Persian Bronze Halberd Axehead
Period: 9th 7th century B.C.
Dimensions: L: 20.5 cm
Ex-David-Weill Collection, Paris.
Complete weapon in excellent condition, aside from the slightly worn surface, especially on the mask of the lion andon the shaft-hole. Surface covered with a blackish brown patina, but golden color of the bronze still partially visible.
Probably cast as a single piece by the lost wax process.
This piece is composed of three elements: a) the crescent-shaped blade with a blunt cutting-edge; the inner rim is decorated with a wolf tooth pattern adorned with dots; b) an intermediate element perpendicular to the shaft-hole representing a lion mask that seems to spit the blade; despite the many anatomical details of the muzzle, the mask is highly stylized and does not have a lower jaw; c) the cylindrical shaft-hole furrowed with four thick ribs (gadroons); on the back, there lies a reclining lion figurine, its tail forming a loop and its fur indicated by incised dots. The idea of a blade emerging from the jaws of a lion has a long iconographic tradition in the Near Eastern world (see n. 1, 7, 18), since it already appeared on Lorestan weapons dated to the early 2nd millennium B.C., before being readopted for spiked axes and certain types of swords at the end of the same millennium. But what is new for crescent-shaped halberds is the typology; indeed, because of the particular form and arrangement of the blade, the bronze workers represented the head of the lion like a mask, seen from above and positioned perpendicular to the weapon.
Chronologically, these weapons are attested from the late Bronze Age until the early centuries of the Iron Age; there are besides some crescent-shaped halberds with a bronze shaft-hole on which an iron blade is mounted (in these examples, the transition between the lion’s head and the blade is made through a fan-shaped element, whose width allowed the blacksmith to increase the surface of the welding zone). Like for many contemporary weapons in this region, the effective use of halberds remains unknown. Some details (especially the relatively small size and modest weight, the arch-shaped blade and the off -center shaft-hole) seem to exclude a purpose as a weapon or as a tool. This piece, of great technical and artistic quality, would therefore likely have been used as a ceremonial object or as the symbol of a currently unknown function, perhaps political or military.
AMIET P., Les Antiquités du Luristan: Collection David-Weill, Paris, 1976, pp. 37-40, nos. 56-58.
CALMEYER P., Datierbare Bronzen aus Luristan und Kirmanshah, Berlin, 1969, pp. 70-74.
WALDBAUM J.C., A Bronze and Iron Iranian Axe in the Fogg Art Museum, in MITTEN G.D. (ed.), Studies Presented to George M.A. Hanfmann, Mainz/Rhine, 1971, pp. 195-205. On Lorestan bronzes, see: ENGEL N. (ed.), Bronzes du Luristan: Enigmes de l’Iran ancien, IIIe-Ier millénaire av. J.-C., Paris, 2008 (pp. 88-91 on halberds).