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How did Europeans first acquire gunpowder?

How did Europeans first acquire gunpowder?


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I know that gunpowder was first invented in China around the 10th century, and it seems that gunpowder likely made its way to Europe via the "Silk Road." However, there doesn't seem to be a ton of information on just how gunpowder made its way to Europe, and what led to its adoption.

So, why, and how, did gunpowder makes it way to Europe, and what led to its adoption?

I am looking for a synopsis of specific academic sources addressing the issue on point, or at the minimum, tangential sources that make a compelling argument as to how and why gunpowder came to Europe.


All the sources I've perused can, just as Wikipedia does, only surmise on the how and why gunpowder made its way to Europe.

The Oxford Encyclopedia of Medieval Warfare and Military Technology offers a nutshell overview of the possible routes that might have been taken:

Just how the secret of gunpowder traveled west-ward to Europe will probably never be fully known, although it seems likely that there was not just one route but several-via the ancient trading route known as the Silk Road; by travelers from the west; by the Mongols; or by peoples of the Russian lands.

That said, a Dr. Guangqiu Xu in "China at War" provides a persuasive answer to both the how and the why:

When gunpowder's advantage as a weapon was made clear, the Chinese began to apply gunpowder to warfare. They started experimenting with gunpowder-filled tubes.

By the thirteenth century, Chinese military forces adopted gunpowder-based weapons technologies such as rockets, guns, and cannons, and explosives such as grenades and different types of bombs for use against the Mongols when they attempted to invade and breach the Great Wall on the northern borders of China. After the Mongols conquered China and founded the Yuan dynasty (1279-1368), they used the Chinese gunpowder-based weapons technology in their invasion of Japan and Korea, and other countries.

… at the beginning, the formula for making gunpowder was not common information, and only a few special weapon makers knew how to make it. This hazardous and highly explosive weapon, however, spread to Europe through the Silk Road, the world's oldest and most mysterious trade route.

In the tenth century, Arab scientists began to study and carry out experiments with gunpowder and its applications in warfare. When Europeans invaded Arabian countries during the crusade movement from the eleventh to the thirteenth centuries, the Arabs used their newfound weapon again the Christian troops, sparking both fear and interest from the crusaders. The technology would later be adapted by the Europeans for use in their military.

The Arab-Crusades theory is bolstered by the fact that gunpowder was initially known simply as black-powder or more suggestively, as Saracen powder:

Historians believe that gunpowder originated in China, where the 'black powder' or 'Saracen powder' had been used to manufacture explosive bombs and rockets since at least 1,000 BC. Knowledge of its powerful and destructive secrets most likely traveled west along the ancient Silk Road, a trade link that crossed the Asian continent and eventually linked the kingdoms of Europe with suppliers of exotic spices, gems, and of course silk. In the 10th century, Arab warlords had perfected the science of using gunpowder and turned its awesome power against the Crusaders, and this triggered the adoption of the black powder as a warfaring tool in the West.

Although the dates do not really conform to the Mongol defeat of the Chinese in an earlier excerpt, in "Firearms: A Global History to 1700", Kenneth Chase suggests that the Mongols were the ones who brought gunpowder westward:

The Mongols were probably responsible for bringing gunpowder and firearms to Europe. Chinggis Khan organized a unit of Chinese catapult specialists in 1214, and these men formed part of the first Mongol army to invade Transoxania in 1219. This was not too early for true firearms, and it was nearly two centuries after catapult-thrown gunpowder bombs had been added to the Chinese arsenal. Chinese siege equipment saw action in Transoxania in 1220 and in the north Caucasus in 1239-40.

William of Rubruck was a Franciscan friar who traveled to the court of the Mongol khaghan Möngke between 1253 and 1255. Although his account of his journey did not circulate widely in Europe, one person who took a keen interest in his experience was Roger Bacon, a fellow Franciscan. Whether by coincidence or not, the earliest European reference to gunpowder is found in Bacon's Epistola de secretis operibus artiis et naturae from 1267.

From "A Brief History Of Rocketry":

The rocket seems to have arrived in Europe around 1241 A.D. Contemporary accounts describe rocket-like weapons being used by the Mongols against Magyar forces at the battle of Sejo which preceded their capture of Buda (now known as Budapest) Dec. 25, 1241. Accounts also describe Mongol's use of a noxious smoke screen -- possibly the first instance of chemical warfare. Rockets appear in Arab literature in 1258 A.D., describing Mongol invaders' use of them on February 15 to capture the city of Baghdad. Quick to learn, the Arabs adopted the rocket into their own arms inventory and, during the Seventh Crusade, used them against the French Army of King Louis IX in 1268.

In summary, the question of why gunpowder made its way to Europe can very likely be blamed on its use in warfare. The how, on the other hand, is sketchy as, based on these sources, both the Mongols and the Arabs, or both, might have introduced it to the "Ferenghi" on the battlefield.


Firstly, weapon technology is difficult to research because it is usually secret and gunpowder is no exception, so most important evidence is purely indirect; you have infer the invention from other evidence, such as metallurgical evidence.

Secondly the idea that gunpowder came by the "silk road" or that it originated in China, Mongolia, Arabia or other such places are fanciful ideas without basis. Due to the mystery of the subject, it is human nature to ascribe an exotic origin to it, so people like to imagine all sorts of distant, exotic explanations for it. For example, in one post above they mention "saracen powder", a completely invented term of modern origin that has no antiquity at all.

The first possible European mention of gunpowder is in the writings of Roger Bacon circa 1280, but these mentions are very vague and taken in the context of the wide variety of related pyrotechnical alchemy, cannot in my opinion be considered to be inventive. Note that gunpowder is not actually a powder, but is actually composed of very small pellets and producing these in a way that they can be used as a ballistic propellant is a non-trivial technology, which I doubt Bacon had any knowledge of, based on what I have read of his writings.

Although there is no certain ideas of the origin, it is very likely the first practical experiments and developments took place in Prague. Whether the supposed person Berthold Schwartz existed or had anything to do with it is unknown, but his association with Prague is suggestive. What is definitely known is that Prague was the first center of gun technology. For example, both the words "pistol" and "howitzer" are of Czech origin. Although the first significant use of guns, at the Battle of Crecy (1346), was in France, it seems likely the technology used was of Czech origin. Also, the siege gun used by the Ottomans to reduce Constantinople in 1453 was of Hungarian make, however, the Hungarians received this technology from Prague. The first widespread and decisive use of gunpowder was in the Hussite Wars (1419-1434) in Bohemia, once again arguing for a Prague origin.

In general, all of the early production and use of guns that I have researched always have a trail that reaches back to Prague, therefore, in my opinion the invention must have occurred first in Prague in approximately 1325-1335.

Concerning the "Chinese" origin idea; I am not sure how this got started, but it is a modern idea (20th century) which appears based on some very vague 17th century Chinese encyclopedia entries. These encyclopedias were highly collated works that combined many different facts and often ascribed false antiquity to various sciences. Even the entries that supposedly refer to gunpowder are highly ambiguous and could be interpreted in many different ways.

What is definitely known is that the first recorded introduction of cannon to China was in 1621 when the emperor requested three cannon and crews of the Portuguese resident in Macao, and in 1636 to fight certain of the Manchus then invading the Jesuits were asked by the emperor to teach the Chinese the casting of cannon. The next development was that Ferdinand Verbiest directed the acquisition of some hundred small cannons for the emperor in addition to his construction of astronomical instruments for them. That the Chinese (and Manchu) had no prior knowledge whatsoever of guns or ballistic propellants is evident from the accounts of the Portuguese.

Comments on the Battle of Mohi (1241)

In another answer to the question it says "rocket-like weapons" were used at the "Battle of Sejo" by Mongols, a "fact" obviously pillaged from NASA's completely unsourced "history of rocketry". First of all, the battle is usually known as the Battle of Mohi which took place near the Sajo river, not the Sejo river. Secondly, none of the European accounts of this battle mention any "rockets" whatsoever. Thirdly, the Chinese accounts, which are only known from books written HUNDREDS of years later THOUSANDS OF MILES away in China, mention only fire arrows and "fire pots", which apparently is a reference to naptha bombs, a technology known to the ancient Greeks and Persians. Transforming hard-to-translate Chinese accounts of fire arrows, which are obviously second-hand accounts originally written in Mongolian into "rockets" is a typical example of how obscure sources are re-interpreted to create exotic origins for technology. This wild exaggeration is a typical example of how 20th century historians, most of whom cannot even read Chinese at all, uncritically have created this false mythology of Chinese (or in this case Mongolian) technology.

It suffices to say that if actual rockets had been used with effect at the Battle of Mohi, the European accounts of the battle would have mentioned them.


Europe was small and poor and was behind other civilizations of the East. The Arab's Muslim empire was stretched from the Mauritania of today to India. Further east it was the Arabs who controlled the Indian Ocean, as well as much of the Mediterranean at the time, and the whole of the Saharan trade, including the most advanced and civilized country in Europe (Spain), which was under Muslim control.

