Source: Classical literature
Khanjar (خنجر) is the Persian word for a double-edged dagger, and can refer to one of several varieties.1 The word was also used as such in areas under strong Persian influence, such as Ottoman Turkey and North India. In Oman, the jambiya (Arab word for dagger) is referred to as khanjar as well.
The Persian khanjar
The typical Persian example has an I-shaped hilt, no separate guard, and a curved blade. Early blades tend to have a moderate curve, while some later examples can have a sharp bend in the blade's profile.
The blade is usually made of (crucible) steel. The scabbard is usually wood covered with leather, but scabbards covered with velvet, brocade, silver, gold, or steel are also encountered. Hilts are often made of walrus tusk, horn, but can also be of stone like jade, or metal like silver or steel.2 Very ornate enameled khanjar were also produced.
A few Persian khanjar in the Moser collection.
They were typically worn on the right side of the body, tucked in sash or belt so that only the hilt would be visible. Often they were worn together with the single-edged kard dagger which was worn on the left or in front. See, for example, some figures in the Shahnameh or "Book of Kings". A 1663–1669 version is in the Metropolitan Museum, accession number: 13.228.17
Known production centers of high-quality khanjar were mainly Isfahan and Shiraz. A khanjar in the Freer Gallery, accession number 1939-44a-b, carries an inscription stating it was made in Shiraz in 1777 AD.3
A Persian khanjar of the Qajar dynasty, with steel covered hilt and scabbard.
This style was produced in Shiraz.
Some dated examples
The word khanjar is already present in the epic Shahnameh of the 10th century A.D. The oldest khanjar that was found is believed to date from around 1410.4 The Henry Moser-Charlottenfels collection contained three dated khanjar, ranging from 1573 to 1810.5
The earliest dated of this group carries markings on the blade with the date. The distinct hilt is of a style also seen in 16th-century miniatures, which makes it likely it was produced at the same time as the blade. Unfortunately, no complete view of the blade has been published.
Oldest khanjar from the Moser collection. Now in the Bernisches Historisches Museum.
Close-ups of the base of the blade. At the top a star of David and the word Allah.
On the other side sutra 48:1 from the Qur'an:
"Indeed, we have given you a clear conquest"
And the year 981, corresponding to 1573 AD.
The Moser collection also holds another, dated khanjar. This time the date 1118 hijri (1706 AD) is on the mounts, together with a name, "Wali". The style is somewhat unusual, tending towards European baroque.
1706 AD dated khanjar from the Moser collection. Now in the Now in the Bernisches Historisches Museum.
1707-1733 AD, Isfahan
Another dated khanjar is in the Aga Khan museum. It carries an inscription by its maker, Faizallah Shushtari Isfahani. While this dagger is not dated, we know other works signed by the same maker that range from 1707 - 1733 AD.6 He was quite a versatile maker, producing maces, vambraces, even wootz steel ewers and other non-weapons. Some of these items were commissioned by Shah Sultan Husain for the Imam Reza shrine. This dagger comes with Ottoman mounts, suggesting it was perhaps presented to an Ottoman dignitary.
A very fine dated khanjar in the Aga Khan museum, accession number AKM963
Blade signed, made by Faizallah Shushtari Isfahani (Active circa 1707-1733 AD)
1777 AD, Shiraz
An interesting all-steel example with markings stating it was made in Shiraz by a craftsman named Taqi. It is in the Freer Gallery, Washington, accession number 1939-44a-b.
Khanjar made in Shiraz by Taqi, 1777 AD
Freer Gallery, accession number 1939-44a-b,
A dagger in the private collection of Dmitry Miloserdov is signed as being made by Mohammad Haadi 1214 hijri , which corresponds to 1799-1800 AD. The owner kindly gave permission to use his photos in this article.
What becomes immediately apparent is the deep curve of the blade, which seems to have originated in the second half of the 18th century, and was to become a very popular 19th-century Persian dagger design. This is not to say all daggers became this curved; the older, straighter style also remained in production.
Khanjar by Mohammad Hadi, 1799-1800 AD.
Collection of Dmitry Miloserdov.
Another, also by Mohammad Hadi, is in the Harvard Art Museum. Accession number 1958.131.A-B. It was made one year later than the preceding example.
Khanjar by Mohammad Hadi, 1800-1801 AD.
Harvard Art Museum. Accession number 1958.131.A-B.
Photo © President and Fellows of Harvard College
Returning to the Moser collection, we have a dagger with a hilt dated to 1810 AD.
1810 AD dated khanjar from the Moser collection. Now in the Now in the Bernisches Historisches Museum.
1. Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani; Lexicon of Arms and Armor from Iran. Legat Verlag GmbH, Tübingen, 2010. Pages 444 - 445.
2. Manouchehr Moshtagh Khorasani; Arms and Armor from Iran. Legat Verlag GmbH, Tübingen, 2006. Pages 219 - 229.
3. James Allan & Brian Gilmour; Persian steel, the Tanavoli Collection. Oxford University Press. 2000. Pages 148-149.
4. Hans Stöcklein; "Persian Arms and Armour", in Arthur Opham Pope (editor); "A survey of Persian art", Vol. III, SOPA edition of 1981. Page 2576.
5. Rudolf Zeller, Ernst F. Rohrer; "Orientalische Sammlung Henri Moser-Charlottenfels: beschreibender Katalog der Waffensammlung". Bernisches historisches Museum. Wyss, Bern. 1955. Page 132.
6. James Allan & Brian Gilmour; Persian steel, the Tanavoli Collection. Oxford University Press. 2000. Pages 524-525.