First Advisor

Jon Mandaville

Date of Publication


Document Type


Degree Name

Master of Arts (M.A.) in History






Firearms industry and trade -- Arabian Peninsula -- History, Arms transfers -- Arabian Peninsula -- History, Arabian Peninsula -- History



Physical Description

1 online resource (252 p.)


Modern breech-loading rifles flooded into Arabia and the region around the Persian Gulf between 1880 and World War I. This work examines in detail, and analyzes, the introduction of modern arms to Arabia, the origin of those arms, the trade patterns by which they were moved, and the international and local political factors that affected the trade. The international arms trade was driven by three major factors. First, the rapid technological development of small arms in the nineteenth century fed the market, resulting in the availability of hundreds of thousands of obsolete military rifles for resale. Each time new rifles were adopted by the armies of Europe, old stocks were dumped on the private arms market.

Second, international politics and European colonial rivalry contributed to the growth and maintenance of the arms trade. The French Consul at Muscat protected the trade in the Persian Gulf, while French arms dealers commanded a substantial portion of the trade. British efforts to slow the flow of arms through Muscat was hampered by European politics.

Third, the internal politics of the region created a demand for the modern arms. Inside Arabia, the resurgent Saudis fought Rashidis and Hashimites in a series of wars, while other tribal raids and wars further built the demand for modern rifles: if one group had modern weapons, its enemies felt a need for them also. Outside Arabia, a strong demand for weapons in Persia and on the Northwest Frontier of India helped pull weapons to the markets of the Gulf.

This thesis deals first with the changing technology of weapons in the nineteenth century, so that the military impact of the new weapons can be understood. The types of modern rifles introduced to the Peninsula is then reviewed, finding that the Peabody-Martini and the Martini-Henry, and their numerous variations, were the weapons most commonly imported in the decades around the turn of the century. With this information as background, the international politics of the arms trade are examined. Emphasis is on the Anglo-French rivalry at Muscat that gave treaty protection to French arms dealers. European fears that modern arms would reach Africa and make colonial control of the continent difficult or impossible led, in 1890, to the arms control provisions of the General Act of Brussels. The Act did not, however, extend to Arabia.

The heart of the work is a detailed examination and analysis of the arms trade in and around Arabia. The arms trade in the region was centered in two main entrepots, Djibouti in French Somaliland and Muscat in southeast Arabia. By the late l890s, the bulk of the trade was passing through the Suez Canal before transshipment at one of these ports. Just over half of the arms reaching Muscat were exported to Persia and the Northwest Frontier, with the remainder reaching Arabia or Mesopotamia. The patterns of the private arms trade were complex, both at sea and on land, and are discussed at length.

The political use of weapons by the Ottoman Government, and by European states, contributed to the flood of guns into Arabia. The Ottomans, in particular, used their stocks of obsolete weapons to arm their client tribes in Arabia. Ottoman purchases of Sniders, Martinis, and finally Mausers, gave them a constant supply of older rifles for distribution. The arms trade in Arabia was controlled by international and local political developments, and fed by the availability of modern arms on the international market. The trade was complex and impossible to prevent so long as the European states and the Ottomans continued to sell or distribute obsolete rifles as new guns were adopted.


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