When did the Muslim empires introduce gunpowder weapons?

Gunpowder Empires - Gunpowder empires

Ottoman, Safavid and Mughal Empires from the 16th to 18th centuries

Muslim gunpowder empires in the mid-17th century
status Empires
Common languages Persian, Ottoman Turkish, Arabic, Albanian Azerbaijani Turkish, Slavic, Hindi, Urdu, Punjabi, Gujarati, Bengali, Pashto
religion Sunni Islam,
Shiite Islam
government Absolute Monarchy ,
Unitary state with a federal structure,
centralized autocracy,
Islamic Sharia
Sultan, Mogul Imperator, Samrat, Maharaja, Padishah, Shah  
Historic era Early modern age
Ottoman armed soldiers

Gunpowder Empires or Islamic Gunpowder Empires refers to the Ottoman, Safavid, and Mughal empires that flourished from the 16th to the 18th centuries. These three empires were among the strongest and most stable economies of the early modern period, resulting in commercial expansion and greater patronage over culture, while their political and legal institutions consolidated as the degree of centralization increased. The rich saw significant increases in income and population per capita, as well as a sustained pace of technological innovation. They stretched from Central Europe and North Africa in the west to between today's modern Bangladesh and Myanmar in the east.

With the use and development of the newly invented firearms, especially cannons and small arms, huge areas were conquered by the Islamic gunpowder empires in the course of imperial expansion. As in Europe, the introduction of gunpowder weapons led to changes such as the rise of centralized monarchical states. According to GS Hodgson, these changes in the gunpowder empires went well beyond the military organization. The Mughals, based on the Indian subcontinent, inherited part of the Timurid Renaissance and are known for their lavish architecture and for ushering in an era in Bengal that some call proto-industrialization. The Safavids created an efficient and modern state administration for Iran and promoted important developments in the visual arts. The Sultan of the Constantinople-based Ottoman Caliphate, also known as the Kaysar-i Rûm , was the Administrator of the two holy mosques and thus the head of the Islamic world. Their powers, their wealth, their architecture and their various contributions have significantly influenced the course of Asian and European history.

The Hodgson-McNeill Concept

The phrase was coined by Marshall GS Hodgson and his colleague William H. McNeill at the University of Chicago. Hodgson used the phrase in the title of Book 5 ("The Second Bloom: The Realms of the Gunpowder Age") of his influential three-volume work The Venture of Islam (1974). Hodgson saw in gunpowder weapons the key to the "military patronage states of the later middle period", which replaced the unstable, geographically limited confederations of Turkish clans that prevailed in post-Mongolian times. Hodgson defined a "military patronage state" as a state with three characteristics:

first, a legitimation of independent dynastic law; second, the idea of ​​the entire state as a single armed force; third, the attempt to explain all economic and highly cultural resources as appanages of the most important military families.

Such states "grew out of Mongolian notions of size", but "such notions could not fully mature and create stable bureaucratic empires until after gunpowder weapons and their specialized technology achieved a primary place in military life."

McNeill argued that whenever such states "could monopolize the new artillery, the central authorities could unite larger areas into new or newly consolidated empires". Monopoly was key. Although Europe pioneered the development of new artillery in the 15th century, it was not monopolized by any state. The know-how in the field of weapons throwing was concentrated in the Netherlands near the mouth of the Scheldt and the Rhine. France and the Habsburgs divided these areas between themselves, which led to an armistice. In contrast, such monopolies enabled states to create militarized empires in western Asia, Russia, and India, and "in vastly different ways" in China, Korea, and Japan.

Current views on the concept

More recently, the Hodgson-McNeill Gunpowder Empire hypothesis has been disregarded as being neither an "appropriate nor accurate" explanation, although the term continues to be used. Reasons other than (or in addition to) military technology have been cited for the almost simultaneous rise of three centralized military empires in adjacent areas dominated by decentralized Turkish tribes. A declaration which historians of 15th century Europe call "denominationalization" refers to the investigation of how the relationship between church and state "mediated by denominational statements and church ordinances" leads to the origins of absolutist politics. Douglas Streusand uses the Safavids as an example:

The Safavids have from the beginning imposed a new religious identity on their general population; They didn't want to develop a national or linguistic identity, but their politics had that effect.

