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10 Powerful Weapons Throughout World History

Powerful Weapons

We all know that the warriors of old were a cool lot. There is just something about the raw nature of the age of empires and the whole war scenario, way before guns were invented, that seems to strike awe in us. Armies frequently used unique methods to catch their opponents off-guard. One of these methods was crafting new types of weapons. Here are 10 powerful weapons throughout world history armies built to destroy their enemies.

1. The Dardanelles Gun is a 15th-century siege cannon that could fire iron balls up to 63 cm in diameter, weighing around 2,265 lbs. Built by Turkish military engineer, Munir Ali, for the Ottomans in 1464, it proved crucial in the Ottoman victory over the British Navy, 340 years after its construction. 

Dardanelles Gun
(Left) Dardanelles Gun at Fort Nelson, Portsmouth, England. Image Credit: historyanswers.co.uk, Gaius Cornelius / Wikipedia.org

The Dardanelles Gun, named after the Dardanelles Operation, is the last and one of the more famous super-cannons of the Ottoman Empire. It was built in 1464 by Munir Ali, a Turkish military engineer. Cast in bronze, the siege cannon weighed 16.8 tons and was 17 feet long. A huge screw mechanism connecting the barrel and the powder chamber, allowing for easier transport.

The powerful artillery, which could fire stone balls at a range of one-and-a-half miles, stood guarding over the Dardanelles Fort for 340 years.  In 1807, it finally got some action at the Dardanelles Operation.

The cannon, loaded with projectiles and propellant, fired at the British Royal Navy fleet, killing 28 British sailors. The feat alone helped the Ottomans to win, notwithstanding their meager number of soldiers. Fifty-nine years later, the Ottoman sultan gifted the gun that had defeated the British to Queen Victoria of Britain. (1, 2)

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2. Hellburners, or floating bombs, were specialized fire ships built by the Dutch. Packed with 7,000 kg of gunpowder, they could cause damage comparable to weapons of mass destruction. The Dutch used them against the Spanish besiegers during the siege of Antwerp, killing thousands of the enemy troops and gaining a thunderous victory for the Dutch. 

Dutch Hellburners
(Right) Hellburners at Antwerp by Famiani Strada (Left) Image for representational purpose only. Image Credit: Wikipedia.org, Pixabay.com

In the sixteenth century, much before nuclear weapons loomed over the world, a weapon of mass destruction was developed by Federigo Giambelli.

Giambelli, an Italian military engineer, built the Hellburners for the Dutch. Trusted with only two old merchant ships, Hope and Fortune, he went on to construct fire chambers inside each ship and packed them with 7,000 pounds of gunpowder. Rocks, scrap metals, iron hooks, and tombstones were layered around the chambers so that an explosion would spray these destructive materials on the enemy.

For the explosion, Fortune was hooked to a slow-burning fuse while Hope was fixed with a timer mechanism using a flintlock, a revolutionary technology at the time.

The hellburners got the opportunity to prove their prowess against the Spanish, who had blocked the city of Antwerp by stationing ships across the River Scheldt. The Dutch sent thirty-two fireships against the Spanish fleet. Towing them, were the two hellburners.

As the fireships didn’t have any explosives, the Spanish didn’t feel threatened by them, so they didn’t attack them. The decoy protected the fireships from any Spanish attempt to blast them away.

Perfectly timed, the two ships detonated with thunder that was heard up to fifty miles away. Houses and buildings were flattened and a thousand of the enemy troops were killed instantly.

Regardless of their efficiency and history in destroying the enemy, the hellburners were never used again owing to their requirement of an exorbitant amount of gunpowder. (1, 2)

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3. A trebuchet is a giant catapult that uses a long arm to throw heavy rocks powered by a counterweight weighing in tons.  A powerful siege engine, a trebuchet can launch an 80 lbs projectile as far as 300 meters. The largest trebuchet ever made was called “War Wolf.” At 400 ft tall, it made the Scottish surrender on sight.

Trebuchet
(Right) Scale model of Warwolf, (Left) A trebuchet from a Middle Ages Museum in Denmark. Image Credit: McP, Kumpel Von Makarri/wikipedia.org, Hubertus45/wikipedia.org

Before the development of modern artillery, the trebuchet was a common and efficient siege engine. These towering engines had beams as long as 50 ft that could rotate through a wide arc.

It was suspended and divided by an axle. A sling was attached to the long arm of the beam to hold stones and boulders. These projectiles are propelled towards the enemy when force is applied to the shorter arm.

The source of the force has divided the trebuchet into two categories. One that uses gravity is called a “counterweight trebuchet,” and the other called a “traction trebuchet” uses human power.

Traction trebuchets had the drawback of co-ordinating a dozen men to pull the shorter end down. European engineers who had encountered them during the crusades refined the traction trebuchet into a more efficient counterweight trebuchet.

The largest of them all was called “War Wolf.” Built on the orders of King Edward I of England, the massive weapon was 400 ft tall. It was deployed in the siege of Stirling Castle, but the Scottish, intimidated by the extent of damage it would cause to the castle, surrendered even before it was completely built.

However, King Edward I continued with siege to witness the full potential of the machine, hurling rocks weighing as much as 298 lbs up to a distance of 200 ft. (1, 2)

4. In the 7th century, the Byzantines developed an incendiary weapon called the “Greek fire.” It was installed in ships and would throw flames from a tube at enemy fleets. The propelled flame would float on water, burning everything on its way. The chemical composition of its liquid accelerant was a heavily guarded formula that continues to baffle historians. 

Greek Fire
(Left) Proposed reconstruction of the Greek fire mechanism by John H. Haldon and Maurice Byrne. Image Credit: Tvtropes.org, Wikipedia.org

Kallinikos from Heliopolis in Egypt developed the Greek fire for the Byzantines in circa 672. The incendiary weapon which blew out fire from tubes was crucial for the survival of the Empire.

Its significance is undisputed in holding back Muslim conquerors from overrunning Constantinople. In naval warfare, the Greek fire created havoc on the enemy as it could float and burn across the water, combusting everything in its way.

The weapon was composed of two parts: a combustible liquid concoction and the siphon that ejected or threw the flame. The composition of the liquid concoction was a secret and continues to remain a matter of doubt and debate. Even the Arabs, who had captured a ship installed with the weapon, we’re unable to fully replicate it. (source)

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5. A bardiche is a polearm that uses the weight of a heavy blade to cause damage. Used between the 14th and the 17th century in European countries, it was helpful in striking and thrusting during close combats. The Russians and the Polish used the bardiche to rest their handgun upon when firing. 

Bardiche
(Right) Bardiches in History Museum in Suzdal, (Left) Streltsy guards in 1613 carrying guns and bardiches. Image Credit: Wikipedia.org, Wikipedia.org

The bardiche was a polearm with a long, cleaver-type blade and a short shaft. For impact, it relied on the weight of the blade. For that reason, a shorter shaft made sense rather than a long one, which would have been useful if a lighter blade depended on the swing from the pole to do the damage.

The bardiche had evolved from the Danish ax and was used by European countries in the 14th to 17th centuries. In battle, it was used for both choppings and thrusting at the enemy.

It was also a popular weapon among the Russian guardsmen and the Polish infantry in the 16th century. They used the polearm to rest their handguns upon when firing. (source)

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