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calendar   Monday - January 13, 2020

Old Guns, Again

Sunday’s Time Waster

In which an odd corner of an old illustration causes Drew to sieve the internet looking for information that doesn’t exist, coming up with loads of interesting links and eating up half the afternoon.

Somewhere online I ran across a picture of a medieval illustration of the attack on Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade. This was on April 12, 1204.

This painting was done, probably by a bunch of monks, somewhere in the 15th Century, around the 1450s; a couple hundred years later. This was long before Byzantium fell to the muslim horde and became Istanbul. The attackers were western European Christians, the defenders were eastern European Christians. Eastern Orthodox, with a lot of Greeks. This is the big “act of betrayal” from that messed up Crusade where the Venetians sacked cities to recoup their investments, after having turned their entire economy upside down for more than a year to equip and transport the vast army of soldiers and horses promised by the pope that never materialized. They were hundreds of thousands of marks in the hole, equivalent to tens of millions of dollars in today’s terms.

Venice was a trading nation, with almost no land or resources, but was really good at buying and selling. Situated on a river delta / tidal swamp up at the top of the Adriatic on the east side of Italy, they were the pivot point between Europe and the far East. Nominally Catholic Christians, but they put religion on the back burner and got down to business, unlike a large chunk of the world in those days, who put piety at the very top of their life list. So there were tensions with Rome, all sorts of politics and intrigues, etc. But Venice became rich, while the rest of Europe plodded along with feudalism and subsistence agriculture.

Anyway, looking closely at the illustration, I saw this:

image

That’s a gun, baby. A fire stick. A “hand gonne”, “culverin”, or “hand bombard”. *

And therein lies the problem. The standard article of faith is that Marco Polo brought back several things from China: pasta, paper, gunpowder, VD, and the plague. Problem is, old Marco wasn’t born until 50 years after this attack happened. So where did the gun come from?

“Respected authorities” put the beginning of firearms in Europe around the 1320s. But what is their definition of Europe? I’m sure Hungary counts themselves part of it, but perhaps we’ve got some “just the north” kind of centrism here.

The Chinese had bombs, rockets, fireworks, and possibly cannons and guns for several centuries before this. Marco Polo was not the first westerner in China. There is strong evidence that the Mongol horde - a pre-islamic invasion, at first - used some kind of guns when they attacked Hungary at the Battle of Mohi in 1241. But China didn’t attack Hungary, or Constantinople. The Mongols did. KHAN!!!. Um, the same Mongols who were just beginning to take over China at this time. Good old “Jenghis” Khan ( and his happy buddy Kubla? Turns out that Xanadu was real ). But good technology spreads quickly, and the Silk Road ( that both Venice and Constantinople lie alongside ) was a knowledge corridor as well as a caravan route. So it wasn’t impossible.

On the other hand, a lot of these old medieval paintings aren’t precisely factually accurate. The whole style back then was to make pictures of ancient events and fill them with people dressed in the current fashions of Europe. You know, David and Goliath wearing doublets and hose, with pointy cloth shoes. And Middle Ages armor. Um, riiight. So maybe the gonne got in there by accident, put in by a bored monk tired of drawing swords and horses.  On the third hand, the other weapons in the picture are accurate to the period, and the period was a slow one. It’s not like they reinvented the wheel every 18 months like we do today. R&D was nearly at a standstill. Heck, these guys wouldn’t even figure out the horse collar for another couple hundred years (another Chinese import? They’d had them for 800 years at that point).

The thing is, the internet being so broad and deep, that I could not find a single mention of this oddity in this rather common illustration. Not even a few words supporting it or decrying it. Nada. I can’t be the first person to have noticed this in 575 years, can I?

* : Interesting aside: by 1410 the French had a “murderer”, a small pintle mounted swivel cannon with a locking breech and cartridge ammunition. While pretty rough in form, such a gun loaded with lead or iron shot could wreak mayhem, and would have a pretty fast rate of fire - at least 10 rounds a minute - if several of the cast iron bottle shaped cartridges were available. Seriously, there isn’t much new in firearms design that hasn’t been around for centuries longer than most people know.

This wrought iron thing was also known as a Pierrier à boîte, a thrower of stones. Perrier is the English version of the word. While not the tightest design, this kind of breech loading anti-personnel swivel gun quickly caught on all around the world, and was used for centuries ... as late as the Moro uprising in the Philippines in 1904.


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Posted by Drew458   United States  on 01/13/2020 at 10:52 AM   
Filed Under: • Guns and Gun ControlHistoryMiscellaneous •  
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