Archive for the ‘books’ Tag

Gunpowder and Firearms: Warfare in Medieval India.

Guns, Influence, and Power

Reviewed by: Timothy May, Department of History, North Georgia College and State University.
Published by: H-War (August, 2006)

There is no question that the advent of gunpowder weapons permanently changed the course of warfare, but exactly how this happened varies from region to region. Often in the public’s mind, the impact of firearms is relegated to Europe and its origins in China; somehow everything in between is overlooked. Thus, Iqtidar Alam Khan’s volume, Gunpowder and Firearms: Warfare in Medieval India will hopefully begin to fill that void.

Khan’s work is important for two reasons. First, it traces the origins and influence of gunpowder weapons in India as a regional history rather than as an ancillary to a larger work. The author critically examines when firearms appeared in India, and then what other influences–whether local or foreign–played in the development of the weapons. Moreover, he discusses their impact, not only on the medieval state, but on society as a whole. Second, Khan’s work serves as a model for other regional studies on firearms as well as the distribution of other forms of technology or goods.

Chapter 1 of Gunpowder and Firearms discusses the diffusion of firearms into the subcontinent by focusing on the role of the Mongols as agents of transmission. Although the author notes that the Chinese had been using gunpowder weapons before the Mongols arrived on the scene, it is not until the end of the thirteenth century that firearms of any sort, particularly rockets, appear in the Sultanate of Delhi or in regional literary references. While he places the greatest emphasis on the Mongols as the agents of technological transmission, Khan does not rule out other sources such as a Himalayan or sea route. Regardless of their origin, knowledge and use of these weapons quickly spread.

Chapters 2 through 4 focus on the use of artillery from the fourteenth to the eighteenth century. Although cannons became somewhat common throughout India, the Mughals used them the most effectively, thus giving rise to one of the popularly called Gunpowder Empires (along with the Ottomans and Safavids). Yet, these three chapters emphasize one key point. As in late medieval Europe, the expense of cannons meant that few among the nobility besides the ruler possessed the resources to purchase them. Fortress walls gave little shelter against cannons and the nobility quickly learned to acquiesce to the authority of the ruler.

Although similar situations appeared among some of the regional Indian states, the rise of the Mughals brings this phenomenon into better focus. Chapter 3 continues to deal with centralization of power, but in the context of the arrival of not only the Mughals, but also the Portuguese with their European metallurgical and artillery advances. From the Portuguese, the Mughals and others learned how to make cannons from wrought iron, thus reducing the cost of the weapon, while at the same time improving it. The Mughals, who learned from Ottoman advisors, quickly grasped the importance of light artillery as it became less expensive and more easily manufactured. While magnificent in siege warfare, the lack of maneuverability of heavy cannon left it virtually useless on the battlefield.

Chapter 4 discusses the dominance of the Mughals. By the time of Akbar, heavy mortars and cannons were rarely used in the Mughal military. Light cannons that could be used on the battlefield were the mainstay of the Mughal artillery corps, including the shaturnal, similar to swivel guns, but carried on the backs of camels and even in the howdahs of elephants. As this chapter ties into the arrival of the British East India Company, Khan continues to discuss technological developments, or the lack thereof.

In addition to artillery, handheld firearms also became ubiquitous throughout the Mughal Empire. Chapter 5 examines the nature and development of handguns in the Mughal Empire. In addition to local factors, Khan includes a good discussion of Western influences, which in this instance includes the Ottoman Empire. Western influences included new technologies in firearms manufacture. However, not all of these became widespread. As a result, stagnation occurred particularly in terms of standard weapons. The preferred weapon became the matchlock, even after other technologies surpassed it. Why the matchlock remained the weapon of choice ties into chapter 6, which discusses the role of the matchlock musket in the centralization of Mughal authority.

