Sword and scabbard

ca. 7th century A.D.
Blade: iron; scabbard and hilt: gold over wood, garnets, glass-paste; guard: gilt-bronze
L. 39 1/2 in. (100.3 cm)
Credit Line:
Rogers Fund, 1965
Accession Number:
65.28a, b
On view at The Met Fifth Avenue in Gallery 405
Kings of the Sasanian period (224–651 A.D.) are almost always depicted with a sword suspended from the belt, a motif appropriate to the victor in combat. This iron sword with a gold-covered wooden scabbard is a splendid example of the type adopted by the Sasanians from the Hunnish nomads who roamed Europe and Asia in the sixth and seventh centuries, shortly before the beginning of the Islamic era. It has a long and narrow grip with two finger rests, and the scabbard has a pair of P-shaped projections to which two straps of different lengths were originally attached. The straps held the sword suspended from the warrior's belt in such a way that it could easily be drawn even by a warrior on horseback.

The sword itself is inlaid with garnets and glass, and a pattern of overlapping feathers decorates the surface. That a similar pattern can be seen on the helmet of a Sasanian warrior has led scholars to suggest it may be symbolic of the Zoroastrian god of victory, Verethragna. Several other swords of this type are known, some mounted in gold, some in silver. Stylistically and technically, they are all very similar, although the present example is by far the most elaborate of the group.

[by 1964, known on the art market]; acquired by the Museum in 1965, purchased from René Raymond Dreyfus, Geneva.

“Treasured Masterpieces of the Metropolitan Museum of Art,” Tokyo National Museum, Tokyo, Japan, The Kyoto Municipal Museum, Kyoto, Japan, 1972.

“Gold,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, April 14–September 9, 1973.

“Patterns of Collecting: Selected Acquisitions 1965-1975,” The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, December 6, 1975–March 23, 1976.

“The Royal Hunter: Art of the Sasanian Empire,” Asia House Gallery, New York, The Dallas Museum of Fine Arts, The Cleveland Museum of Art, 1978.

Crawford, Vaughn E. 1965. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 24 (2), Ninety-Fifth Annual Report of the Trustees, for the Fiscal Year 1964-1965 (Oct., 1965), pp. 45-46.

Crawford, V. et al. 1966. Guide to the Ancient Near East Collection. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, p. 37, fig.60.

Tokyo National Museum. 1972. Treasured Masterpieces of the Metropolitan Museum of Art. exh. cat. no. 14.

Hoving, Thomas, and Carmen Gómez-Moreno. 1972-1973. "Gold." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 31 (2), Winter 1972/1973, pp. 115-117.

Nickel, Helmut. 1973. "About the Sword of the Huns and the 'Urepos' of the Steppes." Metropolitan Museum Journal 7, pp. 131-134, figs. 1-3.

Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1975. Notable Acquisitions, 1965-1975. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, p. 36.

Bálint, Csanád. 1978. "Vestiges archéologiques de l'époque tardive des sassanides et leurs relations avec les peuples des steppes." Acta Archaeologica Academiae Scientiarum Hungaricae XXX, fasc. 1-2, pp. 176-177, 183, fig. 4.

Harper, Prudence O. 1978. The Royal Hunter: Art of the Sasanian Empire, exh. cat. New York: Asia House Gallery, no 28, pp. 83-84, also pp. 79, 90.

Metropolitan Museum of Art. 1983. The Metropolitan Museum of Art Guide, edited by Kathleen Howard. New York: The Metropolitan Museum of Art, p. 51, fig. 13.

Harper, Prudence O. et al. 1984. "Ancient Near Eastern Art." The Metropolitan Museum of Art Bulletin 41 (4), Spring 1984, p. 19, fig. 17.