Qantara Qantara

Saladin’s treatise on Armoury

  • Title/name : Saladin’s treatise on Armoury
  • Author : Murda ibn ‘Ali al-Tarsusi
  • Production place : Syria
  • Date / period : Second half of the twelfth century
  • Materials and techniques : oriental paper, black ink, watercolours and gold; oriental mediaeval binding: leather, blind and gold tooled decoration; western inner plates (1963)
  • Dimensions : H.: 25.5 cm; l.: 19.5 cm
  • Conservation town : Oxford
  • Conservation place : Bodleian Library
  • Inventory number : Huntington 264

This folio belongs to a section on archery in the Treatise on Armoury written for Saladin (1169-1193), the celebrated founder of the Ayyubid dynasty whose control extended over Egypt and Syria from the second half of the twelfth century. The work discusses weapons and tactics, as its full title suggests: Explanations from the masters on the methods of strategic manoeuvring in battle for maximum protection and extended instructions relating to equipment and devices for use in encounters with the enemy. Thirteen illustrations are inserted within the text and fourteen full page illustrations are interspersed in the treatise, which, having discussed certain generalities on weaponry, powerfully deals with the details of sabre techniques, archery, shields, armour, mass weaponry and finally siege engines.

One can readily imagine the success this type of work would have had amongst Saladin’s entourage, whose armies were conducting a veritable holy war against the Crusaders in the Near East. While the subject matter corresponds perfectly to the person of Saladin, the fact that he commissioned it is revealing regarding his works of patronage, an aspect of his character which has been hitherto neglected.

We know very little of the author, whose nisba indicates that he was possibly of Armenian origin.

The representation of the weapon is detailed, the whole of the device is visible (its bowstring, stirrup, bolt and stock). The surface of the stock was exploited for ornamental treatment, comprising gilded foliage on a brown ground. The refinement of the design tempers the austerity of the subject matter.

The lay out on the page is original: the crossbow, set at a diagonal, literally projects from the page, dividing the four lines of text from the lower area and leaving a place on the right for six lines in naskhi script. This script was widely employed in the Ayyubid period both for the decoration of objects[1] and for architectural inscriptions[2]. The binding in richly decorated leather with tooled motifs and the use of gold in the titles makes this a precious work, the care involved in its execution reflecting the prestige of its patron[3].

The crossbow, like many other weapons of the period, was used by both the Western and Eastern armies which fought in the Near East from the time of the First Crusade (1096). Western miniatures illustrating the siege of Jerusalem in 1096, which saw the capture of the Holy City by the Crusaders, depict French warriors using crossbows[4]. The crossbow is an archery weapon, a legacy of the nomadic peoples of antiquity, which survived into later periods in both warfare and hunting.

This manuscript belongs to a cultural context which encouraged the development of works on mechanics, known under the term the ‘science of mechanical techniques’. Inspired by the Greeks, the Arabic science of mechanics had various applications in branches as varied as clockwork, hydraulics, warfare and mechanical games and automata intended for princely entertainments. A scientific precision is apparent in the very detailed drawings of different mechanical systems both in the book ‘the Compendium of Mechanical Devices’ by the brothers Banu Musa[5] (end of ninth century) and this representation of a crossbow.

NOTE

[1] Vase belonging to the sultan al-Malik al-Nasir Salah al-din Yusuf, the so-called ‘Barberini vase’,  Damascus or Aleppo, Syria, 1237-1260, copper alloy, hammered, repoussé, engraved, inlaid with silver and black paste, Paris, musée du Louvre, inv. OA 4090.

[2] Epigraphic band in the courtyard of the al-Firdaws madrasa, Aleppo, Syria, 1235-1236, Aleppo stone.

[3] The page 206b bears the stamp of Saladin’s Library.

[4] Siege of a city by the Crusaders, Historia, Guillaume de Tyr, Acre, 13th century, Paris, Bibliothèque nationale de France, Ms Français 2628. http://visualiseur.bnf.fr/CadresFenetre?O=COMP-1&M=notice

[5] Compendium of Mechanical Devices, lieu, copy dated 1210, ink on paper, Berlin, Staatsbibliothek, Ms. Or. Quart. 739, 75ff. The Golden Age of Arabic Sciences, p.234.

BIBLIOGRAPHY RELATED TO THE ITEM

L’Orient de Saladin, (exh. cat., Paris, Institut du monde arabe, 2001), Paris: Gallimard, 2001, p. 92, n° 60.

REFERENCE BIBLIOGRAPHY

Gaier, C., ‘La valeur militaire des armées de la première croisade’, in Les Croisades. L’Orient et l’Occident d’Urbain II à Saint Louis, 1096-1270, (exh. cat., Toulouse, Ensemble conventuel des Jacobins, 1997), Milan, éditions Electa, 1997, p. 183-204.

Reinaud, M., ‘De l'art militaire chez les Arabes au moyen-age’, in Journal des Sciences Militaires, octobre 1849, Paris, 1849, [en ligne]. Disponible sur <http://www.citadelle.org/encyclopaedia.cfm?doc_id=955&scriptorium&alpha=D&doc_str1=M.%20Reinaud%20-
%20Membre%20de%20l'Institut%20,%20professeur%20d'arabe>, (consulté le 23 avril 2008).



Transversal sheets
Ayyubids (1169-1260)
Ayyubids (1169-1260)
Illumination
Illumination
Book arts
Book arts
Arms and military technology
Arms and military technology
War
War
Engineering techniques and procedures
Engineering techniques and procedures
Transmission of knowledge
Transmission of knowledge
Crusades
Crusades
Artistic patronage
Artistic patronage
Power
Power
Chivalry - Furusiyya
Chivalry - Furusiyya
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