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8-08-2015, 17:00

Rudimentary Cannons

Primitive grenades, land mines, and petards remained in use through the remaining years of the medieval period. But it was not long after they appeared that military leaders started complaining that they lacked enough destructive power. So they poured more and more money and resources into making gunpowder weapons more potent. As time went on, Arnold explains, one development was that “gunpowder became cheaper, as its makers puzzled out better ways of extracting and purifying its chemical components.” Furthermore, “corned powder, made by wetting the mixture during manufacture, and drying it in lumps or granules, was both more sharply combustible and more resistant to moisture and separation, and thus degradation over time and during transport.”41 Even as this research progressed, military experts introduced the earliest cannons, which were initially intended for siege warfare. Rudimentary versions may have i rst emerged in Europe as early as 1320. But the i rst certain reference to such weapons is a 1326 order for the manufacture of a few, along with iron balls for them, by the city council of Florence in central Italy. Around that same year, the i rst known artistic depiction of a cannon appeared in a manuscript by English scholar Walter de Milamete. h e weapon, called a pot-de-fer, or “iron pot,” looked like a bulbous l ower vase lying on its side. h e illustration shows a soldier lighting its fuse. h ese elementary cannons were not very reliable, in part because the metals used to make them were either too soft or cast too thinly. So when i red they cracked fairly often. h e stone and metal missiles they shot, which appropriately came to be called shot, were both inaccurate and limited in their range (the distance the shot traveled). As a result, their destructive power was relatively small, and they killed few people. h e i rst known fatality caused by an early European cannon occurred at the English siege of the French town of Orléans in 1428. h e victim, h omas Montacute, Earl of Salisbury, was hit, probably by a lucky shot, while standing above the city gates. “Half his face was blown away,”42 according to witnesses. Yet he lived on for six agonizing days before dying of blood loss and a raging infection.