It was for these reasons that the Portuguese rulers sent an expedition to India but using the only existing maps, which were in Arabic as Europeans had never been there.

The question of the gun, obviously, they obtained it from the Arabs the powder, and the first gun; but most likely Arabs got it also from the East.


Gunpowder Facts and History

Gunpowder or black powder is of great historical importance in chemistry. Although it can explode, its principal use is as a propellant. Gunpowder was invented by Chinese alchemists in the 9th century. Originally, it was made by mixing elemental sulfur, charcoal, and saltpeter (potassium nitrate). The charcoal traditionally came from the willow tree, but grapevine, hazel, elder, laurel, and pine cones have all been used. Charcoal is not the only fuel that can be used. Sugar is used instead in many pyrotechnic applications.

When the ingredients were carefully ground together, the end result was a powder that was called "serpentine." The ingredients tended to require remixing prior to use, so making gunpowder was very dangerous. People who made gunpowder would sometimes add water, wine, or another liquid to reduce this hazard since a single spark could result in a smoky fire. Once the serpentine was mixed with a liquid, it could be pushed through a screen to make small pellets, which were then allowed to dry.


Main keywords of the article below: armies, use, longest-lasting, conquering, fell, 1299, tamerlane, empire, established, timur, ottoman, gunpowder, empires, 1402, turkey, first, lame.

KEY TOPICS
The longest-lasting of the Gunpowder Empires, the Ottoman Empire in Turkey was first established in 1299, but it fell to the conquering armies of Timur the Lame (Tamerlane) in 1402. [1] The first of the three empires to acquire gunpowder weapons was the Ottoman, as by the 14th century, the Ottomans had adopted gunpowder artillery. [2]

Scholars often use the term "gunpowder empire" to describe each of these three empires, focusing attention on their military exploits, which were, indeed, impressive. [3]

The Ottoman Empire, often most familiar to students of Western European history because of the long, close contact between the Ottomans and Europe, lasted the longest of these three empires surviving all the way into the twentieth century (1299-1922). [3] In the last century of its existence, Western European diplomats began to call the Ottoman Empire the "the sick man of Europe" as it battled against nationalist uprisings in much of its territory and faced internal corruption problems. [3]

Although the Ottoman Empire soon lost its technological edge, it survived until the end of the First World War (1914 - 1918). [1]

Map of the Gunpowder Empires Green: Ottoman Empire Pink: Safavid Empire Purple: Mughal Empire What did the three empires have in common? There are are a few similarities but there is also a major difference between the empires as well. [4] The Safavids used firearms to disband the many Persian tribes that stood in the way of their rising empire. the Sufi mystics who sparked the Safavid movement used gunpowder to conquer these tribes and keep the Ottomans, and even Europeans, from entering the East of Asia. [5] Why are the Ottoman, Safavid, and Mughal Empires sometimes called "gunpowder empires"? Please explain in detail. [5]

The Ottoman Empire's adoption of gunpowder as a war-winning weapon predated other European states and signaled the beginning of the military revolution which characterized the early modern era that began in 1453 with the fall of Constantinople and ended around 1800. [6]

With the acquisition of gunpowder to use in the newest development in siege weaponry: the cannon, the Ottoman Empire was able to tear through the Byzantines triple wall structure and capture the city. [7] The Ottomans, the Safavids, and the Mughals were able to expand and defend their empires through the use of gunpowder infantry and artillery. [8]

They are called "gunpowder empires" due to their efficient use of military technology to conquest. [5]

To maintain their power against rivals, Suleyman & other Ottoman sultans executed their brothers & jailed their sons which led to progressively weaker leaders.By the outbreak of World War I in 1914, the Ottoman Empire was so weak it was known as the "sick man of Europe". [9] Qur'an and Religious Tolerance The Ottoman Empire The ottoman empire was a grand empire that lasted from the 14th century to the 20th century. [4] THANK YOU! Background Music: Traditional Ottoman Empire Rose Song Connection to Modern-day time All we learned in this chapter has some connection to the modern-day time. [4] Though famous for their martial prowess, firearms came slowly to the Ottoman Empire. [10]

The Ottomans used muskets and cannons to form a powerful army and expand their territory The Muslim Turks of Anatolia unified & formed the Ottoman Empire. [11] Beginning in the mid-1400s, the Ottoman Empire converted captured Christian boys into soldiers for the Ottoman army. [8] With the rise of the Ottoman Empire in the western edge of the Silk Road, and their control over the goods sold to the Europeans through the Mediterranean Sea, the trade routes led a steady stream of goods from the neighboring empires through. [7] Midway through the 15th century, the Ottoman Empire besieged Constantinople for 50 days before finally breaking through the final of the 3 walls that protected the inner city. [7] The Ottoman Empire had its roots in the early 14th century as a small group of raiders conquering Byzantine lands. [7] The Ottoman Empire continued to influence the world into the early 20th century. [11] Not only was there large-scale production in Europe, the Ottoman Empire, India and China, but before 1650 guns had been manufactured in Korea, Japan, Siam, and Iran, [12] The policy of religious tolerance attracted foreigners such as Jewish people from Christian empires and kingdoms who persecutes them, which allows the Ottoman Empire to gain foreign talents. [13] The Ottoman Empire grew to become a superpower in central Asia by its system of Imperialism. [13] The Ottoman Empire arose in the Turkish areas of Central Asia and gradually expanded westward. [8] The young men of the conquered people who could be potential rebels, are integrated into the Ottoman Empire as janissaries, reducing the chance for a rebellion. [13] Although they were defeated at Vienna, for the next 300 years the Ottoman Empire controlled most of the Balkans, including modern-day Bulgaria, Romania, Macedonia, Greece, and Serbia. [8]

It acquired gunpowder weapons, along with the empire's powerful army, won countless wars and battles over the Ottomans and Uzbeks. [13] These Middle Eastern empires were known for their use of gunpowder, a new development at the time. [14] The Safavid empire, which imitated the Ottomans' use of gunpowder and janissaries, left out the policy of religious tolerance, leading to dissent from its people and revolts. [13] Gunpowder Empires Slideshare uses cookies to improve functionality and performance, and to provide you with relevant advertising. [11]

Each of these three empires had considerable military success using the newly developed firearms, especially cannon and small arms, in the course of their empires, but unlike Europe for example, the introduction of the gunpowder weapons prompted changes well beyond simply army organization. [2] Whether or not gunpowder was inherently linked to the existence of any of these three empires, it cannot be questioned that each of the three acquired artillery and firearms early in their history and made such weapons an integral part of their military tactics. [2] Hodgson used the phrase in the title of Book 5 ("The Second Flowering: The Empires of Gunpowder Times") of his highly influential three-volume work, The Venture of Islam (1974). [2] Such states grew "out of Mongol notions of greatness," but " uch notions could fully mature and create stable bureaucratic empires only after gunpowder weapons and their specialized technology attained a primary place in military life." [2] By contrast, such monopolies allowed states to create militarized empires in Western Asia, Russia and India, and "in a considerably modified fashion" in China and Japan. [2] Each made use of newly-developed firearms, especially cannon and small arms, to create their empires. [3] It was their use of artillery that shocked their adversaries and impelled the other two Islamic empires to accelerate their weapons program. [2] The Hodgson-McNeill theory isn't regarded as sufficient for the rise of these empires, but their use of the weapons was integral to their military tactics. [1]

Reasons other than (or in addition to) military technology have been offered for the nearly simultaneous rise of three centralized military empires in contiguous areas dominated by decentralized Turkic tribes. [2]

The Safavid dynasty also took control of Persia in the power vacuum that followed the decline of Timur's empire. [1] In large part, the successes of the western empires depended on advanced firearms and cannons. [1] Babur, who founded the empire, was able to defeat Ibrahim Lodi of the last Delhi Sultanate at the First Battle of Panipat in 1526. [1] The Mughals--The word "Mughal" (sometimes "Mughul") is a corruption of the word for "Mongol"--led one of the world's most powerful empires. [3] At its zenith, the empire controlled North Africa, most of the Eastern Mediterranean and also Eastern Europe and the Balkan Peninsula. [3] The Empire, based at Isfahan, lasted until 1722, reaching its height under Shah Abbs the Great, at the beginning of the seventeenth centuries. [3] The Safavid Empire of Persia was a gunpowder empire set up by Shah Isml I in the early sixteenth century. [3] I knew that I had encountered the term years ago in the small pamphlet published by the American Historical Association (William McNeil, The Age of Gunpowder Empires, 1450-1800 ). [3] The third gunpowder empire, India's Mughal Empire, offers perhaps the most dramatic example of modern weaponry carrying the day. [1] The gunpowder empires monopolized the manufacture of guns and artillery in their areas. [1]

