A Mixed army of:
approximately 1,000 European troops
2,000 sepoys commanded by English officers
Eight 6 pounder guns and two howitzers
- Principal officers – British
- Major Killpatrick
- Major Grant
- Major Eyre Coote, later Lieutenant-General, and then Sir Eyre Coote
- Captain Guah (or Gaupp)
- Captain Richard Knox, 1st CO of the 1st Bengal Native Infantry
British East India Company regiments
- 1st Bombay European Regiment, also known as 103rd Regiment of Foot
- 1st Madras European Regiment, also known as 102nd Regiment of Foot
- Royal Bengal European Regiment, also known as 101st Regiment of Foot
- 1st. Bengal Native Infantry (BNI), also known as the Lal Paltan (Hindi for Red Platoon)
Flag of the Honourable East India Company. The flag had a Union Flag in the canton after the creation of the Kingdom of Great Britain in 1707
Regular British Troops
- 1st Battalion 39th (Dorsetshire) Regiment of Foot
- 9th Battery, 12th Regiment, Royal Artillery
- 50 naval ratings
The force consisted of detachments of the Bengal, Madras and Bombay artillery, the British 39th Regiment, and the Bengal, Madras and Bombay European Regiments. Serving with the Artillery were fifty sailors . There were also some companies of Bengal and Madras sepoys.
Four regiments were awarded a battle honour for Plassey; The 39th Regiment of Foot, the Bengal European Regiment, the 1st Madras European Regiment, and the Bombay European Regiment.
The 39th Foot with a detachment of Royal Artillery were dispatched to India in 1754 at the request of the East India Company. There having been little thought given to adjusting military dress for tropical wear, the men wore the uniforms they had been issued in Britain, which were based on the regulation 1751 uniform. This consisted of a thick wool coat of scarlet, faced with pale green lapels and cuffs, and bearing white lace, with scarlet waistcoats and breeches, white gaiters (brown for marching) and buff belt, plus a black cocked hat bound with white lace. The musicians carried drums painted with ’39’ on them. The green regimental colour had the Union flag in the upper left and the numerals ‘XXXIX’ surrounded by a wreath of laurels. The main firearm was the East India flintlock musket – 46 inches in length derived from the Brown Bess. Grenadiers were also part of the detachment.
It is known that at Plassey there were 171 artillerymen including 50 sailors and 7 midshipmen with 10 field pieces commanded by Lieutenant Hater of the Royal Navy.
Source Osprey ‘Plassey 1757’
The Army of Siraj-ud-daula, the Nawab of Bengal
A very mixed army!!
Approximately 35,000 untrained and undisciplined soldiers. Armed with matchlocks, pikes, swords, bows and arrows.
The Nawab also had the use of 15,000 cavalry who were better organised. These were mostly Pathan tribesmen armed with swords and long spears, and riding large horses
Principal officers – Nawab
- Mir Jafar Ali Khan – commanding 16,000 cavalry
- Yar Latif
- Mir Madan
- Jagat Seth
- Rai Durlabh
- Monsieur Sinfray – French artillery officer.
The clothing worn by the Nawab’s men was as diverse as their ethnic origins. Some men, probably cavalry, wore armour and mail manufactured in Lahore.
The only French troops present at Plassey were 50 artillerymen who had escaped from the garrison at Chandernagore under the command of Monsieur St. Frais ( or Sinfray). They were in charge of an artillery train of 53 large guns, mainly 18, 24 and 32 pounders. They also had four of their own guns.
Each Indian gun with its carriage and tumbril was mounted on a large wooden platform about six feet from the ground moved by wheels and drawn by forty or fifty white bullocks. Behind each gun was an elephant trained to use its head to push when required.
The Indian force also had a considerable number of rockets.
Richard Caton Woodville for the Illustrated London News, 1893 (Anne S. K. Brown Military Collection, Brown University Library) .
‘A large stage, raised six feet from the ground, carrying besides the cannon, all the ammunition belonging to it, and the gunners themselves who managed the cannon, on the stage itself. These machines were drawn by 40 or 50 yoke of white oxen, of the largest size, bred in the country of Purnea; and behind each cannon walked an elephant, trained to assist at difficult tugs, by shoving with his forehead against the hinder part of the carriage.‘ (Orme)
Part of diorama at the Dorsetshire Regimental museum, Dorchester
Source Osprey ‘Plassey 1757’
The Anglo-Indian army established a position in a grove of mango trees. The area enclosed by a ditch and mud wall approx 300 yards adjacent to a hunting lodge formally owned by the Nawab.
