The study and research of Wootz Crucible Steel is particularly complex and still in its early stages. Many great academics have studied the subject and shared a vast amount of information to help enthusiasts grasp an understanding of the mythical steel. This blog post is a summary of my personal research on Wootz with the objective to provide a general overview of the topic for enthusiasts that are just beginning their research. Seasoned collectors may also find this blog post useful as a refresher guide. Please note that this is not an in-depth academic report. To keep the blog easily digestible I have not gone into the finer details.
Traditionally called Fuladh in Persia and India, Wootz is the most sought after of all steel types amongst collectors of antique Indo-Persian weaponry. For centuries warriors from the Middle East and the Indian Sub Continent have regarded it as the supreme steel for edged weapons due to its functional superiority and aesthetic design. Thus making the study of Wootz essential in order to grasp a thorough understanding of Indo-Persian weaponry.
Legend has it that Wootz’ famed reputation began when European Crusaders first encountered the mythical steel in the Middle East during the Crusades. This resulted in western writers documenting Wootz as ‘Damascus Steel’ due to the city of Damascus being the location medieval Europeans first encountered Wootz. It is important not to confuse the city of Damascus as the place of origin as there is no concrete evidence to suggest that Wootz originated there. Some scholars refute the claim that European Crusaders created the term Damascus Steel and suggest that it more likely stems from the great works of Al-Kindi from the 9th century who used the word Damascene for swords that were forged in the city of Damascus, Damas in Arabic means water. Bashir Mohamed suggests that the term Damascene was applied to blades of the Pattern Welded Steel type.
The production of Wootz began around 200 BC – 200 AD in war torn India. The process involved melting a mixture of carbonisation material such as wood, leaves, charcoal and iron with a low carbon content in clay crucibles. The mixture was then cast into an ingot and methodically cooled down. The ingot was then hammered out into specific shaped blades for both swords and daggers of many varying forms and types. The final stage was to polish and etch the steel to highlight the beautiful watered patterns, which were produced by the artistic like forging of the carbide crystals contained in the ingot. These Wootz items were then distributed around India and exported into the Middle East as arms & armour or as raw ingots ready to be worked on by Persian smiths. The production of high quality Wootz eventually died out by the 19th century. Some researchers believe this may have happened due to the ingot composition being altered as the result of the use of a new ore deposit. With no European blacksmith able to replicate the process to produce Wootz of the same calibre as 17th and 18th century examples, the art became lost in time.
Damascus and Watered Steel
The surface pattern on steel types such as Wootz and Pattern Welded Steel is commonly described as a ‘watered’ pattern. From around the 15th century Persian poets have used the term ‘Ab’ for describing steel with a visible surface pattern, Ab translates into the word watered. The Arabic word Damas also translates into water. Al Kindi used the word Damascene to describe swords that were forged in the city of Damascus, it is likely that this is what caused the term Damascus to be applied to steel that displays a visible surface pattern. In summary both Ab and Damas refer to the stunning swirling pattern that resemble free flowing water found on Wootz and Pattern Welded Steel, resulting in steel of this type being labelled as ‘Watered Steel’.
The Sacred Connection
In all major schools of spiritual philosophy water represents life and in the Qur’an the celestial River Al-Kawthar is used to describe the waters of Paradise in the afterlife. In ancient Eastern culture for a warrior to die in the defence of nation or religion was the greatest endeavour one could undertake in life, the traditional name for this act is ‘Shaheedi’. Early Persian poets described ‘Shaheedi’ as drinking from the waters of the Wootz blade, the reward for drinking this water was immortality. Before entering the battle field warriors would gaze into the hypnotising watered patterns of their Wootz blades and dream of the immortal glory awaiting them in Paradise. From this information, one can see how sacred Wootz blades were to the ancient warrior of the East.
Summary of Terminology
Wootz/Fuladh: Traditionally the word Fuladh has been used in Persia and India to describe what we now call Wootz Crucible Steel. The word Wootz first appears in an English report based on the Indian Steel lecture given by Pearson to the Royal Academy in 1795.
Watered Steel: The term Watered Steel can be applied to any steel which shows a visible watered pattern on its surface. The term originates from the Persian word Ab and the Arabic word Damas, both words refer to the surface patterns found on Wootz and Pattern Welded Steel.
Damascus Steel: Similar to the term Watered Steel, the term Damascus Steel generally refers to all steels that show a visible watered pattern on the surface. Both Wootz and Pattern Welded Steel often get classified simply as Damascus Steel which can cause confusion in identification and incorrectly implies that the city of Damascus is the place of origin.
Each enthusiast has his or her own view on how to correctly address each steel type. To avoid associating Indian steel types with the city of Damascus, I no longer use the term Damascus Steel nor do I apply Damask or Damascene when addressing Wootz Crucible Steel or Indian Pattern Welded items. However I do believe that both Watered Steel and Damascus Steel can be applied to both Wootz and Pattern Welded steel types as long as the latter is in the title or description, e.g Wootz Damascus Steel, Pattern Welded Damascus Steel or Pattern Welded Watered Steel.
High contrast Wootz Crucible Steel featuring a very active and busy ‘watered’ pattern of loose structure
High contrast Wootz Crucible Steel blade of tight granular structure
The highly sought after Wootz type known as Kirk Narduban or Laddered Wootz, identified by the vertical parallel ‘lines’ along the blade.
Acid etched Faux Wootz from the second half of the 19th century
Indian Pattern Welded ‘Watered’ Steel from the late 18th century re-etched at a later date
Pattern Welded Steel blade featuring a T-Section spine from the 19th century
If you have any questions regarding this blog post please feel free to comment below or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
References used: On Damascus Steel, Leo S. Figiel, M.D. The Arts of the Muslim Knight, Bashir Mohamed. Wootz Damascus Steel of Ancient Orient, Juha Pertulla.