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Halberd used by the Elector of Saxony’s Swiss Guard

Key data

Probably Saxony, ca. 1656–1680

Iron and steel, forged, polished, etched and gold-plated, wood

L 217 cm, W 27 cm

Inv. 2002.4.


In 1656 the Elector John George II of Saxony instituted a Swiss Guard in the form of a company of halberdiers. These were not troops for deployment in the field, but rather a palace guard whose job it was to protect the prince and stand guard over the palace. Palace guards were also a means of displaying princely power. Europe’s courts vied with each other on the question of who kept the most splendid court. As the court of Saxony was Protestant, the only Swiss eligible to serve in the palace guard were men from the four Reformed cities of Basel, Bern, Schaffhausen and Zurich. The yellow breeches and tunics with trimmings and red puff sleeves worn by the Swiss Guard earned them the nickname the gelbe Compagney or “yellow company”. In Dresden it was the job of the prince to furnish the guard not just with liveries but with weaponry, too. The halberds were numbered from one to 100 with the lower numbers from one to ten – including number nine shown here – reserved for non-commissioned officers. There are only two halberds of this type still in existence; the second is kept at the Museum of Art in Philadelphia.

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