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Old 14th January 2021, 11:21 PM   #1
TVV
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Default Nimcha for Comments and Musings on Nimchas

I have always wanted an older nimcha and I believe this one is 18th century or earlier. Buttin shows a similar one as #991 in his catalogue and dates it to the 14th/15th century, but with all due respect to Buttin I feel such dating is off by a few centuries. I am not aware of any evidence of nimchas existing as a form prior to the 16th century.
The grip is entirely encased in brass, which has traces of gilding. There is also green paint or enamel in the recesses. A stone must have once been set on the pommel on the site which faces outward when the sword is worn on the left hip, but it has been lost. The guard is also brass with engraved decoration.
Claude would classify this as an Algerian nimcha, which seems justified based on decoration and some provenanced examples. However, Claude seems to classify any nimcha with an older blade with a pronounced yelman as Algerian regardless of some having Moroccan hilts. Such attribution creates two major assumptions - first, that prior to the 19th century, the nimcha was not used in Morocco and second, that during the 19th century it fell out of use in Algeria. It is plausible that the nimcha did indeed go out of fashion in Algeria and the rest of the nominally Ottoman controlled parts of North Africa, replaced by Ottoman weapons such as palas, kilidjes and shamshirs. But is it also plausible that the nimcha hilt was not used in Morocco until the late 18th century?
The blade is fairly typical of what we see on earlier (or Algerian, if you like that classification) nimchas, with two fullers and a blade which narrows between the ricasso and the yelman. It could be European made, and it has markings on one side, which seem like an attempt at a signature imitation, perhaps by an illiterate smith.
It is interesting to observe the "peaks" on the pommel, similar to peaks on Omani and Eastern African nimchas. The hilts from two opposite sites of Africa are too similar to have been developed independently. Buttin proposes an eastern origin of the nimcha, with the hilt a stylized dragon inspired by weapons such as the Sinhalese kastane. I personally find North's argument for an origin from the Italian storta more convincing, given that certain elements of the quillon block and the entire guard itself were probably directly taken from stortas. That being said, it seems that the nimcha hilt made it to Southern Arabia and the Swahili coastline almost at the same time it appeared in the Mediterranean. This actually makes quite a bit of sense when one considers that the Ottoman expeditions in the Indian Ocean coincided with the height of the Ottoman Naval Power in the Mediterranean during the 16th century - the period the nimcha appears as a form.
Anyway, enough rambling, here are the pictures.
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Old 15th January 2021, 04:06 AM   #2
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Hi Teodor,
A very nice and interesting Nimcha you have there. Quite early in terms of date I would think.
To add some discussion points to your thread, here are some pics of other Nimcha and tribally made??? copies mounted to various blades.
The typical D guard so called Zanzibar Nimcha is shown together with tribal copies also using the D ring guard.
Stu
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Old 15th January 2021, 09:54 PM   #3
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Thank you Stu, I find the connections between the Zanzibari nimchas (Zanzibari used here to refer to all nimchas from Southern Arabia and the Eastern coastline of Africa) and the Maghrebi ones fascinating. The D-ring feature is found on nimchas from both areas, but it is rarely found on Maghrebi examples and only on really early ones. At the same time, it is prevalent on Zanzibari nimchas. This seems to suggest that the form made it over to the Arab Sea and Indian Ocean quite early (assuming West to East distribution).
Here are some hilts in my collection, which we can use to make some observations. To the left of my new Algerian nimcha are two Moroccan ones - a typical one to the far left and an interesting variation with the two inner quillons perpendicular instead of parallel to the blade. Note also that the outside quillon which is curved towards the blade does not end with the typical Moroccan style ball, but is much flatter, like the quillon on Zanzibari nimchas. It is tempting to categorize this type of guard as a transitional one between D-ring guards and guards without a D-ring. It is rarer than the usual Moroccan nimcha guard, and in the few instances I have seen such guards they tend to be mounted on older blades (mine is on a mid 18th century English hanger with a fox mark, the one in Claude's book has an older blade as well). It appears therefore that this type of guard is slightly earlier than the more widespread later form with quillons all parallel to the blade, probably dating back to the late 18th, early 19th century, which would support the hypothesis that this is indeed a transitional type.
To the right are two typical Zanzibari nimcha guards - the one right next to the Algerian nimcha has a steel plate with cut out decorations inside the D-ring, while the next one does not. It is possible that the plate was added to strengthen the D-ring, which as you can see on the other nimcha has been broken. The Zanzibari nimcha next to the Algerian one is also the higher quality example of the two, with a slightly larger hilt and more decoration, so the plate might have been something reserved for better quality examples.
The next sword to the right is another Zanzibari nimcha, but with a simpler, brass guard and no D-ring.
Finally on the far right is a saif from Southern Yemen. It lacks the nimcha guard with its knuckleguard, replaced with a crossguard instead(and a chain from the quillon to the pommel which is missing on mine), but the grip and pommel are undoubtedly of the same form as on nimchas, except that the pommel is tilted at a 90 degree angle to the hilt, more so than on Zanzibari nimcha pommels which are tilted at a smaller angle.
This is of course only a partial snapshot of the many variations that exist on nimcha hilts, so hopefully other members would share some of their nimchas here, along with their own thoughts.
Teodor
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Old 15th January 2021, 10:43 PM   #4
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Your new nimcha is amazing Teodor!