The Nawab’s position lay behind earthen entrenchments running at right angles to a river and then forming a 3 mile line running in a north-easterly direction. Just in from the river along the entrenchment was a redoubt defended by cannon, three hundred yards east of this was a small tree covered hill. Eight hundred yards further on towards the British position in the grove was a small tank or artificial lake, and a hundred yards further on was a larger tank.
At dawn, marching in separate and compact bodies, the army of Siraj-ud-daula began to move towards the mango grove where the British were entrenched. A small group of French (50) under the command of M. de St Frais moved towards the tank nearest the grove, about half a mile from it, with four light cannon. Two larger guns under the command of a native officer were positioned in line with the smaller tank. Part of Siraj’s force of 5,000 horse and 7,000 infantry under the command of Mir Maden and Mohan Lal took up position between the tank and the river. The remaining part of the force took up position in an arc to the left of this; Mir Jafar on the left near the British, Yar Lutuf Khan in the centre, and Rai Durlabh on the right. Field pieces were interspersed between the columns along with dense masses of infantry and mounted troops.
Clive moved to the roof of the hunting lodge to observe.
Clive ordered his men out of the grove and to form into line. The 6 pounders were arrayed in groups of three on each side side of the battalion of European troops. These were stationed in four divisions in the centre flanked by two divisions of sepoys. Ahead of the left wing of sepoys closest to the river were two brick-kilns where the two remaining guns and the howitzers were deployed.
At 8am the French artillery opened fire with one gun on the British position from the tank, killing one soldier and wounding another from a grenadier company of the 39th. The Nawabs artillery then opended fire as well. The British guns responded from their brick-kiln position as did the other guns. After about half an hour the British had sustained about ten European and twenty sepoy casualties. The men were ordered back into the grove, whilst the advanced guns remained at the brick-kilns.
The artillery exchange continued for several hours. At about 12 o’clock there was a heavy rainstorm which drenched most of the Bengali powder. Whilst the Indian artillery now became sporadic, that of the British continued as before, their powder and ammunition having been covered with tarpaulins during the downpour.
As the rain began to abate, the Nawab’s cavalry under Mir Maden moved forward to charge, but Mir Maden was killed by grapeshot from a 6 pounder and the charge came to nothing. Clive convinced that another charge was unlikely went into the hunting lodge to change his sodden clothes. The Nawab’s son in law Behadur Al Khan was also killed (one of only three commanders he could depend on along with Mir Madden and Mohan Lal).
Siraj ordered his troops under Mohan Lal to retreat to their entrenchment. At 2 o’clock the Indians ceased the cannonade and were seen yoking the trains of oxen to their artillery and moving off towards their camp. Siraj rode off in great haste with his bodyguard of 2,000 horse to his capital.
Folowing the order to retreat into the entrenchment, Mir Jafar’s division moved south to be nearer to the British force, while the bulk of the Nawab’s army moved northwards, away from the enemy. This left the French detachment isolated in their position. Major Kilpatrick seeing that the French were isolated, advanced towards the larger tank with two companies of the 39th totalling 250 men, and two guns to attack the French.
Clive on hearing of this reappeared, realised he would have done the same, and took over leading the advance. The tank was taken at about 3 o’clock after the French fell back with their guns to the entrenchment. The French established their battery in a redoubt situated at the corner of the earthwork, where they recommenced firing. There was also a cavalry charge but this was kept at bay by musket and cannon fire.
Clive moved half of his infantry and half of his artillery to the smaller water tank, and the other half to rising grund 200 yards to the left of it. They then commenced bombarding the entrenchment, receiving fire back. Most of the British casualties were sustained at this part of the battle.
Watercolour by E.S Hardy
Mir Jafir’s troops now began to leave the field. Clive, seeing this, could now focus his efforts on dislodging the French from the redoubt, a party of matchlockmen, and a large body of cavalry situated on a hillock to the east of it. Two grenadier companies of the 39th, 160 men, under Coote were sent against the hillock whilst another detachment assaulted the redoubt, supported by the main force which advanced in the centre. The enemy on the hillock bolted without firing a shot as Coote’s men moved into position. The hillock was taken at about 4.30 p.m. The French also retreated leaving their guns. The last to leave the entrechment were the French soldiers. Siraj’s army was now in complete disarray, making off in all directions. The battle was over.