Mughals also used musketeers to maintain their authority. Babur began his career with a scant musket bearing force of just over a hundred men, but by the time of Akbar, over 35,000 musketeers existed in the Mughal military. One reason for this was that, despite the cost of their weapon, the musketeers were actually less expensive than garrisoning cavalry forces. The expense of feeding the man and his horse grossly exceeded that of a musketeer. Thus, a small but trained force of musket wielding troops allowed the Mughals to assert their authority in even the most remote provinces. This was also possible as, for several decades, the nobility were forbidden to recruit their own forces of musketeers. At the same time, this mass force of troops with firearms undermined the Mughals. As the matchlock became ubiquitous, its cost dropped, but it also was deemed very reliable by those using it. Thus, even when other technologies came into the region, like flintlock muskets, the Mughals failed to adopt them due to economic reasons as well as the matchlock’s popularity.

While firearms aided the process of centralization, it also played a role in undermining the Mughal’s authority. Because of the affordability of matchlocks and the relative simplicity in gaining expertise with them, one did not have to train for years to be a warrior. Ultimately this let to the diffusion of firearms into the general populace and resistance to central authority. Beginning in the late-sixteenth century, not only political rebels, but even peasants opposed to tax collection acquired firearms. As domestic tensions grew, the widespread use and manufacture of matchlock muskets played a role in the breakdown of central authority, and the Mughals, despite several innovative attempts, failed to halt the eventual Balkanization of their empire. Khan’s work is impressive and is the result of twenty years of research that ranged over four hundred years of history. Utilizing Persian, Turkish, Urdu, Hindi, Bengali, and English primary sources and supplemented by a wide array of secondary works, Iqtidar Khan has produced an excellent work. The four appendices are useful supplements dealing with the use of firearms by the Mongols, the analysis of terminology in a couple primary sources, and the origins of the Purbias, who were gunners for a few Indian states in the 1500s. The volume also contains almost thirty illustrations of firearms and their use. These dramatically illustrate Khan’s points as well as show the reader the variances between the weapons.

Yet, the book is not without faults. While Gunpowder and Firearms is an insightful and well-argued work, the author exaggerates the Mongols’ use of gunpowder. While it is true that the Mongols never met a weapon they did not find a use for, there is no concrete evidence that the Mongols used gunpowder weapons on a regular basis outside of China. Indeed, the author recognizes this and notes that his claims are based on Persian terms which could be interpreted as firearms. Unfortunately, while many of these terms such as manjaniq are used to refer to cannons, during the medieval period manjaniq meant a mangonel. It is plausible that in later periods, the Mongols did make more extensive use of gunpowder weapons, but in period of the conquests (1206-60), there is inadequate evidence to support Khan’s assertion.

One other minor criticism is the exclusion of Kenneth Chase’s Firearms: A Global History to 1700 (2003). I suspect that, given their publication dates, Chase’s and Khan’s books crossed paths. Although Chase takes a global perspective, the authors reach similar conclusions. Nonetheless, Gunpowder and Firearms will appeal not only to historians of India, but also anyone interested in the development of weapons and military systems or the creation of states. In summary, not only is Iqtidar Alam Khan’s work an impressive study on the diffusion of firearms in India, it will also serve as a model for others pursuing similar research on the spread of technology or goods on a regional basis.

Books on Guns and History (courtesy: Google books)

Books on Indian Arms History

Firearms: A Global History to 1700
By Kenneth Warren Chase
Published by Cambridge University Press, 2003
ISBN 0521822742, 9780521822749
290 pages

Military Leadership in India: Vedic Period to Indo-Pak Wars
By Rajendra Nath
Published by Lancers Books, 1990
Original from the University of California
Digitized 12 Mar 2007
586 pages

The Extremist Challenge: India Between 1890 and 1910
By Amales Tripathi
Published by Orient Longmans, 1967
Original from the University of Michigan
Digitized 13 Jan 2006
246 pages

Technology in World Civilization: A Thousand-year History
By Arnold Pacey
Published by MIT Press, 1990
ISBN 0262660725, 9780262660723
238 pages

