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Wednesday, May 21, 2014

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Guns, canons, explosives - another Medieval Christian invention

And contrary to crying Marxists quite a good one.

by Ferdinand III


The applied usage of gunpowder to military affairs was a distinctly medieval European invention. It guaranteed the already existing pre-eminence that Europe enjoyed by 1000 AD, over every other 'empire' or 'civilization'. When Europeans harnessed the explosive aspect of gunpowder, sometime in the late 13th century; the rest of the world was destined to become satellites of European civilization. Somewhat ironically, the development of gunpowder occurred in Christian Europe, a theology supposedly dedicated to peace and metaphysical affairs. In actual fact Christianity generates a society of rational, direct and practical citizens.

E. Whitney in, 'Medieval Science and Technology' rightly states that the use of firearms was a defining feature of medieval invention and of course Western superiority in military matters.



Gunpowder was independently invented in the early 13th century in Europe, with credit usually going to Roger Bacon. I doubt that Bacon for all his genius arrived at gunpowder by himself. The progeny of explosive technology has long historical antecedents. It is quite likely that gunpowder was created in some form much earlier than the mid-late 13th century. Edward III of England used canons against the Scots in 1327, perhaps the first instance of gunpowder usage in artillery, in history. [James, 'A history of the life of the Black Prince', link]



In China, unknown to the West, powder for amusement was developed in the early 9th century. The Chinese however, did not apply this innovation to warfare. The ability to cast iron molds to form guns and canon were not available in China. Iron smelting and blast furnaces first discovered in Europe, were extinguished by the Mandarin elite by no later than 1100 AD. Why let the peasants make money or defend themselves, the elite Mandarins must have mused ?

European technology was far ahead of the Chinese even by 1000 AD. To manufacture workable firearms which don't blow up in your face you need the following which could only be found in medieval Europe:
-powder and saltpeter mixture
-mould-based iron manufacturing including ball or bullet production
-high end blast furnaces to produce iron which does not crack or implode when using powder
-economies of scale
The invention of corned powder, the slow match, and the serpentine around the mid-1400s led to much more effective firearms and eventually to increased adoption. It also prompted the development of the first matchlock firearms, which could be more effectively aimed and fired than hand cannon. Gradually, hand cannon became obsolete, although it found use in some locales up until the 20th century.

Varieties of explosives were all invented by Europeans including:
-Hand canon's nicknamed a 'gun'
-Arquebuses, a pre-musket 15th century gun
-Bombards or mortar-type of canons
-Petard or a bomb which would blow up gates and walls
By the 15th century the 'arms race' was long over. European guns, canon, blasting devices, explosive technology and large-scale manufacture, all created by abetted by a robust system of capitalism and surfeit wealth production; ensured that the Europeans could dominate the rest of the world with small numbers of men.

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