The sword of 1700s Indian ruler Tipu Sultan has become the most expensive sword in history after selling for an astonishing $17.5 million (£14 million) at auction. While it was only expected to fetch $2.5 million (£2 million), the ornate sword smashed past that goal to become not only a record-breaking sword, but a record-breaking Indian or Islamic object.
Owned by the legendary Tipu Sultan, the spenny sword was used as a bedchamber weapon by him during his reign from 1782 – 1799. It is a remarkable piece of craftsmanship, famed for its hardness due to its construction of Wootz steel, which was recognized to be harder than other steel variants at the time.
Swords from this era of Indian history were rumored to slice through armor with ease, making them stand out from the metallurgy of the time. The golden hilt is covered in intricate markings and inscriptions on the blade call it the “Sword of the Ruler”, among other writings that were added after his death.
Once Tipu Sultan was defeated by the British, it was retrieved from his bedchamber by British troops in 1799 and presented to Major General David Baird “as a token of their high esteem of his courage and conduct in the assault which he commanded and in which Tipu Sultan was slain”, according to a press release from auction house Bonhams.
This wasn’t the only sword of Tipu Sultan and it wasn’t even one he used in battle – those were lost even earlier and have since been held in British museums. However, what makes this sword so special is the art that adorns the hilt, making it a remarkable trip back in time, alongside the close connection it held with the fabled ruler.
Interestingly, Tipu Sultan is also credited as the pioneer of rocket artillery after he used metal tubes packed with gunpowder as long-range artillery against British attacks, which was remarkably ahead of its time. They weren’t particularly useful or damaging, but the loud noises and bright flashes of light were enough to seriously scare the East India Company’s forces, so they had their uses.