From Leeds to Oman – new exhibition goes on display in Islamic World - Friday, 12 October 2012

Royal Armouries is staging an exhibition of iconic matchlock guns in the Sultanate of Oman as part of its ongoing commitment to showcase global heritage to the Islamic world.

The firearms played a crucial role in the history of both Europe and Asia and some were originally on show in Leeds. They are now exhibited at Bait al Rudaydah Museum, a recently restored Omani fort housing a wide range of small arms.

This is the first Royal Armouries’ exhibition in the Sultanate and its opening coincides with the current International Committee for Museums of Arms and Military History (ICOMAM) annual conference in Oman.

The year-long exhibition focuses on matchlock guns – which played an important role in Omani culture until the 20th century. Many firearms of this type were handed down from generation to generation and were decorated with silver plaques and barrel bands. Even today, matchlocks feature in important ceremonies such as weddings.

Two different types of matchlock spread from Europe though Asia, one largely by sea and the other overland. This exhibition combines examples of both types and examines their distribution and development.

The Royal Armouries’ Keeper of European Armour and Oriental Collections, Thom Richardson, said, “This exhibition illustrates the fascinating story of the matchlocks’ spread across Europe and Asia, and the development of different types.

“Featuring some of the finest examples from Royal Armouries’ extensive and important collection, it shows the rich variety of forms that were produced in Western Europe and Asia, from the 16th to 19th centuries. We can’t know if and when they were used, or by whom but we do have information about individual guns. For example, the Turkish gun is typical of those issued to the Janissaries in the 17th century.”

Royal Armouries is Britain’s oldest public museum and developed from the national armoury in the Tower of London. For over a century it issued matchlock guns to England’s soldiers and sailors from the Tower.

By 1700, however, matchlocks were replaced by flintlocks and those that survived in the Tower Armouries became museum pieces. More recently, many fine examples have been acquired from around the world – including Germany, Italy, Turkey, Afghanistan, Arabia and the Far East.

The exhibition will run for at least a year and is staged in three cases reflecting world heritage – Europe; Japan and the Islamic World. Royal Armouries has received a fee to cover exhibition costs.

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