Recently, I was approached by the awesome team of Silah Report (@Silah_Report) to comment on the weapon markings and engravings of Middle-Eastern, North African and Central-Asian small-arms. Honored as I was, I immediately started looking around and a whole new world of weapon markings opened up! I started a thread on this subject on my Twitter, but I’ll reproduce the content of this thread here on my website.
But first of all, what are weapon markings? What’s their main function? Well, markings provide the weapon‘s serial number, country of origin and country of last import. This can provide basic information on the weapon, and its history, which facilitates tracing it. In armed conflicts, such weapons can most of the time be traced back to a certain point, which is in most cases a legal obligation by international law. Besides the legal markings on a weapon, soldiers, insurgents or any random user could have left his own engravings on the arm. His name, a superstitious talisman or a symbol that represents his function are some recurring examples. In this post, I’ll explore a non-exhaustive list of small-arms symbols and engravings from the above-mentioned region.
The Afghan Martini rifle
These are the markings on an early Afghan Martini rifle. Just before the turn of the 20th century, Emir ʿAbd al-Raḥmān Khān (r. 1880-1901) had the Kabul Arsenal built, an industrial factory that was the result of his attempts at industrializing the country after the Great Game. The Kabul Arsenal mostly made small-arms, most notably a locally produced version of the British Martini-Henry rifles and carbines. The inscription was written in a very stylized mix of foliate Kufic and Khorasan Kufic and reads: “Kār Khāneh Kābul“, Dari for “Kabul Factory”.
The year mentioned is 1315 AH, which equals 1897 AD. Above it, an image of a mosque with a minbar, or pulpit, within and flanked by two minarets. Attached to the mosque are two flags. This was the earliest national emblem of Afghanistan and was featured on the state’s flag.
From 1909 onward, the emblem is changed to a mosque within an octagram, the state’s emblem under Ḥabībullāh Khān, ʿAbd al-Raḥmān’s son. The inscription remains the same. The year mentioned is 1328 AH, or 1910 AD.
The Iraqi Tabūk Marksman Rifle
The Tabūk Marksman Rifle is a local Iraqi modified version of the Zastava M70, itself a variant of the AKM. Manufactured at the al-Qādisiyya Establishments north of Baghdad from 1978 onward, purchasing under Ṣaddām Ḥusayn’s tenure the needed machinery from Yugoslavia. The war between Iraq and Iran started in 1980, so a locally manufactured small-arm was needed, the Tabūk proving to be a lethal performer in an urban battlefield environment. The emblem on the rifle represents the Lion of Babylon, a statue in the ancient city of Babylon.
As seen on my piece on the Lion of Babylon, this Mesopotamian lion standing above a human became a national symbol for Iraq, being featured on stamps, coins, banknotes and the name for the locally manufactured T-72 battle tank. The text next to it reads: “Cal. 7.62 x 39 mm”.
The Syrian M48BO Mauser
After an extensive search, I deciphered the thuluth calligraphy flanking the crest of the Syrian Republic (1946–1963) on this rifle. I’ve yet to find this on any English-speaking forum, so a rather exclusive piece of information. This is a Yugoslavian M48BO Mauser contracted by Syria. The BO in M48BO stands for “Bez Oznaki“, or without marking. For some states, Yugoslavia exported unmarked models of their M48, subsequently marked by the importer himself. This rifle had a Syrian crest added in Damascus, with “al-Dark al-Sūrī” added, “the Syrian Gendarmerie.”
Other markings on other weapons include the Syrian Republic crest with “al-Shurṭa” written under it, “the police” or “al-Jaysh al-Sūrī“, “the Syrian Army” (as on the 9 mm in the above image). You can recognize the Syrian Republic’s crest by the hawk and its three stars, as opposed to the Baʿth’s two stars. For more information on the hawk featured in the Syrian national crest, I invite you to read my piece on that subject.