The Safavids first put their gunpowder arms to good use against the Uzbeks, who had invaded eastern Persia during the civil war that followed the death of Ismail I. The young shah Tahmasp I headed an army to relieve Herat and encountered the Uzbeks on 24 September 1528 at Jam, where the Safavids decisively beat the Uzbeks. [2] To equip their armies, each state developed a highly centralized administration that could mobilize the financial, manpower and natural resources necessary to purchase gunpowder arms and then supervise the deployment of those arms and the training of soldiers to use the weapons. [3]

The Ottoman military's regularized use of firearms proceeded ahead of the pace of their European counterparts. [2] The Safavids learned the value of firearms and artillery early, from the neighboring Ottomans. [1] The battle of Chaldiran against the Safavids in 1514 pitched a Safavid cavalry charge against Ottoman cannons and Janissary rifles with a devastating effect. [1] At Chaldiran, the Ottomans met the Safavids in battle for the first time. [2] Only the limited campaign radius of the Ottoman army prevented it from holding the city and ending the Safavid rule. [2] Early on, the Safavids were at a disadvantage to the better-armed Ottomans, but they soon closed the arms gap. [1] The defeat was so thorough that the Ottoman forces were able to move on and briefly occupy the Safavid capital, Tabriz. [2]

The Ottomans had artillery at least by the reign of Bayazid I and used them in the sieges of Constantinople in 1399 and 1402. [2] The Ottomans employed European foundries to cast their cannons, and by the siege of Constantinople in 1453, they had large enough cannons to batter the walls of the city, to the surprise of the defenders. [2] The adoption of the weapons by the Ottomans was so rapid that they "preceded both their European and Middle Eastern adversaries in establishing centralized and permanent troops specialized in the manufacturing and handling of firearms." [2]

Unlike Turkey, where the Ottomans fairly quickly re-established control, Persia languished in chaos for around a century before Shah Ismail I and his "Red Head" (Qizilbash) Turks were able to defeat rival factions and reunite the country by about 1511. [1] Thanks in large part to their acquisition of muskets, the Ottoman rulers were able to drive out the Timurids and reestablish their control of Turkey in 1414. [1]

Babur had the expertise of Ustad Ali Quli who coached the military with Ottoman techniques. [1] Babur had employed Ottoman expert Ustad Ali Quli, who showed Babur the standard Ottoman formation--artillery and firearm-equipped infantry protected by wagons in the center and the mounted archers on both wings. [2]

The Ottoman Janissary corps became the best-trained infantry force in the world, and also the first gun corps to wear uniforms. [1] The Ottomans deployed their cannons between the carts that carried them, which also provided cover for the armed Janissaries. [2] The several thousand gun-bearing infantry also massed in the centre as did the Janissaries of the Ottoman army. [2]

Safavid history is rife with clashes and wars between the Shi'a Muslim Safavid Persians and the Sunni Ottoman Turks. [1] Similar cannons were used by the Ottoman Turks in the siege of Constantinople in 1453. [2] The Ottoman capture of Constantinople in 1453 finally brought an end to the fading glories of Rome and firmly cemented the Ottoman Turks as the power in the Eastern Mediterranean. [3]

The battle which convinced the Safavids and the Mughals of the efficacy of gunpowder was Chaldiran. [2] By the time he was invited by Lodi governor of Lahore Daulat Khan to support his rebellion against Lodi Sultan Ibrahim Khan, Babur was familiar with gunpowder firearms and field artillery and a method for deploying them. [2] I also knew that I had repeatedly encountered the term in world history textbooks, where it is widely used, and I am also aware that supposedly Marshall Hodgson, the outstanding historian of the Islamic world, is credited with inventing the term, but I remain surprised that there has not been much extended debate over the terms and boundaries of the phrase "gunpowder empire." [3] Babur used this formation at the First Battle of Panipat in 1526, where the Afghan and Rajput forces loyal to the Delhi sultanate, though superior in numbers but without the gunpowder weapons, were defeated. [2] Hodgson saw gunpowder weapons as the key to the "military patronage states of the Later Middle Period" which replaced the unstable, geographically limited confederations of Turkic clans that prevailed in post-Mongol times. [2]

The decisive victory of the Timurid forces is one reason opponents rarely met Mughal princes in pitched battle over the course of the empire's history. [2] In the Safavid Empire, for example, it was Shah Ismail I who really established the Shiite faith as the dominant religion of Iran/Persia. [3]

The Hodgson-McNeill Gunpowder-Empire hypothesis has been called into disfavour as a neither "adequate or accurate" explanation, although the term remains in use. [2]

By the second half of the 15th century, the Ottomans, as well as other countries, had improved the rifle through the use of the lever and spring and used the firearm in its armies. [10] Was it in 1386 in Sultan Murat I’s war against the Karamanoğulları or was it three years later in the Battle of Kosovo? And where did the Ottomans get their cannon? The Moors of Spain were using cannon early in the 13th century and there’s a recipe for gunpowder in the Escorial Library dating from about 1250. [10] Although the Ottomans continued to manufacture arms, they were unable to keep up with European advances in gunpowder and firearms technology. [10]

The Byzantine Empire which lasted for 1500 years was finally conquered by the Ottomans, causing the fall of Constantinople in 1453 with Mehmed II as the leader at that time. [4] Now that the empire has conquered so many places, that means new religions were joining and the ottomans found a way to create peace. [4] Greatest Ottoman sultan under Suleyman, Ottoman armies attacked Eastern Europe & the empire reached its height. [9] The Ottomans were not very friendly with the Safavid Empire, causing a lot of battles and wars. [4] The Ottoman and the Mughal empire both with Muslim Sunni, while the Safavid empire was Muslim Shi'a, causing quite the riot between the three. [4] Sunni and Shi'a The Safavid empire made is worse between the Sunnis and Shi'a's by attacking the Ottomans, who were Sunnis, and continuing to compete against them and imitating them like Ghulam. [4]

Focusing on the three major areas that chracterized the military revolution-artillery, fortification, and firepower-this paper examins how the Ottoman Empire's military stagnated as a result of its refusal to innovate. [6]

Like the Ottomans & Safavids, the Mughals built a powerful army with guns & cannons. [9] The Ottomans used muskets & cannons to form a powerful army & expand their territory. [9] He modeled Ottoman janissaries, used merit to employ gov't workers, & introduced religious toleration which helped Safavids trade with European Christians. [9] In their first battle of Chaldiran, the Ottomans won causing many troubles to the Safavids and Ismail. [4] The safavids took Yerevan and a part of Azerbaijan while the Ottomans took most of Iraq. [4] The Ottomans broke through Constantinople's impenetrable Theodisian walls with cannons, and conquered much of the Turkish region and eastern Europe with a magnificent display of blaring cannons and firearms. [5] By the late 1600s, the Ottomans expanded into the Middle East, Northern Africa, & Eastern Europe. [9]

"The Ottoman army’s weapons production, maintenance, repair and protection was the duty of the Cebecis from the Kapıkulu Ocaks which made up the forces at headquarters," Turgay Tezcan, a weapons specialist at Topkapı Palace for 30 years and a curator of the Palace’s Weapons Section, said in a paper delivered last year in Paris. [10] The Ottoman army included 30,000 elite soldiers called janissaries who were slaves that were trained to be loyal to the government. [9] In early fourteenth century, they began to expand and later founded the Ottoman dynasty. [15] Because of their location between the Mediterranean and black seas, the ottomans were able to expand westward and eventually control Constantinople. [15]

&bull How did each of the great Muslim empires--Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal-- come into existence, and why did they ultimately decline? When the Ottoman Turks spread westward from central Asia, the first to dominate were the Seljuk Turks and established themselves in the Anatolia peninsula. [15]

The Safavids were Turks living in Persia who built a powerful gunpowder army & created an empire in modern-day Iran. [9] In 1494, Babur became king of the Mughals, expanded the army, & began invasions into India to create his empire. [9] Akbar used heavy artillery to help create the greatest Indian empire since the Mauryan dynasty nearly two thousand years before. [15] All 3 empires blended their culture with neighboring societies to create a high point of Islamic culture. [9] All 3 empires were Islamic & ruled by Muslim leaders with well-organized gov'ts made up of loyal bureaucrats. [9] All three empires were ruled in an Islamic, well-organized government with loyal officials. [4]

These empires owed their success, somewhat, to firearms like cannons and muskets. [15] The war between both of these empires ended by Azerbaijan making borders to settle down the empires. [4] While Azerbaijan helped the two different empires settled, they made borders to reduce the problems between both Muslims. [4] This chapter helps us in the world, in recognizing the influence of the empires did to our time now. [4] He took control and conquered many areas, expanding the empire. [4] All 3 empires were able to conquer neighboring people because they formed strong armies using rifles & artillery. [9] By: Leen Harazallah. 9(2) In general all the empires didn't agree with the other religious ways and their practices, so they treated them as lower class people, and did not accept their ways of religion. [4] Jahangir, the son of Akbar, with the help of his father, decided that they should put religioun differences aside to unify and create a stronger empire. [4]

