firearm) “bombardments” against the elephants thus were turning them around and destroying their own forces. Not till WWI was this problem solved by the introduction of tanks. Although Leonardo left behind blueprints of the first tank-like contraption: a large turtle- like wooden/metal shell with multiple embrasures for several cannons hidden inside.

fernando 3rd December 2018 06:54 PM

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Originally Posted by Jens Nordlunde
...I have, in different papers, seen mentioned, that the towers on the elephants had from four to twelve men. If the twelve men is correct it would be a weight of about nine hundred kilo, plus the tower and the armour.
I would suggest that the number of men were less than twelve. First of all they would not have much room for movement, and secondly the weight to carry for the elephant, over many hours, might have been too much - although the elephants are very strong.
Not all the old authors are giving the correct numbers, some of them tend to overdo it a 'bit'...

Alvaro Velho speaks of five men, Cristovão da Costa mentions the same number and adds the mahout, Barbosa describes three or four men fitting in the castle, armed with bows, muskets and other weapons and Castanheda, recalling Cambay, also emphasizes the wooden castles, in which go four or five archers and musketeers.
On the other hand in a letter sent by King Dom Manuel to Pope Leão X announcing the conquest of the Melaka, the elephant towers are mentioned and, in a libretto written in Italian, from when the famous obedience embassy to the Pope took place, where an elephant was included as a gift:
le legname grossissimo un castello
e venti homini armati aum trato in quello.

Obviously twenty men is a gross exageration from the King; but Kings can cheat!
And so can the Portuguese anonimous painter in this XVI century watercolour, part of the Casanatense codice.


Jens Nordlunde 3rd December 2018 07:11 PM

Hi Fernando,
:-) there seem to be fifteen men in the 'tower' - the poor elephant - stone tower men and all.

fernando 3rd December 2018 07:43 PM


Originally Posted by Jens Nordlunde
Hi Fernando,
:-) there seem to be fifteen men in the 'tower' - the poor elephant - stone tower men and all.

And what a view from the top floor :eek: .
Mind you, this is an early XVI century depiction; there is no other work of the kind from this period.

fernando 3rd December 2018 07:46 PM

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The example in the Met, viewed from different angles; what a beast. I keep thinking they "trimmed" the poor animal's tusks to better fit these things !


Jens Nordlunde 3rd December 2018 10:30 PM

No I dont think they 'trimmed' the trunk - but imagine to be hid by such a 'sword' at a high speed.
Some of the war elephants seemd to have had heavy chains to 'move' the enemy with.

Jim McDougall 4th December 2018 03:01 AM

This is a most interesting and arcane topic, and I checked the articles in Royal Armouries Yearbooks:
"The Elephant Armour" by Thom Richardson & Donna Stevens, Vol.1, 1996
" The Elephant Tusk Swords" Thom Richardson, Vol. 4, 1997

According to these sources, examples of tusk swords are extremely rare, with the only examples are the pair in the Royal Armouries (XXVIM.40) which are from Powis Castle and deemed 16th century. It is not known what provenance these are from, but according to Robert Elgood, he believes they are Hindu.

The other pair, from the now dispersed Mysore arsenal of Maharajah Krishnaraja Wadiyar III (1794-1868) are obviously later and with weak construction clearly intended for ceremonial use.
While this pair is Mughal, it is suggested in the text that Mughal use in combat is unlikely, explaining (1997, p.133) that ,

"....athough there are numerous records of the use of tusk swords in the literature, there seem to ge no contemporary illustrations of them. This may be linked to the lack of reference to tusk swords for elephants in the detailed listing of all types of elephant equipment in the Ain i Akbari of Abu'l Fazi. Possibly they had ceased to be used by the 16th century. If this is so, of course the tusk swords belong to an earlier period when very few illustrations of war elephants survive".

It is curious what the various records of tusk sword use are, and whether they are from Hindu sources or other. As noted, the comprehensive illustrated Mughal guide Ain I Akbari does not include these, which seems significant.

Also, it seems curious that the tusks of the elephant are naturally deadly without the augmentation of sword blades. In the material I have referenced, apparently Pant notes something called 'tusk protectors' which are blunt coverings for the ends of the tusks. The 'tusk swords' shown in this discussion seem to be for 'blunted tusks' as noted as they could not be mounted on a full length and pointed tusk. Perhaps these are a kind of cover for tusks which have been rendered 'safe' in such manner?