Overview of the battle. Osprey, ‘Plassey 1757’
The total losses suffered by the Anglo-Indian force were estimated at 22 killed and 50 wounded. According to the return dated 3rd August 1757, the casualties of 23rd June are listed; Of the killed three were of the Madrass Artillery, one of the Madras Regiment, and one of the Bengal Europeans. 15 other ranks are listed as wounded, of which four were of the 39th Regiment, three of the Madras Regiment, two of the Bengal Europeans, four of the Madras Artillery, one of the Bengal Artillery, and one of the Bombay Regiment. Four Madras sepoys are listed as killed and 19 wounded, while the Bengal sepoys lost nine killed and eleven woundd. One sailor from HMS Kent was wounded while serving with the artillery.
It has been estimated that the Nawab lost 500 men.
Robert Clive and Mir Jafar after the Battle of Plassey, 1757, by Francis Hayman
Information on the early uniforms of native enlisted men is scarce. Red cloth was supplied, and the coat followed roughly the cut of the British model, but the overall garb reflected a native flavour. All of these troops were infantry.
Reconstruction of a sepoy of the 1st Battalion Bengal Native Infantry at Plassey. There are few details of the clothing worn by sepoys of this period and this reconstruction is somewhat conjectual. This illustration is in the Osprey book ‘Plassey 1757’, but is an exact copy of an early water colour (shown) by Frank Todd.
Sepoys of the 3rd Battalion at Bombay. Engraving published in London by M. Darly in 1773
Sepoy Officer, 1757. Watercolour by Charles Lyall. The clothing of the sepoy troops who served with Clive at Plassey is not described in any of the contemporary accounts. As a result, many of the illustrations are based on guesswork than anyhing else. (Anne S.K Brown Military Collection, Brown University Library)
Not sure if these uniforms below are correct for Plassey or not. Not sure when the sundial hat was first issued:
A golandar of the Bengal Artillery, a sepoy of the Bengal Native Infantry, a Subedar of the Governor-General’s bodyguard, c1785
Indian native officer and non-comissioned officer of 34th Regiment, c1802
Indian sepoy c1800
Sepoy soldier c1780
Indian European Regiments
1st Bengal European Regiment, 1760. Water-colour by Harry Payne. The European regiments of Bengal, Bombay and Madras wore general issue clothing of red tunics, black hats and white gaiters. They were manned by British soldiers (Anne S.K. Brown Military Collection, Brown University Library)
39th (Dorsetshire) Regiment of Foot
The 39th Foot with a detachment of Royal Artillery were dispatched to India in 1754 at the request of the East India Company. There having been little thought given to adjusting military dress for tropical wear, the men wore the uniforms they had been issued in Britain, which were the based on the regulation 1751 uniform. This consisted of a thick wool coat of scarlet, faced with pale green lapels and cuffs, and bearing white lace, with scarlet waistcoats and breeches, white gaiters (brown for marching) and buff belt, plus a black cocked hat bound with white lace. The musicians carried drums painted with ’39’ on them. The green regimental colour had the Union flag in the upper left and the numerals ‘XXXIX’ surrounded by a wreath of laurels. The main firearm was the East India flintlock musket – 46 inches in length derived from the Brown Bess.
Three companies of the 39th, 224 strong were the only British regular’s at Plassey
39th Officer at Plassey
A modern representation of French soldiers serving in India in the 1750s (from a picture by Lucien Rousselot in Le Passepoil). On the left is a soldier of Kerjean’s company, 1751, while on the right stands an artilleryman and dragoon of Bussy’s force in 1753. The figure on the left wears a red coat with green facings while those on the right are dressed in green coats and red facings (Anne S. K. Brown Military colection, Brown University Library). Osprey ‘Plassey 1757’.
Two of the French guns captured at Plassey. Currently at the Victoria memorial, Calcutta.
The Army of Siraj-ud-daula
The army assembled on the battlefield at Plassey consisted of approximately 35,000 untrained and undisciplined soldiers. Armed with matchlocks, pikes, swords, bows and arrows. The Nawab also had the use of 15,000 cavalry who were better organised. These were mostly Pathan tribesmen armed with swords and long spears, and riding large horses. The clothing worn by the Nawab’s men was as diverse as their ethnic origins. Some men, probably cavalry, wore armour and mail manufactured in Lahore. There were also armoured elephants and an artillery train of 53 large guns (mainly 18, 24 and 32 pounders) under the command of the French.
