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Fine, Omani Hide Shield with Silver Mounts

Southern Oman/Zanzibar
19th century

diameter: 24.8cm, height of central dome: 13cm



UK art market

This is an exceptional example of a thick leather shield for the Omani market most probably made in Zanzibar on East Africa’s Swahili Coast. It is in excellent condition with no breaks or repairs. It also is one of the few examples of such a shield with solid silver rather than brass mounts.

The shield is made from a single, moulded piece of thick, hard hide that is almost wood-like in its density. It is etched and moulded with dozens of concentric rings, and has a high, central dome.

Two pierced, star-burst motifs in cast silver are attached to either side of the shield.

The reverse has a grip made of thick leather and silver bolt heads that attach through to the silver mounts on the other side. One end of the handle also has a rectangular silver loop for suspension.

Such shields usually are believed to be made from rhinocerous hide which is notoriously thick and tough. Other hides, such as compressed water buffalo hide might also have been used.

See Tirri (2003, p. 103) for a similar example but with brass mounts.

The island of Zanzibar was ruled by the Omanis as a quasi-colony in the 19th century with the Sultan or Oman actually relocating his court to Stone Town, the island’s capital. Commercial and migratory links between Oman and Zanzibar were very close with the latter being a source of ivory, slaves, wood, rhinocerous hide, and other commodities.

This shield is accompanied by a custom-made stand.


Tirri, A.C., Islamic Weapons: Maghrib to Moghul, Indigo Publishing, 2003.

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