Fire lance

Last updated
A fire lance as depicted in the Huolongjing, late 14th century (c. 1360-1375). Li Hua Qiang .jpg
A fire lance as depicted in the Huolongjing , late 14th century (c.1360-1375).

The fire lance (simplified Chinese :火枪; traditional Chinese :火槍; pinyin :huǒqiāng; lit.'fire spear') was a gunpowder weapon and the ancestor of modern firearms. [1] It first appeared in 10th–12th century China and was used to great effect during the Jin-Song Wars. It began as a small pyrotechnic device attached to a polearm weapon, used to gain a shock advantage at the start of a melee. [2] As gunpowder improved, the explosive discharge was increased, and debris or pellets added, giving it some of the effects of a combination modern flamethrower and shotgun, but with a very short range (about 3 meters or 10 feet), and only one shot (some were designed for two shots). By the late 13th century, fire lance barrels had transitioned to metal material to better withstand the explosive blast, and the lance-point was discarded in favor of relying solely on the gunpowder blast. These became the first hand cannons. [3]



The first fire lances consisted of a tube, usually bamboo, containing gunpowder and a slow match, strapped to a spear or other polearm weapon. Once ignited, the gunpowder tube would ideally eject a stream of flames in the direction of the spearhead. Projectiles such as iron pellets or pottery shards were later added to the gunpowder. Upon firing, the gunpowder charge ejected the projectiles along with the flame. [4]

Metal fire lance barrels appeared around the mid-13th century and these began to be used independently of the lance itself. The independent metal barrel was known as an 'eruptor' and became the forerunner of the hand cannon. [4]

In Europe, versions with wooden tubes were used. [5]


Earliest known representation of a fire lance (upper right), Dunhuang, 950 AD. FireLanceAndGrenade10thCenturyDunhuang.jpg
Earliest known representation of a fire lance (upper right), Dunhuang, 950 AD.
A double-barreled fire lance from the Huolongjing. Supposedly, the barrels fired in succession, with the second barrel lit automatically after the first barrel's firing. Two barreled automatic fire lance from the Huolongjing.jpg
A double-barreled fire lance from the Huolongjing . Supposedly, the barrels fired in succession, with the second barrel lit automatically after the first barrel's firing.


The earliest evidence of fire lances appeared in China in the year 950. However usage of fire lances in warfare was not mentioned until 1132 when Song garrisons used them during the Siege of De'an, in modern-day Anlu, Hubei, in a sortie against the Jin dynasty (1115–1234). [7] [8] [9]

In 1163, fire lances were attached to war carts known as "at-your-desire-carts" used to defend mobile firebomb trebuchets. [2]

In the late 1100s, pieces of shrapnel such as porcelain shards and small iron pellets were added to the gunpowder tube. At some point fire lances discarded the spearhead altogether and relied solely on their firepower. [10]

By 1232, the Jin were also using fire lances, but with improved reusable barrels consisting of durable paper material. According to the History of Jin , these fire lances had a range of roughly three meters:

To make the lance, use chi-huang paper, sixteen layers of it for the tube, and make it a bit longer than two feet. Stuff it with willow charcoal, iron fragments, magnet ends, sulfur, white arsenic [probably an error that should mean saltpeter], and other ingredients, and put a fuse to the end. Each troop has hanging on him a little iron pot to keep fire [probably hot coals], and when it's time to do battle, the flames shoot out the front of the lance more than ten feet, and when the gunpowder is depleted, the tube isn't destroyed. [11]

In 1233, Jin soldiers used fire lances successfully against the Mongols. Pucha Guannu led 450 Jin fire lancers and routed an entire Mongol encampment. The Mongol soldiers were apparently disdainful of other Jin weapons, but greatly feared the fire lance. [12]