Last edited by Kubur; 15th January 2021 at 10:54 PM.
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Old 15th January 2021, 11:29 PM   #5
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On your new nimcha, is that patina or enamel in the hilt recesses?
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Old 16th January 2021, 12:36 AM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Kubur
Your new nimcha is amazing Teodor!
Thank you Kubur, I appreciate it.

Quote:
Originally Posted by Battara
On your new nimcha, is that patina or enamel in the hilt recesses?
Jose, it is not patina. It looks like remnants of paint or enamel.
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Old 16th January 2021, 05:48 AM   #7
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This is an outstanding topic and thread Teodor, and absolutely wonderful grouping of these swords! Congratulations on the beautiful new example you have added and I very much agree with your comments.
While I of course have nothing but the highest regard for Mr. Buttin, like all of the long venerated arms writers, they were far from infallible. The 14th-15th c. suggestion for #991 is remarkably unlikely and exceeds optimism.

As far as I have understood this distinctive guard system evolved most likely in Italy in the late 15th century as Tony North described in his " A Late 15th Century Italian Sword" (Connoisseur, Dec. 1975, fig.3). The assimilation into the Ceylonese sphere with the similar system in the 'kastane' appears to have arisen sometime about a century later, but from again similar hilt designs in South India, Deccan of 15th c. ("Arts of the Muslim Knight", B. Mohamed, 2008, p.206, #197). It does seem the quillon system was circulating through trade networks in 15th into 16th c. but its character in my opinion reflects Italian sword design innovations as the rapier styles were evolving.

In Mohamed (op. cit. #40; #41 and #60) all show these 'peaked' type hilts of these sa'if commonly termed 'nimcha' .
#40 has the D-ring and is attributed to N. Africa 16th-17th c. The blade has a 'cog'wheel' mark known of German smiths of 16th c. and the hilt designs are Ottoman form of 16th c.

#60 is of the Deccan in India with the peak and same hilt styling but with characteristic Indian quillon terminals and langet, said to be 17th c. \

#41 is of Algeria, Oran c. 1700. The same type sword was captured at the Battle of Oran n 1732. One of these had the toughra of Mustafa II (1695-1703) on the blade.

The same hilt and quillon system seems too have prevailed mostly in the Maghreb from 17th c. into 18th, but as always, tradition keeps forms around much longer than collectively recognized. It seems that the 'peak' had basically diminished by the18th c.

It seems that Stone regarded these as Algerian, while collectors have always deemed the 'nimcha' as Moroccan.

It does seem that the instances of English merchants wearing nimcha in the early to mid years of 17th c. come from diplomatic trade relations with Morocco.
In the past there have been numbers of attempts to classify nimcha regionally by hilt features and quillon character, but I am not sure this can be reliably done.

The 'D ring' guard for example has long been regarded as a Zanzibar form, but here Buttin refers to them only as Arab, collectively grouped with the other forms of variation.

With the example posted here in the opening of the thread, that blade looks distinctly Italian, and those markings reflect characteristics of Italian lettered marks in parallel, and quite possibly 17th c. The unusual raised section on the blade back nearest hilt seems like Italian blades I have seen.