They were called the gunpowder empires because they conquered cities and towns from their new kind of weapons like rifles. [4] Gunpowder empires simply refers to the three empires' abilities to grow their empire via a strategic usage of a new war technology, gunpowder. [5] The Gunpowder Empires What are the gunpowder empires? In the 1300's there were three empires that ruled Asia, Europe, and Africa. [4]

They were the first to use gunpowder before Europe and it worked to their advantage. [15] Under the superior war command of Babur and gunpowder technology, the Mughals beat hordes of elephants and tens of thousands of soldiers. [5] The Safavid's started their rein when seized much of Iran and Iraq using gunpowder firearms. [15] This changed as advances were made in boring the gun barrel and improvements in gunpowder. [10]

"One weapon, intended for use against Christian enemies, fired conventional round bullets, while the second variant, designed to be used against the Muslim Turks, fired square bullets, which were believed to cause more severe and painful wounds than spherical projectiles." [10] For example the Ottoman's became a dominate force with the takedown of Constantinople when they used cannons to knock down the walls and finally take over the Byzantine capital. [15]

During the Mughal Empire there were Delhi Sultanate which is five dynasties that lasted for a short time during the empire: The first was Mamluk dynasty which lasted from 1206 - 1290. [4] The Mughal Empire grew weak by 1700 as kings spent too much money on palaces & war. [9] The Safavid Empire The third and final Ottoman-Safavid war began in 1623 and ended in 1639. [4] The Safavid Empire The Safavid Empire was founded in 1501 by a man named Ismail. in 1510, became Shah Ismail. [4] The greatest ruler of the Safavid Empire was Shah Abbas who came to power in 1587. [9]

The Turkish advantage in arms was short-lived, and by the end of the era, the empire's military was outdated and at the mercy of its European neighbors. [6]

RANKED SELECTED SOURCES(15 source documents arranged by frequency of occurrence in the above report)


How did Europeans first acquire gunpowder? - History

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“Gunpowder,” as it came to be known, is a mixture of saltpeter (potassium nitrate), sulfur, and charcoal. Together, these materials will burn rapidly and explode as a propellant.

Chinese monks discovered the technology in the 9th century CE, during their quest for a life-extending elixir. The key ingredient, saltpeter, had been in use by this same culture since the late centuries BCE for medicinal purposes. It was found to be incendiary and immediately applied to warfare.

The Mongols soon emerged as an ambitious and violent society, and their conquests and invasions acted as a vehicle by which gunpowder would spread to the rest of the world. It is documented that the technology had reached the Middle East by the 13th century CE, at which point traders as well as crusaders would have come into contact with it.

The main problem with gunpowder at this time was that the ingredients had to be measured properly in order for the mixture to ignite properly and explode. Thus, knowledge of the required materials was not so much the technology as was the knowledge of the formula.

Perfecting the formula can be noted as the first major landmark in technological development. The most effective ratio (very approximate) was believed to be 1 part sulfur: 3 parts charcoal: 9 parts saltpeter, according to 13th century Arabian documents. Sir Roger Bacon had been experimenting with something 29.5% sulfur, 29.5% charcoal, and 41% saltpeter, however it was eventually found that the best ratio was 10:15:75 (the modern formula). The next big improvement came when 14th century Europeans began adding liquid to the mixture, forming a paste that would dry and could be ground into balls––this came to be known as “corned powder.” This greatly increased the practicality of the primitive bombs and guns, as corned powder was more durable, reliable, and safe (the dried paste would insure that almost all of the ingredients would ignite at the same time and explode as one).

As the European powers emerged into the Early Modern Period, saltpeter came into high demand as the key tool for warfare, or the “commodity or empire,” as one author put it. The British and Dutch were the key players in this act (as France and Spain could self-sustain their saltpeter supply at this point). India was found to be rich in the demanded resources, and thus various overseas trading companies were established to further the European interest. Examples include the English East India Trading Company, the Dutch East India Company, the French ‘’Compagnie des Indes orientales’’, and the Prussian Bengal and Asiatic Companies. This competition must quickly be compared to the scramble for oil in the 19th and 20th centuries, and was the first time that an element of a technology caused the world to mobilize to such an extent.

–The Elixir of Life.


Gunpowder in Europe History

Gunpowder in Europe History
The first record of gunpowder in Europe dates from 1267, while the first record of guns from 1326.

By the end of the 1400s, thanks to advances in iron and copper mining, metallurgy and gunpowder manufacture, Europeans were making firearms in great quantity and great variety, from enormous cannons to handheld arquebuses.

If one of the essential characteristics of modernity is the substitution of chemical for muscle power, then firearms may be regarded as the first modern invention.

The spread of gunpowder was not welcome by everyone. The nobility, in particular, did not like weapons that rendered obsolete old notions of chivalry and if allowed, as one contemporary complained, “so many brave and valiant men” to be killed by “cowards and shirkers who would not dare to look in the face the men they bring down from a distance with their wretched bullets.”

Firearms were by no means a European monopoly – Mogul India, Ming China, Safavid Persia, Choson Korean, Ottoman Turkey and Tokugawa Japan also made effective use of them – but Europe early on became the worldwide leader in their production and development.

China and many other non-Western countries continued producing guns but by 1500 their weapons were markedly inferior to those being crafted in the workshops of Europe.

Even the siege guns used by the Ottoman to conquer Constantinople in 1453, including two titanic cannons firing stone projectiles weighing more than eight hundred pounds, were created not by a Turk but a Hungarian in Sultan Mehmed II’s employ.

The most immediate impact of firearms, once they became more reliable, was to end the military ascendancy of the horse archers of central Asia. Cavalrymen equipped with bows and arrows were no match for infantrymen armed with guns, and since the Mongolian nomads could not manufacture firearms of their own, their reign of terror came to an end.
Gunpowder in Europe History


Impact

One of the earliest known uses of rocketry in Chinese warfare dates to the fall of the Ch'in dynasty during the thirteenth century. The great Mongol leader Khan Ogodei had gained power and was intent on eliminating the Chin and their fierce resistance to his armies. In 1232 the Mongol army held the Ch'in capital of Pien, also known as K'ai-feng, under siege. While the city did eventually fall to the Mongols, its inhabitants were able to defend themselves effectively. Indeed, this was one of the first battles in recorded military history in which firearms were used by both sides. At this stage of development, gunpowder was used primarily in ceramic grenades that were hurled by catapults. Used by the defenders of Pien, the grenades proved deadly to the Mongol warriors and their horses. The defenders of Pien used catapults because, at that point, Chinese cannons, like the early cannons implemented by the Europeans, had only a limited effectiveness.

The Chinese defenders of Pien used another weapon—the flamethrower—that, unlike early ceramic grenades, was used primarily by the Chinese and was not widely borrowed by European armies. Medieval Chinese artisans are credited with the invention of a flamethrower, which was referred to as the fire lance. In order to form a fire lance, Chinese inventors pasted together nearly 20 layers of strong yellow paper and shaped these into a pipe over 24 in (60 cm) in length. They then filled this pipe with iron filings, porcelain fragments, and gunpowder, and fastened the pipe to a lance. Soldiers who handled these flamethrowers carried with them onto the battlefield a small iron box containing glowing embers. In battle, the soldiers used these embers to ignite the fire lances. These weapons produced flames over 9.84 ft (3 m) long. Also, the porcelain shards and iron filings that were packed into the tube shot out in a deadly cloud of shrapnel.

Such a weapon clearly anticipated the European-developed handgun, in that it was portable and could be operated by a single soldier. However, it was not the weapon that most directly influenced European military technology. Instead, in Europe, the cannon became the most common device to rely on gunpowder. By the middle of the fourteenth century, cannons were a common sight on European battlefields. But the earliest cannons were not especially effective. For the most part, European cannons were based on the Chinese design, and were not particularly accurate or powerful.

It was not until the fifteenth century that cannons capable of seriously damaging fortified castle and city walls were developed. By this time, siege artillery that used gunpowder replaced siege engines, such as the catapult, which was characteristic of medieval warfare. The new cannons were smaller and much easier to transport than large siege engines. Many siege engines, such as the French trebuchet, were too heavy to move. These had to be constructed onsite by the attacking army. The early cannon could be transported to the battlefield via carriage. However, these early cannons were not particularly maneuverable during battle. As a result, they did not seriously impact the style of warfare initially. While cannons slowly replaced siege engines, they did not change how battles were fought. Because they were locked in place once they were set up, these early cannons were also easy targets for heavy artillery. Furthermore, because of their weight and design, these cannons could not be adjusted very easily once they had been placed on the battlefield. Attached to primitive carriages, such cannons were nearly impossible to aim.

At the same time that cannons began to appear, the portable handgun was developed by European armies. The advancements that allowed the handgun to dominate warfare were, for the most part, European in origin. Gunpowder and early cannons were imported from China, but the Chinese did not develop or refine their firepower for several centuries. Indeed, by the sixteenth century the Chinese bought the majority of their firearms from the Portuguese.

