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. 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). 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).
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.