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Did the Arabs invent blackpowder and cannon first?


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#1 Tibet Libre

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Posted 12 April 2007 - 08:06 AM

Reading Gunpowder Composition for Rockets and Cannon in Arabic Military Treatises In Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries by the renowned historian of Islamic technology al-Hassan, I get the impression that there is substantial evidence to credit the Arabs with the invention of both true black powder and cannon.

Im going by the usual and accepted definitions:

Black powder: Any of several low-explosive mixtures used as propelling charges in guns and as blasting agents in mining. The first such explosive was black powder, which consists of a mixture of saltpetre (potassium nitrate), sulfur, and charcoal. When prepared in roughly the correct proportions (75 percent saltpetre, 14 percent charcoal, and 11 percent sulfur)... Source: "gunpowder."Encyclopædia Britannica. 2007. Encyclopædia Britannica 2006 Ultimate Reference Suite DVD 12 Apr. 200.


Cannon: A cannon is any large tubular firearm designed to fire a heavy projectile over a long distance. Source: Wikipedia: cannon


From the varied evidence al-Hassan provides I will but pick out two particularly relevant and solid references:


Invention of true black powder ca. 1270-1280:

Al-Rammah (d 695 AH/1295 AD) deals extensively in his book with gunpowder and its uses .The estimated date of writing this book is between 1270 and 1280...If we look at the table and the graph, we notice that most ratios fall around the median lines with few odd points only. The median value for potassium nitrates is 75 percent. The minimum odd value is 68.57 percent and the extreme odd one is 88.07

It is reported by Hall that most authorities regard 75 percent potassium nitrate, 10 percent sulphur, and 15 percent carbon to be the best recipe.[17] Al-Rammah’s median composition for 17 rockets is 75 nitrates, 9.06 sulphur and 15.94 carbon which is almost identical with the reported best recipe


Now such an accurate mixture so close to the optimum is, baring a later addition, simply amazing and totally supersedes both European and Chinese black powder recipes. For comparison, see the earliest European and Chinese recipes (Box "Early Recipes of Gunpowder compared to Modern and Chinese Recipes") in this well-researched page by a knowledgeable gunpowder fan Handgonnes and Matchlocks:

Bacon (1248) : 41.2 potassium nitrate - 29.4 Sulphur - 29.4 charcoal
Wu Ching Sung Yao (first surving edition 1550s, composed 1044): 42.3 potassium nitrate - 29.6 Sulphur - 2.8 charcoal - 25.3 others

--> These mixtures contain too few salpetre to act as true propellants. Wikipedia, quoting Feng Jiasheng (1954). The Invention of Gunpowder and Its Spread to The West. Shanghai: Shanghai People's Press. TQ56-09/1. also confirms this:

The Wu jing zong yao (武经总要, "Collection of the Most Important Military Techniques") of 1044 CE contains three recipes for saltpetre explosives: two for use in incendiary bombs to be thrown by siege engines (48.5% saltpetre, 25.5% sulfur, 21.5% others; 50% saltpetre, 25% sulfur, 6.5% charcoal and 18.75% others) and one intended as fuel for poison smoke bombs (38.5% saltpetre, 19% sulfur, 6.4% charcoal and 35.85% others).[6][7] Printed editions of this book were made from about 1488, and in 1608 a hand-copied edition was made.


Moreover, it cannot be excluded that the formulas of the Wu Ching Sung Yao were later additions, since the oldest preserved edition of the Wu Ching Sung Yao are only from several hundred years later (Wikipedia: 1400s respectively 1500s according to Handgonnes and Matchlocks), something which no serious historian would fail to consider.

That would establish the following chronology:
Bacon 1248: first black powder recipe with burning qualities
Al-Rammah 1270-80: first true black powder recipe, that is with propelling qualities
Wu Ching Sung Yao (15th-16th century): black powder recipes with explosive and burning qualities


Invention of cannon 1274:

bn Khaldun (8th/14th century) says that the Marinid Sultan Abu Yusuf Ya`qub, when besieging the town of Sijilmasa in 672-3/1274:

“Brought into action against this town mangonels (majaniq) and ballistas (`arradat), as well as a naft engine (hindam al-naft i.e. gunpowder cannon) which discharged small iron balls (hasa al-hadid). These balls are ejected from a chamber (khizana) placed in front of a kindling fire of gunpowder. This happens by a strange property which attributes all actions to the power of the Creator.”


