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ost wars start due to a specific reason, in most cases, it is the fight over land or a valuable resource. In this case, the valuable resource was a powder that would change the future of humanity, gunpowder! The discovery of gunpowder by the Chinese changed the world forever, leading humanity into a new and deadly era.

In Europe, the first mention of the gunpowder formula appeared in Roger Beacon’s De nullitate magiae, published in 1216. The Almohad Caliphate was the first to use cannons in Europe to organize the defense during the siege of Seville in 1248 and the Nimble, in 1262. The Spanish historian Zurita relates the siege of Alicante (1331), describing a new weapon that sowed terror among the Christian army, which threw “cannonballs with fire.”

The Hundred-Year’s War

We also learn from another Spanish historian, Juan de Mariana, how much damage these new weapons did to the Christian army besieging the city of Algeciras (1342–1344). The Spanish historian mentions that the Dukes of Derby and Salisbury, participants in the siege, transferred the new technology of cannon-making to England. It was the Moorish experts who first taught the Spaniards how to make a cannon. Subsequently, the manufacturing technique spread to other kingdoms in Western Europe.

The Hundred Years’ War (1337–1453) between England and France completely changed the role of artillery in European wars and marked a time of constant development of new firearms throughout Europe. Later, the Germanic states, Spain, the Italian states, and Portugal would develop their own early models of stone cannons, also known as bombers. Around 1380 these cannons had a firing distance of almost a mile. However, they were very difficult to transport, often weighing a few tons and lacking a mobile device. As a result, bombings were used more in a static offensive war, such as a siege.

Gunpowder origin

The new gunpowder artillery forced military architects during the Hundred Years’ War to change the structure of the fortifications to accommodate the location of the new cannons and to increase resistance to the destructive force of the new fire artillery. Although the first cannons made in Europe caused significant damage, they were still limited and technologically inferior, given that they were not cast, but made in several pieces. In addition, only stone cannonballs were used. These cannons caused more damage due to the psychological effect they had on enemy troops. Hearing an eardrum-blowing boom would make troops anxious and uncertain.

Different cannon designs from the 13th century (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Appearing with the discovery of gunpowder in ancient China, the cannon is one of the oldest firearms in history. Even though it initially had more of a psychological and ceremonial role, the cannon became more and more effective as a weapon with the standardization of the Middle Ages. The innovations of the Renaissance scholars and the Industrial Revolution in modern times increased its accuracy and firepower, turning it into a lethal weapon.

Although saltpeter, as a component of gunpowder, had been known to Chinese alchemists since the end of ancient times, the first text referring to gunpowder is a Taoist work entitled Nineteenth-Century Zhengzhou Miaodao. Wujing Zongyao, a military compendium written during the Song dynasty, mentions the oldest formulas for obtaining gunpowder. The first artillery pieces that used gunpowder were made by craftsmen from the Song dynasty. The “spear of fire,” a bamboo tube filled with gunpowder and projectiles to which a Chinese spear was attached, was one of the first models of firearms in history.

13th-century firearm (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

The bamboo was later replaced with cast iron tubes. The first depiction of a cannon is a sculpture from a cave in Sichuan dating from 1128. The first documented victory in which gunpowder artillery was used is that of January 28, 1132, when Song Dynasty general Han Shizhong, managed to capture a city in the Fujian Province of China. The Sichuan cannon is depicted as a vase-shaped bombardment that emits flames while dropping a cannonball.

Eruptor cannon from the Ming Dynasty (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

It was also the Chinese who discovered the potential of gunpowder bullets. With the development of metallurgy, Chinese craftsmen managed to obtain cast iron or bronze cannons. This is how the eruption cannon appeared in the 13th century, a cast iron or bronze pipe filled with about 100 lead balls. The spread of this invention in Asia and then around the world is the responsibility of the Mongols, who used Chinese artillery pieces in the expansion of their empire. The Yuan Dynasty (1271–1368), of Mongol origin, settled in China after the invasion of Genghis Khan’s descendants and developed handguns.

Although they were not very effective, due to the poor quality of the gunpowder. On the battlefield, these miniature cannons had more of a psychological effect. The Islamic world was the first to make contact with and develop this invention. In the 14th century, the Ming Dynasty also made cast iron or bronze cannons, which fired cast iron cannonballs with gunpowder. The first cannons to be used on the battlefield during this dynasty were in the shape of a vase. By the 16th century, the Ming Dynasty would be able to develop a wide variety of cannons and other artillery pieces with gunpowder.

The west saw this “ahead of its time” technology as something that they needed in order to change the world. They also thought that if they did not get their hands on this powder, as well as how to use it, the East would become a bigger threat than before. Most historians say that the Hundred Year’s War is a period of time that included many events that led to conflict, however, all of these events had the desire to either obtain or protect gunpowder.

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