I am wondering, with the noted volatility and power of the elephant if they could be effectively controlled in combat situations, and my understanding of the ankus used by the mahout was not only for prodding but 'ending' the animal if it became out of control. It has been noted it seems that these animals could be as deadly to the forces using them as to the enemy.

If contemporary references note the use of tusk swords, then of course they may have been used. However there does not seem to be nearly the support for these mentions that typically remain for the armour used on elephants nor existing examples in number of these tusk swords.

I am unsure of the example shown here from the Met, and would like to know more on its provenance etc. as it seems to be out of range of the authors of these articles which cite only the two extant examples.

ariel 4th December 2018 04:19 AM

Tusk swords ceased to be used quite some time ago and, just like all very old things that outlived their purpose, they are unquestionably rare. The two examples you refer to are in European museums, but Richard saw more of them in India.
Perhaps the best argument in favor of their actual existence are the contemporaneous miniatures coming from both native and European artists.
Testimonies of Nikitin and Velho are also valuable, although the weights are uncertain.
I am sure they existed at some times, but the introduction of firepower, artillery especially, made “living tanks” and their metal arms obsolete and relegated elephants to the role of impressive royal vehicles.

Jim McDougall 4th December 2018 05:10 AM

Thanks Ariel. I guess the question is, while they certainly must have existed in some degree, and given the Indian penchant for innovation in weaponry, it does not seem unlikely they did. ...but just how much so?
The extreme absence of them in armouries and collections suggest they were more a novelty than regularly seen weapon.

I was under the impression they were not found in contemporary miniatures or art, which was why such doubt was expressed on use after 16th c. and it was suggested they did not appear in earlier art.

fernando 4th December 2018 12:52 PM

Chronology ... Biography.
As shown in my post #10, an elephant with tusks armed with (so called) swords is illustrated in "The Battle of Pashan begins", from the Shahnama (Book of Kings) by Shah Tahmasp 1530-1545.

Alvaro Velho, a chroniclar, has been in India in 1498 with Vasco da Gama, and came back in the same fleet.

Garcia de Orta was a Portuguese intelectual (Physician) Jew. He departed to the Orient in 1534, appointed Captain-Mor of the India Sea, having died in Old Goa in 1568. He was a brilliant Botanist, Pharmacologist,Tropical Medicine specialist and Antropologist. After his death, the Inquisiton started chasing his family, having soon condemned his sister to be burnt alive in a Auto-de-Fé in Goa in 1569. Garcia himself was condemned to the fire for Judaism, his remnants being exhumed for the purpose.
I don't think such personality would have copied Alvaro Velho's router notes.
Actually his wider description of the war elephant subject reads: (before my previous quotation) they (elephants) go to war armoured, especially in the forehead and chest, like harnessed horses; they put pending bells in their flanks ...; (after my previous quotation) ... bring hooks and bisarmas (large bills) abnd lately they bring meios berços (small cannons) and panelas de polvora (period fashion gun powder pans).

Admitedly hundreds, possibly thousands of elephant swords may have existed in the past, only four pairs and the single example in the Met are known to survive today.
One may easily realize that as, not all elephants were engaged in war, most certainly not all war elephants carried swords in their tusks. Maybe this was a fashion adopted only by certain sectors; and maybe they turned out to manifestly cumbersome.

But, as the Spaniard says:
Yo no creo en brujas, pero que las hay, las hay !
which in an easy tranlation means:
I don't believe in witches ... still they do exist !

GIO 4th December 2018 04:38 PM

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Always Mughal

Jens Nordlunde 4th December 2018 04:47 PM

It seems as if some of the tusk sword survived, but what about the trunk sword?
As said before, I have read that the war elephants carried either sword or heavy chains in their trunks. Does anyone have pictures of thesee swords or chains?

fernando 4th December 2018 05:44 PM


Originally Posted by Jens Nordlunde
...Does anyone have pictures of thesee swords or chains?

What about this FANTASY ?

Jim McDougall 4th December 2018 07:18 PM


Originally Posted by fernando
What about this FANTASY ?

This is a good point......just how much fantasy or hubris laden license is included in the art depicting events and battles of hundreds of years before?
We know that many famous artworks depicting important battles were often painted many years after the events, and more current research has often revealed profound differences in actual circumstances vs. the portrayal in art.

In the articles cited here, the Shahnama (of Shah Tahmasp written c. 1590) is said to depict the Battle of Pashan in a painting which shows elephants using tusk swords, but it is noted that the event took place hundreds of years before. Other references claim that the use of tusk swords go back over a thousand years. It is here usually noted that these times precluded miniatures which might have illustrated these tusk swords contemporarily.

