Pair of Silver Mounted and Ivory Elephant Combat Halberds
Eastern Burma/Northern Thailand
length: 83cm and 84cm
This pair of long halberds or swords comprises curved steel blades, hilts of solid ivory segments, and silver mounts repoussed and chased with scrolling creeper motifs and petal bands. The ends of the handles or hilts are capped with silver sheet decorated with thepanom motifs – these are Thai-style Buddhistic celestial nymphs.
The pair most probably come from the Shan States of eastern Burma or the Lanna Kingdom of northern Thailand.
Swords such as these were for use from the backs of war elephants. They did not have scabbards and were attached to the howdah ready to be swung at a similarly mounted adversary.
A sword of similar proportions illustrated in Conway (2002, p.79) is in the Chiang Mai National Museum.
According to Conway, the Lanna princes assembled troops throughout the kingdom by requiring village headmen to provide a quota of military conscripts. Troops were lead by a prince ruler (
chao) or by his deputy (uparat) or by some other member of the elite. Elephants were used to cross difficult terrain. Officers mounted on elephants had special swords such as the example here. The weapons commissioned for officers had silver, gilt and ivory handles. Many of these weapons were made by the Tai Lue ethnic group who enjoyed excellent reputations as sword makers. They operated out of the silversmith district along Wualai Road in Chiang Mai. Typically, the Lanna princes battled against Shan and Burmese troops.
The Lanna period dates from around 1600AD to its incorporation by treaty with the Kingdom of Siam in the late nineteenth century. The Kingdom comprised much of what is northern Thailand today. Its cultural identity is marked by a distinct spoken and written language which is related to but different from modern Thai, and a long history of codified law. Chiang Mai served as the Lanna capital for much of the Kingdom’s existence.
Silken Threads Lacquer Thrones: Lan Na Court Textiles, River Books, 2002.
Doris Duke: The Southeast Asian Art Collection, The Foundation for Southeast Asian Art and Culture, 2003.
UK art market.
Inventory no.: 1600
Photograph of part of a painting in the National Museum in Bangkok, showing a battle scene between soldiers mounted on elephants.