Here we have an unmistakably clear description of a cannon for 1274 by Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406). Now we have to ask ourselves two questions:

1. Is this the earliest (literary, archaeological or pictorial) evidence of a cannon worldwide?

The very first evidence for a European cannon is, according to Handgonnes and Matchlocks from 1281, going by Angelucci (writing in 1869) who cites a document of 1281 mentioning: "a big squad of crossbowman and scopettieri (=gun-bearers)". However, since there do not seem to be any more recent publications refering to this document, I would rather place the first reliable mention of a cannon to the 1320s (1324 Florence; 1326 first depiction of a bombard, ca. 1330 first excavated hand-gun in Sweden).

As for China, discarding the early concoctions of combustible material mixed with saltpeter which were no black powder according to the common definition, the first reliable evidence for cannon seem to an excavated hand gun from the 1330s. There is also an earlier handgun from the 1290s whose authenticity, however, is disputed (see Handgonnes and Matchlocks. Also several comments in Wikipedia). Even more controversial are interpretations of a wind demon in a Buddhist cave holding a bellow as a bombard, a suggestion which was forwarded in 1988 by the Needham team - the proposed date of 1132 would leave a gap of over 150 years to the earliest reliably datable reference to cannon.

--> This leaves the above reference to the siege of Sijilmasa (Morocco) as the earliest clear reference to a cannon worldwide.

2. Is Ibn Khaldun a credible source?
Other than assuming a later interpolation into his work, I do not see how Ibn Khaldun can be distrusted. First, Ibn Khaldun is universally recognized as one of the greatest scholars of the Middle Ages - globally. Second, although he was not a contemporary, he lived not much later than the event he recorded. And third, Ibn Khaldun, living in Tunis and coming from an old Andalusian family, was geographically and mentally close to the Western Maghreb (Sijilmasa is located in Morocco).


Conclusion:
The above evidence strongly suggests that the Arabs had invented black powder by 1270-1280 and cannon by 1274.

Edited by Tibet Libre, 12 April 2007 - 08:09 AM.


#2 naruwan

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Posted 13 April 2007 - 10:00 AM

great article

wow, of course I am not familiar with the Arabic sources. I await for someone to let us know how reliable the sources are.
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#3 josh stout

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Posted 13 April 2007 - 11:11 AM

I cannot address the historical question, but as a kid I played with making gunpowder using differing proportions to see what happens. The first thing I learned was that even if the proportions are correct (75% 10% 15%) as mentioned, if the components are not ground finely enough all you get is a red hot flame and lots of black smoke. Once the grind is fine enough, the flame turns blue white, and the smoke turns gray white. Are there any references to how fine the grind should be?

The next thing I noticed is that with a bit of practice almost anything will burn when mixed with 40-50% saltpeter. (sugar and saltpeter makes a great smoke bomb ;) ) The Chinese recipes listed would work very nicely as incendiaries and smoke bombs. If the Chinese method for making saltpeter yielded impurities, or if the grind was not fine enough, a 50% saltpeter content would be the most efficacious. Without finely ground pure saltpeter, the stuff will never explode even with a higher percentage of saltpeter.

Once I got the hang of making stuff burn, I worked on seeing if I could get it to explode. I found that the more saltpeter I added, the faster the burn up to about 80% when un-burnt saltpeter would be left behind. I liked to use proportions of 76%-77% for the fastest burn without wasted saltpeter. Proportions slightly less than 75% might be used to slow down the reaction a bit if having the cannons themselves explode would be a problem.