On the 5th day of the 5th lunar month [in the year 1233] the Jin troops offered a sacrifice to Heaven. They began to prepare their huoqiang or 'fire lances' [i.e. fei huoqiang or 'flying fire lances'] and other weapons in secrecy. Then Marshal Pucha, at the head of 450 soldiers of the Loyal and Filial Army, embarked from the South Gate [of Guidefu] and sailed from the East to the North, killing the Mongol night patrols along the river bank until they arrived at Wangjiasi [where the Mongols had set up camp], . . In the fourth watch of the night the Jin troops attacked the Mongols. At first the Loyal and Filial Army retreated slightly, then suddenly attacked again. Pucha Guannu divided his soldiers into teams of 50 to 70, each in a small boat, ordering them to advance to the Mongol camp and attack it from all sides. Carrying their fire lances, the Jin soldiers launched a sudden attack which the Mongols were unable to resist. It was a great defeat, for in all 3500 Mongols were drowned in the river. Guannu burned their camp to the ground and returned [to Guifu]. [13]

In 1259, a pellet wad that occluded the barrel was recorded to have been used as a fire lance projectile, making it the first recorded bullet in history. [10]

By 1276, fire lances had transitioned to metal barrels. [14] Fire lances were also being used by cavalrymen at this point, as evidenced by the account of a Song-Yuan battle in which two fire lance armed Song cavalrymen rushed a Chinese officer of Bayan of the Baarin. [15] The Huolongjing also mentions a gourd fire lance which was used by cavalrymen as well as foot soldiers. [16]

The metal-barreled fire lance began to be used independently of the lance around the mid to late 13th century. These proto-cannons which fired co-viative projectiles, known as 'eruptors,' were the forerunners of the hand cannon. [10]

Later history

By 1280, the Middle East had acquired fire lances. [17]

In 1396, European knights took up fire lances as mounted weapons. [18]

In 15th century Japanese samurai used fire lances. [19]

The last recorded usage of fire lances in Europe occurred during the Storming of Bristol in 1643 although the Commonwealth of England was still issuing them to ships in 1660. [20] [5]


Versions where the fireworks and shot were placed in a wooden tube at the end of a pole were known as Troncks, fire-trunks or bombas in Europe. [5] [21] The fireworks had alternating slow and fast burning sections. [5] [21]

They were frequently issued to warships and a surviving example was found in the wreck of the La Trinidad Valencera. [5] [21] Testing of an attempted reconstruction was carried out in 1988. [5] During the test multiple sections of the Tronck ignited at once. [5]

See also


  1. Andrade 2016, p. 35.
  2. 1 2 Andrade 2016, p. 38.
  3. Andrade 2016, p. 33.
  4. 1 2 Andrade 2016, p. 51.
  5. 1 2 3 4 5 6 7 Brown, Ruth Rhynas (2005). "Troncks, rockets and fiery balls: Military fireballs of the early modern period". Journal of the Ordnance Society. 17: 25–36.
  6. "The Genius of China", Robert Temple
  7. Needham 1986, p. 222.
  8. Chase 2003, p. 31.
  9. Lorge 2008, p. 33-34.
  10. 1 2 3 Andrade 2016, p. 52.
  11. Andrade 2016, p. 46.
  12. Andrade 2016, p. 47.
  13. Lorge 2005, p. 388.
  14. Needham 1986, p. 228.
  15. Needham 1986, p. 227.
  16. Needham 1986, p. 236.
  17. Needham 1986, p. 259.
  18. Needham 1986, p. 260.
  19. "対馬の火㷁碗口 - 祖国は危機にあり 関連blog".
  20. Needham 1986, p. 262.
  21. 1 2 3 Martin, Colin J.M (1994). "Incendiary weapons from the Spanish Armada wreck La Trinidad Valencera, 1588". The International Journal of Nautical Archaeology. 23 (3): 207–217. Bibcode:1994IJNAr..23..207M. doi:10.1006/ijna.1994.1027.