A Dictionary of Military History and the Art of War: and the art of war
By André Corvisier, John Childs, John Charles Roger Childs, Chris Turner
Translated by Chris Turner
Contributor André Corvisier
Published by Blackwell Publishing, 1994
ISBN 0631168486, 9780631168485
916 pages

The Evolution of the Artillery in India: From the Battle of Plassey (1757) to the Revolt of 1857
By R. C. Butalia
Published by Allied Publishers, 1998
ISBN 8170238722, 9788170238720
388 pages

The French in India: From Diamond Traders to Sanskrit Scholars
By Rose Vincent
Contributor Rose Vincent
Published by Popular Prakashan, 1990
Original from the University of California
Digitized Feb 21, 2007
ISBN 0861322592, 9780861322596
165 pages

Official Documents, Relative to the Negotiations Carried on by Tippoo Sultaun, with the French Nation, and Other Foreign States, for Purposes Hostile to the British Nation: To which is Added, Proceedings of a Jacobin Club, Formed at Seringapatam, by the French Soldiers in the Corps Commanded by …
By Nawab of Mysore Fath ʻAli Tipu Sultan, Fath ʼAli Tipu Sultan, India, Jacobin Club, India, East India Company, East India Company
Published by printed at the Honorable Company’s Press, 1799
Original from Oxford University
Digitized May 30, 2007
195 pages
The Dangers of British India from French Invasion and Missionary Establishments: To which are Added Some Account of the Countries Between the Caspian Sea and the Ganges, a Narrative of the Revolutions which They Have Experienced Subsequent to the Expeditions of Alexander the Great, and a Few …
By David Hopkins
Published by Printed for and sold by Black, Parry, and Kingsbury, 1809
Original from Oxford University
Digitized Nov 14, 2007
191 pages
An Account of the War in India: Between the English and French, on the Coast of Coromandel, from 1750 to the Year 1760
By Richard Owen Cambridge, Stringer Lawrence, John Call
Published by T. Jefferys, 1761
Original from the New York Public Library
Digitized Sep 10, 2007
339 pages

The Portuguese in India: Being a History of the Rise and Decline of Their Eastern Empire
By Frederick Charles Danvers
Published by Asian Educational Services, 1988
ISBN 8120603915, 9788120603912

The French in India: First Establishment and Struggle
By Siba Pada Sen
Published by University of Calcutta, 1947
Original from the University of Michigan
Digitized Aug 28, 2007
360 pages

History of the French in India: From the Founding of Pondichery in 1674 to the Capture of that Place in 1761
By G B Malleson
Published by Adamant Media Corporation, 2005
ISBN 1402192746, 9781402192746
648 pages

Final French Struggles in India and on the Indian Seas: Including an Account of the Capture of the Isles of France and Bourbon, and Sketches of the Most Eminent Foreign Adventurers in India Up to the Period of that Capture : with an Appendix Containing an Account of the Expedition from India to …
By George Bruce Malleson
Published by W.H. Allen, 1878
Original from Oxford University
Digitized Nov 14, 2007
289 pages

Anglo-Maratha Relations, 1785-96
By Sailendra Nath Sen
Published by Popular Prakashan, 1994
ISBN 8171547893, 9788171547890
328 pages

The Military Revolution: Military Innovation and the Rise of the West, 1500-1800
By Geoffrey Parker
Published by Cambridge University Press, 1996
ISBN 0521479584, 9780521479585
265 pages

The Cambridge Economic History of India
By Tapan Raychaudhuri, Tapan Raychaudhuri Irfan Habib, Irfan Habib
Published by Orient Blackswan, 2005
ISBN 8125027300, 9788125027300

A Catalogue of Books Relating to the Military History of India
By Maurice James Draffen Cockle, United Service Institution of India
Published by Government Central Printing Office, 1901
Original from the University of California
Digitized Jul 30, 2008
101 pages

A Guide to the Sources of British Military History
By Robin Higham
Published by Routledge, 1972
ISBN 0710072511, 9780710072511
630 pages

