Cătălin Hriban

Some remarks regarding the saber of Prince Alexander Ipsilanti in the History Museum of Moldavia in Iași

The collections of the History Museum of Moldavia in Iași include a saber attributed to Prince Alexander Ipsilanti, the elected leader of the Greek Secret society Philiki Hetairia, formed with the declared purpose of liberate the Hellenic lands from the Ottoman rule. This saber was transferred from the Romanian Academy to the History Museum in 1967. It originated, most probably, from the collections of the former Museum of Antiquities (founded at the beginning of 20th century). The item is a shamshir-type saber, with the particular feature of flame-shaped blade. This type of weapon is of Persian origin and spread in the 19th century throughout the south and Eastern Mediterranean, and used by both Christian and Muslim warriors. There are several analogies, dated at the end of 18th and the fist decades of the 19th century, the most notorious of these being the saber of Greek Hero Niketaras, said to be captured from a Turk during the Siege of Missolonghi, and preserved at present in the collections of the National History Museum in Athens. The Ipsilanti saber is decorated on the cross-guard with gilded reliefs, which are also present on the sheath. However, the blade is inlaid with Islamic texts (a citation on one side and a monogram on the other) made of brass wire. Our investigation points out to the usage of this particular type of weapon as a talisman, as a magical simile to the legendary weapon of Shiite hero Ali, the Dhu’l Faqar / Zulfikar. This hypothesis is based on both the very similitude of the text inscribed on the blade with the double invocation of Ali and Dhu’l Faqar and a certain interpretation of the historic description of Dhu’l Faqar not as forked tip blade, but as a wavy one. The mountings of this saber, with medallions of the Imperial Russian Eagle and Medusa’s Head, as well as the particular arrangement of the lanyard, i.e. for a left-handed person, support the attribution to Prince Ipsilanti, who lost his right hand in the Battle of Dresden (1813) and is portrayed with an empty right sleeve and the saber borne on his right side.


flame-bladed weapons; Philiki Hetairia; Ipsilanti; amulet sword; Dhu’l Faqar.