Object Title

Executioner's sword

Executioner's sword



Object Number



Purchased at auction Christie's, 1860.

Physical Description

The blade is curved with a single edge widening to a broad point. The tip is double edged for approximately one third of the length of the blade. It is separated from the rest of the back by a shallow elongated cut out.

The blade is separated from the guard by a thick, rectangular silvered collar forged at one with the blade. The guard is composed of a solid metal disc with a medial ridge on the edge and is also silvered. A silvered cone-shaped collar with concave flanks extends back immediately behind the guard.

The grip is tubular and retains a portion of the black leather cover in the centre of the grip. This is embossed with foliate designs in a repeating tessalated pattern. The design incorporates a five petalled flower at the centre surrounded by four scrolling leaves and finished afterwards with a background of hatching. The patterns are superimposed on one another in places.
The grip terminates in a shaped collar surmounted by a heavy, globular pommel. Both are silvered.

The scabbard is damaged. It is made of broad wooden panels covered in a frayed brown fabric with a plaited braid band wrapped around the scabbard near the top. The chape is made out of a thin sheet of copper alloy and decorated on the flat of the blade with a central design composed of a pierced star within a ring on top of a cusped point with scalloped edges.


Dimensions: length: overall 171 cms (67.25 in), length: of blade 89.5 cms (35.25 in), Diameter of grip 5 cms, Width of back of blade 2 cms, Weight: 30.42 kg (67 lb)

Inscriptions and Marks

The blade is inlaid on one side by the guard with the gilded arms of the King of Oudh. This comprises two opposed fish hauriant embowed beneath a katar surmounted by a crown and parasol. There are two tigers rampant regardant as supporters each carrying triangular pennons. Under the crest there appears to be a scroll of bundled foliage or ropework in the neo-classical tradition. The terminals of the scroll are possibly meant to represent fish tails.


Places India, Oudh

Bibliographic References

J. Hewitt, Official catalogue of the Tower Armouries, London, 1870, No. Ad.303, p.9.

W. Egerton, An illustrated handbook of Indian arms, London, 1880, no. 814.

Viscount Dillon, Illustrated guide to the Armouries, London, 1910, No. xv.348.

Thom Richardson, An introduction to Indian arms and armour, Leeds, Royal Armouries, 2007: 42


The blade is very similar in form to an Indian sword (firanghi) with a German blade from Gujerat, dated 1781/2, XXVIS.19.

The composition of the arms is based on a series of designs by the Scottish artist Robert Home (1751?-1834), who studied art in Rome, exhibiting at the Royal Academy in 1778. He moved to Dublin in the same year and became a portrait painter. From there he moved to London in 1789 and then travelled to India in 1791. There he worked in Madras during the Mysore Wars before moving to Calcutta in 1795 and remained there until 1814. During that time he undertook a number of portrait commissions, details of which are preserved in the National Portrait Gallery archive. They included full length portaits of the Marquis Wellesley as C in C and the Duke of Wellington, as Col. Wellesley and Governor of Mysore, both of which were later engraved.

In 1814 he travelled to Lucknow where he was appointed Court painter to the Nawab Wazirs of Oudh. He worked for Saadat Ali Khan (r.1798-1814), Ghazi-ud-din Haidar (r.1814-1827) and his son Nasir-ud-din Haidar (1827-37) and earned a considerable fortune painting ceremonial pictures. He was resident in Lucknow in 1820 when he met the visiting Scots artist William Fraser on 4 July. He later moved to Calcutta where he died at Cawnpore on 12th Sept 1834, aged 83.

In 1819 the Nawab Ghazi-ud-din Haidar was encouraged by the East India Company to adopt the title of King and embrace the Shia orthodoxy. This further separated Oudh from the vestigial influence of the Sunni Mughal court. As a result of this Home prepared a portfolio of drawings and designs for all the paraphenalia of kingship incorporating both Indian and Western motifs. This portfolio is now preserved in the Victoria and Albert museum.
Comparison with several sketches for trophies and coats of arms (E.1524-1943, E.1583-1943, E.1584-1943, E.1585-1943 and E.1586-1943) show different compositions using the same motifs, in particlar the crown, fish, katar, tiger supporters and flags. A number of Home's designs were executed and seen by Captain Robert Smith on his visit to Lucknow a few years later, when he apparently met Home.

