View Full Version : 38 caliber , and parabellum

December 5, 2000, 01:28 PM
How did the term "38" originate for the 38 caliber which is not 38 hundreths onf an inch but more like a 36?
Where does the term parrabellum come from?

Mike Irwin
December 5, 2000, 10:43 PM
At one time, a .38 caliber (such as the .38 S&W or the .38 Long Colt) actually had a bullet that measured right around .380 in diameter.

The bullets were known as "heeled" in that they looked not unlike a mushroom. The main part of the bullet was the same diameter as the outside of the case (the .38 part in the early .38s), while the "heel" was a reduced diameter section that was set into the mouth of the case. The heel was .357 or so in diameter.

Around the turn of the century ammo makers decided that it would be a lot easier just to make bullets a uniform diameter, so they reduced the bullet diameter to that of the heel diameter, and voila, the .357 dia. bullet was born.

The .22 Long Rifle still uses a heeled bullet.

The term parabellum is part of a Latin phrase. Para means for, while bellum means war.

The phrase is, IIRC, si vis pacem, para bellum, which translates to "If you want peace, prepare for war."

James K
December 6, 2000, 12:07 AM
A little bit more.

Many of the early heel type bullets were developed originally for use in conversions of precussion revolvers, where the bullet had to be the same diameter as the inside of the chamber. The "38" calibers were equivalent to the percussion .36 caliber, which was really a .38. The bullets had the lubrication on the outside of the case, and were often called "outside lubricated". .22 LR ammunition still has either a wax lubricant or a thin plating on the bullet. When the heel type bullets dropped away, it made more sense to put the lubricant inside the case, and the modern type ammunition was the result.

Mike Irwin is correct on the origin of "Parabellum". The quote is from Vegetius. It was used as a cable address* by the German Ludwig Loewe Company, which later became Deutsche Waffen-und Munitions Fabriken (DWM). Loewe made a pistol designed by Borchardt and later redesigned by a fellow named Luger. The cable address became so well known that it was used as a trademark by the company, so the Luger pistol became the Pistole Parabellum, and its ammunition the 7.65mm or 9mm Parabellum. The machinegun made by DWM in WWI was also known as the Parabellum; as the LMG. 14, it was used as a flexible gun in both airships and airplanes, since it was lighter than the Maxim MG.08/15.

*In the late 19th and early 20th century, a telegraph address served to reduce cable charges and also to identify the company. Like domain names today, the cable companies knew where a telegram or cable addressed "Parabellum, Berlin" or "Colt, Hartford" was to be delivered.


December 6, 2000, 01:26 AM
thank you Mike and Jim for your answer.