A Mughal Army
A typical mid to late Mughal army would have been made up of some of the following components:
- Bumi – Indian Militiamen – Wore little armour and carried a composite bow, sword or axe and a dhal (round shield )
- Afghan infantrymen – Wore afghan tribal dress, armed with swords or axes
- Mughal Bunduqchi – Matchlockers. Wore north Indian/Turkic dress and fired from behind a protective wooden pavise. Would have had a khatar or similar sidearm
- Rajput Zamindar – Heavy Rajput infantry, with warhammers or maces and shields
- Afghan Light Cavalry – Fierce tribal cavalry, with almost no armour and carrying a sword and shield (dhal)
- North Indian Cavalrymen – Armoured Muslim cavalry carrying spears and shields (dhal)
- Mughal cavalry – Lightly armoured horse archers, armed with composite bows and talwar
- Mughal heavy cavalry – Medium armoured Mughal cavalrymen, armed with round shield and spear and maybe a composite bow.
- Mughal Heavy cavalry – Indian heavy cavalry, with decorated robes overlayed with thick armour. Armed with heavy broadswords and axes, and equipped with a large dhal
- Khidmatiyya – Palace guard
- Imperial guardsmen – Heavy cavalry, with chest plates, composite bows, swords and shields
- Rajput cavalry – Medium armoured ferocious cavalrymen from Northwest India. Armed with spears and swords
- Mughal Elephants – Heavily armoured elephants, with metal plates and usually tusk-swords. Mounted with a mahout and a matchlocker
- Artillerymen – North Indian or Turkic, very skilled but armed only with a khatar or dagger
- Rocketeers – Indian rockets, not accurate but helped to scare enemies
The illustrations above are too early for Plassey but may give some inspiration. They’re from the Osprey book, ‘Mughal India 1504-1761’. (Unfortunately it’s out of print & hard to get. These images were on the internet).
As there were no written records of this army, it is purely speculative which elements would have been present.
The following illustrate how the army may have looked and the weapons they probably would have carried.
I presume Siraj-ud-daula would have had a standard on the battlefield:
A very rare and spectacular example of a royal standard from the Imperial Mughal Court, this fish insignia was considered one of the highest honours, granted only to those nobles above the rank of 6000 zat and to highly valued allies of the Mughal sovereign. It is applied with three fins, a knop-form finial and iron teeth, engraved with lotus motifs and fish scales, and with a red textile tongue.
To see this in more detail click on this link: http://www.asianartgallery.co.uk/featured/more_detail.php
The figure of the fish, possibly a cat-fish, would have been attached behind with a long textile streamer which became inflated as the wind blew through the fish’s mouth. This standard was fixed on to the top of a long pole and carried in important processions or into battle by a member of the nobleman’s retinue, who would have been riding either a camel or an elephant. The standard would thus have towered high above the ranks on foot. The head was accompanied by two spheres or balls of power??, one of which is present?, also fixed on poles. Together the head and the spheres were known as the ‘fish and dignities’ (mahi o maratib).
The fish emblem was one of the nine royal emblems that symbolised the Mughal emperor’s conquest of the world (S.C. Welch, India: Art and Culture, 1300-1900, New York 1985, p.323). The earliest known fish standards of this form were carried by the armies of Aurangzeb during the siege of Golconda in the late 17th Century, although reference is made to such a standard in the reign of the Emperor Shah Jahan (r.1628-1658).
Surviving examples of fish standards are extremely rare. Other examples of 18th Century Deccani fish standards are in the Jagdish and Kamal Mittal Museum and in the Rao Madho Singh Trust Musem, Fort Kotah, illustrated in S.C. Welch et al, Gods, Kings and Tigers, The Art of Kotah.
From about the mid 1st millennium BC elephants were used in warfare in India, gradually ousting war chariots from the battlefield. The last recorded use of elephants was in the late 18th century, although they continued to be used as draught animals.
A war elephant was covered with a Caparison, a large square carpet, secured with a girth. The caparison almost invariably had red in its coloration, while the girth was made from thick rope or chains. An elephant usually wore a little bell on its neck and two more bells often dangled on the front part of the caparison. Elephants were sometimes decorated with additional bells hanging from the caparison or fastened all around the collar. In some pictures an elephant’s body is bound with ropes longwise or across, possibly to facilitate the driver getting onto its back. Umbrellas, flags or other objects were sometimes used to decorate or identify an elephant. There is also some evidence that an elephant’s head and trunk were painted bright in battle, for a combination of sacramental, aesthetic and martial reasons. (Osprey, New Vanguard 150)
In the time of the Great Mughals in India (1526-1858) people either rode an elephant or sat in a ‘Howdah’. The most valuable elephants were protected by armour. Some were fully clad in armour, others had only their heads and parts of their trunk protected, others had no protection at all. Elephant armour was made of; plates and mail (As in the royal Armouries example), Scales sewn on a piece of cloth, brigandine (steel plates sewn in between layers of cloth), or just quilted cloth or leather. The armour also had a peculiarity – protective ‘ears’, two projections on the elephant’s head to protect the driver.