Richardson suggests that by lack of inclusion of tusk swords in the well known Mughal records of arms in the Ain-I-Akbari also c. 1590s may well have been because these were out of use by then. Perhaps also, they were not significantly used enough to warrant inclusion in this comprehensive record.

Is it possible that the dangerously deadly tusks of the elephants were compared to swords as they attacked in battle? and this became construed into actual swords attached. Why would a sword be used to supplant an already dangerous natural weapon? I think of descriptions of weapons in India's array of innovative weapons which are described using many animals natural defenses such as bagh-nakh; bichwa; tigers tail; and others.....could such converse portrayal be the case?

With the fact that survival of so many weapon forms, particularly of the 15th c. onward, why would only several of these pairs of tusk 'swords' be left? especially if 'thousands' of them were produced.

This situation reminds me very much of the case in the 17th c. of the famed "Winged Hussars of Poland", and the curious wings mounted on the backs of their cuirass. It was supposed that these would make terrifying noise as these hussars charged in battle, and of course many artworks depicted these fantastic warriors in battle with their wings. However, it seems that research suggests these were primarily a parade device, and worn ceremoniously, a case of course often debated still.

Could these tusk swords have been in the same way, ceremoniously used and their fearsome appearance extended into artwork depicting earlier battles where elephants were used in battle?

Regarding the use of a sword on the trunk, that as we discussed in 2008 here, would be disastrous, as if the tusk swords would not be trouble enough. Elephants are remarkably intelligent animals and fearfully volatile. This I believe is one of the purposes of the weapon/implement called the ankus. The mahout can use it as a goad but it is bladed as well allegedly to dispatch the elephant if out of control.
I am unclear on the use of weights on the trunk as these would be as deadly as the other.

shayde78 5th December 2018 02:45 AM

I wonder if an enterprising chap was inspired to invent the pata upon studying one of these.

Jim McDougall 5th December 2018 03:24 AM

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Looking further into this, regarding the interesting example shown here now in the Royal Armouries and the subject of the article by Thom Richardson (op.cit. 1999, p.133) it does appear these were to secure over the tusk, "...the inside of each socket tapers to a flat end, and is intended to fit over the sawn off tusk".

In the article it is stated these, like the elephant armor on display there, were acquired from Powis Castle, the items acquired by the Earl of Powis c. 1798 .
It is claimed that the armor dates from 16th c. but H.Robinson (1967, "Oriental Armour" p.119) says tradition claims it was taken by Clive at the Battle of Plassey in 1757.
While it was suggested these items belonged together, Richardson doubts it and suggests perhaps the tusk swords are earlier.

In looking at these tusk swords, the distinct fuller system is remarkably similar to the blades of Vijayanagara weapons of the 16th century, which is in my opinion possibly why Robert Elgood considers these Hindu, and I think this fullering supports the 16th century notion.

While these were it seems most probably Hindu examples, it does seem that Mughals did adopt tusk weapons in some degree.

In Robinson (1967) it is noted that "...the tusks of the beasts were tipped with metal points".

To this reference to points, Richardson notes from the Zafarnama of Sharaf ud-Din Yazdi the battle between Timur and the Delhi Sultan in 1398 (theaccount written 1424)..."...the enemies great reliance on war elephants - noting sharp poisoned points fastened to the tusks'.

The later accounts (1468-74) of Athanasius Nikiton in "Voyage to India" describing the Bahmani armies at Bidar having "...large scythes attached to the tusks and trunks of the elephants".

This account is suspect in my opinion as I have previously noted, the idea of bladed weapons attached to the trunk of an elephant seems insane.
Further these accounts describe swords of 100 lbs attached to the tusks and heavy weights on the trunk.
Why would ANY sword weigh 100 pounds? and put this enormous weight on the tusks? and THEN put heavy weights on the trunk?

I would better receive the notions of steel tips on the tusks than these huge blades...though the poison is a bit dramatized as often the case I think.

Jim McDougall 5th December 2018 03:38 AM

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Originally Posted by shayde78
I wonder if an enterprising chap was inspired to invent the pata upon studying one of these.

Good observation Shayde!

Actually the pata evolved from the hooded/gauntlet hilt katars of Vijayanagara in 16th century, and ironically Elgood (Hindu Arms and Ritual", 2004, p.257)notes that in the Tanjore Armoury (1860, #830) was a 'puttah', double edged sword to be held in an elephants trunk.