Related Research Articles

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gunpowder</span> Explosive once used in firearms

Gunpowder, also commonly known as black powder to distinguish it from modern smokeless powder, is the earliest known chemical explosive. It consists of a mixture of sulfur, carbon, and potassium nitrate (saltpeter). The sulfur and carbon act as fuels while the saltpeter is an oxidizer. Gunpowder has been widely used as a propellant in firearms, artillery, rocketry, and pyrotechnics, including use as a blasting agent for explosives in quarrying, mining, building pipelines, tunnels, and roads.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Repeating crossbow</span> Type of weapon invented in China

The repeating crossbow, also known as the repeater crossbow, and the Zhuge crossbow due to its association with the Three Kingdoms-era strategist Zhuge Liang (181–234 AD), is a crossbow invented during the Warring States period in China that combined the bow spanning, bolt placing, and shooting actions into one motion.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Hand cannon</span> Early firearm, 13th-15th century

The hand cannon, also known as the gonne or handgonne, is the first true firearm and the successor of the fire lance. It is the oldest type of small arms as well as the most mechanically simple form of metal barrel firearms. Unlike matchlock firearms it requires direct manual external ignition through a touch hole without any form of firing mechanism. It may also be considered a forerunner of the handgun. The hand cannon was widely used in China from the 13th century onward and later throughout Eurasia in the 14th century. In 15th century Europe, the hand cannon evolved to become the matchlock arquebus, which became the first firearm to have a trigger.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Military of the Mongol Empire</span>

The military of the Mongol Empire conquered nearly all of continental Asia, along with parts of the Middle East and Eastern Europe.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Fire arrow</span> Chinese gunpowder projectile

Fire arrows were one of the earliest forms of weaponized gunpowder, being used from the 9th century onward. Not to be confused with earlier incendiary arrow projectiles, the fire arrow was a gunpowder weapon which receives its name from the translated Chinese term huǒjiàn (火箭), which literally means fire arrow. In China a 'fire arrow' referred to a gunpowder projectile consisting of a bag of incendiary gunpowder attached to the shaft of an arrow. Fire arrows are the predecessors of fire lances, the first firearm.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">History of the firearm</span> Aspect of history

The history of firearms begins in 10th-century China, when bamboo tubes containing gunpowder and pellet projectiles were mounted on spears to make portable fire lances, operable by one person. This was later used effectively as a shock weapon in the Siege of De'an in 1132. In the 13th century, fire lance barrels were replaced with metal tubes and transformed into metal-barreled hand cannons. The technology gradually spread throughout Eurasia during the 14th century and evolved into flintlocks, blunderbusses, and other variants. The 19th and 20th centuries saw an acceleration in this evolution, with the introduction of the magazine, belt-fed weapons, metal cartridges, and the automatic firearm. Older firearms typically used black powder as a propellant, but modern firearms use smokeless powder or other propellants. Most modern firearms have rifled barrels.

The history of cannons spans several hundred years from the 12th century to modern times. The cannon first appeared in China sometime during the 12th and 13th centuries. It was most likely developed in parallel or as an evolution of an earlier gunpowder weapon called the fire lance. The result was a projectile weapon in the shape of a cylinder that fired projectiles using the explosive pressure of gunpowder. Cannons were used for warfare by the late 13th century in the Yuan dynasty and spread throughout Eurasia in the 14th century. During the Middle Ages, large and small cannons were developed for siege and field battles. The cannon replaced prior siege weapons such as the trebuchet. After the Middle Ages, most large cannons were abandoned in favor of greater numbers of lighter, more maneuverable field artillery. New defensive fortifications such as bastions and star forts were designed specifically to better withstand artillery sieges. Cannons transformed naval warfare with its deadly firepower, allowing vessels to destroy each other from long range. As rifling became more commonplace, the accuracy of the cannon was significantly improved, and they became deadlier than ever, especially to infantry. In World War I, a considerable majority of all deaths were caused by cannons; they were also used widely in World War II. Most modern cannons are similar to those used in the Second World War, including autocannons—with the exception of naval guns, which are now significantly smaller in caliber.