My conclusion would be that once the basic idea of mixing saltpeter, sulfur, and charcoal was arrived at, even even a casual observer could derive the most efficacious formula fairly quickly. However, explosive gunpowder would require a very pure form of potassium nitrate to ever explode. The Chinese formulae would work very well as intended, but would not lead to explosives without a way of making good saltpeter. Records on the manufacturing processes used in the different cultures for producing saltpeter would greatly inform the debate.
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#4 kaiselin

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Posted 13 April 2007 - 11:19 AM

Fascinating, but where were your parents when you conducted your experiments? Did they know what you were doing?

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#5 Mei Houwang

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Posted 13 April 2007 - 12:37 PM

There is a small problem with the cannon part due to that the earliest illustration of a cannon(as far) would be in 1127, although the earliest physcial cannon we have would be in 1337(if I remember right).

#6 Tibet Libre

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Posted 13 April 2007 - 12:47 PM

There is a small problem with the cannon part due to that the earliest illustration of a cannon(as far) would be in 1127...


The Needham team describes the Buddhist carving as 'cannon' but that is not universally accepted. Other scholars take the wind demon for holding a bellow, not a bombard in his hands, although I cannot provide any references now. But even Needham himself assumes the figure to be a wind demon (a local chief said so), and even he found it strange that the figure puts his hands and arms squarely on the tube (in case of a real cannon he would have burnt himself).

Check out Liang Jieming's page who himself is pretty sceptical about the long time span between the carving and the first appearance of cannon on the battle field (more than 150 years).

#7 Mei Houwang

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Posted 13 April 2007 - 03:25 PM

No simple bellow is designed to shoot out cannonballs, which is what the wind-demon is holding. Demonic or not, Chinese carvings of demons are dressed and armed much like their contemporary armies, with a few magic sprinkled in. The chance that one of their magics work exactly like a cannon(and bears incredible resemblance to the earliest European picture of a cannon) when cannons weren't invented is unlikely. Even if this is a magical weapon, there are still written descriptions(1132) in Song battles of what was unmistakebly a cannon, though not a metal cannon, more like a bamboo one, plus the tuohuoqiang of 1259. If you find Liang/Needham's skepticism of the carving as a non-cannon please point it out to me.

There were some mistakes in my last post. I would like to move the date of 1127 to 1128, and the earliest physical cannon found is 1298, not 1337.

I advise you to actually read Needham's works instead of merely assuming this or that which is most detrimental to "European pride". There is no "Asian Needham" vs "Europe", that exists only in your mind. Anyone who reads Needham will know your assumptions on him are based not on actually reading his works, but just negative assumptions.

Edited by Anthrophobia, 13 April 2007 - 04:16 PM.


#8 intem

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Posted 15 April 2007 - 03:15 AM

Reading Gunpowder Composition for Rockets and Cannon in Arabic Military Treatises In Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries by the renowned historian of Islamic technology al-Hassan, I get the impression that there is substantial evidence to credit the Arabs with the invention of both true black powder and cannon.

Im going by the usual and accepted definitions:
From the varied evidence al-Hassan provides I will but pick out two particularly relevant and solid references:
Invention of true black powder ca. 1270-1280:
Now such an accurate mixture so close to the optimum is, baring a later addition, simply amazing and totally supersedes both European and Chinese black powder recipes. For comparison, see the earliest European and Chinese recipes (Box "Early Recipes of Gunpowder compared to Modern and Chinese Recipes") in this well-researched page by a knowledgeable gunpowder fan Handgonnes and Matchlocks:

Bacon (1248) : 41.2 potassium nitrate - 29.4 Sulphur - 29.4 charcoal
Wu Ching Sung Yao (first surving edition 1550s, composed 1044): 42.3 potassium nitrate - 29.6 Sulphur - 2.8 charcoal - 25.3 others

--> These mixtures contain too few salpetre to act as true propellants. Wikipedia, quoting Feng Jiasheng (1954). The Invention of Gunpowder and Its Spread to The West. Shanghai: Shanghai People's Press. TQ56-09/1. also confirms this:
Moreover, it cannot be excluded that the formulas of the Wu Ching Sung Yao were later additions, since the oldest preserved edition of the Wu Ching Sung Yao are only from several hundred years later (Wikipedia: 1400s respectively 1500s according to Handgonnes and Matchlocks), something which no serious historian would fail to consider.