One problem with the Hodgson-McNeill theory is that the acquisition of firearms does not appear to precede the initial acquisition of territories that make up the imperial critical mass of any of the three early modern Islamic empires, except in the case of the Mughal Empire. Furthermore, the commitment to autocratic military rule appears to have preceded the acquisition of gunpowder weapons in all three cases. Nor does it appear that the acquisition of gunpowder weapons and their integration into the military was influenced by the diversity of Islam that each empire promoted. Whether or not gunpowder was inherently linked to the existence of any of these three realms, it cannot be questioned that each of the three acquired artillery and firearms early in their history and made such weapons an integral part of their military tactics Has.

Gunpowder Empires of the Muslim World

Ottoman Empire

The first of the three empires to acquire gunpowder weapons was the Ottoman Empire. In the 14th century, the Ottomans had adopted gunpowder artillery. The Ottomans' adoption of gunpowder weapons was so rapid that they "preceded both their European and Middle Eastern opponents to establish centralized and permanent forces specialized in the manufacture and handling of firearms". But it was their use of artillery that shocked their opponents and led the other two Islamic empires to speed up their weapons programs. The Ottomans had artillery at least under Bayezid I and used them in the sieges of Constantinople in 1399 and 1402. In the successful siege of Salonika in 1430, they finally turned out to be siege engines. The Ottomans also employed the Middle East as European foundries to throw their cannons, and by the siege of Constantinople in 1453, to the surprise of the defenders, they had cannons large enough to break the walls of the city.

The regulated use of firearms by the Ottoman military preceded the pace of its European counterparts. The Janissaries had been infantry bodyguards using bows and arrows. During the reign of Sultan Mehmed II, they were drilled with firearms and became "perhaps the first standing infantry in the world to be armed with firearms". The Janissaries are therefore considered to be the first modern standing armies. The combination of artillery and janissary firepower proved decisive in Varna in 1444 against a force of the Crusaders, Başkent against the Aq Qoyunlu in 1473 and Mohács against Hungary in 1526. But the battle that convinced the Safavids and Mughals of the effectiveness of gunpowder was Chaldiran.

The Matchlock Arquebus was used by the Janissary Corps from the 1440s. The musket later appeared in the Ottoman Empire by 1465. Damascus steel was later used in the manufacture of firearms, such as the 16th century musket. At the Battle of Mohács in 1526 they formed with 2000 Tüfenks (usually translated as a musket) janissaries armed "nine consecutive lines and fired their weapons line by line" in a "kneeling or standing position" with no need for additional assistance or rest. "The Chinese later took the Ottoman knee position to shoot. In 1598, the Chinese writer Zhao Shizhen described Turkish muskets as superior to European muskets. The Chinese Wu Pei Chih (1621) later described Turkish muskets using a rack and pinion mechanism that was not known at the time to be used in European or Chinese firearms.

The Dardanelles cannon was designed by Munir Ali in 1464 and cast in bronze. The Dardanelles Cannon was still in service more than 340 years later in 1807 when a Royal Navy force emerged and the Dardanelles Operation began. The Turkish forces loaded the ancient relics with propellants and projectiles and then fired them at the British ships. The British squadron suffered 28 victims in this bombardment.

Persian musketeer at the time of Abbas I from Habib-Allah Mashadi to Falsafi (Berlin Museum for Islamic Art).

It was in Chaldiran that the Ottomans first met the Safavids in battle. Sultan Selim I moved east with his field artillery in 1514 to face what he perceived to be a Shiite threat that Shah Ismail unleashed on behalf of Selim's rivals. Ismail put his reputation as a divinely favored ruler on open cavalry against a firm Ottoman position. The Ottomans used their cannons between the carts they carried, which also provided cover for the armed Janissaries. The prosecution resulted in devastating losses for the Safavid cavalry. The defeat was so severe that the Ottoman forces were able to continue occupying the Safavid capital of Tabriz. Only the Ottoman army's limited campaign radius prevented them from holding the city and ending Safavid rule.