Attached is a Hafsid sovereign of Tunis wearing a nimcha c. 1573. While we cannot rely on accuracy necessarily, the peak seems absent but by the notations on the example from N. Africa (Mohamed, op. cit. #40) from Oran Algeria of late16th c. the design did exist there.
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Old 16th January 2021, 06:50 AM   #8
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Jim, thank you for your thorough comments. I have the Furusiyya Foundation book and it is a great reference. It shows a nimcha with a hilt, covered by turtle shell and silver (#41), and then mentions the 4 similar swords captured in 1732 and now in the Real Armeria. This info is again repeated in the recent Met book to which Kwiatek contributed translations. However, I have reasons to believe these turtle shell hilts appeared a century or so earlier, because a fine example now in the Rijksmuseum was captured by Michiel de Ruyter in 1655:

https://www.rijksmuseum.nl/en/collection/NG-NM-10412

In the Malta Armory, among the many nimchas there is one with a D-ring, but it is there nonetheless. These swords were trophies of the knights of St. John, captured in naval battles in the Mediterranean, in a period from the 16th to the late 18th centuries (the order seized to exist after that courtesy of Napoleon). So there are most certainly Maghrebi nimchas with this feature. The lovely example in the Hofburg (also shown in Claude's great book) also has a D-ring and since it is probably connected to the Habsburgs, it likely came from the Mediterranean too (and it is decorated in an Ottoman style).

When it comes to guard and quillon style, I wonder if the approach of trying to differentiate on a purely regional basis is flawed as some variations may be chronological in character.

Regards,
Teodor
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Old 21st January 2021, 11:59 AM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by TVV

In the Malta Armory, among the many nimchas there is one with a D-ring, but it is there nonetheless. These swords were trophies of the knights of St. John, captured in naval battles in the Mediterranean, in a period from the 16th to the late 18th centuries (the order seized to exist after that courtesy of Napoleon). So there are most certainly Maghrebi nimchas with this feature. The lovely example in the Hofburg (also shown in Claude's great book) also has a D-ring and since it is probably connected to the Habsburgs, it likely came from the Mediterranean too (and it is decorated in an Ottoman style).

When it comes to guard and quillon style, I wonder if the approach of trying to differentiate on a purely regional basis is flawed as some variations may be chronological in character.

Regards,
Teodor
A big thank you for posting those in the top photo. All too often we see only the "pretty" examples, rather than the workaday ones carried by the majority.
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Old 22nd January 2021, 05:19 PM   #10
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Quote:
Originally Posted by David R
A big thank you for posting those in the top photo. All too often we see only the "pretty" examples, rather than the workaday ones carried by the majority.
David, in the link below you can see all of the nimchas and other Ottoman arms in the Knights' Armory in Valletta, most of them are fighting examples without the elaborate decoration reserved for those of higher status and wealth:

http://vikingsword.com/vb/showthread.php?t=24898
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Old 28th January 2021, 12:21 PM   #11
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I believe this sword was from the time of the siege of Malta.
http://www.vikingsword.com/vb/showthread.php?t=1530
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Old 28th January 2021, 01:02 PM   #12
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Thank you for the link, some very interesting blades there, including what looks like a (pseudo) Shashka.
Which reminded me that during the 17th C English Civil War a captured crew of Barbary Pirates in Exeter Jail were made an offer they couldn't refuse... Fight for Parliament or be executed.
After the war those surviving were released to go home, and home was a lot of different places in the Muslim World. We know this because they were given the usual documents for released soldiery of the time which stated their home town/origin as by law they had to go by the most direct route.
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Old 29th January 2021, 03:26 AM   #13
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Quote:
Originally Posted by eftihis
I believe this sword was from the time of the siege of Malta.
http://www.vikingsword.com/vb/showthread.php?t=1530
The Great Siege of Malta was all the way back in 1565. As far as I am aware, there are no trophies collected from the Ottomans during those events that have indisputable provenance. Only one of the swords in the Armory in Valletta is attributed to Turgut Reis, but considering that he was killed by stone debris from a cannon ball that hit near him deep into the Ottoman positions, it is unlikely that the Knights would have gotten the opportunity to retrieve anything from his body (Spiteri, the author of the only modern published catalogue of the collection expresses his doubts as well). It is very hard to link any sword directly to the Siege of Malta or even to that period.

That being said, you have a fantastic sword Eftihis. It is clearly old and unique due to the baskethilt.
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Old 30th January 2021, 05:41 AM   #14
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Quote:
Originally Posted by David R
Thank you for the link, some very interesting blades there, including what looks like a (pseudo) Shashka.
I believe this is simply a nimcha with a yataghan style hilt. While the nimcha style hilt was prevalent (in all its early variations), some preferred other hilt types. Claude shows a yataghan hilted example in his book as well.
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