Archive for the ‘moghuls’ 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.

History Of The Gun In India

Source: Allsands

This is a history the gun in India. It refers to the armors of the Indian Kings and of the British reign including those of the East India Company.

The legend that the ancient Hindus invented gunpowder can be traced back to the writings of Englishman Nathaniel Halhed in 1776 and a Scotsman Quintin Craufurd in 1790, both of who served in India and became fascinated by the history and religions of this country. Gustav Oppert, a professor of Sanskrit Language at Chennai (previously known as Madras), who translated two ‘ancient Sanskrit manuscripts’, in 1880 to prove to his own satisfaction that “gunpowder and firearms were known in India in the most ancient times.” As many of the statements in his book are palpably absurd like the size of the ‘Aksauhini’ army corps is given as 2,187,000,000 men, and no proper attempts have been made to date his sources. So, Oppert’s theory cannot be accepted. Manuscripts or printed books, which purport to be copies of earlier works, have been particularly tempting to Chinese historians.

In India, King Babar wreaked havoc on the battlefield by using the Muskets in the war for the first time. The most common Muskets found in India are Flintlocks, Brown Bess Muskets and the Percussion Cap. In India, the few flintlocks made by the native gun makers were also close copies of the European type. One often finds a typical Indian stock and barrel equipped with a good quality London-made lock. In the island of Sri Lanka, however, a most unusual fitted to the left-hand side of the stock. The unique scroll-shaped Ceylon form of butt carries the most profuse kind of ornament. The flintlock gun believed to have been made for the last great warrior King of Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), Raja Sinha, who died in 1687. Both the barrel and wooden stock are overlaid with sheet silver, parcel gilt and embossed with filigree work, and inlaid with rubies. The lock of this gun, however, probably of later date than of the stock, is either of European manufacture or a close copy of one. In East of India the flintlock is rarely found. These at first sight appear to be a three-barreled matchlock revolver. But the jaws of the cock have been turned horizontally to take a flint, and the priming pans, although fitted with the usual side-swinging double pan-cover, are also equipped with pivoted steels with ribbed faces. Joseph Belton, one of the developer of the muskets, pistols and carbines didn’t succeeded in interesting British Ordnance, but some muskets, pistols and carbines made by him were purchased by East India Company.

A gadget not found on European guns is the small pricker for cleaning the touchhole, which is chained to a container, fastened to the stock just below the pan. The Indian methods of making gun barrels are recounted in full by the Lord Egerton of Tatton in his work ‘A Description of Indian and Oriental Armour’. A part from his interesting description of the damascening and graining of the surface of the metal, he reveals that some of the longer barrels consist of four pieces of cylindrical iron joined together.

The shape of the stock of the Indian matchlock gun, or ‘toradar’, as it was called, varies according to the geographical location of its manufacture. In the North and particularly in the state of Sind, the butt has a very pronounced curve and opens out into a large fishtail shape. This is known as the Afghan stock, as it is modeled after the guns of the neighboring hill tribes of Afghanistan. But where as the Afghan gun is usually of crude manufacture the Indian model is often distinguished by a heavy damascened barrel with a muzzle fashioned as a monster’s head and a stock ornamented enameled plaques rivaling the best productions of Persia.

In the central regions the curve of the Butt is less pronounced, but a distinct notch is cut in the top of the Butt just behind the breach. The true Indian stock favored by the Rajputs and the Marathas has a very slim, straight stock of pentagonal section capable of supporting only a light barrel. Iron, brass or silver plates nailed to each side of the lock housing strengthen it. Although its design is severe in line, the decoration can be magnificent. Even on the plainest of guns, the metal sidepieces are of watered steel with restrained chiseling. If silver or brass is used the engraving and embossing can be profuse. The craftsmen used their fine arts to decorate them.

From the beginning, the European settlers and merchants had coveted the luxurious pelts the Indian collected in his native habitat. Among other things, the Indian, in his turn, coveted European firearms and, the laws of economics begin what they are; the two soon began to change hands. And active trade in guns had developed during the seventeenth century, but it was not until the early 1700’s that a special trade gun was devised for barter.

The Indian knew what he wanted in a gun and the trading companies strove to produce it a price that would permit a pleasingly exorbitant profit. Long, heavy guns were completely unacceptable to the aborigines. There were unimportant details the Indians insisted upon because they were used to them: a serpent-shaped side plate opposite the lock, a deep-trigger guard, and even British proof marks. Straight guns made in America or in Belgium frequently had to bear imitations of these marks before the Indians would accept them.

For almost two hundred years it was the preferred gun of the Indian, and it was made for that whole period without significant alteration. The flintlock suited the Indian perfectly and he preferred on even better arms, which used percussion caps or metallic cartridges. He could make his own flint if he wanted to. A flintlock could be loaded more easily. But with a large touchhole, slapping the butt and jarring some of the charge out of the barrel and into the pan could prime a flintlock. It was customary to hunt buffalo, sheep, and deer in most part of India, for instance, by riding alongside the great beasts and firing at close range, loading rapidly and firing again.

The trade guns were cheap, but they were sturdy. They had to withstand the treatment they received. An Indian seldom cleaned his gun or oiled it as a European would. If the stock broke, he wrapped it with rawhide. Usually he removed the butt plate and made a hide scrapper out of it. Frequently he cut the barrel down to carbine length and made a tent peg or another scrapper from the cut-off portion. He studded the stock with brass-headed tacks, decked it with rawhide, copper wire and scalps. Still, many of these sturdy flintlocks gave dependable service for years.

Brown Bess was the affectionate nickname given to this musket by the British soldier. No one knows how the name originated. Some have tried to link it with Queen Elizabeth, but there were more than a hundred years between the death of the one and birth of the other, so that such an association would have been remote indeed. More likely, the ‘Bess’ was simply a pet name such as men have often applied to gun and the ‘Brown’ stemmed from artificial browning of the barrel and the colour of the walnut stock, which was no longer painted black as it frequently had been in the past.