The creation of gunpowder was not intentional
The creation of gunpowder was not intentional, but its use for warfare was deliberate. Although it was first discovered in China, gunpowder made its way to Europe through the Silk Road in the 13th century. The Chinese first used gunpowder for fireworks and its use gradually evolved as knowledge about the properties of gunpowder grew. What had been discovered by accident soon became the leading force in weapons used for war. Long distance commerce through the Silk Road allowed gunpowder to create change in China and Europe by influencing their innovations in warfare.
In 618 to 1279 C.E. a golden age of innovation took place in China during the Tang and Song dynasties. It was during this age that gunpowder was invented by Daoist alchemist in search of an elixir for immortality. Gunpowder started as a mixture of saltpeter, sulfur, and charcoal. The Chinese Daoist recognized how dangerous gunpowder was and mentioned their findings in a 9th century text stating, “smoke and flames result, so that hand and faces have been burnt, and even the whole house where they were working burned down.” Gunpowder was highly flammable which made it the perfect compound for the Chinese pyrotechnic displays. China kept the technology for some time, but it eventually spread to other regions through the silk trade routes. The Silk Road trading network moved goods from the West into China. Warfare evolved, and the ways battles were fought changed drastically. As gunpowder spread so did the development of weapons that used gunpowder as the basis.
The use of gunpowder in the Chinese military was not until 919 C.E. when it was used in fire lances. These fire lances would shoot out projectiles, usually poisoned arrows, when ignited. The fire lances inspired the development of weapons that also shot out projectiles such as guns and cannons. In 1180 C.E. the rockets were created using a similar structure to that of the fire lances. Rockets were fire lances that were mounted backwards often in multiples and used to shoot projectiles long range. By the fourteenth century, the rockets reached 1,500 to 3,500 feet and were made in the shape of a bird with wooden wings. Along with rockets came the explosive bombs that were also created in the twelfth century during the Song dynasty. They were known as the “thunderclap bombs” and made from paper wrapped with string. The bomb’s primary use was to disorient enemy soldiers during warfare. Each bomb contained three or four pounds of gunpowder. The gun followed shortly after and it was first depicted in a Buddhist cave carving dated 1128 C.E. It showed a demon holding a small handheld cannon that is emitting flames and shooting a ball. This carving was the first mention of a handheld gun in China. The invention of gunpowder changed the development of Chinese weapons and influenced how weapons were created in Europe.
In Europe wars were being fought by knights who relied on their strength with weapons like swords and spears. Gunpowder wasn’t introduced to Europe until the thirteenth century, long after the Chinese had discovered it. The first formulas for gunpowder appeared in 1300 C.E. and it wasn’t used for military purposes till 1330. The lack of saltpeter in Europe was also a factor and interrupted the development of weapons. It wasn’t until it was artificially created that more advanced weaponry was made. The Europeans were the first to use cannons and mounted them on the walls of their castles. They were known as bombards and shot out large stone balls. The stone walls that were common in Europe were no longer a suitable form of fortification. Their first guns took much effort to operate as they were not accurate and difficult to reload. Although gunpowder reached Europe long after it encountered other regions, their arsenal was the most advanced by 1500 C.E.
Gunpowder was intended to be the elixir for immortality, but it became the cause of much destruction and death. It started in China then spread throughout the world by use of the Silk Roads. The utilization of gunpowder spanned from entertainment in China to artillery in Europe. It was the primary cause for revolutions in warfare changing combat from hand to hand to long distance. Gunpowder became accessible due to long distance commerce and created change in how war was fought in both China and Europe.