Early modern warfare

"Attack of the Prussian infantry", 1913 historical painting by Carl Röchling depicting the battle of Hohenfriedeberg of 1745

Early modern warfare is associated with the start of the widespread use of gunpowder and the development of suitable weapons to use the explosive, including artillery and firearms; for this reason the era is also referred to as the age of gunpowder warfare (a concept introduced by Michael Roberts in the 1950s). This entire period is contained within the Age of Sail, which characteristic dominated the era's naval tactics, including the use of gunpowder in naval artillery.

All of the Great Powers of Europe and the Islamic gunpowder empires[1] were actively fighting numerous wars throughout this period, grouped in rough geographical and chronological terms as:

Use of gunpowder before the 16th century

A Mongol bomb thrown against a charging Japanese samurai during the Mongol invasions of Japan after founding the Yuan Dynasty, 1281.

Origins of gunpowder

The earliest forms of gunpowder appears to have been discovered by Chinese alchemists investigating longevity and the transmutation of metals. Many concoctions were tested and hypothesized during the centuries leading up to the first official published record in 1044 by Wujing Jongyao.[2][3] China continued to lead in gunpowder innovation for the next two centuries.[4] Various proportions and purity of nitrate, sulfur, and charcoal, yielding different rates of burning or explosiveness, were found effective in different uses. A wide variety of fire arrows, incendiaries, and bombs were developed, with the fire lance, the first effective firearm, used by Song Chinese forces against the Jin during the Siege of De'an in 1132.[5][6][7]

Spread of gunpowder weapons

An early depiction of artillery, in an illustration of the Siege of Orleans of 1429, by Martial d'Auvergne (1493).

The earliest surviving bronze hand cannon dates to 1288, during the Mongol-led Yuan Dynasty of China.[8][9]

Gunpowder warfare was used in the Mongol invasions of Japan in 1274 and 1281, specifically in the form of explosive bombs[10] fired from catapults against enemy soldiers. Japanese scrolls contain illustrations of bombs used by the Yuan-Mongol forces against mounted samurai. Archaeological evidence of the use of gunpowder include the discovery of multiple shells of the explosive bombs in an underwater shipwreck off the shore of Japan, with X-rays providing proof that they contained gunpowder.[11]

In 1326, the earliest known European picture of a gun appeared in a manuscript by Walter de Milemete.[12] In 1350, Petrarch wrote that the presence of cannons on the battlefield was 'as common and familiar as other kinds of arms'.[13]

Early artillery played a limited role in the Hundred Years' War, and it became indispensable in the Italian Wars of 1494–1559. Charles VIII, during his invasion of Italy, brought with him the first truly mobile siege train: culverins and bombards mounted on wheeled carriages, which could be deployed against an enemy stronghold immediately after arrival.

Gunpowder revolution or evolution?

The advances in gunpowder technology experienced by Western Europe around the 1500s sparks scholarly debate on whether this was a major military revolution or just an element in wider military evolutions.[14] The debates usually focus on Western Europe but scholars such as Tonio Andrade assert that this involves other civilizations as well,[15] noting that along with European civilizations, the 14th century Ottoman civilization constructed different gunpowder weaponry from those initial produced by the Chinese.[15] Scholars such Andrade explain that the knowledge of guns and gunpowder alone was not what gave Western Europe an advantage in warfare; it was due to many elements, involving warfare culture, difference in fortification, and frequency of warfare.[15]

One significant element according to scholars such as Tonio Andrade for the divergence of gunpowder weaponry between Western Europe and civilizations such as China was the different kinds of warfare that took place in their respective regions.[15] The western European civilizations were able to construct several innovations to gun powdered technology due to the siege tactics which made the goal to destroy the specific architecture of European civilizations.[14] European warfare during the 14th century and towards the 16th century involved assaulting heavily fortified structures using artillery which aimed to either completely destroy the walls of the forts or cause fire to the walls which could spread along the defenses of the fortification.[14] European sieges lasted for months at time making it a significant part of warfare in the 14th to 16th century.[15] Western European fortifications were susceptible to artillery fire either containing weakness in a position of the walls or being able to catch fire.[15] The warfare in China was different in that it consisted less on siege warfare but various warfare depending on what areas of China conflicts took place.[14] In South China their strength consisted of infantry and naval forces which made it difficult to involve themselves in Cavalry warfare as traditionally associated of warfare in China.[14] In Central China siege warfare was common involving walled cities next riverbanks which made difficult for cavalry to be used in the region.[14] Fortifications in China in the other hand contained walls made of tamped earth which is fireproof and able to resist more damage than European walls.[14] The way the walls were constructed played a role in the effectiveness of their defense , China's walls were constructed at a slope angle which essentially deflected projectiles and made it difficult to absorb significant damage.[15] European civilizations while improving their defenses against artillery fire were appearing closely to Chinese wall construction.[15] The suburb fortification of China made it difficult to maintain a significant siege but more importantly made it difficult for occurring enemies which consisted of mounted nomadic civilizations to sustain attacks to walled cities.[14] In North China however cavalry warfare was prevalent in conflicts due to attacks from mounted nomadic civilizations.[14] The various types and consistencies of warfare in the region developed the gun powdered technology differently.[15] The warfare in China which consisted with dealing with mounted enemies focused conflict on weaponry that dealt with fast acting enemies who were able to deploy rapidly making the slow reloading of guns all but inefficient.[15] However, it did not mean that China did not use guns and gunpowder.[15] The Ming dynasty used guns to deal with much of the nomadic enemies making several improvements to their guns to make them more efficient but the development of the weaponry slowly stopped around the 15th century.[15] The decline in innovation consisted with the decline of major conflicts in the regions of China by the 16th century, much of the guns were used for domestic order and suppressing minor enemies since the Ming dynasty had significant control of the regions of China.[15] Western Europe however between the 14th and 15th century consisted of constant warfare between several civilizations making gunpowder innovations to aid in their conflicts that lead to inventions such as artillery to breach fortified structures.[15] Scholars such as Tonio Andrade debate that differences in frequency, culture, and fortification of warfare explain the divergence of gunpowder technology while other scholars debate the integration of gunpowder in military units explains the advantage that Western Europe had in further developing gunpowder technology.[15]