four points on sides, handle wrapped with leather strips, Arabic script on front and back of blade

Prestige blade, late 19th century


Metal, leatherexpand_more

Gift of the Ullrich Collectionexpand_more  97.167.35

Not on Viewexpand_more

These prestige blades belonged to soldiers of the 19th-century Sudanese Mahdist army, at a time when Sudan was under Turkish-Egyptian colonial rule. In 1881, Muhammad Ahmad (1844-1885), a Sudanese religious leader, was heralded as Mahdi (lit. “Guided One” in Arabic) or messianic redeemer of the Islamic faith. He and his successor led successful military campaigns against Ottoman Turkish occupying forces. Members of the Mahdi military carried forked and branched blades inspired by the shape of Central African throwing knives. Unlike their Central African counterparts, these blades were not meant as weapons but as emblems of rank.

Most of the engravings on these blades are not in Arabic and are illegible to humans. They may, like the wavy inscriptions on the tunic nearby, be addressing the supernatural jinn, or spirits, imploring them for assistance in the anticolonial battle. The shorter blade has Arabic calligraphy etched within medallions. One of these contains a verse from chapter 61 of the Qur’an, called Ranks or al-Safs: “Victory from God and an imminent conquest,” an exhortation to the fighter.

Prestige blade
Accession Number
Curator Approved

This record has been reviewed by our curatorial staff but may be incomplete. These records are frequently revised and enhanced. If you notice a mistake or have additional information about this object, please email

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four points on sides, handle wrapped with leather strips, Arabic script on front and back of blade