Safavid Empire

Nonetheless, although the defeat of Chaldiran ended Ismail's territorial expansion program, the Shah immediately took steps to protect himself from the real threat posed by the Ottoman Sultanate by equipping his troops with gunpowder weapons. Within two years of Chaldiran, Ismail had a corps of musketeers ( Tofangchi ) with 8,000 and possibly 20,000 by 1521. After Abbas the Great reformed the army (around 1598), the Safavid armed forces had an artillery corps with 500 cannons and 12,000 musketeers.

The Safavids initially used their gunpowder weapons against the Uzbeks, who invaded eastern Persia after the death of Ismail I during the civil war. The young Shah Tahmasp I led an army to relieve Herat and met the Uzbeks in Jam on September 24, 1528, where the Safavids decisively defeated the Uzbeks. The Shah's army deployed cannons (swing rifles on wagons) in the middle, which were protected on both flanks by cavalry wagons. Mughal Emperor Babur described the formation at Jam as "in the Anatolian way". The several thousand infantrymen with weapons and the janissaries of the Ottoman army also gathered in the center. Although the Uzbek cavalry engaged and turned the Safavid army on both flanks, the Safavid center held (because it was not directly occupied by the Uzbeks). Under the personal leadership of Tahmasp, the center's infantry rallied and dispersed the Uzbek center, securing the field.

Mughal Empire

When he was invited by the governor of Lodi in Lahore Daulat Khan to support his rebellion against Lodi Sultan Ibrahim Khan, Babur was familiar with gunpowder weapons and field artillery and a method of using them. Babur had hired Ottoman expert Ustad Ali Quli, who showed Babur the usual Ottoman formation - infantry armed with artillery and firearms, protected by wagons in the center, and archers mounted on both wings. Babur used this formation in the first Battle of Panipat in 1526, where the Afghan and Rajput forces, loyal to the Sultanate of Delhi, were defeated, although outnumbered but without gunpowder weapons. The decisive victory of the Timurid armed forces is one of the reasons why opponents rarely encountered Mughal princes in fierce battles throughout the history of the empire. The reigns of Akbar the Great, Shah Jahan and Aurangzeb have been described as a significant high point in Indian history. The Mughal Empire became a powerful geopolitical entity with at times 16.1% of the world's population. The Mughals inherited elements of Timurid culture and art, as did the Ottomans and Safavids.

Gunpowder Empires of East Asia

The three Islamic gunpowder empires are known for their quick-won success in commanding the battlefields with their newly acquired firearms and techniques. The East Asian powers and their military success are often overlooked in this area, as not only the Islamic but also the European empires are successful. However, the success and innovation of gunpowder combat in East Asia are worth mentioning in the same context as that of the Islamic Gunpowder Empire for their military advances.


There were several ways that small firearms came to China. During the golden age of East Asian piracy between the 1540s and 1560s, it was very likely that through their fighting and other encounters with these pirates, the Ming forces inevitably took up arms and copied them. It was also likely that a powerful navigator Wang Zhi, who controlled thousands of armed men, surrendered to the Ming in 1558 and imitated his weapons. This particular report on Arquebus technology was the first to spark Ming officials' interest in the Chinese expanding their use of these weapons.

Turkish arquebuses may have reached China before Portuguese ones. In Zhao Shizhen's 1598 book, the Shenqipu , there were images of Ottoman Turkish musketeers with detailed images of their muskets and European musketeers with detailed images of their muskets. There were also illustrations and descriptions of how the Chinese assumed the Ottoman knee position when shooting. Zhao Shizhen described the Turkish muskets as superior to the European muskets. The Wu Pei Chih (1621) later described Turkish muskets using a rack and pinion mechanism that was not known at the time to be used in European or Chinese firearms.

The Chinese intensively practiced tactical strategies based on the use of firearms that led to military success. Qi Jiguang, a revered Ming military leader, pushed his soldiers to the limit so that their performance in combat would be successful. In addition, Qi Jiguang also used innovative fighting techniques such as volleyball, counter-march, division into teams, and even encouraged flexible formation to adapt to the battlefield.

