Lot 45: Chinese Han Dynasty Stone Scabbard Slide, Hydra Style
27 October 2016
Louisville, CO, USALive Auction
China, probably Han Dynasty, ca. 206 BCE to 220 CE. This is a carved stone scabbard slide in the hydra style. The hydra style (also known as the hydra class) is a relief carving of a sinuous animal with the body in a curved form and incised or sculpted lines that suggest musculature. On this example, the face is clear in the lower left corner. The stone is creamy whites, browns, and yellows. This is the simpler form of the scabbard slide, consisting of just an enclosed aperture; Trousdale (1975) classifies this shape as Form II, Profile Type A(2). Form II is the rare form of scabbard slides in China, and most of the excavated examples were found in the northwest of the country. This piece does not appear to have been used overly much and may have just been for ceremony. Size: 2.15" L x 1.8" W x 0.85" H (5.5 cm x 4.6 cm x 2.2 cm)
The scabbard slide was invented in the steppes of the southern Ural Mountains 2500 years ago, developed to manage the long iron equestrian sword. In China, nearly all of these objects are made from "jade" in the widest sense; elsewhere, there are also examples in bronze, lacquered wood, gold, and ivory. The purpose of these objects was forgotten until the 20th century, when some were scientifically excavated from undisturbed archaeological contexts. Now we know that the scabbard slide was attached, using silk thread or a thin strip of metal, to a flat or ribbed part of the scabbard, facing away from the body and generally at the balance point. A belt, usually of leather, would go through the slide. Trousdale (1975) suggests that the scabbard slide was the sole device used for suspending a sword in China for six hundred years. The swords that are buried with these jade ornaments are ceremonial or presentation swords and belong to noblemen -- in the Han Dynasty, for example, swords were worn by the Emperor and his officials in ceremonial or official dress.
c.f. Trousdale, W. 1975. The Long Sword and Scabbard Slide in Asia. Smithsonian Contributions to Anthropology, No. 17.
Provenance: Ex-Estate of John Piscopo. Mr. Piscopo was one of the largest collectors of ancient weapons in the US with a collection that spanned all cultures, all ages.
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Condition Report: Surface wear but design is clear.