A throne chair preserved in the Victoria & Albert Museum (I.S. 6.1991), made c.1820 in Lucknow and presented by Ghazi-ud-Din Haidar to the first Earl Amherst when Governor General of India (1823-8), has similar fish and katar motifs incorporated into the back (J Guy & D Swallow, 'Arts of India 1550-1900', London, 1990, No.156, p.182.)

The crown and parasol composition, together with the fish and flag emblems are depicted on an embroidered flag of the same period also in the V & A, (41-1870).

The same opposed fish motif also appears on a number of panels on the Elephant Armour XXVIA.102, c.1600, and may have some astrological significance. Astrological symbols appear on a number of Mughal objects.
The piscean zodiacal sign appears on an inscribed Dhal bearing Akbar's name, dated to the 16th century but possibly 19th century, (Bombay, No.22.4112, B Gascoigne,'The Great Mughals', London, 1987, p.71.), and also a gold mohur from the reign of Jahangir, c.1620 (British Museum Department of coins and medals; ibid., p.140.).

A black standard decorated with a single gold fish dated to the Tughluq dynasty (1320-1413) is illustrated in Haider (Dr. Sayed Zafar Haider, 'Islamic Arms and Armour of Muslim India', Lahore, 1991, p.251.). A fish standard also appears to have been used in the Mughal period known as 'Mahi Maratab' (Dr.Sayed Zafar Haider, 'Islamic Arms and Armour of Muslim India', Lahore, 1991, p.285.). The fish emblem is known to have been the badge of the Avadh dynasty and known as 'macchi' or 'machli'. This suggests that the fish emblem originated in Northern India between the 14th and 17th century and was used by the Nawabs of Oudh as an allusion to the acquisition of their power from the Pre-Nawabi rulers of the region with the breakdown of the Mughal empire. Both single fish and opposed fish seem to have been used and may have been interchangeable.

The earliest evidence for the use of the fish emblem by the Nawabs is in the Late 17th century. A shamshir bearing the name of Shuja-ud-Daula (r.1753-75) has enamelled strap ends in the form of fish (Dr.Syed Zafar Haider, 'Islamic Arms and Armour of Muslim India', Lahore, 1991, p.161.).

A painting entitled 'A Lion Hunt' by Mir Kalan Khan c.1760, shows Shuja-ud-Daula hunting game surrounded by his troops. They bear triangular standards with a single gold fish at the centre. These are almost identical to the black Tughluq standard. (Ed. J Marsden & J MacKenzie,'Treasures from India, The Clive Collections at Powis Castle', 1987, p.110, No.180.)

Two bronze cannon by Maj. Claud Martin, dated between 1775-1800 are preserved in the Royal Artillery Museum at the Rotunda, Woolwich (II.198 and II.199) and bear a single fish emblem. A third, also from Lucknow, bears two grotesque tailed figures bearing banners (II.200). This may be later since the supporters are similar to those on the embroidered flag from the V & A (see above). ('Official Catalogue of the Museum of Artillery in the Rotunda, Woolwich', London, 1906, p.31-2, No's II.198-200.)

The Bara Imambara Gateway in Lucknow dated to the same period in the reign of Asaf-ud-Daula (1775-1797) bears a pair of fish flanking each main archway and suggests that both single and pairs of fish were used interchangeably at that time (B Tandan, 'The Architecture of the Nawabs of Avadh, 1722-1856', in 'Facets of Indian Art' Ed. by R Skelton, A Topsfield, S Stronge & R Crill, London, 1986, p.67, p.73 fig.12.)

The opposed fish motif seems to have had a regional significance both during and after the Nawabi period. It appears on a sword attributed to Ranjit Singh, c.1840, preserved in a Private Danish Collection, (Dr.Syed Zafar Haider, 'Islamic Arms and Armour of Muslim India', Lahore, 1991, p.161.). It also features on the Lakhi Gateway, Lucknow, c.1848-50 (B Tandan, 'The Architecture of the Nawabs of Avadh, 1722-1856, in 'Facets of Indian Art' Ed. by R Skelton, A Topsfield, S Strone & R Cril p.73, fig.13.). It is also found incorporated in the arms of the State of Bhopal c.1900 on an Infantry Officer's sword issued to the Bhopal State Force IX.1310.
Coins of Ghazi ud-Din Haidar used the arms designed by Home, and rupees of Haidar dated 1820 (1234 AH) have the identical arms.

See also XXVID.77 which has fish motifs on the scabbard together with a European style crown.
The scabbard is stored in Cabinet 11 drawer F, store 3. The provenance is according to Hewitt, but unverified.