850 - Invention of Gunpowder

Throughout history, one formula has caused many empires to fall and rise because of its ability to cause mass destruction, its name, gunpowder. Gunpowder was discovered by alchemists that mixed sulfur, saltpeter, and birthwort herb together around the 9th century with the desire to create a potion of immortality. However, this mixture created an explosion. These Chinese alchemists mixed these chemicals in the search for an elixir of immortality, but they ended up creating one of the most destructive chemicals ever created. The Chinese immediately saw its military uses and incorporated it into their armies. This simple invention allowed the Chinese army to leap ahead in military technology, going from primitive arrows and swords to mines, bombs, and flamethrowers. Flaming arrows with gunpowder on their tips were implemented in 989 and the flamethrower was created around 1000. These advancements in military, allowed China to become a safer country, however it didn’t take long before other countries began to see China’s massive stride forward and try and replicate it.


The formula for gunpowder began to spread throughout Asia and eventually ended up in Europe, however it didn’t spread in a normal fashion. The Chinese tried to keep their new formula secret and succeeded until they had to use it against the Mongols.  The Mongols, after being defeated in China, began to spread the idea of gunpowder across Asia in their conquests. It was first spread to India in the early 13th century when the Mongols invaded. The idea of gunpowder and its formula allowed India to create even more destructive weapons. They created handheld firearms in the 16th century and later developed the first iron cast rockets. These innovations boosted the Mughal empire to its golden age. The technology then went on to the Middle East when the Mongols used gunpowder to create catapults firing gunpowder bombs. Gunpowder greatly influenced the Ottoman empire, allowing them to create cannons and destroy the once impenetrable Constantinople walls. The technology was lastly introduced to the Europeans by the Mongols and the Silk Road.


The desire for military power and the ability to have an advantage over other countries in combat, drove many countries to desire the necessary ingredients for gunpowder, especially the Europeans. Since India had saltpeter, one of the main ingredients for gunpowder, the Europeans used their sea trade to acquire the necessary materials to create gunpowder. In order to reach India without interacting with the Muslims and starting another crusade, they needed to use the sea route to India. This trade allowed European armies to implement gunpowder-based weapons without worrying about running out. By 1350 gunpowder-based weapons were common in all European armies.


The new canons and gunpowder weapons also caused another problem for cities and strongholds. Since, cannons could now break through what had once been impenetrable walls, a new type of protection was necessary for defenses. The Europeans also made the process of creating gunpowder safer and faster by adding a liquid. This liquid allowed the handheld guns to have faster fire power as well as allowed the armies to travel farther distances. Finally, the Europeans used gunpowder for public works projects. In the 15th century, the Europeans used gunpowder for mining, allowing them to harvest more natural resources in a shorter period. They also used gunpowder to create tunnels and canals.

Overall, gunpowder was important to history for three reasons. First, it showed the power of military advantages and advancement. Gunpowder completely changed warfare and made many large empires fall. Its destructive power gave certain countries the power to overrun what were once unbeatable defenses. Secondly, it showed the power of cultural interaction. With the idea of gunpowder circulating the silk road and the Mongols spreading the legends of it, many countries began to desire it. The materials to make gunpowder became essential for warfare, especially to the countries with the most riches. This desire for trade helped fund the East/West India company in the search for more gunpowder. Finally, gunpowder gave countries with enough money, the power to easily overrun and takeover any military defense at that time. This advantage gave larger empires the power to expand their boundaries, while forcing other countries to require gunpowder and its uses as a defense.


Gunpowder changed the world with its ability to destroy empires and finish wars faster. Gunpowder was one of the most destructive creations, causing countless empires to fall and taking many lives. Even with all of its destructive capabilities, without it the world and history would have been completely changed. It was created in search of saving lives but instead it was used to destroy them.












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By Aiden Gilroy