The Persian Mauser Model 98
A Persian Mauser Model 98 infantry rifle manufactured by Zbrojovka BRNO, a maker of small arms, light artillery, and motor vehicles in Brno, Czechoslovakia. It features the Pahlavi shir-o-khorshid, the Lion and Sun so commonly used in Persia since the Safavid dynasty. For more information on that symbol, you can read my piece on the subject.
The inscription on the left side of the receiver reads: “Tofang-e boland namūne 1317 kār khāne silāḥ sāzī BRNO“, or “Rifle model 1317 weapons factory BRNO.” 1317 is the Iranian calendar year equal to 1938 AD.
The Iranian RPG-7
The Ministry of Defence of the Islamic Republic of Iran produces an indigenous copy of the RPG-7 anti-tank rocket launcher. Several improved, distinctive warheads were developed to go along with the launcher, like the Nāder, Nāfedh (HEAT) and Ṣāʿiqa (HE/frag) missiles. The emblem seen on the left side of the trigger group pistol grip is the national Iranian emblem post-1979, representing the word “Allāh” and officially approved by Khomeinī in May 1980. The Revolution banned the Lion and Sun symbol as seen on pre-1979 weapons.
The emblem of Iran is special. It represents both the word for God, “Allāh” as the Islamic shahāda, “Lā illāh illā Allāh” (there is no deity but God) by combining four crescents and a sword into the shape of a flower. The five parts of the emblem symbolize the Pillars of Islam. It was designed by Ḥamīd Nadīmī.
The Egyptian 8 mm FN-49
An 8 mm FN 49 semi-automatic rifle bearing the Kingdom of Egypt‘s mark as it was between 1953-1958, an eagle with a crescent and three stars on its chest. Interestingly enough, most rifles bear the original crown crest as they were ordered in 1948 and delivered by June 10 1949.
Around 1955, however, Egypt purchased from FN 1500 spare receivers. This was after the overthrowing of king Fārūq, so the crown wasn’t used anymore and instead the receivers were marked with the above Eagle of Ṣalāḥ al-Dīn. You can read more about the eagle in my read on the subject. The inscription below the crest is in the exact same thuluth calligraphical style as the Syrian M48 mentioned above, though this one reads: “al-Jaysh al-Miṣrī“, or the Egyptian Army.
An executioner’s gun?
A mysteriously interesting Remington rolling block rifle without any national or military contract markings. Very large quantities of these Remington rolling blocks were imported by Ismā‘īl Bāshā of Egypt (r. 1863 – 1879), popularly used during his conquest of Southern Sudan. As mentioned by John P. Dunn in his Khedive Ismail’s Army (2005), a total of 200.000 rolling blocks were stored in Egyptian arsenals. Considering the use by first-line infantry and attrition of defect rifles, he estimates a total of 250.000 rifles and carbines sent by Remington to Egypt in the period between 1869 and 1880.
The engraving on the rifle’s receiver is really interesting. It looks like a stylized bird, but it’s possibly much more sinister. This rare symbol represents gallows, belief it or not. It isn’t common at all on firearms, but has in fact been found on another Remington rolling block. A user called “Tjack” wrote in 2012 on the forums of the Remington Society that he actually owns a Latin-American used Remington rolling block with neatly bayonet-carved gallows with a rope on its butt. He calls it trench-art, but that might be a tad too optimistic. Some 17th century Central European swords might give us the decisive information needed.
User “Mauro” posted his recently purchased German executioner sword on the aforementioned Viking Sword Ethnographic Arms & Armour forums in 2010. Made in the 17th century, the sword features lots of symbols and markings all over its 113 cm blade. The sword has a flat point, in which three holes were made. These three holes at the tip were used to attach weight for a more powerful swing (to decapitate the victim). It would help build up momentum during the swing for a more powerful blow on the victim’s neck. That way, even if it didn’t cut through, it at least would break the victim’s neck. One symbol on the sword’s blade stand out, gallows in the same style as our rifle here.