The very tip of the trunk was left bare as it had to remain mobile to grab foes. Various kinds of weapons were sometimes fastened to the trunk – Swords, scythes, maces and scraps of chain. Tusk swords were also sometimes attached.
Goads used for elephant driving (Ankus)
Indo-Persian Elephant Goad (ankus) Rajput 18th century with 8.5″ spear point tip, forward hook with rear fluke terminating into a dragons head. Handle sectioned into six cage areas containing a rolling bell. Bun shaped pommel to haft. 22″ overall length
Late 18th early 19th century steel and koftgari silver engraving Ankus.
Length: 18″ head: 6 1/2″ head width: 4 1/2″ handle: 11″
Elephant Armour at the Royal Armouries, Leeds
Brought to England in 1801 by Lady Clive, it is reputed to have been captured by Clive at the Battle of Plassey in 1757.
Mughal, about 1600, the armour is made of sheet iron panels and chainmail. Some of the panels have designs of elephants, fish, peacocks and lotus flowers hammered out.
Some of the panels are missing, revealing the way cotton would have been used under the armour for the animal’s comfort.
The large circular gaps near the top of the head probably mark the place for the ‘ears’ (protection for the driver).
The armour is of mail and plate construction; small plates with scalloped edges alternate with large square panels decorated with embossed birds, trotting elephants, lotus flowers and
confronted fish; all these are joined with mail.
Gunpowder artillery was introduced into India by the Mughals and was used in sieges as well as pitched battles.
There was an artillery train of about 53 large guns at Plassey (mainly 18, 24 and 32 pounders). Some on wheeled platforms drawn by oxen and pushed by elephants.
Examples of Indian artillery pieces:
An early 18th century 6 pounder on display at the Royal Armouries museum, Fareham. It bears inscriptions that say it was cast for Sava’i Jai Singh, ruler of Jaipur, India 1693-1743. Captured at Bhurtpore in 1826.
Indian bronze gun, 24-pounder. The tiger (Panthera tigris) respected for its power and magnificance is the national animal of India. There are four tigers’ heads and two tigers’ stripes on this gun. It was probably cast during the late eighteenth century but never fired because the vent is undrilled. On display at the Royal Armouries, Fareham.
Bronze 2-pounder gun, Indian, 18th century. The elaborate decoration includes a monster’s head at the muzzle; guns were often compared to fierce real or imaginary beasts. At the breech is a simple sight for aiming the gun. Royal Armouries museum Fareham.
Bronze mortar, Indian, Madras, c1800. Probably not a type used at Plassey but interesting anyway! Cast in the form of a sleeping tiger. Also at the Royal Armouries museum Fareham.
This is one of an identical pair of guns at Powis Castle, Powys, Wales. Clive’s eldest son married into the family in 1874. There are no details about it but it is Indian. No idea of its size. May well have been brought to England by the Clives. There is a Clive museum in the castle but it’s rubbish!!! You can’t take photos and there are no postcards or books about the collection whatsoever (which is not particularly extensive anyway).
Armour and Helmets
The Mughals were the most successful Muslim conquerors of India. The empire reached its greatest extent under Aurangzeb Almagir (1658-1707), but declined until the last Mughal emperor was deposed by the British for his complicity in the Indian Sepoy Mutiny of 1857.
Siraj ud-Daulah was the last independent Nawab of Bengal, Bihar, and Orissa. The Nawabs of Bengal were the hereditary nazims or subadors (provincial governors) of the subah (province) of Bengal during the Mughal rule and the de-facto rulers of the province.
The Mughals were the successors of the Timurids and their armies reflected their Mongol inheritance. They continued to use light cavalry, but became predominantly a heavy cavalry army composed of Turks, Afghans, Persians and Hindus. Their principal weapons were the composite bow, sword, and shield. The heavy cavalry wore mail and plate armour (zereh bagtar) with helmets (kolah zereh) and their horses were also protected by armour (bargustavan). The weapons they carried were the sword, composite bow, lance, mace (gorz) and the saddle axe (tabarzin), and a shield (dhal) was also carried. The main advantage the Mughal armies had over their contemporaries in India however was in firearms. They pioneered the use of artillery on the battlefield, in combination with infantry armed with matchlock muskets. (An Introduction to Indian Arms and Armour, Royal Armouries publication).
