A 12th-13th-Century Saber with an Armenian Inscription Found in the Subpolar Urals

A 12th-13th-Century Saber with an Armenian InscriptionThe inscription on this 8cm-long saber was preserved almost completely. It is made in a curved font adopted in the 12th — 13th centuries and consists of 10 engraved signs between opening and closing crosses.

Out of the 10 characters, 8 turned out to be undoubtedly letters of the Armenian alphabet. The first sign is fuzzy and therefore unclear. It is similar to the Armenian letter Կ (k), but if its left vertical line is completed, then it resembles the letter Ս (s). There are other options that will be discussed further.

The second and third signs are not similar to any letter of the Armenian alphabet and cannot be deciphered.

The following 7 characters have clearer images and are identified with Armenian letters. In the fourth, you can see Պ (p), the upper fork of which is marked by a barely noticeable thin golden dash. Next come the letters Ե (je), Տ (t), Խ (x), and then a ligature of the letters Տ (t) and Ռ (r). The two final characters can be read as Ն (n) and Ե (je).

The ends of some letters (fourth, fifth, and tenth) are curled to the inside and have additional dashes at the ends.

Above the seventh and eighth signs, there are horizontal dashes, which, obviously, can be considered as titlos. Titlos had many applications, but the one that interests us today is that they were used to mark abbreviations of long or frequently used words.

This gives us the opportunity to read the symbols: the sign under one titlo resembles the word ԽԱՉ (cross). This form of abbreviated spelling of this word is common for Armenian inscriptions on stones. It is also found in manuscripts.

The eighth ligature – also under a titlo – is devoid of a vowel and can be read as the word ՏԵՐ (TER) or the syllable ՏՈԻՐ (TUR). The latter is more likely. Combining ԽԱՉ and ՏՈՒՐ, we get the Armenian male name ԽԱՉԱՏՈՒՐ (KHACHATUR). The evidence of such a reading of these ligatures is confirmed by further observations on the inscription.

In inscriptions, the name of a person is usually complemented by his title, rank, or specialty. To find out who Khachatur was, one should refer to the fourth, fifth, and sixth characters that together can be read as the syllable ՊԵՏ (PET), which seems to be the ending of the word ՎԱՐՊԵՏ (VARPET, master, craftsman) consisting of six letters. Unfortunately, the second and third signs have lost their original appearance and can’t be identified with any letter of the Armenian alphabet.

The first sign can be read as either Կ (k) or Ս (s). However, given one graphic feature of the signs of our inscription – inward curves, as seen, for example, in the fourth, fifth, and tenth letters – it could be identified with the letter Վ (v) as well, the end of which was brought not to the right, as it should be, but to the left with a round-up. With this in mind, the first character of the inscription could be read as Վ (v), which would correspond to the first letter of the word ՎԱՐՊԵՏ.

Thus, the inscription on the blade tells us the name of the maker of this sword – varpet Khachatur.

The word “varpet” in medieval Armenia didn’t only indicate a master of his craft. It was the title artisans obtained after a certain exam. This title gave them the right to have their own workshops. Thereby, the inscription may represent the “brand name” of one gunsmith’s workshop whose name was Khachatur.

The saber found in the Tyumen region is the first illustration of the reports of Arabic sources about the supply of blades to Yugra. But it was made not in a Muslim but a Christian environment, as evidenced by the 4 small crosses, Armenian letters, and author’s Christian name.

The existence of weapon workshops in ancient Armenia is reported in literary sources; they frequently tell about the widespread craft of a gunsmith.

It is established that Armenian soldiers used 17 types of weapons. Among the main types of melee weapons mentioned are “sur”, “susser”,
tour”, which all are different types of sword. They differed in size, the way of wearing and, obviously, in the nature of their actions.

This 12th — 13th-century saber found in the Northern Urals and probably made in Armenia currently is a unique example of an Armenian weapon of this type.

Janpoladyan R.M., Kirpichnikov A.N., Epigraphics of the East, 1972

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