A Rare Persian Shield, or Separ dated 1142 AH

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Item ref: 3859

  • Iran
  • Steel, gold and fabric
  • 35.5 cm (diameter)


Private collection, Denmark
Private collection, United Kingdom

The shield is of conventional all-steel construction with a large, turned rim, chiselled with cavalry battle scenes around a central medallion inscribed in gold koftgari ‘Sultān Nāder Shāh, 1142’

سلطان نادر شاه ١١٤٢

Around the edge, also in gold koftgari, are names of God interspersed with verses from the Qu’ran. The shield retains its original quilted lining of embroidered silk over a red cotton lining.

Nāder or Nādir Shah Afshar, founder of the Afsharid dynasty, became shah of Persia, ruling from 1736–47 when he was assassinated by a group of Qajar and Afshar chiefs. He was the most celebrated warrior of his age, known as the Napoleon of Persia after his reliance on massed artillery and musketeers. Following the Afghan invasion of 1722 (ah 1135), he helped Shah Tahmasp Qolī reconquer Isfahan in 1729 after at his decisive victory over the Afghans at Damghan in 1729, and was appointed viceroy in Khurasan, and allowed to strike his own coins, albeit anonymous ones. He proclaimed himself Shah in 1736. By 1738 (ah 1151), having defeated the last of the Afghan Hotaki dynasty, Nāder Shah marched on the Mughal Empire, sacking Peshawar, Lahore, Kabul and Jalalabad (Bosworth 1996, 281–2). His coins from the Peshawar mint of this date bear the title Sultān Nāder (National Museum of Asian Art, Washington, S2001.8).

Another shield ascribed to Nāder Shah is preserved among the royal treasures of Iran. It is a rhino hide shield adorned, possibly later in honour of the military hero, with spinels, emeralds, diamonds and rubies, perhaps looted together with the peacock throne from Delhi in 1739. The central spinel is thought to be the largest in the world weighing 225 cts (Meen & Tushingham 1968, 58). His personal tabarzin, decorated with his name and the title Sahib-i-Qiran together with verses from the Qu’ran is preserved in the National Museum, New Delhi, while a pair of vambraces bearing his name as Nāder Qolī is in the collection of the Royal Scottish Museum, Edinburgh (Elwell-Sutton 1979, 15–16, figs 17–18). The style and quality of the chiselled decoration of our shield is so closely comparable to the work of the celebrated axe maker, Lotf‘ali (Melikian Chirvani 1979) that it could be by the same hand, though his dated works range between 1734–40 (Finer 2019, no. 10). For another dated shield of the same type, compare one dated 1727 from the Stone collection in the Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York, no. 36.25.613, and for a later example dated 1792/3 in the Hermitage, St Petersburg no. BO 4308. This style of chiselled decoration in Persia appears in the late seventeenth century on a helmet dated 1677/8 in the Furusiyya Foundation, Vaduz (Mohamed 2008, 334), and for a discussion of its possible revival under the Qajars, see Alexander et al. 2015, 117–8.