Arab knife

Arab knife
Other views of this artifact:

Accession Number:
1939.7.111 .1 .2
[Southern Sudan] White Nile Kosti
Cultural Group:
Date Made:
By 1939
Iron Metal , Ebony Wood Plant , Brass Metal , Animal Hide Skin , Reptile Skin
Carved , Turned , Punched , Plaited
L handle = 95.2 mm, L sheath = 171 mm, max W blade = 29.6 mm [RTS 19/2/2004]
Other Owners:
Armine Charles Almroth Wright
Field Collector:
?Armine Charles Almroth Wright
PRM Source:
Armine Charles Almroth Wright
Donated July 1939
Collected Date:
By 1939
Arm knife consisting of a smooth, hard, black ebony handle, with light brown (Pantone 7516C) showing in patches on the handle terminal and the projecting guard; the surface has been polished. The blade tang extends through the handle and is fixed in place at the end by a small brass nut, with square body and bevelled corners - so that each face is lozenge-shaped. The top of the tang is visible at the centre of this nut; the nut itself is decorated with four circles on each side; these seem to be formed from inlays of some kind. The nut is also used to fix a decorative circular brass disc in place over the end of the handle; this disc has a convex upper surface decorated with an incised design consisting of a six leaf rosette around the central nut, and a series of nine arcs, framed by a circle around the outside edge. The leaves and arcs are filled with small incised circles, sometimes overlapping to form a scale motif. There is a ring of x-shaped crosses around this, another circle, and then the outer edge of the disc has a serrated edge, with the space between incised circle and edge decorated with simple hatching. The wooden handle end is partially covered by this disc, but the surface beneath it appears to be convex, becoming flat to the outer edge. This flat surface is decorated with two concentric grooves. The side edge has also been cut flat, and is damaged with three large sections broken and missing; these surfaces are the same colour as the finished ones, indicating that this is the natural colour of the wood rather than the result of staining.

The handle body is very slightly oval in section, with concave sides flaring out sharply to form the splaying handle guard, which is cut flat on the end. The handle body is decorated with five regular concentric grooves just below the terminal, then three groups of two grooves each around the upper shaft; from this point, there is an sharp ridge running down the centre of the handle guard on either side to its lower edge. The iron blade is fixed rather loosely to the handle by a narrow rectangular tang, which is fitted into a slot cut into the flat handle guard surface. This slot is narrow at either end to accommodate the shoulders of the blade, but widens at the centre where the tang passes through. The iron blade itself is only partially visible, obscured by the sheath which seems to be stuck in place; the shape of this suggests a narrow blade that tapers towards a pointed end. The blade is silvery grey in colour (Pantone 421C). The shoulders of this blade have slightly concave edges facing the handle guard, then splay out to form barbs at either side, the edges then becoming straight. There is a thickened midrib running down the length of the blade on both sides and two further thickened ribs on either side of it, the blade then thinning to form cutting edges on either side, creating a somewhat irregular lozenge-shaped section.

The sheath is made from a combination of plaited hide, hide or leather pieces, and reptile skin, possibly crocodile. It consists of a double thickness of hide or leather, just visible at the open end, with a band of plaited hide strips around the end, a section of light yellowish brown reptile skin (Pantone 467C), comprising two rows of rectangular scales, another plaited band, a section of tooled reddish brown hide or leather with punched decoration on either side (Pantone 4695C), a third plaited band, then a longer section of reptile skin, in which the scales are in 10 visible rows of diminishing size, then two adjacent plaited bands formed from fewer and wider strips than the preceding ones, and possibly treated in some way as these are a glossy reddish brown. The point of the dagger is protected by a hide stop at the end of the sheath, in the form of a cylinder that tapers out slightly to a flat end; this is made up of 7 narrow plaited hide strips bound around its circumference, with a single strip bound at right angles to these to form the base. The hide end of the sheath can be seen in the centre of the stop. The reverse side of the dagger has some additional elements; a ring of plaited hide strips has been attached to the top section of reptile skin, and is used to attach the arm band. This consists of a single cord of narrow, plaited hide strips, doubled over and looped at one end, which fits over a short bar of broad plaited strips with a spherical knob end; this knob and a short piece of broad plaited strips that is tied around the base of the loop help to keep the cord in place. The two strands of this cord then form two large loops which can be pushed up the arm to hold the dagger in place; these are pushed through the open loop end of the plaited bar, and have a broad plaited spherical knob pushed over their ends on the other side of this bar to fix them in place. On the same side of the dagger there is a vertical ridge of plaited narrow strips extending down the length of the dagger from below this arm loop attachment, to the bands at the end of the sheath; this ridge is sewn into the sheath body and passes through the side of one of the decorative bands around the centre of the sheath. The flat hide or leather body of the sheath is decorated on either side with a shallow punched design. The side with the arm loop attachment has a design comprising (from the outer edge up to the central ridge) two incised lines, two rows of dots with a single line between, and then three parallel lines, all running down the length of the sheath; this design is repeated on the other side of the ridge. The same area on the other side of the sheath has a central 8 point star made of lines of punched dots, within a lozenge formed from four parallel lines on each side, a single line of dots angled out from each side of this lozenge, and then the whole is framed by four parallel lines above and below, and three parallel lines on either side.

The sheath is complete and in good condition. Length of handle, including the decorative disc and nut, 95.2 mm, diameter of handle end 41.2 mm, diameter of brass disc 30 mm, width of nut 5.5 mm, width of handle shaft 22.3 mm, width of handle guard 64.4 mm, thickness of handle guard 22.5 mm; maximum width of blade 29.6 mm, maximum width of tang 8 mm, maximum thickness of blade 3 mm; length of sheath 171 mm, maximum width of sheath 38.4 mm, width of sheath stop 16.8 mm, width of single cord arm loop 5.7 mm, and width of terminal knob at end of short bar 13.2 mm.

This knife was obtained by Armine Charles Almroth Wright at Kosti, and donated to the Pitt Rivers Museum in July 1939.

Similar arm knives were still being produced at El Fasher in Northern Darfur in the 1980's; the bulbous stop at the end of the sheath is known in that region as a
toom , after the Arabic for a bulb of garlic (pers. comm. from G.S. Reed).

Rachael Sparks 25/9/2005.

Primary Documentation:
Accession Book Entry [p. 244] - A.C.A. WRIGHT , ESQ., ... Granville Park, S.E.13. [p. 268, top of left column] July [next to catalogue entry] 1939.7.110/111 [double pencil tick after number] - ARAB sword and arm knife. KOSTI, A[nglo].E[gyptian]. SUDAN.

Old Pitt Rivers Museum label - 1939.7.110, 111. A.E. SUDAN, KOSTI. ARAB Sword & arm knife. d.d. A.C.A. Wright [circular tag with metal edge. Note that 1939.7.110 is not stored with this object; RTS 16/2/2004].

Funded by Arts and Humanities Research Council
Help | About | Bibliography