The first precise recipe for gunpowder, a Chinese invention dating to before 1000
The first precise recipe for gunpowder, a
The consensus among historians is that the
From top to bottom, a harquebus, the first effective matchlock firearm, dating from around 1470; a more evolved matchlock musket, dating from around 1600; a muzzle-loading bombard, known as “Mons Meg,” dating from around 1440.
Although a reference to the making of gunpowder
In field warfare, early gunpowder weapons–both firearms and artillery–lacked the technical quality to compete effectively with longbows and crossbows. Their weight, unreliability, inaccuracy, and slow rate of fire made them inferior in most respects to traditional combat weapons for more than a century after 1327. In sieges, however, these defects were less problematic. The cannonball’s flat trajectory assured that the ball would strike low against the high walls of medieval fortifications and be more likely to open a breach than would mechanical artillery, which had a high trajectory. The first known instance of gunpowder artillery bringing a siege to a successful end occurred in 1377 at
By the late fourteenth century, the size of gunpowder artillery had increased greatly. Huge
In Bohemia military leader Jan
It is difficult to date the development of effective firearms because most of the people who created and used the new weapons were illiterate and did not leave written records. A chronology of firearm technology depends on a few surviving examples, as well as drawings and sketches that are not detailed enough to show the changes involved. Corned
Another innovation toward more effective firearms was the
A harquebusier with both sword and harquebus.
The users of the matchlock device found that coarse powder often failed to ignite and fine powder often created too forceful a recoil. The innovative solution to this problem was to place a small pan filled with fine powder behind the chamber of the barrel and to put coarse powder in the chamber. The match touched off the fine powder in the pan, blowing flame through a small hole into the chamber, igniting the coarser powder there, and firing off the ball. Often, however, the powder in the pan ignited with fire and sparks without touching off the powder in the chamber.
An artist’s woodcut rendition of movable sixteenth century mortars.
The harquebus found its first niche as a
The harquebus served for a time as a useful weapon for defending a fortification, but improvements in gunpowder artillery quickly negated the defensive advantage. Because late medieval iron casting produced a poor product,
During the wars in Italy after 1494, field armies began to include harquebusiers. At the Battle of Cerignola
ish trenches. Over the next twenty years, the Spanish rapidly increased the number of handgunners in their forces and developed the
Buchanan, Brenda, ed. Gunpowder: The History of an International Technology. Bath, England: Bath University Press, 1996. Chase, Kenneth. Firearms: A Global History to 1700. New York: Cambridge University Press, 2003. DeVries, Kelly. Guns and Men in Medieval Europe, 1200-1500: Studies in Military History and Technology. Burlington, Vt.: Ashgate/Variorum, 2002. Diagram Group. The New Weapons of the World Encyclopedia: An International Encyclopedia from 5000 B.C. to the Twenty-first Century. New York: St. Martin’s Griffin, 2007. Hall, Bert. Weapons and Warfare in Renaissance Europe. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1997. Lu, Gwei-Djen, et al. “The Oldest Representation of a Bombard.” Technology and Culture 29 (1988): 594-605. Lugs, Jaroslav. Firearms Past and Present: A Complete Review of Firearms Systems and Their Histories. 2 vols. London: Grenville, 1973. Nosov, Konstantin S. Ancient and Medieval Siege Weapons: A Fully Illustrated Guide to Siege Weapons and Tactics. Illustrated by Vladimir Golubev. Guilford, Conn.: Lyons Press, 2005. Partington, J. R. A History of Greek Fire and Gunpowder. 1960. Reprint. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press, 1999. Pauly, Roger. Firearms: The Life Story of a Technology. Westport, Conn.: Greenwood Press, 2004. Arms in Action: The First Firearms. Documentary. History Channel, 1999. Modern Marvels: Cannons. Documentary. History Channel, 2002. Tales of the Gun. Documentary series. History Channel, 2005.
Handarms to Firearms
Clubs, Maces, and Slings
Picks, Axes, and War Hammers
Bows and Arrows
Knives, Swords, and Daggers
Spears and Pole Arms
Small Arms and Machine Guns