That would establish the following chronology:
Bacon 1248: first black powder recipe with burning qualities
Al-Rammah 1270-80: first true black powder recipe, that is with propelling qualities
Wu Ching Sung Yao (15th-16th century): black powder recipes with explosive and burning qualities
Invention of cannon 1274:
Here we have an unmistakably clear description of a cannon for 1274 by Ibn Khaldun (1332-1406). Now we have to ask ourselves two questions:

1. Is this the earliest (literary, archaeological or pictorial) evidence of a cannon worldwide?

The very first evidence for a European cannon is, according to Handgonnes and Matchlocks from 1281, going by Angelucci (writing in 1869) who cites a document of 1281 mentioning: "a big squad of crossbowman and scopettieri (=gun-bearers)". However, since there do not seem to be any more recent publications refering to this document, I would rather place the first reliable mention of a cannon to the 1320s (1324 Florence; 1326 first depiction of a bombard, ca. 1330 first excavated hand-gun in Sweden).

As for China, discarding the early concoctions of combustible material mixed with saltpeter which were no black powder according to the common definition, the first reliable evidence for cannon seem to an excavated hand gun from the 1330s. There is also an earlier handgun from the 1290s whose authenticity, however, is disputed (see Handgonnes and Matchlocks. Also several comments in Wikipedia). Even more controversial are interpretations of a wind demon in a Buddhist cave holding a bellow as a bombard, a suggestion which was forwarded in 1988 by the Needham team - the proposed date of 1132 would leave a gap of over 150 years to the earliest reliably datable reference to cannon.

--> This leaves the above reference to the siege of Sijilmasa (Morocco) as the earliest clear reference to a cannon worldwide.

2. Is Ibn Khaldun a credible source?
Other than assuming a later interpolation into his work, I do not see how Ibn Khaldun can be distrusted. First, Ibn Khaldun is universally recognized as one of the greatest scholars of the Middle Ages - globally. Second, although he was not a contemporary, he lived not much later than the event he recorded. And third, Ibn Khaldun, living in Tunis and coming from an old Andalusian family, was geographically and mentally close to the Western Maghreb (Sijilmasa is located in Morocco).
Conclusion:
The above evidence strongly suggests that the Arabs had invented black powder by 1270-1280 and cannon by 1274.


So your saying that black powder can be surely considered a arabic invention? Or do you mean that Gun powder was an arabic invention. Also, why you mention that the first recorded manual was in the 13th - 15th century in china, unless you mean that there was another later editions written prior to the "Wu Jin Zong Yao" that was first written manual in 1044 AD earlier than the arabs.

As far as i know about gun powders, it is a impurified composition compared to black powder right? So are you saying that the first true explosives are invented by the arabs in the 12th century and this is well known by the Chinese later in the 13th-15th century. Disregarding gun powder was a chinese invention in the 10th century as you insisted of because of its impurification of making a true explosives; then should the chinese be discredit of making gun powder explosives?

best regards,
Intem

#9 Intranetusa

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Posted 15 April 2007 - 07:05 PM

Reading Gunpowder Composition for Rockets and Cannon in Arabic Military Treatises In Thirteenth and Fourteenth Centuries by the renowned historian of Islamic technology al-Hassan, I get the impression that there is substantial evidence to credit the Arabs with the invention of both true black powder and cannon.

Im going by the usual and accepted definitions:
From the varied evidence al-Hassan provides I will but pick out two particularly relevant and solid references:
Invention of true black powder ca. 1270-1280:
Now such an accurate mixture so close to the optimum is, baring a later addition, simply amazing and totally supersedes both European and Chinese black powder recipes. For comparison, see the earliest European and Chinese recipes (Box "Early Recipes of Gunpowder compared to Modern and Chinese Recipes") in this well-researched page by a knowledgeable gunpowder fan Handgonnes and Matchlocks:

2. Is Ibn Khaldun a credible source?
Other than assuming a later interpolation into his work, I do not see how Ibn Khaldun can be distrusted. First, Ibn Khaldun is universally recognized as one of the greatest scholars of the Middle Ages - globally. Second, although he was not a contemporary, he lived not much later than the event he recorded. And third, Ibn Khaldun, living in Tunis and coming from an old Andalusian family, was geographically and mentally close to the Western Maghreb (Sijilmasa is located in Morocco).
Conclusion:
The above evidence strongly suggests that the Arabs had invented black powder by 1270-1280 and cannon by 1274.



