Pair of flintlock pistols owned by Tipu Sultan

Pair of flintlock pistols owned by Tipu Sultan

Designed and made by Sayyid Ma’sum in the royal workshops
Walnut, silver and steel with overlaid gold
Mysore, India
1795-1796
Museum nos. IS.55 & 56-2005

This pair of flintlock pistols were made in the royal workshops of Tipu Sultan of Mysore, in South India. The gold Persian inscriptions decorating their steel barrels record that they were made by the leading armourer Sayyid Ma'sum in ‘Patan’, referring to the capital, Srirangapatnam, then known to the British as Seringapatam. They are dated 1224 according to Tipu Sultan's idiosyncratic ‘Mawludi’ system that begins with the birth of the Prophet Muhammad, rather than according to the conventional Muslim system. To avoid confusion, Mawludi dates are given in reverse order (4221=1224), and 1224 falls between the years 1796 and 1797 AD.

The barrels are decorated with Persian verses inlaid in gold praising the ruler and eulogising the State. They also have a gold-inlaid tiger mask similar to those found on several of Tipu Sultan's personal weapons, composed of the Arabic words ‘assadullah al-ghalib’ (The Lion of God is Triumphant) and their mirror image. The carved wooden stocks have silver mounts chased with flower heads whose petals are in the shape of the tiger stripe found on most of the objects directly associated with Tipu Sultan.

The Muslim kingdom of Mysore was founded by Tipu Sultan's father Haider Ali, a soldier of fortune who deposed an ineffectual Hindu raja in 1766. He enlarged the boundaries of Mysore by conquest, and transformed it into a powerful state with an army reorganised on European lines, offering the only serious threat to British expansion in the region. A key element in the success of the Mysore army lay in its use of firearms incorporating the latest European technology, and replacing old-fashioned matchlocks with flintlocks. Mercenaries, predominantly French, were employed at Mysore and by the time Tipu Sultan inherited the throne, must have trained craftsmen such as Sayyid Ma'sum to make perfect imitations. The unique character of Tipu Sultan's weapons is the prolific use of tiger stripes and motifs in their decoration.