Middle Eastern Heraldry

By Thomas Barnes/Lothar van Katzenellenbogen

This is my precis of Ernst Mayer's Saracenic Heraldry. Heraldry was not used in the Islamic world as it was in Western Europe. It still existed in a form that makes it compatable with SCA heraldic practice.

In the Islamic world, the use of a device was restricted to those presons who held the rank of Emir or higher. Emirs were allowed to choose thier own device, but appearantly did not regard this as a great honor. There were no colleges of arms to guard this right, devices weren't hereditary, and contemproary devices differed from each other by as little as 1 CD or less (1 minor point of difference under the old rules). In these respects these devices were much more like maker's marks, husmarks, or badges. They were also used in much the same way. They appear on armor, tablewear, buildings and other possessions, but do not appear to have been used for recognition in battle.

Arms, such as they were, generally reflected their bearer's past service that led to his elevation to Emir; a sold ier would take a sword or bow. A steward would take a cup, and so forth. Virtually all devices has some charge on them that reflected their holder's prior service.


Secretarydawadarpen boxn/a
Armor Bearersilandarbow, swordbow, shamshir
Superintendant of Storestishdarewerchalice
Master of Robesjamdarnapkinlozenge
Marshalamir akhurjawashhorseshoe
Cup Bearersaqicupchalice
Polo Masterjukandarpolo sticksn/a
Tasterjashnigartable w/plateroundel
Standard Beareralamdarstandardstandard and pole
Drummertabldardrum and sticksn/a
Postmanbaridi3-fielded shieldtierced per fess
shoe bearerbahsmaqdarshoe


Both metals and all the colors except purpure were used. No furs we re used, but brown and "self color" (essentially clear, or background color, or "fieldless") were used. Proper was never used for animals. or any other charge.


Only barry, bendy, checky and teirced per fess were used (or per fess... a fess, if you prefer). Tierced per fess was common, the others were very rare.


The fess was used if the shield was divided at all, and was invariably charged with one or more charges. Occasionally, a charge equivalent to sextefoils, roundels, escutcheons, crescents or fleur-de- lys were used. A charge very much like a lozenge was almost invariably used in some way or another.


There were 3 different categories of charges used; Animals, Objects, and Abstract symbols called tamghas. Animals were very rarely used and never varied in position from their default position: Passant for lions and horses, displayed for eagles. No other animals or positions were recorded. Proper color was never used. Objects were commonly used, but appearantly charges other than those listed (in a table in the book) were never used. All inanimate charges are more or less stylized. Some are immediately obvious as what they are, others are highly stylized. Some charges have no resemblance to the things that they were supposed to represent. I have taken the liberty of describing charges that are similar to those used in Western heraldry in European heraldic terms. Where design motifs are unrecognizable or unnamed, I have assigned them names.

Tamghas were symbols similar to those found in Mongolian culture. As far as I can tell, they represent nothing and have no symbolic meaning, they were just design motifs. I have given them names as above.


Islamic heraldry usually consisted of a single primary charge, 2 primary charges in pale on a divided field between a fess, or an arrangement of 1 or 2 charges in fess to chief, 1 or 2 charges to base, and 1 charge or 1 charge between 2 identical charges on the fess. Sometimes the chief, base or fess has no charges.

There seems to have been no default number of charges, and charges were invariably arranged in either fess or pale. The saltire, the chevron, the cross (except for a "Maltese" cross),the pall and arrangements of charges based on them appearantly did not exist.


The escutcheon, the lozenge, the roundel, the cartouche and other shapes were used interchangably for the display of arms.


There seems to have been no effort made to difference arms at all, or to cadence arms.


Many times, a device would just consist of a verse from the Koran that was of special meaning to the bearer. Or a verse from the Koran would be incorporated into an artifact that bore a heraldic display.


Islamic arms followed a strict format. The shield was either of one color with a single occupational charge placed in the middle or the shield was divided per fess into three pieces with the fess taking up 4/5ths of the shield space. An occupational charge was typically place on the fess taking up m ost of the space on the fess. Often smaller charges were placed to either side of the primary charge or they would be placed on the charge on the fess. Often a secondary charge (not neccessarily the same) would be placed to chief and to base. Rarely, a chief or base might have field treatment, but more likely it was just left blank. In all cases a strong horizontal symmetry is projected.

Up to 5 different charges could be used in one device. Given enough secondary chargess in dexter and sinister, in chief and in base and upon the primary charge, the entire device could look very cluttered. Instant identification was obviously not a function of Islamic heraldry!


Many charges used in SCA heraldry can be used in Islamic style heraldry. The Islamic pen-box has been used as a charge previously, is listed in the Pic Dic, and is presumably still legal.

By not charging charges on the fess, using good contrast between charges, the field and the fess, (which Islamic heraldry seems to have done), and limiting the total number of charges it is possible to register an Islamic style device under the current rules.


Islamic heraldry would be allowed to break the rules of tincture by using brown and "self-colored", and by not requiring good contrast between a fess and a field. Good contrast between the field and the charges would be required though.

Islamic heraldry would be allowed to break the layering rule by allowing the "primary charge" on a fess to be charged with another charge, as long as the primary charge was not obscured. (These quartenary charges were usually very small).

Islamic heraldry would be allowed to break the rule of "slot machine heraldry" to allow three different charges to be placed in pale.

Islamic heraldry would be allowed to break the "rule of complexity" if the charge and tincture count exceeds 7 due to the use of 3 tinctures on the field and up to 7 charges - a group of 1 "primary" and 2 "supporting" secondary charges to chief and to base, and a group of 1 primary and 2 supporting secondary charges with the primary charge charged with a "quartenary" charge.

Islamic heraldry would also introduce about 10 new charges to SCA heraldic practice. These could only be used with Islamic heraldry and could not be incorporated into Western style emblazons.