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Jul 4, 2011

Medieval Mondays: a Medieval revolver and hand grenade

Today we have another guest post by military historian Sean McLachlan, who wrote a previous post on his research on the accuracy of medieval firearms. Today he's talking about some interesting items he found in the Pitt-Rivers Museum in Oxford.

The Pitt-Rivers is my favorite museum. It is literally stuffed with items from every culture in the world and every period in history, organized not by time and place but by use. In the photo above you can see an early attempt at a "revolver", a four-barreled handgonne! As I mentioned in my previous guest post on medieval firearms, a handgonne was the earliest form of black powder gun, being lit by a burning cord called a slow match instead of any sort of trigger mechanism. They appeared in the 14th century.
It was an age of experimentation in many technologies and firearms were no exception. Several multi-barreled handgonnes survive and they were obviously an attempt to compensate for the handgonne's slow reloading speed. They are a small minority of all handgonnes, though, so apparently they were considered too unwieldy. Perhaps the lack of a single, straight barrel reduced the already poor accuracy.
In the above shot you can see another view of the four-barreled handgonne; a large handgonne just below it still being used in Burma in the 19th century; a leather cannon from Manipur, India, below that; and than a typical "hackbut" type of handgonne below that. The hackbut was especially popular in the Low Countries and came with a hook for bracing against a wall, mantlet, or other object. The other objects are later.

And here you have a medieval hand grenade! This one is Byzantine and used their most famous weapon--Greek Fire. The recipe for Greek Fire is lost but it seems to have been a sort of early napalm. This ceramic jar was filled with Greek Fire and had a lit slow match as a fuse. too bad I didn't have this shot when I wrote my history of the Byzantine Empire! Other grenades survive from the Middle Ages too, and contained gunpowder.

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