Saltpeter explosives were in use since the Han dynasty. Black/gun powder were in use since the Tang dynasty for firecrackers & fireworks. It was in the Song dynasty when they first started using it for millitary purposes.


Tibet Libre, you need to examine other scholars and other sources, not just Ibn Khaldun.

Encyclopedia Britannica says a German monk invented the cannon & true gunpowder.
http://encarta.msn.c...refid=761560030

If you look at wikipedia, they have sources that say the Song dynasty invented cannons by 1250.
http://en.wikipedia....ki/Song_Dynasty

And both these sites are fairly reliable/credible sources as well.

Edited by Intranetusa, 15 April 2007 - 07:07 PM.

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#10 Mei Houwang

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Posted 15 April 2007 - 08:23 PM

Wikipedia isn't what I call reliable. The information is more in line with the opinion of the guy who's most emotionally attached to his/her opinions, since anyone can change it.

Of course, you're probably talking about the bibliographies shown on wiki. I have no idea who Ebrey is, so I couldn't say, but I do know that the battle of Fishing Town caused Mongke's death, though whether that was by cannon or not I do not know. I thought some random archer made a cheap shot at him, actually. Can anyone provide any info on this?

#11 Tibet Libre

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Posted 16 April 2007 - 07:04 AM

..."Wu Jin Zong Yao" that was first written manual in 1044 AD earlier than the arabs.


It was written earlier, but the extant copies are from a much later date which means we cannot exclude a later interpolation (which was a very common thing in China as in all other book cultures).

Disregarding gun powder was a chinese invention in the 10th century as you insisted of because of its impurification of making a true explosives; then should the chinese be discredit of making gun powder explosives?


We have to make two distinction:
One between black powder and smokeless powder (which was invented in the 19th century), and the other between burning and exploding black powder mixtures and black powder with propelling quality, which may be be termed 'true' blackpowder, and with which we are dealing here. With these definitions in mind, al-Hassan's text shows IMO that true blackpowder was first invented by the Arabs.

Edited by Tibet Libre, 16 April 2007 - 07:35 AM.


#12 Tibet Libre

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Posted 16 April 2007 - 07:13 AM

Tibet Libre, you need to examine other scholars and other sources, not just Ibn Khaldun.

Encyclopedia Britannica says a German monk invented the cannon & true gunpowder.
http://encarta.msn.c...refid=761560030

If you look at wikipedia, they have sources that say the Song dynasty invented cannons by 1250.
http://en.wikipedia....ki/Song_Dynasty

And both these sites are fairly reliable/credible sources as well.


The early history of black powder warfare is confusing, and I do not purport to be the one who has made sense from all the conflicting material. But the Wikipedia material generally suffers because it treats burning salpeter mixtures indiscriminately with those with propelling qualities which need a much more optimized formula. There is, though, one reference in Chinese sources to the use of a clay pellet shooting tube from about 1250 which may constitute the first use of black powder as projectile propellant. The question is now whether this miniscule affair already constitutes the invention of cannon or whether we should wait until the first handguns appear.

Also, al-Hassan refers to earlier Arab uses of projectile weapons in the first half of the 13th century, but I left out these instance above to concentrate on the first really solid references.

Edited by Tibet Libre, 16 April 2007 - 07:30 AM.


#13 Tibet Libre

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Posted 16 April 2007 - 07:27 AM

I advise you to actually read Needham's works instead of merely assuming this or that which is most detrimental to "European pride". There is no "Asian Needham" vs "Europe", that exists only in your mind.


