Rethinking “Damascus” Steel

Rethinking “Damascus” Steel

By Ann Feuerbach

American Society of Arms Collectors Bulletin, Vol.96 (2008)

Introduction: Historical accounts testify that for thousands of years, in Central Asian, Middle Eastern, and Indian cultures, crucible steel was the most sought-after type of steel because it was used to produce so-called “Damascus” steel objects. Damascus steel objects, particularly swords, were famous for their attractive surface pattern which was said to resemble flowing water. The Damascus pattern was considered a trademark advertising quality, cost, and status, as well as being an important religious symbol with special magical qualities. The crucible Damascus steel sword was not merely a military accoutrement, nor just a decorative fashion accessory. It had the distinctive position of being a secular and sacred object, in addition to being an emblematic one. Having such an important role in society, there is a great deal of historical literature written on the manufacture and trade of crucible steel swords and other objects. Although often associated with Islam, textual and archaeological evidence indicates that it was produced and used in Central Asia and the Middle East before the advent of Islam. The following paper will discuss how cultural aspects may have influenced the production, trade and use of crucible Damascus steel and how we must “rethink” its history.

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