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Old 28th May 2021, 04:58 PM   #1
Jim McDougall
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Default An unusual cavalry schiavona of early 19th c.

Earlier I posted a British M1796 light cavalry saber (by Bate, Birmingham) which had apparently been used by the volunteer army who had assembled to protect the Pope and Vatican during unification of Italy conflicts 1861 and prior.

While not particularly well versed in the complexities of Italian history, it appears I have another weapon in my humble armory that has unusual connections in these political intrigues.

This is of course a schiavona, which is a trellis hilt sword most famed for its used by body guards for the Doge in Venice, typically from Croatia (hence the term schiavona, loosely referring to 'Slavic'). What is seldom realized is that these most impressive swords were widely used elsewhere in Italian contexts and regions.

This example is a cavalry sword, suggested by the latter 18th c. backsword blade similiar to horsemans swords of various other countries of the period.
What is most interesting, and telling, is the inscription in the blade's fuller,
to FERDINAND IV of the kingdom of the TWO SICILIES.

What this curious title 'Two Sicilies' refers to is the city of Naples as well as the Island of Sicily, the two connected regally and politically in turbulent arrangements since the Middle Ages.

Just after the French Revolution, in the 1790s, French Republicans invaded Naples in part of their plans to conquer Italian regions.
Ferdinand IV (1751-1825). Ferdinand evacuated to Palermo as they invaded in 1799, but Cardinal Fabrizio Rufio hastily assembled an army comprised mostly of the 'lazzaroni'. These were the 'common folk' of Naples and these forces were termed the 'Sanfedismo' , and formidable enough to effectively drive the French revolutionaries out of Naples by 1800.

Ferdinand returned to Naples and maintained his rule until the invasion by Napoloeons forces in 1806, where Napoleon replaced the Bourbon king, Ferdinand by his brother Joseph and Bonapartist officials throughout.

While Ferdinand was deposed, his devout followers remained intent on replacing him to the throne. With Napoleon's defeat in 1816, Ferdinand had remained in power in Sicily.
With the Treaty of Casalanza in 1816, Ferdinand was restored to the throne, but not only to Naples, but remaining of the TWO SICILIES, the former joint kingdom...........but on this, he became FERDINAND I of the Two Sicilies.

Therefore, this schiavona can presumably be placed with likely a cavalry officer of forces FOR Ferdinand while he remained known as Ferdinand IV before the 'formal' recognition of the Two Sicilies, but unofficially while Ferdinand of Naples ruled in Sicily.

These are my interpretations of the likely classification of this remarkable schiavona with apparently an unusual background.
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Old 28th May 2021, 05:16 PM   #2
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Your blade is similar to that of the Dragoon sword made at Toledo about 1761 to 1780.

Ferdinando IV of Naples was son to Carlos III of Spain. Carlos III was previously king of Naples where he erected a weapon factory at Torre Annunziata in 1758, built by the architect Sabatini. When Carlos came to be king of Spain, he repeated the concept in Toledo from 1761, with the building again by Sabatini (1771).

I wonder if the Due Sicilie inscription was added later.
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Old 28th May 2021, 05:29 PM   #3
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Originally Posted by midelburgo View Post
Your blade is similar to that of the Dragoon sword made at Toledo about 1761 to 1780.

Ferdinando IV of Naples was son to Carlos III of Spain. Carlos III was previously king of Naples where he erected a weapon factory at Torre Annunziata in 1758, built by the architect Sabatini. When Carlos came to be king of Spain, he repeated the concept in Toledo from 1761, with the building again by Sabatini (1771).

I wonder if the Due Sicilie inscription was added later.
Excellent!!! This is wonderful insight!! Thank you, and interesting to learn more on Toledo blades, which I had always thought all but defunct other than bayonet and machete blades in late 19th c.
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Old 30th May 2021, 12:41 PM   #4
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Jim, thank you for posting this most interesting sword. The hilt looks like what Ewart Oakeshott describes as a Type 2 schiavona in ďEuropean Weapons and ArmourĒ (1989). I therefore wonder if the hilt might be older than the blade? Iím under the impression that the second half of the 18thC is more associated with Types 2a and 2b schiavonas, which also tend to have bronze catís head pommels.