As I noted in my previous post, it is interesting that the channeling in the blade of the Royal Armouries example of 'tusk sword' bears a striking resemblance to the katar blades of 16th c. Vijayanagara.

So your suggestion has most interesting associations :)

attached Tanjore katar

fernando 5th December 2018 02:09 PM

Notwithstanding ...
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Looking at the Mughal examples shown here so far, one could easily beleive those were only tusk adornments for parade. Yet the example from the Met looks like the real thing; both absence of decoration and the brutality of its blade profile, hardly constitute an embelishment accessory. Do i understand this one had moved to the Royal Amouries ? Reason why i didn't stumble over it when i was at the Met in 2014 :shrug:.

In the so called Book of Duarte Barbosa, a traveller and navigator who has been in the Orient between 1500 -1516/17, having been a scrivener in Cananor, and some times interpreter of the local language (Malaiala); one who has later joined Fernão de Magalhães in the world circum-navigation, i can read in my transcription of his original old Portuguese version, a little hard to read and a little harder to translate:

" Reino de Cambaia, delRei de Guzarate.
The King of Guzarat is a very great Lord, so of people as of great estate and very rich land. He is a Moor, and so are his men of arms, brings a great court and gross cavalry. He is the owner of many horses and elephants, these which they come from Ceylon and the Malabar to sell in his reign, as horses there are plenty in his lands, so that with the elephants and horses he makes great war to the gentiles of of Guzarat, so called Resbutos (from sânscrit râjâputrâ), who still don't obey him, and there are also other Kings with whom some times he makes war; and in top of the elephants they build a wooden castle, that bring bows, arrows, muskets and other weapons, from where they fight their enemies, and are the said elephants so well taught in this that, as they engage fight with their tusks they wound the horses and people so hard that many soon run away and disrupt eachother, as also those from his own side. Of these, has continuously the King of Cambay four hundred, five hundred elephants (sic), very big and handsome, which cost 1 500 cruzados each, a little less a little more (sic) in the sea ports they bring them for sale."

On the other hand, although i could (could) admit that Alvaro Velho's version could be questioned, on basis on having 'bought' some local tale, i wouldn't question Garcia de Orta's integrity of facts.


Jens Nordlunde 5th December 2018 02:29 PM

Maybe the reason why so few tusk swords can be found is, that they were useless centuries before the swords.
So many of the tusk swords were likely melted down, and forged into sword blades.

fernando 5th December 2018 02:33 PM


Originally Posted by Jens Nordlunde
Maybe the reason why so few tusk swords can be found is, that they were useless centuries before the swords.
So many of the tusk swords were likely melted down, and forged into sword blades.

Well, one perspective :cool: .

Jim McDougall 5th December 2018 09:33 PM

In accord with Jens' 'perspective':
From "Islamic Swords and Swordsmiths" ( Unsal Yucel, Istanbul, 2001, pp.10-11);

"...the problem of preservation was further exacerbated by the fact that five hundred years ago most medieval European and Islamic swords were valued primarily for their metal.
Little did they know then that these weapons would be deemed of immense historical importance today. Indeed it is pure chance that some even survived. In those days, good steel for swords was an extremely valuable commodity, obtainable only at great expense and effort. Therefore it is not surprising that it was customary among the Ottoman's to MELT DOWN AND REFORGE swords acquired as booty during war, or that they subjected the swords of their ancestors to the same fate".

It is noted further that during the reign of Sultan Mahmud II (1808-39) as he disbanded Janissaries to develop a new, more Europeanized standing army, the Arsenal (in Istanbul) lost its function and became a storehouse for old weapons. As mail and swords etc. were giving way to firearms and artillery, these materials which had been stored rather than being melted down simply sat rusting and in sorry state. It seems I read that often there were heaps of armor etc used as ballast in ships where on arrival in America the metal was simply scrapped. Many fortunate collectors grabbed this stuff for literally pennies.

While swords and edged weapons of earlier times were as noted, melted down, good numbers of still serviceable weapons were stored away in arsenals for possible ersatz use in future call. Unusual items such as the tusk swords, which would have been more in a novelty category would not have been considered worth keeping, especially as elephants in warfare had waned.
If these existed in any number, as has been suggested, it is most likely they fell into the scrap heap, and any which survived (QED) are few.