Early handguns were little more than miniature cannons mounted on sticks. They were practically insignificant in battle when compared to the crossbow or the longbow, both of which had a powerful impact on diminishing the superiority of heavily armored cavalry units. It was not until the middle of the fifteenth century that the development of the matchlock improved the viability of the handgun. The matchlock was little more than a trigger-operated hook that allowed the operator to aim the gun with both hands. While this type of gun, the harquebus, greatly improved the rate and accuracy of fire, the longbow and crossbow were still superior weapons.

However, while the initial effects of firearm usage were limited, the same cannot be said for medieval navies. The cannon profoundly influenced naval warfare and led to the domination of the sailing ship over the galley. Prior to the cannon, the sailing ship suffered major disadvantages in close-quarter combat. Difficult to maneuver and dependent on the wind, early sailing vessels were no match for galleys on calm steady waters. Once cannons were fitted to sailing ships, however, the smaller, more maneuverable galleys were unable to approach.

The large cannon did not drastically alter land combat, but it revolutionized warfare at sea. The large guns could cause serious structural damage to ships. They operated like the rams that were fitted onto galleys, but allowed the attacking ship to maintain some degree of distance. Cannons damaged the rigging and attacked the buoyancy of ships. Large cannonballs destroyed ships in the same way that they toppled castle walls. Furthermore, cannonballs that pierced wooden ships showered the interior of the struck ship with dangerous splinters.

Interestingly, smaller cannons and antipersonnel guns had little impact on naval warfare tactics. Armies on land quickly implemented and improved these technologies, but demonstrated ambivalence to the heavy cannon. The reverse was true for navies, for which the large sea cannon was the most important weapon of the time.

Often, ships were outfitted with more than 30 cannons on each side. These cannons fired balls that weighed 10 to 20 lbs (4.5 to 9 kg). The bow-to-bow fighting style of galleys in naval warfare was replaced by fighting ships aligned broadside to broadside and exchanging volleys of cannon fire. The heavy artillery on sailing vessels allowed sailors to crush the highly maneuverable, but fragile galleys that had dominated the Mediterranean for so long.

This new style of warfare determined more than the dominant type of sailing vessel. The heavy reliance on the naval cannon also abolished the need for infantry combat between soldiers and sailors on opposing ships. Prior to the development of the naval cannon, ships carried large numbers of armed soldiers who attempted to overwhelm the fighting force of the ships they attacked.

The defeat of the Spanish armada by the English navy in 1588 demonstrates the conclusive transition to artillery combat at sea. The Spanish armada had many more soldiers and ships than the English fleet. However, while the Spanish still relied on traditional boarding practices, the English were dependent on cannon fire. The English used their superior firepower to whittle away the Spanish forces. Likewise, the maneuverability of the English ships prevented the Spanish from engaging in close-range shock tactics.

The Chinese invention of gunpowder resulted in numerous weapons and applications that transformed battle. While it took a long time for armies to fully realize the potential offered by gunpowder, the new weapons made possible by its invention and availability eventually determined the victors of many important conflicts.


How did Europeans first acquire gunpowder? - History

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Spanish coming into Inca city and challenging Ataxalpa

Voiceover: One day in November, 1532, the New World and the Old World collided…

Spaniards and Incas in battle, Spaniards moving on with captured Incas

Jared on river in boat, in helicopter, studying old maps

Voiceover: 168 Spaniards attacked the imperial army of the Incas in the highlands of Peru. Before the day was out, they had massacred 7,000 people, and taken control of the Inca Empire. Not a single Spanish life was lost in the process. Why was the balance of power so uneven between Old World and New? And why, in the centuries that followed, were Europeans the ones who conquered so much of the globe? These are questions that fascinate Professor Jared Diamond. He is on a quest to understand the roots of power, searching for clues in the most unlikely places. He’s developed a highly original theory that what separates the winners from the losers is the land itself – geography. It was the shape of the continents, their crops and animals that allowed some cultures to flourish while others were left behind. But can this way of seeing the world shed light on the events of 1532? How can geography explain the conquest of the world by
guns, germs and steel?

Titles: Episode 2: Conquest

Conquistadors traveling, led by Pizarro, on mountainside

Voiceover: For two years, a band of Spanish conquistadors has been traveling in search of gold and glory. They’re not professional soldiers, but mercenaries and adventurers, led by a retired army captain, Francisco Pizarro. He’s already made a fortune for himself in the colonies of Central America. Now he’s taking his men south, into unknown territory. They are the first Europeans to have climbed the Andes, and ventured this far into the continent of South America.

Pizarro and conquistadors finding local inhabitants

Voiceover: As they travel, they find evidence of a large native civilization. They’ve reached the edge of the mighty Inca Empire. For Indians and Spaniards alike, any encounter is a clash of cultures. These Indians have never seen white men before, and have no idea of the threat they represent. They can’t imagine that within a few days, these strangers will turn their world upside down.

Earth from space, with highlighted areas

Voiceover: By the 1530s, the Inca Empire was enormous. It stretched along the length of the Andes, from modern-day Ecuador to central Chile, a distance of 2,500 miles. But just 500 miles to the north began the colonies of Central America and the Caribbean – prized possessions of the Spanish empire. At the time, the Spanish king controlled a third of mainland Europe, but Spain itself had only recently become a unified state, having fought off 700 years of occupation by Islamic Moors.

Pizarro’s home, with Jared walking around it

Voiceover: It was still a rural society. Most of the conquistadors came from villages and small towns in the heart of the country towns like Trujillo, where Pizarro grew up. He spent much of his childhood here, working as a swineherd in the fields nearby. Today he’s remembered as a great warrior. His statue dominates the main square in Trujillo, and his family home has been turned into a museum. Jared Diamond has come here to explore the world of the conquistadors, and understand the secret of their success.

Jared Diamond: This is Francisco Pizarro, a Spaniard who conquered the most powerful state in the New World, the Inca Empire. Why did Pizarro and his men conquer the Incas instead of the other way round? It seems like a simple question. The answer isn’t immediately obvious. After all, Pizarro started out as a rather ordinary person, and Trujillo here is a rather ordinary town. So what is it that gave Pizarro and his men this enormous power?

Pizarro and conquistadors traveling

Jared Diamond: Why am I so interested in Pizarro’s conquistadors? Because their story is such a grimly successful example of European conquest. And for 30 years I’ve been exploring patterns of conquest.

Voiceover: Jared Diamond is a professor at UCLA in Los Angeles. But most of his fieldwork has been done in Papua New Guinea. His time there inspired him to explore the roots of inequality in the modern world. To understand why some people have been able to dominate and conquer others. Looking back thousands of years, he argues that farming gave some cultures an enormous head start, and those who were lucky enough to have the most productive crops and animals became the most productive farmers. Agriculture first developed in a part of the Middle East known as the Fertile Crescent. Over time, crops and animals from the Fertile Crescent spread into North Africa and Europe, where they triggered an explosion of civilization. By the 16th Century, European farms were dominated by livestock animals that had come from the Fertile Crescent. None were native to Europe. They provided more than just meat. They were a source of milk and wool, leather and manure. And crucially, they provided muscle power.

Mules pulling ploughs, Incas cultivating land as llamas look on, Conquistadors riding onto Inca land

Voiceover: Harnessed to a plough, a horse or an ox could transform the productivity of farmland. European farmers were able to grow more food to feed more people, who could then build bigger and more complex societies. In the New World, there were no horses or cattle for farming. All the work had to be done by hand. The only large domestic animal was the llama, but these docile creatures have never been harnessed to a plough. The Incas were very skilled at growing potatoes and corn, but because of their geography, they could never be as productive as European farmers. Horses gave Europeans another massive advantage – they could be ridden. To the Incas, the sight of Pizarro’s conquistadors passing through their land is extraordinary. They’ve never seen people carried by their animals before. Some think they are gods, these strange-looking men, part human, part beast. The horses that seemed so exotic to the Incas had already been used in Spain for 4,000 years. In an age before motorized transport, they allowed people to be mobile, and control their land.

Jared watching Javier riding

Voiceover: When Javier Martin is not herding cattle, he gives displays of traditional horsemanship.

Javier Martin: This style of riding is known as jimeta. The emphasis is on control and maneuverability, using bent knees to grip the sides of the horse, and only one hand on the reins. Very different from the more formal style of medieval knights. By the 16th century, the jimeta way of riding had become the dominant style of the Spanish cavalry. This is how the conquistadors would have ridden their horses.

Jared Diamond: It’s an amazing display of a big animal being controlled by a person,
precise control, stopping and starting and turning. Javier told me that he has been riding since he was five years old, and when I watched this, I have a better understanding where the conquistadors were coming from. They were masters of these techniques, and they learned these techniques for working with bulls, but the techniques were also good in a military context as well, and I can see that this control would let you ride down people in the open. People who had never seen horses before would have been absolutely terrified watching this. It would be strange and frightening, and that’s even before one of these animals is rushing towards you, riding you down, about to lance you and kill you.

