Place of Origin: Arabia, Medina
Date: 19th Century
Weighty and richly decorated, this Assib jambiya is made in the Meccan style and, importantly, it is almost identical to two daggers which were famously worn by that eminent figure of British history, Lawrence of Arabia (1).
The I-shaped grip, typical of this weapon-type, is made of silver and has been generously gilded. It has two rosette-shaped buttons with pronounced central hemispheres, set against elegantly engraved foliate scrolls; with the rear showing a scaled pattern. The grip concludes with an attractive domed boss at each end of the pommel’s two tips.
The scabbard’s design is in keeping with the above and presents a series of beaded bands that border a complex, beautiful arrangement of openwork motifs. Eyelets on either side provide the means to attach the jambiya to a belt while a diagonal band bisects the scabbard’s front. Above this, a small inscription in Arabic reads: Work of ‘Abd Allah Rukhan (Ruhan?)
The scabbard’s mouth is covered in maroon velvet, ensuring a quiet and elegant drawing and sheathing of the dagger. (The same velvet is visible through some of the pierced work above the diagonal band.) The scabbard’s tip sweeps gracefully upwards until it terminates in a large, striated thum, or pommel.
The blade itself is forged from high quality wootz steel—a rare feature—and one that further indicates that this dagger was made for an important man with refined tastes. Alexander (2) describes a Meccan dagger in the Metropolitan Museum’s collection (31.35.1a-c) that is a very close relative to our example—it is likely that both were made in the same workshop.
Provenance: Private American collection
(1) Elgood, The Arms and Armour of Arabia: In the 18th–19th and 20th Centuries, 1994, p.73, no.9.7 and no.9.9.
(2) Alexander (contributions by Pyhrr and Kwiatkowski), Islamic Arms and Armor in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, 2015, p.226, no.91.