During the Sino-Dutch War, which began in 1661, Ming commander Zheng Chenggong used tactics similar to Qi Jiguang in combat. While the Dutch may have had superior weapons, the Chinese were able to defeat the Dutch armed forces through their strict adherence to discipline and their ability to stay in formation. Ultimately, it was their technique and training that defeated the Dutch weapons.

A Qianlong-era soldier with an arquebus.

In 1631, "Heavy Troops" able to build and operate European-style cannons, the Qing Dynasty imported cannons were highly regarded as "Great General in Red". The Manchu elite did not deal directly with weapons and their manufacture, preferring to delegate the task to Han Chinese artisans, who made a similar composite metal cannon known as the "Grand General of Shenwei" for the Qing. Cannons and muskets are also often used in wars known as the "Ten Great Campaigns". After the Qing gained hegemony over East Asia in the mid-18th century, the practice of casting composite metal cannons was no longer used until the dynasty again faced external threats in the Opium War of 1840. At this time smooth-barreled cannons were already beginning to be made obsolete by rifle barrels.


The Japanese used the Portuguese arquebus in the mid-16th century. Several reports say that Portuguese men who worked for Chinese pirates happened to land in Japan and impressed the local ruler with the guns. Soon after, the Japanese began to mass-produce the Portuguese-style weapon for themselves. In other accounts, this weapon technology may have entered Japan as early as 1540 through the constant influx of Japanese mercenaries who could have picked up firearms on their travels. Soon, Japanese soldiers carrying firearms would be vastly superior to those carrying other weapons.

Tonio Andrade cited that the model of military revolution that brought Europeans so much military success involved the use of superior drilling techniques. The drilling technique he was talking about was the musketeer volley technique. The volley technique is said to have been invented by the Japanese warlord Oda Nobunaga. He used the same technique as Japanese archers, but the effect that the technique had to allow soldiers to reload while others could fire was devastating to their enemies.


Koreans had used Chinese and homemade firearms as early as the late 14th century. They were also very skilled and innovative with their strategies on the battlefield. In fact, there have been reports of Koreans practicing some form of volleyball in 1447. However, a war between the Japanese against the Koreans and the Ming that began in 1592 and ended in 1598 would change the way Koreans view warfare. While it was a devastating defeat for the Koreans, this war forced the Koreans to realize that they had to use the musket as well as Japanese and Chinese methods. The Koreans quickly gave up the musket as the basis of their military tactics, and their musketeers became more than 50 percent of the military by 1594. They trained with manuals based on Qi Jiguang's techniques such as volleyball, and also used their own methods. These events marked the beginning of a Korean military revolution in which Koreans were able to fight their enemies using modern equipment and methods of war.

There have been many cases where the Korean military used its new techniques effectively. In 1619 the Koreans supported the Ming against the Manchus, a large armed force. While the Koreans and Ming lost, a Korean unit successfully demonstrated their techniques in combat. Then, in 1627 and 1636, the Koreans faced the Manchus alone and again demonstrated their fighting skills by using their musket tactics. Again they lost in both battles against the Manchus. In 1654 and 1658, the Koreans supported the Qing in their fight against the Russians for control of the land in Manchuria. In these cases, the Koreans showed their superior tactics and were the reason for the defeat of the Russians.


The use and innovation of gunpowder in Vietnam's expansion received comparatively little attention. In fact, it is widespread that the Vietnamese introduced firearms to China, although other scholars disagree. Regardless, the use of gunpowder technology has left an indisputable mark on Vietnamese history, enabling the "march south" and the significant expansion of Vietnamese territory.

Gunpowder in Europe

Europeans are believed to have pushed gunpowder technology to its limits, improving existing formulas and developing new uses for the substance after it was introduced to Europe via the Silk Road in the 13th century. A century after the invention of the first weapon in China, Europeans improved gunpowder.

Roger Bacon, a well-known early European alchemist (1214-1292), portrayed the wonders of the world; Key among them were the ingredients of gunpowder. With these ingredients available, European scientists, inventors, and alchemists made Corned Gunpowder, which had a different refinement process. A moist substance was added to the gunpowder and then dried as a mixture. With this improved gunpowder technology, the German monk Berthold Schwarz invented the first European cannon in 1353.