Do you think that the sword was used by Slavic/Slavonian mercenaries in employ of the King of Naples/Two Sicilies, or do you think that the schiavona hilt by then simply had become a widespread fashionable hilt style on the European continent and used by varied nationalities?

Oakeshott mentions Slavic/Slavonian mercenaries in employ by the Italians, called Stradioti, and Spanish (Naples) called Estradiotas in the 15thC. I think these were probably more of Greek/Albanian origin, but later in the 17thC Venice employed Slavic mercenaries from Dalmatia and Montenegro who were presumably the main users of the schiavona sword. Not sure what type of swords the Stradioti would have used.
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Old 30th May 2021, 05:33 PM   #5
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Jim, thank you for posting this most interesting sword. The hilt looks like what Ewart Oakeshott describes as a Type 2 schiavona in “European Weapons and Armour” (1989). I therefore wonder if the hilt might be older than the blade? I’m under the impression that the second half of the 18thC is more associated with Types 2a and 2b schiavonas, which also tend to have bronze cat’s head pommels.

Do you think that the sword was used by Slavic/Slavonian mercenaries in employ of the King of Naples/Two Sicilies, or do you think that the schiavona hilt by then simply had become a widespread fashionable hilt style on the European continent and used by varied nationalities?

Oakeshott mentions Slavic/Slavonian mercenaries in employ by the Italians, called Stradioti, and Spanish (Naples) called Estradiotas in the 15thC. I think these were probably more of Greek/Albanian origin, but later in the 17thC Venice employed Slavic mercenaries from Dalmatia and Montenegro who were presumably the main users of the schiavona sword. Not sure what type of swords the Stradioti would have used.
Thank you so much for this response, and definitely very plausible possibilities. I have tried to wade through these complex theaters of the Napoleonic period campaigns, and European history of these times is pretty daunting. It seems like 'world wars' are hardly a 20th century phenomenon, and the dynamic participation in Napoleonic campaigns is remarkable.

It is known that the Doge of Venice used guards from Croatia as a long standing diplomatic arrangement, so it seems quite plausible that there were Croatians/Dalmatians were in broader service.

I agree this hilt is quite possibly older than the blade but certainly in 18th c.
I have not quite understood whether the brass catsheads were of a period or other specified use.

While the schiavona hilt is known to have been in use in other European regions and situations, I think it was more a matter of Italian based forces either on campaign or allied with other principalities in that presence.
For some time it was suggested that the schiavona was aligned with the Scottish basket hilt, but this was disproved in the late 19th c. by the comparison of the hilt construction, entirely different.
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Old 30th May 2021, 06:43 PM   #6
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If you want to see a motley collection of swords used at the Italian unification wars I recommend a visit to the Stibbert collection at Florence. Stibbert himself participated in those wars before starting his collection.
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Old 30th May 2021, 09:08 PM   #7
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Originally Posted by midelburgo View Post
If you want to see a motley collection of swords used at the Italian unification wars I recommend a visit to the Stibbert collection at Florence. Stibbert himself participated in those wars before starting his collection.


I would love to go there, and I can only imagine the array of sword types used given the many countries and factions involved. I wonder if there is any sort of catalog or material that might have info on these? I know that I will never make it there, though I wish I could.
Thank you for the tip!
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Old 30th May 2021, 10:25 PM   #8
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Originally Posted by Jim McDougall View Post
I would love to go there, and I can only imagine the array of sword types used given the many countries and factions involved. I wonder if there is any sort of catalog or material that might have info on these? I know that I will never make it there, though I wish I could.
Thank you for the tip!
The Stibbert collection catalogue has 4 or 5 volumes. It is absolutely victorian in its conception and display (even nowadays). Any European period, plus sections on muslim and japanese blades. It is housed in two conjoined large villas overlooking Florence from the hills.
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