Another 16th century executioner sword, a so-called richtschwert, has been observed to bear the very same marking. In an article on Swiss executioner swords, Richtschwerter und Scharfrichter in Schwyz (2007), author Kaspar Michel analyses the Richtshwert I, an amazing example of several Swiss executioner swords documented in the state archives of Herbst. This type of swords was used for execution up to the 19th century, usually hacking off the head between the 3rd and 4th cervical vertebra.
A sawn-off Turkish Mauser Model 1890
The amazing @ArmoryBazaar uploaded this sawn-off bolt-action rifle, originally a Turkish Mauser Model 1890. Note that the Ottoman Arabic inscription reads: “Waffenfabrik Mauser Oberndorf“, and the numerals refer to the year 1309 AH (or 1891 AD). Notice the two small hexagrams (Seals of Solomon). For more information on the Seal of Solomon, I invite you to read my piece I wrote on that symbol.
The Iraqi M48BO Mauser
One of the rarest Mauser rifles you’ll find is the M48BO with the official Kingdom of Iraq‘s crest marked on the receiver. Like I said earlier, The BO in M48BO stands for “Bez Oznaki”, or without marking. For some states, Yugoslavia exported unmarked models of their M48. The importing states then marked the rifles themselves, in this case the Hashemite Kingdom or Iraq, which independently existed between 1932 and 1958. The crest can be recognized by a crown and a sash draped over a Mesopotamian lion and an Arabian horse.
The Israeli Kar98k rifle
An Israeli Kar98k rifle. Ironically enough, German Kar98k’s (7.92x57mm) were very popular among Jewish militias in Palestine, most notably the Haganah. Through the so-called Operation Balak, many rifles were smuggled into Palestine through Czechoslovakia during and after WWII. When Israel became independent and the Haganah became the IDF (Israeli Defence Forces), the latter decided to adopt the Belgian FN FAL 7.62mm NATO as its main battle rifle. All the leftover Kar98k’s were reworked and re-barreled to use the 7.62mm NATO, and stamped with the IDF’s logo as marking, which is a Star of David with an olive branch inside of it, and below written in Hebrew: “The Army of Defense for Israel”.
The Egyptian RPD light machine gun
The RPD is a 7.62mm light machine gun developed in the USSR by Vasily Degtyaryov. It was a precursor of most squad automatic weapons. The Type 62 RPD was locally manufactured in Egypt since the days of the UAR, a product of the intense military industrialization in the country. Import markings are therefore absent. A peculiar symbol, however, represents the factory’s proof mark or, to be more exact, the logo of the Egyptian Ministry for Military Production, which oversees the 15 factories of the domestic ammunition and armaments sector.
The Egyptian Ministry of Military Production is responsible for managing the military factories in Egypt. The initiative was established after the defeat at the hands of Israel and the lack of professional weaponry during the July 23 Revolution. The new Pan-Arab socialist government understood the need to manufacture arms, machinery and electronics domestically. This was especially true following the signing of the Egypt-Israeli peace treaty (1979), after which Egypt had its membership to the Arab Organization for Industrialization suspended and a policy of economic isolation implemented against it.
The Iraqi Lee-Enfield Short Magazine No. 1 Mk III* rifle
A Birmingham Small Arms (BSA) manufactured Short Magazine Lee-Enfield No. 1 Mk III* rifle with the well-known Iraqi acceptance/security force mark, the Arabic letter jīm in a triangle, extensively used before 2003. The SMLE No.1 Mk III* was actually a 1915 updated and revised version of the original 1907 SMLE Mk III. The Kingdom of Iraq ordered thousands of these Mk III*s during the 1930’s, a period of serious instability, army coups and nationwide uprisings in the country.