Regarding the very munitions grade example of apparent tusk sword shown as from the MET, every indication is that these would indeed be in accord with usable weapons. Whether effective or not, their character suggests they were intended for attachment to a tusk. As has been noted earlier, these are quite different than the other examples which seem more for parade or ceremonial use, particularly the Mughal examples from Mysore, which are so noted in Richardson (1999).

It does seem that, again using the term 'perspective' , as noted in one of my earlier posts an item from Elgood (2004) describing item #830 from the Tanjore armory which was apparantly a 'pata' (puttah) and thought to be wielded in an elephants trunk. Clearly the author of this notation had little understanding of Indian arms, and as discussed previously, the notion of an elephant with a sword in its trunk is fanciful, of not in my opinion, ridiculous.

How many contemporary writers might have seen swords such as pata, and presumed them to be elephant swords, and other writers carrying the notion further, presumed them to be mounted on tusks?

fernando 6th December 2018 07:26 PM

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The history of war elephants is vast, as vast is the Indian territory. Adding those to the exuberance of Indian rulers, there definitely are elephant weapon implements for all tastes.
While the pair at the Royal Armouries is apparently functional and visibly (and admitedly) made to fit sawn-off tusks, there are two pairs from the dispersed Mysore arsenal which, besides being rather smaller and with embellished sockets, are built in such weak manner that show they only played a decorative role.
On the other hand, a pair of tusk covers with blades belong in the collection of the Junilee Museum in Bikaner, their date attributed to the XVIII century. This reminds me, as already previously did, the citation by Alvaro Velho of the multi-sword version; instead of being big sized single swords in each tusk, would be some socket-like device with a series of smaller blades.
One other pair with substantial features, certainly from an earlier period, formed part of the Moser-Charlottenfels collection, shown in the 1912 Leipzig catalogue.

Aparently the tusk swords at the Royal Armouries are part of a resident (partly restored) colossal elephant armour, acquired in India between 1798 and 1800, by the wife of the then Governor of Madras. I wouldn't know the reason why they are exhibited in a separate scenario.


Jim McDougall 6th December 2018 08:43 PM

Well noted on the 'weakly' but embellished pair from Mysore, as shown and described by Richardson (1999), which were apparently vestigial examples reflecting the heritage of the 'war elephant'.

From what I have understood, again in the very informative article by Thom Richardson in the "Royal Armouries Yearbook" of 1999 the elephant armour that was on display there came from Powis Castle collection, and the tusk swords were acquired from there later. It is noted that the armor and the pair of tusk swords were regarded as from different periods, and the sense was that the swords were likely notably earlier (the armor acquired mid 18th c.).
I think that perhaps as these were not of the same period it was deemed more prudent to display them separately.

It is interesting that having established that the tusks were sawn off, the term 'tusk covers' may well have been used whether they were just covers for exposed tusk or embellished with formidable appearing blades. The case seems unclear.

I had not noticed the instance with multiple blades, which again well displays the innovation of these Indian armourers, who always sought to impress their patrons with novelty weaponry.

Jens Nordlunde 6th December 2018 10:44 PM

I remember that Sunde, maybe fifty years ago, told me that he had an elephant armour in an Indian storehouse, but they would not let it go.

ariel 6th December 2018 11:31 PM

I am reasonably OK with the idea of tusk swords, provided they were just extensions of the tusk: they would improve on the penetrating ability of the tusk and at the same time would protect the tips of the tusks from mechanical damage inflicted on them by the contact with enemy’s metal protective devices. I agree with Jim’s disbelief in the veracity of Nikitin’s description of tusk swords.

But the more I imagine curved trunk swords and especially the chains attached to the trunk the more I doubt the wisdom of their use. Inevitably, wild dangling of either ( or both) such contraptions would run a significant risk of injuring elephant’s legs and tusks. War elephants were a).not easily replaceable and b). any painful injury to them would run a risk of running away from the enemy and squishing their own soldiers.

fernando 7th December 2018 11:20 AM


Originally Posted by ariel
... I agree with Jim’s disbelief in the veracity of Nikitin’s description of tusk swords. ...

The full citation being:
"...large scythes attached to the tusks and trunks of the elephants".
I would drop the 'trunk' part as being the author's 'flowering' the narration. But the 'scythe' term sounds not so distant to Garcia de Orta's 'plow iron'.
I, for one, realize that, all we can say about these things based on the infinitesimal part that we know compared to whatever happened, is perhaps rather reducing.
Notwithstanding the fun of enjoying such appealing conversation.

And a little question:
What was the primary purpose to saw their tusks ?

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