From the collection of: (former) Iain Norman
Blade: circa 1350, probably northern Italian manufacture
Hilts/Mount: Difficult to determine precisely, believed at least 17th century if not earlier
Ethnicity: Unknown, could well be Tuareg, but equally Hausa or Kanuri.
This sword is comprised of an early European blade in a heavy duty forte mount. Where the blade, having been shortened, is pinned into a new piece of steel, creating a forte about 1/4 of the length of the sword. This is altogether sturdy and makes for a very thick and stiff sword. This method is not uncommon in takouba. How the sword came to be shortened is not clear, as it appears to have lost some length at the tip, but mainly at the base. This could have come about in a number of circumstances, tang failure or a forging flaw in the base of the blade being the most likely. The latter situation may have revealed an issue with the temper of the blade necessitating the somewhat dramatic shortening seen in it's current form. The blade was likely an XIIIa in the Oakeshott typology in it's original form.
The blade features two marks, a cross inside a circle (cross fourchee) and a so called cross with split upright. Both marks appear on each side of the blade and contain the remains of a brass or gold inlay. The encircled cross is a mark that was widely used from the 13th through the 15th century. Identified in Handbuch Der Waffenkunde by Wendelin Boeheim, as an Italian mark, it also saw use in Germany. Sometimes known as a consecration cross, this mark was not applied as a maker’s mark but instead had religious significance, although later the mark was applied without being associated with consecrating the sword.
A similar example is held within the military museum in Belgrade, Serbia and greatly increases the probability this example is Italian. The Belgrade held example is of the XIIIa blade type with a S shaped guard and hexagonal pommel.
Several examples with a similar cross but doubly encircled are known from the Alexandria Arsenal (now residing in Istanbul).
The split upright cross can be seen on at least one other sword with a Type XIII blade (associated with the 13th through 14th centuries by Oakeshott) although that example features a later 15th century hilt.
It is not easy to conform an exact date on this blade as the one mark seems rather rare and the other used over a reasonably wide time period. However the profile of the blade, or what can still be seen after extensive native sharpening and the addition of the forte, conforms with the mid 14th.
It would be easy to speculate about the sword entering Africa during various clashes in the 14th century between European knights and Alexandria, or in action against pirates on the N. African coast. However the reality is that it is just as likely the sword could have been part of the stock stored in Cyprus or Malta and later sold off to a trader who took it into the interior. Or an item captured during the Ottoman campaigns in southern Europe, or even simply a blade traded off a Venetian or Genoan ship on the North African coast. There really is little way to know.
The pommel and guard are particularly intriguing on this sword. The pommel is of the older oval type and interestingly is curved on the inside to fit the palm of your hand. Made of two halves, the top features a single strap of iron and a cap of brass in a rectangular shape.
The handle is ten sided and very solid. Almost certainly originally covered in leather.
The guard appears to be a single piece of iron forming both sides of the guard and a second piece on the top forming the ends and the top slot for the blade. This differs from the usual method of wrapping two pieces around the blade to form the guard. This in contrast this has clean, square edges and is more solid. Each side of the guard has a brass plate with decorative elements.
The blade condition is relatively good given the age, with some pitting but overall solid condition. The sword has been professionally conserved.
Overall the sword is heavy, stiff and in total contrast to many takouba encountered. It is certainly the earliest blade I have had the privilege to own. I suspect the hilt is also one of the earliest known, it contains elements of what we normally term older hilts, but expands on them and is more solidly built. For these reasons I would term it an important sword.
Blade including forte: 82.8cm
Blade width where it meets the forte: a little more than 4.5cm
Blade thickness where it meets the forte: around 3mm