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irearms have dominated the battlefields for centuries and have been one of the most revolutionary inventions in the military field. Although they seem rather the prerogative of the modern world, the origin of firearms is lost in the mists of history. The first firearms used in battle are almost 1,000 years old or even over, as some historians suspect.

The widespread use of firearms on the battlefield in the late Middle Ages led to a complete revolution in waging war. Equipment, strategies, and even types of fortifications have changed. However, the history of firearms is a long one, with early origins. The first individual weapons to launch a projectile at the enemy with gunpowder were invented in the Far East.

Nothing without Gunpowder

Gunpowder in its original form (Source: Public Domain)

Gunpowder was the miracle compound that formed the basis of the weapons revolution. It was the first explosive substance discovered by man and is composed of potassium nitrate, also known as saltpeter, mixed with sulfur and coal. It was the Chinese who actually invented gunpowder. The first mention of a gunpowder-like compound is from 142 AD, during the Han dynasty. A Chinese man, Wei Boyang, wrote during this period about three powders that mixed and then set on fire “fly and dance” in a violent way.

Misuse of Gunpowder during the Han Dynasty (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

In the year 300, another Chinese, Ge Hong, wrote about the ingredients of another explosive powder. However, scientists have concluded that real gunpowder was invented in the ninth century by Chinese alchemists. It was initially considered an elixir of immortality but was later transformed into the magic powder that ignited firearms. The first written recipe for gunpowder appeared in 1044 and belonged to the Chinese alchemist Wujing Zongyao. From 1200 this recipe has already begun to circulate, through the Mongols, to the west.

A Psychological effect on warfare

The Spear of fire (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

With the invention of gunpowder, the Chinese, beyond the original esoteric aspects, found practical uses. Among other things, in individual firearms. The first of these was actually a spear that threw projectiles at the enemy. They were called spears of fire or Tu Huo Qiang and were mainly used to create an overwhelming psychological effect on the enemy. Up close, they probably had some hurting effect, less often deadly. Even so, what was unknown by the user at the time was how the use of this weapon psychologically affected their enemy.

They were bamboo tubes loaded with gunpowder, into which various small projectiles, such as balls or pieces of metal, were inserted at one end. The gunpowder end was hit with a source of fire, and the barrel was aimed at the enemy. Bamboo pipes were often attached to ordinary spears. The reason was simple. These weapons were effective only a few meters away. After the first fire, they were used as mere spears. Specialists consider them the first firearms in history. They were used in warfare in the 10th century during the wars between the Jin and Song dynasties between 960–1279.

The first fire weapon

The oldest “rifle” ever discovered was actually a handgun, obviously also Chinese. It is the Heilongjiang handgun, discovered in the 1970s by a team of Chinese archaeologists in Banlachengzi Village, Heilongjiang Province, Manchuria. Specialists say it was used in 1288. It is a thick bronze pipe, similar to a small cannon pipe, which was 34 centimeters long and weighed about 3.55 kilograms.

Heilongjiang (arm cannon) age unknown (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Apparently, it belonged to a soldier from the Yuan dynasty. He was stationed with a company of soldiers belonging to a Jurchen commander in this village between 1287–1288. In fact, specialists say that this bronze hand cannon was made in China during the Jin dynasty, between 1115–1234. These weapons had a load of gunpowder at the covered end. The projectile, usually a metal ball, was inserted through the barrel. Through a hole at the covered end, gunpowder was ignited to drop the projectile.

The bronze pipe was placed on a wooden support. It was supposed that it took two men to make this weapon as effective as possible. One soldier held his cannon at the enemy, and another lit the powder with a lighted rod. They did not have precision, but the psychological effect mattered a lot. It was also effective in scaring enemy cavalry animals with specific bangs. The Chinese have been using gunpowder in a variety of weapons since the 10th century.

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