When exported to Iraq, weapons generally received an import mark (the national emblem in this case) and/or a security acceptance mark added to barrel and receiver, which was always a letter jīm, within or without a triangle, up until 2003. The jīm would reportedly stand for jaysh, the Arabic word for “military” or “army”. It should be noted that none of the native manufactured weapons, like the Tabūk Marksman Rifle or the al-Qādisiyya variant of the SVD, has a jīm stamped on it.
The Omani Browning Hi-Power
A rare FN Herstal manufactured (Browning) Hi-Power semi-automatic 9 mm pistol. According to Vanderlinden’s “FN Browning Pistols” (2013), only 36 pistols were roll stamped with the crest as an attempt to secure a contract with the Oman and Muscat government in the late 1960s. The Sultan of Oman and Muscat, Saʿīd bin Taymūr, relied heavily on British military support during the late 1960s because of local rebellions. The crest on the pistols features a khanjar in a sheath that is superimposed upon two crossed swords, his sultanate’s emblem.
The Turkish Gewehr 88/05
The Gewehr 1888 is a 19th century German bolt-action rifle designed by the German Rifle Commission in the late 1880s. The German army immediately adopted this rifle for military service under the colloquial name of ‘Reichgewehr’, or commission rifle. A modern cartridge design was introduced by 1903 when Mauser developed its famous 7.92 × 57 mm ‘S’ cartridge loaded with a more accurate .323 in. pointed, or ‘spitzer’, projectile. To reap the benefits of this new technology, the German army decided in 1905 to massively overhaul its existing arsenal and replace the original M/88 cartridge with the ‘S’ cartridge. Accordingly, the Gewehr 88/05 was born.
By late 1914, the total war of World War I had begun to ravage Europe with an all-consuming ferocity that would last for four years. Germany was in desperate need of rifles to arm its troops but only after 1914 was the Gewehr 88 and its ‘S’ cartridge variant fully phased out, replaced by improved stocks of Mauser Gewehr 98 models. After this general replacement took place, Germany shipped off many of the remaining 88/05 rifles to its Austria-Hungarian and Ottoman allies, who were both in dire need of more reliable front-line weapons to supply their troops. Tens of thousands of Gewehr 88/05 model rifles were sent to the Ottoman Empire under the auspices of the German-Ottoman alliance during the war. This number totalled some 130,000 rifles by November 1917, and most had a crescent marked on the rifle’s bolt as a reference to its new Ottoman owner.
A 1901 Afghan officer’s sword
I was sent beautiful pictures of an early 20th century Afghan officer’s sword from a professional private collection, its blade having amazing engravings. The year mentioned is 1319 AH (1901 AD), the weapon probably manufactured under Emir Ḥabībullāh Khān’s rule (1901-1919). Above the year, the inscription is written in a stylized mix of foliate Kufic and Khorasan Kufic and reads: Kār Khāneh Kābul, Dari for “Kabul Factory”, an industrial factory that was built by ʿAbd al-Raḥmān Khān in an attempt to industrialize the country after the Great Game and modernize its army’s equipment. The word under the year reads فلسنه. This might indicate either فلز نه, i.e. “no metal” or serves as an abbreviation for في السنه, i.e. “in the year”, abbreviated as فلسنه. It’s not entirely clear.
The other side of the blade shows the engraved emblem of the Emirate of Afghanistan as was used by Ḥabībullāh Khān, crossed canons and bayonets included. However, the hexagram Seal of Solomon inside the mosque and the three tugs (originally Turkic/Mongol standards with horse hair on top) are artistic additions nonexistent in the official emblem.
For more images of small-arms markers, please visit this thread on my Twitter.
Omer Sayadi (*1993) is a former student of the Catholic University of Leuven with a special love for the Middle East and North Africa. After receiving his Master’s degree in Arabic Language and Islamic Studies, he’s working with both refugees from the region as well as foreigners seeking to learn the Dutch language. He wrote columns on Islam in Europe and migration, and started MENA Symbolism as a means of combining everything history, politics, symbolism and society in one place.