Arts of War: Artistry in Weapons Across Cultures

Collage of weapons
L-R: Executioners knife; iron and antelope horn shield, Asia; painted wood shield, Papua New Guinea; Zulu cowhide shield; Masai shield

Warfare and the weapons used to wage it have always been a part of the human experience. It is no surprise that weapons were carefully crafted and highly valued. Their failure during battle could mean death.

Nearly as universal as war itself has been the inclination to decorate the weapons of war.  People through time and in nearly all cultures - rich and poor, leaders and followers, foragers in the most forbidding climates on the planet, and kings of the world’s great civilizations - have painstakingly embellished their weapons. We may marvel at their splendor in startling contrast to their deadly purpose, and we may wonder why we have always felt so compelled to transform implements of war into objects of surprising beauty.

Curated by Steven LeBlanc, archaeologist and former Director of Collections at the Peabody Museum