Brass Dots

Inset brass dots are found on blades from many regions. Note that holes in blades may be an intended part of the design, or may once have been plugged with a particular metal such as brass, gold or copper.

The size, configuration or relative arrangement of dots on blades may or may not have special meaning. A modern interpretation of the brass is a matter of inquiry. Theories include inset brass dots as 

  • esthetic aspects of an overal design, 
  • maker’s marks, 
  • signifiers of quality, 
  • symbolic significance, 
  • imparting talismanic, or magical properties to a weapon. (See Alloys, Brass and Copper)

The placing dots of brass (or other metals) evolved from an ancient practice in early Frankish blades. In some cases, these ancient dots were arranged to form specific symbols. Sometimes a dot was simply a gold nail. The practice spread to numerous other areas, perhaps as a result of the influence on local designs brought by trade. It is important to remember that the placing of brass dots, application of marks, use of design motifs and so on is particular to the smith and individual ordering the weapon in a particular time, place and cultural context.

Brass dots may appear on both sides of the blade (possibly as a plug for a hole) or on one side only.

INDIAN SUBCONTINENT

It has been proposed that inset brass dots in India were placed strategically to add apotropaic (anti-magical) properties to the iron in the blade. in some cases there are many dots, arranged in patterns of threes. These may represent the trimurti (trinity of three), an important attribute in many faiths. The trimurti configuration on Indian blades often appears on strategic locations on blades, such as at terminus of fullers and blade root.

Indian steel and weapons, such as jambiyas, often made their way to Africa as important trade items. Both Arab and Persian smiths and other communities were present in India and may have learned the practice there.

NORTH AFRICA, ARABIA AND THE MIDDLE EAST

In the Arabian Penninsula the practice of inset brass dots is very rare. A local contact in Yemen of one collector reported that dots appearing on jambiya in the “poison” area of the blade are supposed to signify the number of kills by the blade. This explanation appears in other regions as well, and also in reference to holes in the blade (which may or may not have held a brass inset at one time). The theory should be regarded as highly speculative, even a myth invented long after the fact by locals and collectors.

The religious belief that iron and steel of a blade causes death is well known in North Africa (e.g., Tuareg) and led to the use of brass to protect a person’s hand from touching the metal. 


INDONESIA AND PHILIPPINES


The mandau of the inland Dayak tribes (Penan and Kayan) on Borneo may feature "lantak paku, ten small inlaid circles of brass, two next to each other in five groups aligned near the edge of the blade.


CHINA

Chinese jian swords often have inset brass dots. A configuration of seven dots represents the celestial “big dipper” in the great Bear constellation. Celestial features are very important in Chinese faiths and traditions. This practice is reported related to martial arts and an ancient historic warrior who carried a sword with that pattern. Chinese smiths traveled for work in various southeast Asian regions and the practice of insent brass dots likely spread as a result of their influence. The feature of seven brass dots may also refer to a fabled blade-making area in Chine known as the “seven wells.”


Resources:

Brass dots on a blade?