The Nawab had approximately 15,000 cavalry. They were mostly Pathan tribesmen riding large horses armed with swords and long spears. Some of them wore armour of mail manufactured in Lahore.
Mail armour was probably introduced into India by the Arabs in the late 8th century and there was a Persian feel to much of it. The form of mail made with alternate rows of riveted and solid links became characteristic of Indian mail, and survived until the 18th century.
It became the standard type of defence and continued to be used until the 18th century. The coat (zereh bagtar ), and helmet (kolah zereh) were constructed from small overlapping iron scales of various sizes connected by rows of mail links. The Mughal coats are distinguished from those of the Near East by the large plates at the front. Trousers of mail (pajama zirah) were worn on the legs. All of this armour was originally fitted with quilted lining, which rarely survive.
Pair of arm defences (dastana) from Lahore, early 19th century. They are of steel plates joined by long hinges and lined with quilted velvet. Inside the embroidered velvet flaps that protect the hands are loops for the fingers and thumb. (Royal Armouries)
The Royal Armouries give a date of the late 18th century for the appearance of this type of armour, but I think the dates are subjective. An article in Wikipedia states that this type of armour spread gradually to Central Asia and Northern India during the 16th-17th century.
This type of armour was copied from contemporary Persian armour in which a cuirass of four plates joined by straps called the chahar a’inech or ‘four mirrors’ was worn over a mail shirt (zereh).
Helmets – Lots of them!
Most of the plumes are missing though.
‘The vast majority of medieval and later shields from India are of the same form; circular, sightly convex, and fitted with a central grip formed of two hand loops. They are held by four robust iron loops which are rivetted through the shield and secured by large bosses on the exterior. The two grips are held together in the left hand, rather than having the arm passed through them, so the shield can be moved around to block blows and missles dextrously and rapidly. A fabric suspension loop was often attached to two of the loops so the shield could be slung over the shoulder when not in use. Most shields were of leather, either of buffalo hide or rhinocerous hide, or of steel’. (Royal Armouries, ‘An introduction to Indian Arms and Armour’)
Mughal shield of Buffalo hide, with steel bosses and decorative crescent overlaid with gold. Dated 1767/8. Lent by Her Majesty The Queen. Royal Armouries.
Reverse view of shield (dhal) made in Lahore about 1830-45, showing the lined interior with the central pad and the two hand grips retained by the loops on the inside of the four bosses. Royal Armouries.
‘This is an Indian shield of circular and convex form with four central bosses known as a dhal. It is made of Indian rhinoceros rawhide, which has been dried and lacquered, but not tanned. Rhinoceros hide was good for shield-making because it could take on a striking translucent quality, and was harder and more durable than buffalo leather.
This example has been painted with floral designs in red, black gold and white. It is a fine piece of weaponry and probably came from Sindh province in Pakistan, which was renowned for the quality of its shields in the 18th and 19th centuries. It would have belonged to a wealthy individual, perhaps an aristocrat’. Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford.
‘The quintessential Indian round shield was known as a dhal. Made of steel or lacquered hide (as this one is), they have a convex shape. The handles are fastened by ring bolts, which are riveted to four bosses on the shield’s face. The large, smooth surface of the dhal gave Indian craftsmen an opportunity to indulge their passion for decoration. This example shows animal figures and floral designs painted in gold, white and black on a red ground.
The elaborately painted outer surface of this dhal places it in a style associated with the palace armouries of Rajasthan, and the Rajput dynasties. The Rajput rajahs were great patrons of the arts, and many of their fortified palaces contained the workshops and studios of painters, brassworkers, jewellers, and leatherworkers, each of whom contributed to the creation of a grand shield like this one. The Rajputs are a sub-caste of the Kshatriya (Warrior) caste, and historically developed a code of martial chivalry, which set them apart. Traditionally, only warriorhood and agriculture were considered honourable professions for a Rajput man. Even today, many of India’s soldiers are Rajputs. Rajput princes traditionally kept extensive armouries (silahkana) in their palaces, filled with rows and arrangements of elaborately decorated shields like this one’. Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford.