The Europeans also improved gunpowder weapons made in China and the Middle East, using advanced European metalworking techniques to create stronger and more durable rifles. They learned how to calculate the force exerted by the gas contained in the cannon chamber, resulting in cannons that could fire greater distances.

Improved gunpowder from Europe later reached China on a Portuguese ship in 1520, although Turkish arquebuses may have reached China before Portuguese ones. The Ottomans and Portuguese introduced the cannon, improved rifles, and other advances to China, hundreds of years after the original invention of gunpowder in China, thus completing the gunpowder tour of Asia.



  • Ágoston, Gábor (2001). "Merce Prohibitae: The Anglo-Ottoman Trade in War Materials and the Dependency Theory". Oriente Moderno . Anno XX (81) (1): 177-92. doi: 10.1163 / 22138617-08101009. JSTOR 25817751.
  • Ágoston, Gábor (2005). Weapons for the Sultan: Military Power and the Arms Industry in the Ottoman Empire . Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press. ISBN.
  • Burke, Edmund, III (May 1979). "Islamic History as World History: Marshall Hodgson, 'The Venture of Islam'". International Journal of Middle East Studies . 10 (2): 241-64. doi: 10.1017 / s0020743800034796. JSTOR 162129.
  • Chase, Kenneth (2003), Firearms: A Global History to 1700 , Cambridge University Press, ISBN .
  • Har-El, Shai (1995). Struggle for Rule in the Middle East: The Ottoman-Mamluk War, 1485-91 . Leiden: EJ Brill. ISBN.
  • Hess, Andrew Christie (January 1985). "Islamic Civilization and the Legend of Political Failure". Journal of Middle East Studies . 44 (1): 27-39. doi: 10.1086 / 373102. JSTOR 544368. S2CID 154847344.
  • Laichen, Sun (October 2003). "Military Technology Transfers from Ming China and the Formation of the Northern Mainland of Southeast Asia (c. 1390-1527)". Journal of Southeast Asian Studies . 34 (3): 495-517. doi: 10.1017 / s0022463403000456. JSTOR 20072535. S2CID 162422482.
  • McNeill, William H. (1993). "The Age of Gunpowder Empires, 1450-1800". In Adas, Michael (ed.). Islamic and European Expansion: Forging a Global Order . Journal of Middle East Studies . 44 . Philadelphia: Temple University Press. Pp. 103-139. ISBN. JSTOR 544368.
  • Hodgson, Marshall GS (1974). The Risk of Islam: Conscience and History in a World Civilization ' . Chicago: University of Chicago Press. ISBN.
  • Khan, Iqtidar Alam (March - April 2005). "Gunpowder and Empire: Indian Case". Social scientist . 33 (3/4): 54-65. JSTOR 3518112.
  • Khan, Iqtidar Alam (2004). Gunpowder and Firearms: Warfare in Medieval India . New Delhi: Oxford University Press. ISBN.
  • Lane, Kris E. (2010). Color of paradise: the emerald in the age of the gunpowder empires . New Haven, Connecticut: Yale University Press. ISBN.
  • Matthee, Rudi (December 15, 1999). "Firearms". Encyclopædia Iranica . Retrieved February 1, 2015. (Updated January 26, 2012.)
  • Matthee, Rudi (2010). "Was Safavid Iran an Empire?" Journal of Economic and Social History of the Orient . 53 (1/2): 233-65. doi: 10.1163 / 002249910x12573963244449. JSTOR 25651218.
  • Mikaberidze, Alexander (2011). "Jam, Battle of (1528)". In Mikaberidze Alexander (ed.). Conflict and Conquest in the Islamic World: A Historical Encyclopedia . 1 . Santa Barbara, California: ABC-CLIO. Pp. 442-43. ISBN.
  • Needham, Joseph (1986), Science and civilization in China , V: 7: The gunpowder epic , Cambridge University Press, ISBN .
  • Streusand, Douglas E. (2011). Islamic gunpowder empires: Ottomans, Safavids and Mughals . Philadelphia: Westview Press. ISBN.