Inca messenger running to give news to Ataxalpa

Voiceover: News of the godlike strangers on their four-legged animals is taken by royal messenger to the emperor of the Incas, who’s camped in the valley of Cajamarca in northern Peru, guarded by an army of 80,000 men.

Ataxalpa being beautified

Voiceover: Ataxalpa is revered as a living god, a son of the sun itself. He’s in Cajamarca on a religious retreat, giving thanks for a series of recent military triumphs.

Messenger giving Ataxalpa the news

Voiceover: When he hears about the progress of the Spaniards, he chooses not to have them killed. Instead, he sends back a message. He invites them to join him in Cajamarca, as quickly as possible.

Messenger running to give reply

Efrain Trelles, Historian: Ataxalpa wanted the Spaniards to come to Cajamarca and enter into a trap, and to be sure that they would do so he played like a psychological game with them, sending presents, asking them to come. Ataxalpa knew that the Spaniards were not gods. The intelligence reports speak of people wearing wool on their faces, like a lamb or like an alpaca, they’re just like an animal. Then they went from one place to the other wearing on top of their heads a little pot that has never been used for cooking.
You need to be crazy to walk with a pot, but you must be beyond salvation if you arrive to a camp and you don’t use that pot to cook. Ataxalpa had an idea that these were sub-humans. What could a few horsemen and a hundred or so Spaniards do to the powerful Inca? Virtually nothing.

Art depicting Spanish in battle

Voiceover: But Ataxalpa’s spies don’t realize that the Spanish are armed with some of the best weapons in the world. At the time of the conquistadors, Spain had the biggest army in Europe, orchestrated from the imperial capital, Toledo. For more than 700 years the Spaniards had been at war, fighting against the Moors and other European armies. There was an arms race in Europe. To survive, the Spaniards needed to keep up with the latest in weapons technology.

Man and Jared firing and loading guns

Voiceover: By the 1530s, the Jacobus was an important part of the Spanish arsenal. Gunpowder had originally come from China, but its use as a weapon was pioneered by the Arabs. In European hands, guns became lighter and more portable, and were used for the first time by foot soldiers on the battlefield. The Jacobus was still a crude weapon, but would go on to change the face of warfare.

Jared Diamond: To us moderns, this gun doesn’t seem useful for anything, it’s like a joke. Its aim is terrible, it takes a long time to reload, and while the shooter’s reloading it a swordsman would come in and kill him, but the Incas hadn’t even gotten this far, and even this gun, with its sound and with the smell and with the smoke and with every now and then a person that it manages to kill, would have been terrifying to someone who had never seen this before. This would have been shock and awe, 1532 style.

Sword smith at work as Jared watches

Voiceover: For all its bluster, the technology of gunpowder was still in its infancy. The real power of the conquistadors lay elsewhere, with the production of steel. Toledo had some of the best sword smiths in the world. But why were people here able to craft deadly steel weapons, while the Incas were still making simple bronze tools?

Jared Diamond: There was nothing innately brilliant about Europeans themselves that allowed them to be the ones to make high quality swords. Just as with guns, swords were the result of a long process of trial and error that began outside Europe. People started working with metal in the Fertile Crescent 7,000 years ago, and because Europe is geographically close to the fertile crescent, Europeans inherited this metal technology.
But they took this technology on to a new level. European soldiers demanded stronger, longer, sharper swords.

Jared Diamond: This is what a Toledo sword looks like when it’s finished. This particular one is modeled on the sword that Pizarro carried. It’s a fearsome weapon.
It’s used for stabbing and it’s also used for slashing, and I can easily understand how the person wielding the sword could kill dozens of people within a short time.

Mike Loads, Historical Weapons Expert: Swords like this, rapiers, represented a high point in a very sophisticated metalworking technology. You think about what the qualities are that are needed in a sword. First of all, it has to be hard enough, the metal has to be hard enough to take a sharp edge, and that requires steel that is iron infused with carbon, and the more carbon you put into the iron, then the harder the metal is. But if you make it too hard, then it’s brittle, and that’s no good because as you hit somebody, your sword would break, and so you also need your sword to have a certain pliability, an ability to bend and spring back into shape. And it’s got by heating it to certain temperatures, plunging it into cold water, immense amount of experimentation, it took centuries to get to the level of sophistication where you could get something so long and elegant and fine, and deadly as the rapier.

Voiceover: The rapier, with its extra long blade, was developed as a dueling weapon, but became so fashionable in Renaissance Europe it was the sword of choice for any aspiring gentleman.

Mike Loades: The word rapier derives from the Spanish term “espara ropera”, and that means dress sword. And for the first time in Spain, we start to see people wearing the sword with their everyday clothing, their civilian dress, going about their everyday business. They didn’t do that in the Middle Ages. This is something new in the 16th century, and it’s saying I have arrived, I am a gentleman, I am upwardly mobile, and I claim ancestry from the knights of the Middle Ages. It was very much a symbol of the conquistadors’ aspiring greed. The thing that drove them through all their hardships, the thing that made them go to the Americas, was their lust for gold, their lust for self-advancement, and the rapier absolutely symbolized that overbearing avarice.

Conquistadors traveling, looking across valley to huge town and massed troops

Voiceover: On November 15th 1532, Pizarro’s band of adventurers entered the valley of Cajamarca. They’ve been told that Ataxalpa is waiting for them here. But they’re not prepared for the sight that greets them. In the hills beyond the town of Cajamarca is the imperial Inca army &ndash 80,000 men in full battle order. The conquistadors’ own journals bear witness to their first impressions.

Diary Reading: Their camp looked like a very beautiful city. We’d seen nothing like it in the Indies until then, and it scared us, because we were so few and so deep in this land.

Spanish entering Inca camp and being taken to Ataxalpa

Voiceover: Pizzaro sends a party of his best horsemen into the heart of the Inca camp. They are led by Captain De Soto. They are gambling that Ataxalpa will allow them to pass through the camp unharmed, and agree to meet them.

Efrain Trelles: Soto’s visit had a very important psychological purpose to intimidate the Inca in front of his people. Challenging him with the horse. Ataxalpa at first didn’t react to Soto’s presence, as if nobody had entered the room. Once the, the horse comes eye to eye with the Inca, the Inca is still calm, showing that the horse has no impact on him,
calling Soto’s bluff. The captain advanced so close that the horse’s nostrils disturbed the fringe of the Inca’s forehead. But the Inca never moved. And then, after a brief silence comes Ataxalpa’s explosion. He was telling them, the time has come for you to pay.
I understand this as the time has come for you to pay with your lives. Soto I understand was nervous enough to come back with fear to the, the camp, and as we know, the Spaniards spent the night before in extreme fear.

Voiceover: The conquistadors had made their camp in the town of Cajamarca. Many of them are now convinced they are facing oblivion. 168 soldiers, 1,000 miles from any other Spaniard, facing an army of 80,000 Incas.

Diary Reading: Few of us slept that night. We kept walking the square, from where we could see the campfires of the Indian army. It was a fearful sight, like a brilliantly star-studded night.

Voiceover: Pizarro and his most trusted officers debate their options for how to deal with Ataxalpa. Some advise caution, but Pizarro insists their best chance is to launch a surprise attack the next day. It’s a tactic that’s worked successfully in the past. Twelve years before Pizarro went to Peru, another famous conquistador, Hernan Cortez, had gone to Mexico and encountered another formidable civilization the Aztecs. He conquered the country by kidnapping the Aztec leader and exploiting the ensuing chaos. Cortez’s story was later published and became a bestseller, a handbook for any would-be conquistador. It can still be found in the great library of Salamanca University in Northern Spain.

Jared Diamond: This wonderful library here can be thought of among other things as a repository of dirty tricks, because in these books are the accounts of what generals had been doing to other generals for thousands of years in the past and across much of Eurasia, and here from this library we have a famous account of the conquest of Mexico with all the details of what Cortez did to the Aztecs and what worked. That was a model for Pizarro to give him ideas what exactly to try out on the Incas, whereas the Incas without writing, had only local knowledge transmitted by oral memory, and they were unsophisticated and naïve compared to the Spaniards because of writing.

Voiceover: But if books were so useful, why couldn’t the Incas read or write? To develop a new system of writing independently is an extremely complex process, and has happened very rarely in human history. It was first achieved by the Sumerian people of the Fertile Crescent at least 5,000 years ago. They pioneered an elaborate system of symbols called cuneiform, possibly as a way of recording farming transactions.
Ever since, almost every other written language of Europe and Asia has copied, adapted or simply been inspired by the basics of cuneiform. The spread of writing was helped enormously by the invention of paper, ink and moveable type, innovations that all came from outside Europe but were seized upon by Europeans in the Middle Ages to produce the ultimate transmitter of knowledge – the printing press. The written word could now spread quickly and accurately across Europe and Asia. The modern world would be impossible without the development of writing.

