The Topkapi Dagger: An Exquisite Treasure With A Dramatic Past

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About the Topkapi dagger and the history that surrounds.

The Topkapi dagger is a magnificent jeweled dagger that was made in 1747 and was intended as a gift from Sultan Mahmud I to the ruler of Persia, Nadir Shah. Unfortunately the precious gift was never delivered because of tragic circumstances. The dagger and the Topkapi Palace museum in Istanbul where the dagger is on display gained popularity because of a novel written by Eric Ambler. The novel called “the light of day” subsequently inspired a 1964 heist movie directed by Jules Dassin called Topkapi. Peter Ustinov won his second Oscar for his role as best supporting actor in the movie.

The History of the Topkapi dagger

When Nadir became the first shah of Iran in the early seventeen hundreds, the Shah was eager to expand Iranian territories and wealth there by restoring Iran to its former glory. The shah began his campaign by ousting Abbas III from the throne of Iran. He then attacked and captured the city of Kandahar and other cities in Afghanistan. With previous military successes under his belt the shah then turned his attention to the richest empire of the day, the Mughul Empire. In 1739 the Shah’s army attacked and defeated the Mughul forces. The emperor Muhammad Shah was taken prisoner and the Mughul treasury in Delhi was plundered. Among the treasures taken was the Koh-i-Noor diamond, chests full of precious gemstones and the “Peacock Throne” a throne made of gold with gemstones.

Sultan Mahmud I must have held Nadir Shah with very high regard because the Topkapi dagger is of the finest quality. The sheath of the dagger is made of gold and is decorated with over fifty diamonds. It is exquisitely decorated with an enameled motif of flowers. The gold dagger also has diamonds which surround three large emeralds. Only the best available emeralds were used, they were not brought from India but from the Muzo emerald mine in Colombia. The Turkish sultans had a preference for green gemstones and especially emeralds because green is the color of the prophet. At the top of the handle is a large emerald which serves as a flip top lid. Under the lid there is a small clock, the rim of the lid and clock are decorated with small diamonds. 


Sultan Mahmud II.

After successful campaigns against the Mughul Empire and the Turks in Uzbekistan Nadir Shah was content to enjoy the fruits of his spoils. He decided to send peace offerings to his rival Empires in the East. To the ruler of the Ottoman Empire Sultan Mahmud I he sent an exact duplicate of the Peacock Throne. Gifts were also sent to Russia and to the ruler of Bukhara.

The Shah had allied himself with powerful friends outside of Iran such as Sultan Mahmud I, but by the time of his death in 1747 Nadir Shah had gained many enemies among his people because of his cruel tyrannical leadership. Not even his army of bodyguards could prevent his assassination; in fact it was one of his own bodyguards that murdered him. Coincidently the ruler of the Ottoman Empire Sultan Mahmud I had had the Topkapi dagger along with other valuable gifts commissioned and sent to Iran with his emissaries. When the emissaries learned of the Shah’s assassination they returned to Constantinople where the dagger has remained since.


Topkapi Palace & Museum, Istanbul.

Photos from


Johnny Dod
Posted on Apr 16, 2010
Peter Bilton
Posted on Apr 15, 2010
Lauren Axelrod
Posted on Apr 14, 2010