There were probably various types of sword used at Plassey:
With the introduction of central Asian cavalry warfare into India from the 13th century onward, the Asian curved blade sword became the preferred choice throughout much of India. Called the talwar in India, shamshir in Persia, pulouar in Afghanistan. They developed a distinctive north Indian form of hilt with a disc pommel, itself with regional variations, though the Persian form of hilt with a pistol grip was popular in some areas such as Sind and Lucknow.
Left, double curved sword (sosun pata) from north India, early 19th century (Royal Armouries)
Right, talwar, 19th century (Royal Armouries)
talwar with a hilt decorated in fine gold koftgari with garden scenes, Mughal, 17th century (Royal Armouries)
This Indian talwar dates from the late 18th or early 19th century. It has an Indo-Muslim hilt but the red silk brocade on the pommel and scabbard and the brass fittings depicting game animals, suggest an origin among the Hindu Rajputs. For Rajput men, their talwar was more than just a sword; it was also the embodiment of their honour, commitment and agency.
It is not unusual to see this mix of cultures in a single weapon since the talwar became widely distributed in India during the Islamic period and gradually supplanted older forms of sword, especially among the elite. Indeed, the talwar’s influence did not stop at India’s borders. It was swords such as this that inspired the curved cavalry sabre used by the British Army from the 18th century onwards. Pitt Rivers Museum, Oxford.
Very impressive 18th century Northern Indian talwar with Afghan style scabbard. This type of sword was used extensively in India and Afghanistan for several centuries. Traditional silver plated iron hilt with “D”-guard and a sealed bowl type pommel. Well balanced curved blade seems to be designed specifically for cutting. The blade displays a beautiful gold Arab calligraphy. Complete with Afghan style wooden scabbard covered with leather. The scabbard has Afghan style iron furniture. Overall length: 33 inch. Blade length: 28 inch
Indo-Persian tulwar sword with knuckle-guard, and with serrated, wavy serpent style blade. Complete with leather-covered wooden scabbard. Solid steel hilt, mounted with a 2-3/4 inch diameter disc pommel overlaid with a 17-Point ‘flower’ star, which is topped with a 1-1/8 inch diameter x 7/8 inch high button – The hilt wears a Decorative, ‘crane-head’ tipped knuckle-guard – Base of hilt (below the quillons) is mounted with two, 2-1/8 inch long languets (one on each side of the blade), that served a dual purpose; (1) They helped to secure the sword in the scabbard. (2) A good swordsmen could often catch the opponent’s blade in one of the languets and with a quick twist of his wrist, either flip the sword out of the enemy’s hand, or break their blade – Measuring 35-1/2 inches long overall in the scabbard. Sword measuring 34-5/8 inches long (straight-line measurements),
The indigenous Indian sword was called a khanda. It had a straight double-edged blade, usually with a basket hilt with a solid guard protecting the hand.
Left, khanda and scabbard from Rajasthan, early 19th century (Royal Armouries).
From the early 17th century a fashion for carrying swords with European rapier or broadsword blades, usually with old Indian basket hilts grew up. These swords were commonly called firanghi.
The katar, with its transverse grip, was unique to India, and was to be found across most of the sub-continent. It was fitted with a wide variety of blades, ranging from narrow wavy blades preferred in the south, to short, straight and broad blades in the north.
Typically, katars were used in close range hand-to-hand combat, and were effective in piercing armour. The blade was often corrugated for additional strength. “Hooded katars” are katars with a shield extending over the back of the user’s hand. The handle sides were also used to block attacks, since all katars had an “H”-shaped handle. Because of the nature of the weapon, attacks were mainly direct thrusts that would easily pierce the enemies’ armor with a single but strong blow, possible because of the light weight and amazing attack speeds that could be achieved. katars ceased to be in common use in the 19th century.
The khanjar is the commonest type of dagger, found in a variety of forms across the Muslim world. It has a double-edged and double curved blade, and in India often has a reinforced point to give strength to enable the blade to be used against mail armour. Rock crystal, nephrite (jade) and other hardstones usually form the hilts of these daggers, and they are often carved in the form of animal’s heads, and set with precious and semi-precious stones in gold.
Found only in the north was the pushqabz, a dagger with a single-edged blade, either straight or double-curved, with a T-shaped back and a long taper to the point, which was sometimes reinforced
The use of the polearm in India continued long after it had become obsolete in Europe and it was still carried into battle during the 19th century. The long spear was a particular favourite and was used as a thrusting rather than a throwing weapon in massed infantry formations. Battle-axes and Maces were all brought into play during battles of the 18th and 19th centuries.
