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Friday, June 14, 2013

Military History Photo Friday: Medieval Handgonnes in Slovenia

When I started researching my book Medieval Handgonnes: The First Black Powder Infantry Weapons, I discovered the Balkans were early adopters of the earliest handheld firearm technology. Many of the photos for the book, for example, come from Croatia.

Just north of Croatia is Slovenia, the subject of my current travel series for Gadling. While in the National History Museum in the capital Ljubljana I came across two examples of early firearms.

This top one of from the early 15th century. It's of the earliest of the three main types I outlined in my book. It's only a little more than a foot long with a touch hole at one end. The hook at the bottom was for hooking over a wall or shield in order to steady it. The handgonne may have been fixed to a wooden shaft but I couldn't see any evidence for that.
This is from the late 15th century and as you can see it's a much more advanced model. Well, hopefully you can see. It's really hard to take good photos through glass! Anyway, it's about three feet long and has the familiar hook. It also has a pair of gunsights and a pan for the gunpowder that was originally fitted with a swiveling top in order to secure the loose powder.
Here's a closeup of the back end, showing the pan, maker's mark, and rear sight.

As you can see, there's no trigger on either of these pieces. Triggers of the matchlock type only came into use slowly near the end of the 15th century.

You might also want to check out a guest post I did about the accuracy of medieval handgonnes.


  1. Make you wonder who was the first person to test those guns - and did he survive?

  2. Wow, those things don't look like guns at all. And that one picture has ghost legs and feet dangling in the background! Creepy! I understand it's a trick of the glass, but it really looks like disembodied feet and legs floating around behind you. lol

  3. Yeah, kind of scary to be the first person to see if the weapon worked or not! I'd think the chance of it blowing up in your hand was pretty good.

  4. These early handgonnes did burst a lot. Archaeologists have found several examples where the barrel had split. They're usually found in castle moats where frustrated medieval soldiers tossed them!

  5. The first piece is the part of blasted late 15 century long barrel hangonne which was repaired (new breech plug was put in and new touch hole was made). The second piece is obviously 16 century arquebuse barrel


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