That is bad luck for you, because the very instance of the first cannon proves you wrong about Needham's intention as his quote shows below.In fact, Needham had throughout his work his eyes fixed on 'Europe' and he was very much intent on establishing 'technological firsts' for China over Europe wherever he could (leading sometimes to weird definitions and strange conclusions).

At the very end of his article, Needham actually wrote:

Needham 1988:

In the end, perhaps the most important thing that the Ta-tsu bombard demonstrates is the length of time between its invention and its transmission to Europe. It has always seemed rather strange that only thirty-nine years elapsed between the oldest metal-barrel bombard or handgun known in China and its transmission to the Western world. But now the space of time is more like 199 years-a much more reasonable period as these things went in the Middle Ages.


Reading the article and the cocksure way he disregarded all other evidence for the wind demon simply holding a bellow as one would expect from a wind demon, I had the impression that even at the advanced age of 88 he could not get rid of his fixation and that his scientism had played a trick on him one final time.

#14 Mei Houwang

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Posted 16 April 2007 - 11:45 AM

Tibet Libre, keep the facts straight please. You were accusing Needham of falsely saying the demon held a cannon instead of a bellow, not the cannon's transmition to Europe. Again this is being reverted to a Europe v Asia inferiority fling that is just getting pathetic. Gawd, the mods should have topics like this banned. And again, you ignore the fact that bellows don't shoot cannonballs, something the "bellow" of this wind demon is doing(that's enought evidence already), as well as the fact that this bellow looks almost exactly like the earliest depiction of an European cannon. I would like to see where you got the idea that this is merely a bellow.

I would also like to see the page number and volume on which you got this information on Needham. Of course, Needham did provide much peripheral evidence, and he admitted so, which is enough. If you think it cocky I would like to see any straight evidence of an independent European invention. Heck, such a thing I think Needham barely cared for, though in all things he labeled everything related to it as a "might be".

But in the end, the most important part(as I have alread stated in earlier posts) is the fact if I am definitely and most completely wrong on this part, there is still "there are still written descriptions(1132) in Song battles of what was unmistakebly a cannon, though not a metal cannon, more like a bamboo one, plus the tuohuoqiang of 1259"

Edited by Anthrophobia, 16 April 2007 - 12:21 PM.


#15 naruwan

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Posted 16 April 2007 - 01:32 PM

Tibet Libre, keep the facts straight please. You were accusing Needham of falsely saying the demon held a cannon instead of a bellow, not the cannon's transmition to Europe. Again this is being reverted to a Europe v Asia inferiority fling that is just getting pathetic. Gawd, the mods should have topics like this banned. And again, you ignore the fact that bellows don't shoot cannonballs, something the "bellow" of this wind demon is doing(that's enought evidence already), as well as the fact that this bellow looks almost exactly like the earliest depiction of an European cannon. I would like to see where you got the idea that this is merely a bellow.

I would also like to see the page number and volume on which you got this information on Needham. Of course, Needham did provide much peripheral evidence, and he admitted so, which is enough. If you think it cocky I would like to see any straight evidence of an independent European invention. Heck, such a thing I think Needham barely cared for, though in all things he labeled everything related to it as a "might be".

But in the end, the most important part(as I have alread stated in earlier posts) is the fact if I am definitely and most completely wrong on this part, there is still "there are still written descriptions(1132) in Song battles of what was unmistakebly a cannon, though not a metal cannon, more like a bamboo one, plus the tuohuoqiang of 1259"


why should this thread be banned? can we go over that part again?

can we just recount here:

1. The earliest could be representation of a Chinese Cannon is from a Buddhist painting painted in 950 AD - True or False?
2. The earliest record of could be Chinese cannon in battle was in Song dynasty text in January 28, 1132 - True or False?
3. In the battle depicted, 2 types of firearms were used, one is HuoChong 火銃 one is smoke bombs projected by escalade - True or False?
4. Chinese HuoChong was made with Bamboo prior to 13th century - True or False?

If all these are true, then we just have to identify whether or not the Arabic sources were true.

Besides, Arabians aren't Europeans, unless somehow Asian meant Han Chinese and not one else.
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