Spears (nezah) were also used by cavalry in close combat. Indian cavalry were famed for their skill in duelling with spears on horseback. Examples in the Royal Armouries collection are made of tapering bamboo, with small heads and relatively long butt spikes, so they balance very close to the butt (and have a velvet grip at that point for the purpose). Because the bamboo is hollow, the spear is very light in weight for its size.
Another form of spear found all over northern India is the barcha, a spear made totally of steel, used by infantry rather than cavalry. Another spear is the ballam, a short broad-headed spear.
The saddle axe (tabarzin) had exactly the same combat benefits, and was used by armoured cavalry as an alternative to the mace. Again these are short weapons intended for single-handed use.
The mace (gorz) was used extensively in Northern india. It was an effective combat weapon against an armoured foe. Most Indian maces are therefore quite short and designed to be wielded in one hand. Some are fitted with sword hilts, mostly of the old Indian basked variety.
Probably from Rajasthan, 18 Century. This mace is 47 inches long, brass haft carrying a huge spherical steel head about 6 inches diameter, mounted with more than 150 square sharp brass spikes and a long top spike. The haft is fitted with a Khanda type handle.
18th century battle mace from India. It is composed of two flanged heads, with 8 blades each, mounted on a 35 inches steel haft with a steel button at the lower end.
Short flails, with spiked balls attached to the shaft by chain, were also made as hand-to-hand weapons in north India.
The composite bow (kaman) was the characteristic missile weapon of both Indian cavalry and infantry before the 18th century. They are called composite bows because they were made from a combination of different materials; horn, wood and sinew, glued together. The horn, which is very springy under compression, formed the belly of the bow (the side held towards the shooter). The sinew is very elastic when stretched, and formed the back of the bow. A wooden core served as a base for the other materials, and also formed the grip and the rigid ‘ears’ of the bow, into which were cut the nocks for the bow-strings. The combination of materials made them very powerful despite their short length, which in turn enabled them to be used easily from horseback. Bows of this type are also ‘recurved’, that is, they bend in their relaxed state in the opposite direction to the curve they hold when they are strung.
Right, composite bow (kaman) from Gwalior in eastern Rajastan. Presented by the East India Company in 1851
Quiver and arrows from Gwalior in eastern Rajastan. Presented by the East India Company in 1851
Mughal arrows 18th-19th century. Military arrows. Radial feather fletching, glued on and reinforced with sinew; two have white fluff inserted into the sinew bindings. Bulbous wood peg nocks. Four-sided bodkin type points with sinew reinforcement. Shafts are decorated with designs in red, yellow, and green paint. 74 cm long, shaft diameter 0.7 cm.
YouTube sequence from ‘Warrior Empire, the Mughals’, The History Channel
Bows were shot using a thumb release (rather than the finger release practiced in most European archery). For this release a thumb ring (zeghir or shast) was used. The Mughal thumb ring was shaped with a characteristic extension to one side. The bow string was held under tension by the ring and a small movement of the thumb released the string, shooting the arrow forward. Because of the thumb release the arrow was shot from the right side of the bow, rather than from the left side as it was in western archery. Archer’s rings were made from stone, metal, ivory or bone. They were often decorated with gold, silver, and precious or semi-precious stones. The bowstrings (zel) were made of silk or of gut bound with silk.
The matchlock musket was probably introduced into India during the Mughal invasions of the 16th century. It continues in use to the present day in remote places in India, despite the introduction of the flintlock and later percussion firearms by Europeans in the 18th and 19th centuries. The standard Indian form of matchlock musket or torador changed little from the 16th century to the 19th. It was a smooth-bore, muzzle-loading weapon, with a simple sprung and pivoted serpentine directly connected to the trigger, so that when this was pressed the serpentine, with its glowing match-cord, was moved forward into the priming pin to ignite the charge of gunpowder in the breach. The butt of the weapon was characteristically narrow and straight.
Matchlock musket (torador) from Lahore, early 19th century. This gun retains its original slowmatch, wound around the stock and held in the jaws of the serpentine, as well as its vent picker, attached to the sling loop by a chain so it did not get lost, and used for cleaning out the vent connecting the priming pan with the breech of the barrel.
I expect flintlock weapons would have been used, but I think it likely that these were mainly flintlock pistols.
Obviously not much detail available on these.
I’ve included a few pictures that may help in imagining how they may have looked