A Dictionary of Military History and the Art of War: and the art of war
By André Corvisier, John Childs, John Charles Roger Childs, Chris Turner
Translated by Chris Turner
Contributor André Corvisier
Published by Blackwell Publishing, 1994
ISBN 0631168486, 9780631168485
916 pages

Military History of India
By Hemendra Chandra Kar
Published by Firma KLM, 1980
Original from the University of California
Digitized 30 Jul 2008
731 pages

Political, Legal, and Military History of India
By Harbans Singh Bhatia
Published by Deep & Deep Publications, 1986
Item notes: v. 6
Original from the University of California

Victorian Military Campaigns: the Sikh wars, 1845-9, the Third China war, 1860, the expedition to Abyssinia, 1867-8, the Ashanti campaign, 1873-4, the South African war, 1880-1, the Egyptian campaign, 1882, the reconquest of the Sudan, 1896-9..
By Brian Bond
Compiled by Brian Bond
Published by Praeger, 1967
328 pages

The Decisive Battles of India: From 1746 to 1849 Inclusive
By George Bruce Malleson
Published by W.H. Allen, 1883
Original from Oxford University
Digitized Jul 3, 2006
419 pages

The British Raj and Its Indian Armed Forces, 1857-1939: 1857-1939
By Partha Sarathi Gupta, Anirudh Deshpande
Contributor Partha Sarathi Gupta, Anirudh Deshpande
Published by Oxford University Press, 2002
Original from the University of Michigan
Digitized Aug 27, 2007
ISBN 0195658051, 9780195658057
303 pages
1 martial races, Indian Army, Kshatriyas
Punjab and
7 Sikhs, Bengal Army, Indian Army
Military Indianization
45 Anglo-Indian, VCOs, martial races

Leadership in the Indian Army: Biographies of Twelve Soldiers
By V. K. Singh
Published by SAGE, 2005
ISBN 0761933220, 9780761933229
417 pages

The Garrison State: The Military, Government and Society in Colonial Punjab 1849-1947
By Tai Yong Tan
Published by SAGE, 2005
ISBN 0761933360, 9780761933366
333 pages

Between Two Worlds: A Rajput Officer in the Indian Army, 1905-21 : Based on the Diary of Amar Singh of Jaipur
By Jr. Ellinwood, DeWitt C. Ellinwood
Published by University Press of America, 2005
ISBN 0761831134, 9780761831136
679 pages

The Army of Maharaja Ranjit Singh
By Balwant Singh, writer on Sikh history Balwant Singh, Sardar Balwant Singh
Published by Lahore Book Shop, 1945
Original from the University of Michigan

Six Battles for India: The Anglo-Sikh Wars, 1845-6, 1848-9
By George Ludgate Bruce, George Bruce
Published by Arthur Barker Ltd., 1969
ISBN 021317796X, 9780213177966
336 pages

Maharaja Ranjit Singh and His Times
By J. S. Grewal, Indu Banga
Published by Dept. of History, Guru Nanak Dev University, 1980
Original from the University of Michigan
Digitized Nov 10, 2006
296 pages

The Sikh Army 1799-1849
By Ian Heath, Michael Perry
Illustrated by Michael Perry
Published by Osprey Publishing, 2005
ISBN 1841767778, 9781841767772
48 pages

Military System of the Sikhs
By B. N. Majumdar
Published by Army Educational Stores, 1965
Original from the University of California
Digitized 29 Jul 2008
235 pages

The Freedom Struggle in Andhra Pradesh (Andhra)
By Mamidipudi Venkatarangaiya, Andhra Pradesh (India). State Committee for the Compilation of the History of the Freedom Struggle in Andhra Pradesh, Andhra Pradesh, India State Committee Appointed for the Compilation of a history of the Freedom Struggle in Andhra Pradesh (Andhra)
Published by Andhra Pradesh State Committee Appointed for the Compilation of a History of the Freedom Struggle in Andhra Pradesh (Andhra), 1965
Item notes: v.1
Original from the University of California
Digitized 25 Jan 2008