The Impact of Gunpowder on Warfare

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Words: 1154 |

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6 min read

Published: Sep 12, 2018

Words: 1154|Pages: 2|6 min read

Published: Sep 12, 2018

Gunpowder has affected warfare all over the world in every different way, affecting the way battles were fought and borders were drawn since its invention in the Middle Ages.Gunpowder, any of several low-explosive mixtures used as pushing charges in guns and as blasting agents in mining. The first such explosive was black powder, which consists of a mixture of saltpeter (potassium nitrate), sulfur, and charcoal. When prepared in roughly the correct proportions, it burns immediately when ignited and produces gaseous and solid products, the latter mostly appearing as neutral smoke. In a restricted space such as the breech of a gun, the pent-up gas can be used for pushing a missile such as a bullet or artillery shell. Black powder is relatively insensitive to shock and friction and must be ignited by flame or heat. (“Gunpowder." Britannica Academic).

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Black powder is thought to have originated in China, where it was used in fireworks and signals by the 10th century. Between the 10th and 12th centuries, the Chinese developed the huo qiang (“fire lance”), a short-range proto-gun that channeled the explosive power of gunpowder through a barrel initially, a bamboo tube. Upon ignition, projectiles such as arrows or bits of metal would be forcefully ejected, along with an impressive gout of flame. By the late 13th century the Chinese were employing true guns, made of cast brass or iron. Guns began to appear in the West by 1304, when the Arabs produced a bamboo tube reinforced with iron that used a charge of black powder to shoot an arrow. Black powder was adopted for use in firearms in Europe from the 14th century but was not employed for peaceful purposes, such as mining and road building, until the late 17th century. It remained a useful explosive for breaking up coal and rock deposits until the early 20th century, when it was gradually replaced by dynamite for most mining purposes. (“Gunpowder." Britannica Academic).Gunpowder was quickly put to use by the governing 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 an arrow fixed with a tube of gunpowder that ignited and would shoot 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. (Heather Whipps, history)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 battles. (Heather Whipps, history)By 1350, simple gunpowder cannons were familiar in the English and French militaries, which used the technology against each other during the Hundred Years' War. (Heather Whipps, history)Hundred Years’ War, a periodic struggle between England and France in the 14th–15th century over a series of disputes, including the question of the real succession to the French crown.

The struggle involved several generations of English and French claimants to the crown and actually occupied a period of more than 100 years. By convention it is said to have started in 1337 and ended in 1453, but there had been periodic fighting over the question of English fiefs in France going back to the 12th century. ("Hundred Years’ War." Britannica Academic)Medieval legalities were such that one king could be the vassal of another king if the first had inherited titles outside his own kingdom. Such was the case with the English kings since William I, who, as the duke of Normandy, had conquered England in 1066. Marriage alliances and wars had altered the nature of the English titles in France, but, at the death of the French king Charles IV in 1328, Edward III of England was also duke of Guyenne (part of Aquitaine in southwestern France) and count of Ponthieu (on the English Channel). Furthermore, because his mother was Charles IV’s sister and because Charles IV had no sons, Edward III considered himself a legitimate claimant to the French throne.

The other major claimant was the Count of Valois, a grandson of Philip III of France through a younger branch of the family. A French assembly called to settle the question chose the Valois claimant as Philip VI. Edward III appeared to accept the decision, but when Philip VI, afraid of another king’s power in his realm,maneuvered to confiscate Guyenne in 1337, Edward III renewed his claim to the French throne and brought an army to. ("Hundred Years’ War." Britannica Academic)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 barricade of Europe, invincible for centuries, weak and defenseless. (Heather Whipps, history)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 infantry and giving birth to the modern army. (Heather Whipps, history)Empires have been built and lost based on the availability and destructive power of weapons. During medieval times, a startling new discovery was made that forever changed the face of war: gunpowder. (Valerie Orleans, “Invention of Gunpowder Changed War Tactics, Political Landscapes World History”)“There were swords, long bows and cross-bows, but the development of gunpowder radically changed the tactics of the battlefield and, of course, history,” said Laichen Sun, assistant professor of history and teacher of the class, “Gunpowder Technology and the Early Modern World.”“In early modern Europe, there were constant battles over principalities,” Sun explained. “Between 1450 and 1750, there was almost constant fighting. Warfare and the goal of conquering others necessitated the improvement of guns.” (Valerie Orleans, “Invention of Gunpowder Changed War Tactics, Political Landscapes World History”)Sun said it was the Chinese who first employed gunpowder weapons on ships but again, it was the Europeans who did this more effectively. During the age of discovery, many European ships were equipped with the firepower not only necessary to defend themselves and subdue their enemies but to conquer new lands. (Valerie Orleans, “Invention of Gunpowder Changed War Tactics, Political Landscapes World History”) “The Spanish were able to conquer the Incas and Aztecs because of guns,” Sun said. “The Americas were conquered by Europeans with guns. And, when the Europeans began to settle in these countries, they did so with their guns at their sides.

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Throughout history, those without guns often simply disappeared.“When one group comes to dominate another, it changes the political landscape. It changes history. It changes the world,” he said. “Our modern world order has much to do with gunpowder technology.” (Valerie Orleans, “Invention of Gunpowder Changed War Tactics, Political Landscapes World History”)In conclusion the invention of gunpowder changed how the battles were fought and changed the world in very different way.

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The Impact Of Gunpowder On Warfare. (2018, August 28). GradesFixer. Retrieved June 13, 2024, from
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