Sunday, June 15, 2008
One of the first European small arms -- called handgonnes -- that can be reliably dated was the Tannenberg Hand Cannon.
Using black powder as a propellant, and probably fired by sticking a red-hot iron into the torch hole, this weapon was discovered in a well under the Tannenberg castle ruins, and since they know the castle was knocked down in 1399, that is the latest the piece could have come to be there. Still had a round in the chamber. (The illustrations are of the original, and a copy, showing how a wood "stock" would have be used.)
It would have been held in the hand like a spear, or maybe tucked under an arm, nobody is certain. Could have had an assistant to touch it off.
Large cannons had been around for a while, but this seems to be among the earliest, if not the earliest example of a working pistol. It would have fired a big honking bullet, been accurate enough to keep four of five on a man-sized target at twenty feet, and able to blow a hole in a knight's armor.
Come a long way in a mere four hundred years with these things, haven't we?