Voiceover: But there’s another part of the world where a new system of writing was invented independently. In Southern Mexico, at least 2,500 years ago, native people developed a way of working with symbols that involved into the Mayan script. But if the Maya had writing, why didn’t it spread south to the Andes and help the Incas become literate? For Diamond, the answer lies in the shape of the continents.

Jared Diamond: Here were Europe and Asia forming the continent of Eurasia, a giant continent but it’s stretched out from east to west, and narrows from north to south. The American continent is long from north to south, narrow from east to west – very narrow at Panama where it narrows down to less than 100 miles. The two continents are of the same lengths, about 8,000 miles in maximum dimensions, but Eurasia is 8,000 miles from east to west, and the Americas are 8,000 miles from north to south, it’s as if these continents were rotated 90 degrees of each other.

Voiceover: Diamond has already shown that crops and animals could spread easily east and west across Eurasia. Because places the same latitude automatically share the same day length and a similar climate and vegetation. But the American continents were the opposite of Eurasia. A journey from one end of the Americas to the other is a journey from north to south, a journey through different day lengths, different climate zones, and dramatically different vegetation. These basic differences hindered the spread of crops and animals as well as people, ideas and technologies. The people of the Andes were chronically isolated, without access to writing or almost any other innovation from elsewhere in the Americas. By contrast, Pizarro and his men were geographically blessed. As Spaniards, they enjoyed the benefit of technologies and ideas that had spread easily across Eurasia.

Jared Diamond: The events of 1532 were clearly influenced by deep causes, over which no individual Spaniard or Inca had any control. The shape of the continents, the distribution of plants and animals, the spread of Eurasian technology, these were facts of geography, and at almost every turn of the drama, geography was tilted in favor of the Europeans.

Conquistadors preparing for battle, inter-cut with Ataxalpa being prepared for day’s events

Inca party en route to meeting

Voiceover: It’s the morning of November 16th, 1532. Ataxalpa has agreed to meet the Spaniards in the town of Cajamarca, and sends his entourage ahead of him. But he makes a fateful decision that his soldiers should not carry weapons.

Efrain Trelles: The Indians were musicians and dancers. They were soldiers, but unarmed. Why would Ataxalpa unarm his own soldiers? Why, because he was in the festivity, he was celebrating. He wasn’t going to war. He was going for a celebration so that the whole people could see how the alleged gods would run away in fear. The fact that some people believed that the Spaniards were gods would play better in the hands of Ataxalpa’s purpose. If I know they are not gods and I defeat the gods, then of course everybody will be with me. But what if I defeat the gods with no show of force at all? Then I am beyond the gods.

Party with Ataxalpa on litter

Voiceover: While Ataxalpa and his men enter Cajamarca, the Spaniards are waiting, hidden from view. Ataxalpa coming into main square with troops

Diary Reading: There were five or 6,000 men and behind them, the figure of Ataxalpa, seated in a very fine litter, lined with feathers and embellished with gold and silver. Many of us pissed ourselves out of sheer terror.

Efrain Trelles: The square is filed with Ataxalpa’s people, but there’s, there’s not one Spaniard at sight. Ataxalpa asks, ‘Where are these dogs?’ One of his right hands answers, ‘They have run away because they are afraid of magnificent Inca’. Of course the whole crowd listened to this and believed that this was the case.

Ataxalpa receiving visit from Spanish priest

Subtitles: I come before you in the name of Christianity…

Pizarro sends out his priest to confront Ataxalpa.

Subtitles: …to show you the path of truth

The conquistadors are obliged to try and convert native people before any resort to violence.

Subtitles: What are you talking about hair face?

Subtitles: I am the Son of the Sun!

Subtitles: I have the right to govern my people

Subtitles: What right do you have to speak to me in this way?

Subtitles: My authority comes from The Lord

Subtitles: His Word is written in this book

Subtitles: This is your power?

Ataxalpa has never seen a book before. He doesn’t know what to do with it.

Subtitles: I don’t hear the word you speak of

Subtitles: How dare you, Indian dog!

Subtitles: Come out, Spaniards!

Subtitles: Destroy these dogs who don’t respect things of God!

Spaniards open fire and battle begins

Efrain Trelles: At that moment, with the crowd absolutely unprepared, the horses come.
There was massive panic.

Mike Loades: Just imagine the scene in Cajamarca. The Incas hadn’t seen horses before, and these aren’t ordinary horses, these are Spanish horses, fierce, big, fighting horses.
They could get in amongst men, they would trample men and they made the most excellent platform. From the horse, you could stab down to the left, stab down to the right, you could cut, you could scythe, hacking all about you.

Voiceover: If only the Incas had known that what you had to do against cavalry was stand firm, then they’d have been alright, they had superior numbers, but they didn’t know that. They fled, they broke ranks, and then the horsemen could get in amongst them and they cut them down.

Mike Loades: There was an Inca god called Viracoxa, and he was a white man, and he was the god of thunder, and they thought these men with their aquabuses were the very incarnation of Viracoxa.

Efrain Trelles: The Inca Ataxalpa was in his litter, held by his carriers. As soon as they were able to do it, the Spaniards went after the litter. And they started killing the carriers. One carrier would fall, and another one would replace him. Only at the very, very, very end of the tragedy, the litter started to move because there were no more carriers left. As the litter falls, Pizarro himself captures Ataxalpa. His plan has worked to perfection. Ataxalpa is taken to a makeshift prison in the royal quarters at Cajamarca.

Diary Reading: He thought we were going to kill him, but we told him, no. Christians only kill in the heat of the battle.

Voiceover: Outside, thousands of Incas are dead. The rest of the army has retreated to the hills. In spite of a massive imbalance in number, Spanish horses, swords and strategy have proved decisive. But the Spaniards possessed another weapon they didn’t even know they had – a weapon of mass destruction that had marched invisibly ahead of them.

Spanish slave showing signs of illness

Voiceover: Today, the war against infectious disease is waged at biological research centers like Porton Down in Southern England. They produce vaccines here against the world’s deadliest viruses. In the 16th century there were no vaccines, and there was no protection from the rampant spread of infectious disease. Twelve years before Pizarro arrived at Cajamarca, a Spanish ship sailed to Mexico. On board, one of the slaves was suffering from the first signs of a fever. He was the first person to bring a deadly disease to the American mainland. The disease was smallpox. Within weeks, the smallpox virus would spread from a single source to infect thousands of native Americans.

Dr Tim Brooks, Health Protection Agency, Porton Down: Smallpox gets into the body when you breathe in the particles, and they attach themselves to the back of your throat and the inside of your lungs. About two to three days into the illness, then the classic rash appears, and in its worst forms, this takes over the whole of the body with initially pimples and then enormous blisters until the whole of the skin, starting with the hands and the face and then spreading down to cover the rest of the body, is taken over by the smallpox blisters. From that time on, the patient is highly infectious. Because each of those blisters is packed full of smallpox particles, then if you burst a blister, fluid will come out and large numbers of viruses will be spilt onto whatever it touches. Ten to twelve days later, his friends would be taken ill, and then ten to twelve days after that, their friends. That kind of rate means the disease spreads exponentially. Its rate of increase gets bigger and bigger and bigger the more people are infected, until eventually it will cause tremendous devastation in the population.

Depiction of smallpox victims, Smallpox victim being nursed

Jared in field looking at cows and sheep, Livestock in fields

Voiceover: The first smallpox epidemic of the New World swept through Central America and reached the Inca Empire. Wherever it went, the virus decimated native populations, making them easier prey for Spanish conquest. But why were the germs so one-sided? Why did the Spaniards pass their diseases onto the Incas, and not the other way around?

Jared Diamond: This is Pizarro’s secret weapon pigs and cows, sheep and goats, domestic animals. Remember that Pizarro was a swineherd. He grew up in huts like this, in intimate contact with domestic animals, breathing in their germs, drinking the germs in their milk, and it was from the germs of domestic animals that the killer diseases of humans evolved, for example our ‘flu evolved from a disease of pigs transmitted via chickens and ducks. We acquired measles from cattle we acquired smallpox from domestic animals, so that these worst killers of human people were a legacy of 10,000 years of contact with our beloved domestic animals.

Voiceover: During the Middle Ages, infectious diseases swept through Europe and claimed millions of lives. But paradoxically, repeated epidemics made Europeans more resilient. In each outbreak, there were always some people who were genetically better able to fight off the virus. These people were more likely to survive and have children. In the process, they’d pass on their genetic resistance.
Over centuries, whole populations acquired some degree of protection against the spread of diseases like smallpox – a protection the Incas never had.

Tim Brooks: Once smallpox was taken to the New World, nobody in the New World had ever seen a disease like this before, so the number of people who were susceptible was much greater. There was no natural immunity, and so therefore the number of people who could both contract the disease and then spread it, and the number of people to receive it once it had spread, was much higher.

Voiceover: More people would die, and more people would be susceptible to catch it in the first place. It would spread rapidly throughout the population, and the death toll would be enormous.

