"Everything is mine", said Gold; "Everything is mine", said Damascus steel; "I can buy anything", said Gold; "I can acquire anything", said Damascus steel". A. Pushkin 1827
Origin and Meaning of the Phrase Damascus Steel
The term Damascus steel appears in discussions in Islamic texts, historical ethnographic reports and modern laboratory analyses. Despite all this research, many inaccuracies, fallacies, and misunderstandings still appear in scholarly and popular literature, primarily due to the use of secondary sources and the repeating of myths as facts, including that Damascus steel was forged in Damascus from imported Indian wootz ingots, and that the technique to make Damascus steel was “lost”.
There are four varieties of swords or steel to which the adjective Damask, Damascene, or Damascus is applied: pattern-welded, inlayed, preferentially etched, and crucible. The pattern-welded variety is often called mechanical Damascus because it is made by forge-welding several pieces of iron or steel together to form a decorative (and often functional) pattern such as Merovingian blades. For centuries this method was commonly used throughout Europe. The process was employed to produce the patterned Japanese Samurai swords and the Kris swords of Southeast Asia (Sachse, 1994). Patterns and decorations made by inlaying different types of metals or jewels onto the blade’s surface appear on swords from Russia. The method has a long history at least from the 14th century. Ibn-al Uhkuwwa (d. 1329) mentions inlay as one method used for producing imitation crucible Damascus steel (Al-Hassan, 1978, 39), thus “forging” (so to say) the crucible Damascus pattern. Preferentially etching a pattern on the blade was used in nineteenth century India, perhaps to imitate the crucible Damascus steel pattern. The inlay and etching methods are often called artificial Damascus (Figiel, 1991, 27). The fourth variety is made from crucible steel, sometimes called oriental Damascus, true or crystalline Damascus.
The use of the adjectives crucible, pattern-welded, inlayed or etched together with Damascus, Damask or Damascene should be used in future publications to avoid confusion. Using these adjectives, the method used to form the pattern (if known) is clear and free from ambiguity. Unless otherwise noted, the term Damascus steel is used here only to denote the crucible variety.
The lack of proof of Damascus ever having actually been a centre of sword production has been argued by Elgood (1994, 103-108). However, large Islamic cities usually had industrial areas and Damascus was probably no different. The origin of the name Damascus steel is frequently attributed to the crusaders, who, as the legend goes, were introduced to these blades in Damascus and brought the word and the legend of the steel back with them upon their return to Europe. Although this assertion is common, no reference to crusaders having used the term has ever been reported in any of the literature. The use of various forms of the adjective “Damascus” is recorded in English from the late 16th century. According to the Oxford English Dictionary (CD), the term was used in 1562 to describe how a certain man was like a Scimitar. During the late 16th and 17th century there are a number of quotes associating Damascus swords with Turks. Joseph Moxon stated that Damascus steel rarely comes into England unwrought but Turkish Symeters (sic.) are made from it (Moxon, 1677, 56). The French gem trader, Chardin, during the 17th century, mentions Damascus steel. He describes steel, calls it pulad (poulad), and states that the phrase Damascus steel was used to distinguish these swords/steel from those of Europe (Bronson, 1986, 24).
There are more credible roots for the origin of sword names. The Islamic writers al-Kindi and al-Beruni name swords based on surface appearance, place of production or forging, or the name of the smith. It appears that during the early Islamic period people were uncertain of the origins of sword names, for al-Beruni states that swords with the provenance of Mashrafyiyah may refer to the name of the ironsmith Mashraf or the village called Mazarif (Said, 1989, 217). There are three likely sources for the term Damascus in the context of swords. The word for water in Arabic is, damas (Sachse, 1994, 13) and Damascus blades are often described as exhibiting a water-pattern on their surface. Al-Kindi called swords produced and forged in Damascus as Damascene (al-Hassan, 1978, 35). Additionally, al-Beruni mentions a sword-smith called Damasqui who made swords of crucible steel (Said, 1989, 219-220). Any or all of these may have inspired the term “Damascus steel” swords but it certainly were not crusaders who coined the term. The term “Damascus steel” is found in the writings of al-Jaubari (died 1232). He reported that “…. a prescription for a (good) cutting sword: Indian steel or Damascus steel is taken and a sword is made…” (Al-Hassan, 1978, 39). Ibn-al Uhkuwwa (d.1329) also used the phrase Damascus steel (see above). These references indicate that the adjective “Damascus” was being used to describe steel centuries before the term “Damascus steel” was reportedly used in Europe.
Baruch ben Rueven / Chanaבראד, ילד של ריימונד והאלאן
Baruch ben Rueven / Chanaבראד, ילד של ריימונד והאלאן