The collection as a whole spans 1,300 years, from the 7th to the 20th centuries, and owes its existence to the span and scope of the Ottoman Empire, during the 600 years of which these weapons were collected and conserved. The needs of the Ottoman Army, involved as it was in constant warfare and conquests, were many varied. Arms and armor were provided by the weapon-makers of the empire, and kept carefully maintained in large armories in the major urban centers. On the conquest of Istanbul in 1453, the church of Haghia Eirene was converted into an armory and it was here that obsolete weapons were kept until the end of the 19th century.
The most valuable weapons acquired as trophies, many of them encrusted with precious stones or made of precious metals, and those once belonging to persons of importance were kept in the palace, alongside arms acquired by requisition or presented to the courts as gifts, and others belonging to the viziers and palace guards. They were stored in the palace treasuries under the supervision of the imperial treasurer or Hazinedar and the chief sword-bearer or Silahtar Aga.
Arms bearing a sacred significance in the Islamic world, especially those belonging to important religious figures, were preserved with particular care, hence the excellent state of much of the collection which is based on the weapons kept in the palace, the contents of the armory having later being transferred to the Military Museum.
A significant part of the palace collection was shown for the first time in the privy treasury in the second court of the palace in 1929. The original display was removed in 1966, to be replaced by a new display of arms three years later.
Among the most notable example: of weaponry in the collection are those o Arab, Mameluke, Iranian and Turkish origin, which are here classified according to the type of arms and their major characteristics.
Arab Swords: This group include the oldest weapons in the collection, also those most venerated in Islam. Dating from the time of the prophet to the 13t century swords belonging to certain Ummayid and Abbasid caliphs, are a similar in type, namely double edge broadswords of which only the blades at generally original, the hilts and cross pieces being later replacements in Mameluke and Turkish styles. These unique pieces, the like of which are to t found in no other collection throughout the world, are of great importance for Islamic cultural history. They were brought to Istanbul along with a number of relics acquired by Selim I in 1517 on h conquest of Egypt.
Egyptian Mameluke Arms: The are a great number of Mameluke weapons in the collection, many of which a inscribed, and some of particular importance belonging to the Mameluke sultans. We know from the various examples of material and technique used in making of these weapons, which date from the 14th to the 16th centuries, and from the forms themselves that Mameluke weaponry was highly sophisticated in comparison with other contemporary arms.
There were basically two types of Mameluke swords, both represented in the collection, broadswords and sabres (straight and curved blades) , which were used simultaneously from the 14th through the 16th century, although the tendancy one sees among Turkish and Iranian swords of the same period towards the adoption of a single-edged curved blade in place of the earlier double edged broadsword is also discernable among Mameluke arms. The two finest swords of the period are those of the Mameluke Sultans Kayitbay and Kansuh-el-Guri.
Mameluke chain mail is either profiled wrought chain mail or fine, flat link mail, with steel guards under the arms, and breast and back plates, similar to Turkish chain mail of the 15-16th centuries. The flat link mail, being lighter and finer, is notably more serviceable than heavy European chain mails. The Mameluke conical iron helmets are characterized by ear and nape pieces. The hatchets are single or double bladed with typical crescent-shaped head and round or angled iron shafts. Lances too, unlike Turkish and Iranian lances are iron, as are the Mameluke maces and halberds, all extremely effective weapons. Like Arab arms, these Mameluke weapons w brought to Istanbul after the capture Egypt.
Iranian Arms: Acquired as trophies or gifts, these are highly decorated may be classed among the finest exam of Iranian metalwork. The earliest swords in the collection, pre-dating the 15th century, indicate that like Mameluke Turkish swords these were gener double edged broadswords, tending later (after the 15th century) to be superceded by swords of the single edged sabre type the curved blade narrowing in the century to a sharper point in the scimitar or semsir type. Iranian helmets in collection are typically semi-spherical extended pointed finials and two aigrette mountings towards the front. Chain mail with steel breast and back plates or characteristic form of armor, although there is also a type consisting of four plates or ‘car ayine’. Hatchets are widespread broad-edged type rescent-shaped axe heads, mainly shafted, while the lances are wooden or reed shafted. Bows are composite Vi broad curve and a marked recoil to the arms, and standards, remeniscent of tulips or palmettes in form, are decorated open-work engraving and mounted iron shafts.
Turkish Arms: The quantity variety of weapons in this group fen the most important part of the collection, including arms dating from the 15th to the 20th century not only of historical, but also of considerable technical, artistic and intrinsic value. The arms of the Ottoman sultans are particularly important for the collection. The typical Turkish sword emerged after some experimentation in the first half of the 15th century as a curved blade or sabre type, the earliest example of which is the sword of Mehmed the Conqueror. This weapon, which is significant for the collection, is entirely original. The single, slightly curved edge is countered by a broad ridge to the blade which has a channel running down the centre to the tip. When compared with the sword of Selim I we see that the curve in the blade of the latter is slightly more marked, which brings us closer to the noticeable curve of 16th century swords.
It was in the 16th century that the Turkish sword developed to its ultimate if maturity of form, in particular during the reigns of Selim the Grim and Suleyman the Magnificent. We can date the emergence of the short slightly curved double edged sharp-pointed yataghan to the second half of the 16th century.
Turkish chain mail was similar to that of the Mamelukes and was extremely flexible arid light while helmets evolved over the centuries, from the narrow conical type of the 14th and 15th centuries almost all of which had vizors and nap pieces, to a more round-bellied shape towards the end of the 15th century with less pronounced and smaller finial. What we might call the classica1 form was sustained throughout the 16th century and by the end of the century the characteristics of the 17th century type had already been set, with no trace of finial and a brow piece in place of a vizor.
The earliest Turkish guns in the collection date from the beginning of the 17th century. These are the simple matchlock guns which were superceded by the flintlock gun. The latter, also represented in the collection remained little changed until the end of the 19th century but for a narrower but introduced during the 19th century along with a mauser type handle, undoubtedly influenced by European guns. The typical Turkish pistol whether single-or double barrelled, had a ball at the base of the handle.
Maces and halberds, like Iranian and Mameluke Iran arms of that kind in form, were however also to be found in brass and silver. Hatchets too were similar to those of the Mamelukes and Iran, but many had iron shafts. The lances of Turkish spears are generally cane, or hardwood such as ebony.
The history of the bow can be traced far back in Turkish history. Like the sword, arrows were considered sacred and oaths were sworn over them. Renowned as the finest in the world, four distinct materials went into the making of Turkish bows, wood, bone (horn), gut and gum The bows themselves were classified according to their function into three major groups, for hunting, range archer: and war or puta, menzil and tirkes types respectively. Arrows, which were made o beech, cane or pine are of numerous type~ again falling into the major groups, such as the range or menzil arrow, a whistling halberdier’s or cavus arrow, war or harp arrow and target or hedef arrow.
Apart from the common iron or copper shields, there are also a number of Turkish shields made of willow branches twisted round into a spiral. There was no particular form favored by Turkish standards, which were mainly of copper brass, silver or gold.
The collection also contains number of Turkish jereed sticks used in (a kind of mounted darts) , horse arms (head pieces), medieval ceremoni swords, the swords and guns of Daghestan from the Crimea, Japanes swords and helmets and Europe, swords, guns and pistols.