Armenian jewelers, just as in the Russian and Persian empires, were renown in the Ottoman empire. English archaeologist V. Gordon Childe in his work ‘New Light on the Most Ancient East’ describes that the ancestors of the Armenians were among the first tribes in the world to start working metal; they had invented iron and laid the foundations of the Iron Age with the Armenian Highlands having become its heart. The same applies to precious metals. Indeed some of world’s oldest metal foundries have been discovered on the Armenian Highlands. Armenians are thus no strangers to dealing with precocious metals.
Marco Polo too describes Armenian passion for crafts while traveling through the Ottoman empire:
“The following can be said of Turkmenia: the Turkmenian population is divided into three groups. The Turkomans are Muslims characterized by a very simple way of life and extremely crude speech. They live in the mountainous regions and raise cattle. Their horses and their outstanding mules are held in especially high regard. The other two groups, Armenians and Greeks, live in cities and forts. They make their living primarily from trade and as craftsmen. In addition to the carpets, unsurpassed and more splendrous in color than anywhere else in the world, silks in all colors are also produced there.”
During the Seljuk reign the Armenians played the key role in the gold-work of the country. M.K. Zulalian noted that all the metal work was concentrated in their hands at the time, which was not surprising, as Armenia’s territory was very rich in gold-, silver- and copper-bearing minerals. Under the reign of the Ottoman Empire, the Armenian jewelers of Trabzon, according to Evliya Çelebi (the famous Turkish traveler of the 17th century) were considered among the worlds best. Besides silver and gold jewellery, goldsmiths also decorated weapons, stirrups, armour and produced different liturgical vessels.
Among those highly esteemed Armenian jewelers and goldsmiths that decorated Ottoman royalty was the Armenian imperial master jeweler Hovhannes Agha Düz who hand crafted this wonderful Jeweled gun for Sultan Mahmud I. Not much on his autobiography has survived today but his legacy lives on in the splendid items he crafted for the royals of his time.
Along with the more traditional jeweled sword and scabbard, this impressive gun served as a ceremonial object belonging to the Sultan Mahmud I. While the flamboyant decoration of the gun lent itself to public spectacle, the experience of extracting its treasures from the gun’s stock is a more personal act. The following video reveals the various components of this ornate gun.