The History of Gunpowder

Part 2

Educational Video Series

The History of Gunpowder – Part 2

M94 continues its exploration of The History of Gunpowder. See how the discovery of gunpowder led to the birth of firearms. From an early flame thrower and cannons, the application of gunpowder in weaponry dramatically shifted warfare bringing an end to the days of knights and archers and the beginning of modern warfare.

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Hi I’m Chris, Firearms instructor, Chief Range Safety Officer, and Marine Corps Veteran with Mission94 Firearms Education Center. Welcome back to the Educational Video series. Today, we’re going to continue talking about the history of gunpowder and move into the “birth of firearms”.

The invention of gunpowder began a wave of innovation, that over time, transformed early warfare and led us to modern military applications. 

As we know from episode 1, gunpowder originated in Asia, and there are many theories about how it arrived in Europe. 

Some historians believe that gunpowder, like other high value goods, arrived in Europe by the Silk Road, the primary trading route between Asia and Europe. Others believe gunpowder was used against Europeans during foreign invasions from the East. Some believe that Europeans discovered it on their own. However gunpowder arrived in Europe, it made a big impact. 

Imagine, facing an enemy equipped with a spear-like weapon with fire on the end The spear had gunpowder on its end that was lit before advancing, creating a flamethrower-like effect. The enemy was understandably fearful to see this new invention! 

More uses for gunpowder evolved, and the 14th century marked the birth of firearms as we know them. Back in Asia, the Chinese invented the cannon. This was the first weapon to fire a projectile through a barrel using gunpowder. Before cannons, armies used swords, spears, and bows and arrows. 

Cannons dramatically changed the landscape of military conflict. They provided a crucial advantage to the forces that employed them: distance from the enemy. Distance can very often be a deciding factor of who emerges victorious on the battlefield. The extended range of cannons proved to be very effective and the technology spread quickly. Soon structures like castles, which had once been strongholds, were vulnerable. 

The success of the cannon led to a scaled down version called the hand cannon. This is considered the predecessor of the modern firearm. The mechanisms became more complex, accuracy improved, and the range increased, but everything started with this framework. 

These hand cannons were used throughout the 14th century. Their use forever changed warfare. To avoid destruction, castle walls were built taller and thicker, and new versions of body armor were created.

Projectiles launched by gunpowder became standard weaponry, brining an end to the days of knights and archers on medieval battlefields. With this change, civilization entered uncharted territory. 

Join us next time when we take a look at the evolution of firearms

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