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Christophe Hioco

5th - 1st century BC
66 cm.

This long sword has a straight blade and a fancy handle with complex line-and-rope motifs, with a circle on the top. One of its edges is decorated with a magnificent ronde-bosse animal figure. Could it be a stylized crocodile or a tiger? On the other edge are square hollows that once held small bells.

Given its size, this sword is one of the longest in the Dông Son style. There are two similar pieces in the Dông Son culture of Vietnam - one decorated with a rooster head - that have bells on their handles and bear the same line-and-rope motifs. These swords came from archaeological digs in the Lang Vac region and were on display in the collections of the Huong Lang Museum. They were intended as presents for kings.

Among the funerary objects unearthed by the archeologists were intricately decorated arms, and their iconography tells us much. They probably never were used in combat, but do evoke the importance of nature and the animal world to this river people we call the Dông Son.

Identified in 1924, the Dông Son culture was named after a site on the banks of the Red River where its first traces were discovered at least 600 years BCE. Highly sophisticated bronze casting skills were developed, mostly for the creation of drums, recipients, arms and ornaments. People of the Dông Son culture placed great importance in rites and ceremonies, and most burial objects had both a practical function and a ritualistic symbolism. Clear proof of cultural and economic exchanges, Dông Son art not only influenced the Chinese provinces on which it bordered, but also a wide geographic zone that included Cambodia, Thailand and Indonesia up to the eastern Sunda Islands.

This Dông Son culture progressively morphed into Vietnamese art with Chinese tendencies, called Giao-Chi (or Han-Viet) as of the 1st century A.D.

For a similar object, consult Viêt Nam, collection vietnamienne du musée Cernuschi, under the supervision of Monique CRICK, p. 36, Suilly-La-Tour, 2006, or the catalogue of the Baur collection, Art ancien du Viêt Nam, bronzes et céramiques, Milan, 2008.

all text, images Christophe Hioco


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