Jared Diamond: Why hadn’t Native Americans encountered smallpox before? And why didn’t they have any deadly diseases of their own to pass on to the Spaniards?
It’s simply because they didn’t have the same history of contact with farm animals. The Incas had llamas, but llamas aren’t like European cows and sheep. They’re not milked, they’re not kept in large herds, and they don’t live in barns and huts alongside humans. There was no significant exchange of germs between llamas and people.

Voiceover: The key to Diamond’s argument is the distribution of farm animals around the world. Aside from the llama, all the large farm animals were native to Eurasia and North Africa. None was ever domesticated in North America, Sub-Saharan Africa, or Australia. As a result, the worst epidemic diseases were also native to Eurasia and North Africa, and were then spread around the world with deadly effect. There’s been a long debate about the number of indigenous people who died in the Spanish conquest of the New World. Some scholars think there may have been a population of 20 million Native Americans, and the vast majority, perhaps 95%, were killed by Old World diseases. A continent virtually emptied of its people.

Voiceover: After the initial shock of his capture, Ataxalpa became a cooperative prisoner. He learned to speak Spanish, and play chess with his captors. The Spaniards realized he was more useful to them alive than dead. He was allowed to re-establish his court in prison, as long as he ordered his people to accept Spanish rule. He also ordered them to melt down a vast amount of treasure. Pizarro had promised Ataxalpa his freedom in return for the gold. It proved to be an empty promise. Having handed over 20 tons of gold and silver, Ataxalpa was no longer useful to his captors. He was garrotted to death, in the same square where so many of his followers had been slaughtered eight months earlier. With Ataxalpa dead, the conquistadors went on to colonize the rest of Peru. Relying on the power of their guns, germs and steel.

Voiceover: Gold from the Spanish colonies was brought back to Seville in Southern Spain. There’s little activity in the Guadocreata River today, but in the 16th century, this was among the most important, busiest ports in the world. A steady flow of ships carrying treasure from the Americas helped Spain become one of the richest nations on earth. The conquistadors had changed forever the relationship between Old World and New.

Jared Diamond:: I came to Spain to answer a question – why did Pizarro and his men conquer the Incas instead of the other way around? There’s a whole mythology that that conquest and the European expansion in general resulted from Europeans themselves being especially brave or bold or inventive or smart, but the answers turn out to have nothing to do with any personal qualities of Europeans. Yeah, Pizarro and his men were brave, but there were plenty of brave Incas. Instead, Europeans were accidental conquerors. By virtue of their geographic location and history, they were the first people to acquire guns, germs and steel.

Steam train, Slaves in chains, Guns being loaded and fired on people armed with spears

Voiceover: By the end of the 19th century, European powers had ventured down the Americas and colonized Africa, Australia and much of Asia. The process that began at Cajamarca had reached its logical conclusion. European guns, germs and steel were reshaping the world.


How Gunpowder Changed the World

Ironically, it was a quest for immortality that led to the invention of the deadliest weapon before the arrival of the atomic bomb.

Experimenting with life-lengthening elixirs around A.D. 850, Chinese alchemists instead discovered gunpowder. Their explosive invention would become the basis for almost every weapon used in war from that point on, from fiery arrows to rifles, cannons and grenades.

Gunpowder made warfare all over the world very different, affecting the way battles were fought and borders were drawn throughout the Middle Ages.

Flying fire

Chinese scientists had been playing with saltpeter &mdash a common name for the powerful oxidizing agent potassium nitrate &mdash in medical compounds for centuries when one industrious individual thought to mix it with sulfur and charcoal.

The result was a mysterious powder from which, observers remarked in a text dated from the mid-9th century, "smoke and flames result, so that [the scientists'] hands and faces have been burnt, and even the whole house where they were working burned down."

Gunpowder was quickly put to use by the reigning Sung dynasty against the Mongols, whose constant invasions into the country plagued the Chinese throughout the period. The Mongols were the first to be subject to flying fire &mdash an arrow fixed with a tube of gunpowder that ignited and would propel itself across enemy lines. More gunpowder-based weapons were invented by the Chinese and perfected against the Mongols in the next centuries, including the first cannons and grenades.

The psychological effect alone of the mystifying new technology likely helped the Chinese win battles against the Mongols, historians believe.

Explosive trade

Gunpowder somehow remained a monopoly of the Chinese until the 13th century, when the science was passed along the ancient silk trade route to Europe and the Islamic world, where it became a deciding factor in many Middle Age skirmishes.

By 1350, rudimentary gunpowder cannons were commonplace in the English and French militaries, which used the technology against each other during the Hundred Years' War. The Ottoman Turks also employed gunpowder cannons with abandon during their successful siege of Constantinople in 1453. The powerful new weapon essentially rendered the traditional walled fortification of Europe, impregnable for centuries, weak and defenseless.

The next important step for gunpowder came when it was inserted into the barrel of a handgun, which first appeared in the mid-15th century and was essentially a cannon shrunk down to portable size. Guns literally put weaponry into the hands of the individual, creating a new class of soldier &mdash infantry &mdash and giving birth to the modern army.

Gunpowder is still the basis for many modern weapons, including guns, though it's certainly no longer the most explosive force available to armies.

Need to celebrate a victory in battle, though? Gunpowder is there for you. The powder is also at the heart of the fireworks that make the Fourth of July and other holidays so special. To produce the aerial spray of reds, golds and blues, pyrotechnicians pack a tube with gunpowder, colorizing chemicals and small pellets that create the shape and shimmer of the firework.


10 Moments in the Invention of Guns and Gunpowder

The invention of gunpowder, followed by weapons that could make use of it, is one of the most important developments in military history. The technology emerged in China in the eighth-century, and would spread throughout Asia and Europe during the Middle Ages.

Here is our list of ten key moments in the development of guns and gunpowder:

804 – Qing Xuzi is the first person to record the recipe that makes gunpowder. It is called huo yao, which translates to ‘fire medicine.’ It is believed that the substance was first developed as part of an experiment to make new drugs.

1000 – The Chinese inventor Tang Fu is said to have invented a number of weapons using gunpowder, including early forms of rockets and grenades. This period saw many developments in the military use within China of gunpowder.

1267 – The English scholar Roger Bacon is the first European to write about gunpowder. He reports:

There is a child’s toy of sound and fire made in various parts of the world with powder of saltpetre, sulphur and charcoal of hazelwood. This powder is enclosed in an instrument of parchment the size of a finger, and since this can make such a noise that it seriously distresses the ears of men, especially if one is taken unawares, and the terrible flash is also very alarming, if an instrument of large size were used, no one could stand the terror of the noise and flash. If
the instrument were made of solid material the violence of the explosion would be much greater.

1298 – The Xanadu Gun, oldest surviving gun bearing a date of production, was manufactured in this year. Weighing just over six kilograms and thirty-five centimeters in length, the gun’s inscriptions include a serial number and manufacturing information – it seems that gunmaking in China was already a large-scale process.

The Xanadu Gun – photo by Qiushufang / Wikimedia Commons

1326 – The city of Florence records the manufacture of a cannon and iron balls. Soon after other European states start accumulating their stockpiles of cannons and gunpowder, and by the end of the fourteenth-century the weapon was common in much of Europe.

1363 – The Battle of Lake Poyang, which involved hundreds of thousands of Chinese troops, sees massive use of gunpowder weapons, including “fire bombs, fire guns, fire arrows, fire seeds, large and small fire lances, large and small ‘commander’ fire tubes, large and small iron bombs, rockets,” and weapon dubbed “No Alternative” which could set fire to an enemy ship that got too close.

1382 – Battle of Beverhoutsveld is fought by rebels from the city of Ghent against the Count of Flanders. The army of Ghent fire a volley of light artillery at the count’s troops, which turn the tide in the battle. This is seen as the first successful European use of gunpowder weapons in battle.

The Battle of Beverhoutsveld depicted in a 15th century manuscript.

1388 – First recorded use of the counter-march volley technique by Chinese troops wielding firearms. This technique – in which one line of soldiers would fire while the other reloaded – would be adopted by many armies, as it proved to be very effective.

1408 – The beginning of the era of ‘superguns’ in Europe. These included massively large weapons such as Grose Bochse, Faule Mette, Pumhart von Steyr and Mons Meg. For example, Pumhart von Steyr, which was built in Austria in the early fifteenth-century, weighed eight tons and could shoot a stone ball weighing 690 kg a distance of about 600 metres.

1497 – Construction begins at the fortress of Salses at the French-Spanish border. It is an excellent example of the transition from the typical castle of the Middle Ages to the early modern fortress, which was created to defend against artillery attack.

You can read more about guns and gunpowder in the special issue of Medieval Warfare magazine: The Rise of the Gun. It looks at the development of this weapon in China, how it was used in medieval Europe, its role on the battlefield, and how military engineers created fortifications against the growing use of cannons. Includes articles by Tonio Andrade, Ruth Brown, Kelly DeVries, Cliff Rogers, Kay Smith, Steven Turnbull and more. Click here to read more about the special issue.


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