Prince Constantin Wiasemsky dha
Overall length

89 cm

Blade length

45.6 cm

Blade thickness

Base 10 mm

Middle 4.5 mm

Widest at tip 2.5 mm

Blade width

Base 27.5 mm

Middle 30.5 mm

Widest at tip 38 mm

Weight without scabbard

632 grams

Point of balance

10 mm from guard

Materials

Iron, brass, bamboo, rattan

Origin

Montagnard people, Vietnam

Dating

Collected in 1892

Probably of that period

Provenance

Collected by Prince Constantin Wiasemsky

Purchased from a French source

Price €1500, -

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Description

A Montagnard sword from the central highlands of Vietnam. It has a heavy, curved blade with an oblique tip and a ridged spine. Both sides with patches of stable patina and old tool marks from sharpening. Some edge damage from use. It has a small, oval, lobed guard with dotted decor on the sides.

Swords with blades of this general form have been in use in the region for centuries, going back to at least the Khmer empire that fell in the 15th century.

Both the ridged spine on the blade and the general shape of the guard are remnants of Japanese influence in the region, a result of Japanese settlers along the coast of Vietnam in the 16th and 17th centuries. Most of the refugees were men so these communities married local women and their culture gradually dissolved over a few generations. But those with the right kind of eye will still see their fingerprints, among others in local arms manufacture, lasting well into the 19th century.

The hilt consists of a piece of very thick-walled bamboo, reinforced on top with a long brass sleeve. On the sleeve is written in punched dots:

 

Prince Constantin Wiasemsky marks

 

“Souvenir du general Russe


Prince Constantin Wiasemsky


Aout – 1892″

Translated:

“Souvenir of general Russian


Prince Constantin Wiasemsky


August – 1892"

 

Prince Constantin Wiasemsky

By David Leffmann for Mandarin Mansion

In May 1891 a short note appeared in the French newspaper Le Figaro, under the heading “An Eccentric New Journey”: Prince Constantin Wiasemsky was planning to spend the next three years crossing Asia on horseback, and anyone interested in joining him should write to 50 Povarskaya Street, Moscow – one of the city’s most exclusive addresses.

Konstantin Alexandrovich Vyazemsky (Константин Александрович Вяземский) – or, as he was known in France, Wiasemsky – was born in 1853 into an aristocratic Russian family. A graduate of the renowned Imperial Page Corps, Wiasemsky could have looked forward to a life of cultured ease amongst the Russian elite, but instead horrified his contemporaries by selling up his hereditary estates in 1880, and embarking on a lifetime of travel, mostly on horseback.

 

Prince Constantin Wiasemsky

Prince Constantin Wiasemsky

Bibliotheque Nationale de France

 

In March 1892 Wiasemsky crossed into Vietnam, then a French protectorate, where he was welcomed by the administration; the nominal ruler, Thành Thái, quizzed him about Russia and appointed him an honorary official. Wiasemsky was highly critical of the French opium trade – the drug was produced in Vietnam for sale to China – which he denounced as morally indefensible.

Next came Laos, and a rafting trip down the Mekong to Pakse. His journals comment on everything he saw between here and Thailand: Phnom Penh, Angkor, the people, plants and wildlife, architecture, customs, religion, slavery, the wealth of the various rulers. In Thailand he decided to exchange his faithful Siberian ponies for local elephants, “because in daytime they clear the roads of all incumbrance and at night protect caravans against tigers”. He visited Bangkok and Phimai ruins, which weren’t properly surveyed for another decade; on leaving the country he wrote wistfully that Thailand “left me the most pleasant memories … people there are kind and hospitable, nature is luxurious, the sun is warm, there are plenty of fruits, and no trace of cold or frost.”
Still riding an elephant, he spent the rest of 1892 “following the course of the Irrawaddy to Mandalay, then across the Manipur, Assam, and Bengal.” In February 1893 he arrived at Calcutta. He continued into Tibet, and it is possible that rumors of Wiasemsky’s presence in Tibet contributed to British suspicions that Russia was meddling in local politics with a long-term objective of invading India, which led to the British punitive expedition to Lhasa of 1903–04.

Crossing back into Chinese territory, Wiasemsky steered northwest through the deserts of Xinjiang province, when he was attacked by bandits for the second time. This time he lost all his luggage, including his souvenirs and important scientific specimens of plants and animals collected on his travels. One of his servants managed to alert the Russian Consul at Kashgar, who sent a party of Cossacks to rescue him. Looking at the date of the sword, it was probably sent back from the French or British colonies prior to Wiasemsky being robbed.

In 1896, Wiasemsky suddenly withdrew from the world – possibly because of the death of his wife or, as Russian scandal had it, to escape from his creditors. He became a librarian at the Russian Orthodox Panteleimon Monastery on Mount Athos (then in Turkey, now in Greece), and remained there until his death in 1909.
His journals, kept at the Russian State Library, have never been published in full.

For the full story, see the glossary article: Prince Constantin Wiasemsky.

 

Comparable examples

A very similar piece is in the Quai Branly Museum, accession number 71.1930.41.171. Donated in 1930, but believed to date from the second half of the 19th century.
 

Conclusion

A nice and clean example of a Montagnard sword from the central highlands of Vietnam. A good, representative example of its kind, in very good state of preservation.

The name of Prince Constantin Wiasemsky is a nice touch, if I had not purchased this sword I would have remained unaware of the existence of this colorful character. Wiasemsky never enjoyed much fame, and it took me and David Leffman a lot of research to even confirm that he had in fact been in Vietnam in 1892.

The date does leave some questions. In August 1982, Wiasemsky was traversing mainland Southeast Asia on the back of an elephant. Does it reflect the date on which the piece was sent home, perhaps from Mandalay?

Perhaps the next owner can uncover more of this story. And if so, do let me know because I have grown fascinated with Wiasemsky.

Prince Constantin Wiasemsky Vietnamese Montagnard dha sword
Prince Constantin Wiasemsky Vietnamese Montagnard dha sword
Prince Constantin Wiasemsky Vietnamese Montagnard dha sword
Prince Constantin Wiasemsky Vietnamese Montagnard dha sword
Prince Constantin Wiasemsky Vietnamese Montagnard dha sword
Prince Constantin Wiasemsky Vietnamese Montagnard dha sword
Prince Constantin Wiasemsky Vietnamese Montagnard dha sword
Prince Constantin Wiasemsky Vietnamese Montagnard dha sword
Prince Constantin Wiasemsky Vietnamese Montagnard dha sword

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