Barczewski S. (2015). Klinkovoe holodnoe oruzhie V’etnama XIX- pervoj poloviny HH vv. Problemy atribucii [Vietnamese Bladed Melee Weapon of 19th – first half 20th Century. The Problems of Attribution]. Istoricheskoe oruzhievedenie [Weapons History Journal], № 2, pp. 5 — 11.

Barczewski S.


The article is devoted to the problems concerning the attribution of the Vietnamese bladed melee weapon of 19th – first half 20th century. The objects of this time span can’t be estimated as extremely rare as they are preserved in the museums and private collections while quite often they are wrongly described as the Chinese ones though. Notwithstanding their evident outward similarity rooted in the strongest multicultural influence of China on its southern neighbor the Vietnamese bladed weapon had got its distinguished features in its construction, materials and ornamentation elements that were used. The author accents these features and proposes to use the most characteristic ones as attribution marks. Thus because of its ornately cut shape the sealing detail between the guard and blade which is vividly different from the Japanese and Chinese ones called correspondingly habaki and tunkou is the typical feature of the particularly Vietnamese weapon. Besides in the beginning of the 19th century the specifically Vietnamese saber acquired the knuckle-bow of a peculiar curve and a pommel in a shape of a stylized lion head – both elements are evident borrowings from the European, particularly French tradition of weapon making. The materials used by the Vietnamese masters in that time were also different from the Chinese choice. Chased silver and red copper incrusted with metals of different colors from white to black were widely used for blade mounts. Local naturally occurring materials such as cross cuts of elephant molars, fallen out baby elephant milk tusks, mother-of-pearl or four valuable wood species were also applied. To work with these rare materials special license was required. The Vietnamese blades were often engraved with images of stylized tendrils of different clambering plants like grapes, lianas, variety of pumpkins, etc. The same motives as symbols of large off-springs and virility were used for the incrustation of scabbards. The scabbard mounts were usually decorated with images of four mythological creatures: a dragon, a phoenix, a unicorn and a turtle. The dragon symbolized not only moralities but a primal forefather of the Vietnamese a well. It was often depicted holding a cartouche with a stylized Chinese hieroglyph “longevity, immortality” in its mouth. Ornately shaped frames filled with stylized well-wishing hieroglyphs were typical ornamentation for the Vietnamese weapon guards. Images of a sword and a batch of books symbolizing a courageous and stoic patriot-scientist were other specifically Vietnamese decorative motive. As a result to the author’s mind a careful complex analysis of construction features, materials and ornamentation permits to differentiate the Vietnamese bladed melee weapon of 19th – first half 20th century quite surely.

Keywords: Vietnamese sword, Vietnamese saber, Cochinchina, Annam, Tonkin, the Nguyen dynasty, Vietnam, Le Loi, samrit bronze.