Levantine Bronze and Gilt Decorated Sickle Sword (Khopesh)
Near Eastern · Levantine, early 2nd millennium B.C.
L: 51.3 cm (20.19 in)
Ceremonial weapons like this one were presented to kings or high officials to symbolize victory. A masterful
rarity, this sword, whose distinctive shape resembles a sickle, was designed with a curved blade and straight
base terminating in a tang to which the hilt with a gold knob was fixed. The intricate gilded decorations are
made up of pairs of fighting animals: a ram attacked by a lion, a gazelle by a lioness/hyena; an ibex by a
hyena/lion/lioness, a deer by a lion/hyena; an ox by a lion, and two fighting oxen.
The details that outline the expressive poses of each animal are artfully incised and gilded and clearly stand
out against the dark background of the bronze. The form and direction of the lines correspond precisely to
the individual look of the animals (the notches depicting shorthaired fur; the irregular lines imitating the spots
of the oxen skin and even bringing the sense of its contrasting colors). The abundant use of gold for the
decoration suggests that this sword was a ceremonial item and belonged to a person of wealth and highest
Historically, the shape combines the advantages of the battle-axe and the cutting sword. The type was used as
a weapon in the Near East in the 3rd – 1st millennia B.C.; the known finds come from sites in Mesopotamia,
Levant, Anatolia, and Egypt. Scholars present different opinions of where the shape has originated, either in
Mesopotamia or Egypt, but the diffusion of the shape could be the result of itinerant bronze makers. As for
the chronology, two periods are recognized: the Middle Bronze Age II and Late Bronze Period, which are characterized by the difference in the ratio between handle and blade and the appearance. In the later period,
the hilt was usually cast together with the blade.
Although the blade is not completely preserved in this sword, it is clear that it was sharpened only on the
outside while the inside kept a dull edge that was covered with gold sheet. There is a rib-like stem following the
entire length of the sword that was cast for added strength. As a type, it corresponds to the swords classified
as the weapon which they called khopesh,, loosely translated to mean “the animal’s leg”.
The earliest examples dated to the 3rd millennium B.C. are known as both actual and represented items. The
images demonstrate that this specific form of a real cutting weapon was reserved for a ceremonial sword, a
symbol of power. Mesopotamian cylinder seals present the gods, both male and female (Ishtar), as well as the
rulers in ritual scenes, holding such swords.
The decoration of this present sword is unique and does not find an immediate parallel: instead of a single
image (a lotus flower, uraeus, or oryx) on known examples placed at the end of the blade or below the hilt; the
entire surface of this sword is covered by complex scenes representing several fighting animals. Another rare
detail is found in the scenes where there appear to be two different motives present: a peaceful “family” scene
with a calf suckling a cow and an ox in the landscape marked by a tree; and a striking scene of a cow giving birth
and a lion attacking the calf emerging from its mother. Considering the symbolical meaning of the entire
composition, the owner of the sword would be thought as triumphant over the forces of chaos and
uncontrolled wild nature.
The sword is in excellent condition. The gilding and gold sheet are vastly preserved, and the bronze retains an even brownish-green patina with some red cuprite. There is some tarnish on the gold. The blade, as well as the hilt, was broken off, lost, and replaced by modern additions.
Art market, prior to the 1960s;
Ex- Eli Bustros, Beirut, the 1960s;
French art market, Paris until 1977;
Ex- A.G. private collection, Zurich, Switzerland, February 26, 1977;
Ex- Private Collection, Zurich, Switzerland, 2012.
TEFAF, New York, 2017.
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