<i>Huolongjing</i> 14th-century military treatise from the early Ming dynasty (1368–1683)

The Huolongjing, also known as Huoqitu, is a Chinese military treatise compiled and edited by Jiao Yu and Liu Bowen of the early Ming dynasty (1368–1683) during the 14th century. The Huolongjing is primarily based on the text known as Huolong Shenqi Tufa, which no longer exists.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">History of gunpowder</span>

Gunpowder is the first explosive to have been developed. Popularly listed as one of the "Four Great Inventions" of China, it was invented during the late Tang dynasty while the earliest recorded chemical formula for gunpowder dates to the Song dynasty. Knowledge of gunpowder spread rapidly throughout Asia and Europe, possibly as a result of the Mongol conquests during the 13th century, with written formulas for it appearing in the Middle East between 1240 and 1280 in a treatise by Hasan al-Rammah, and in Europe by 1267 in the Opus Majus by Roger Bacon. It was employed in warfare to some effect from at least the 10th century in weapons such as fire arrows, bombs, and the fire lance before the appearance of the gun in the 13th century. While the fire lance was eventually supplanted by the gun, other gunpowder weapons such as rockets and fire arrows continued to see use in China, Korea, India, and this eventually led to its use in the Middle East, Europe, and Africa. Bombs too never ceased to develop and continued to progress into the modern day as grenades, mines, and other explosive implements. Gunpowder has also been used for non-military purposes such as fireworks for entertainment, or in explosives for mining and tunneling.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Thunder crash bomb</span>

The thunder crash bomb, also known as the heaven-shaking-thunder bomb, was one of the first bombs or hand grenades in the history of gunpowder warfare. It was developed in the 12th-13th century Song and Jin dynasties. Its shell was made of cast iron and filled with gunpowder. The length of the fuse could be adjusted according to the intended throwing distance.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gun</span> Device that launches projectiles

A gun is a device designed to propel a projectile using pressure or explosive force. The projectiles are typically solid, but can also be pressurized liquid, or gas. Solid projectiles may be free-flying or tethered. A large-caliber gun is also called a cannon.

Gunpowder weapons in the Song dynasty included fire arrows, gunpowder lit flamethrowers, soft shell bombs, hard shell iron bombs, fire lances, and possibly early cannons known as "eruptors". The eruptors, such as the "multiple bullets magazine eruptors", consisting of a tube of bronze or cast iron that was filled with about 100 lead balls, and the "flying-cloud thunderclap eruptor", were early cast-iron proto-cannons that did not include single shots that occluded the barrel. The use of proto-cannon, and other gunpowder weapons, enabled the Song dynasty to ward off its generally militarily superior enemies—the Khitan led Liao, Tangut led Western Xia, and Jurchen led Jin—until its final collapse under the onslaught of the Mongol forces of Kublai Khan and his Yuan dynasty in the late 13th century.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Huo Che</span> Chinese multiple rocket launcher

Huo Che or rocket carts are several types of Chinese multiple rocket launcher developed for firing multiple fire arrows. The name Huo Che first appears in Feng Tian Jing Nan Ji, a historical text covering the Jingnan War of Ming dynasty.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Heilongjiang hand cannon</span> Chinese bronze firearm dated to 1287

The Heilongjiang hand cannon or hand-gun is a bronze hand cannon manufactured no later than 1288 and is the world's oldest confirmed surviving firearm. It weighs 3.55 kg and is 34 centimeters long. The Heilongjiang hand cannon was excavated during the 1970s in Banlachengzi, a village in Acheng District, Heilongjiang province, China. It was found alongside other bronze artifacts made in the style of the Jurchen Jin Dynasty. The hand cannon was probably used in battles fought nearby in Banlachengzi in 1287 and 1288. The History of Yuan states that a Jurchen commander by the name of Li Ting led a group of soldiers equipped with hand cannons into a military camp in 1288, as part of an anti-rebellion campaign for the Yuan dynasty. The cannon currently resides at the Heilongjiang Provincial Museum in Harbin, China.

This is a timeline of the history of gunpowder and related topics such as weapons, warfare, and industrial applications. The timeline covers the history of gunpowder from the first hints of its origin as a Taoist alchemical product in China until its replacement by smokeless powder in the late 19th century.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Gunpowder weapons in the Ming dynasty</span> Firearms used during 14th - 17th century China

The Ming dynasty continued to improve on gunpowder weapons from the Yuan and Song dynasties as part of its military. During the early Ming period larger and more cannons were used in warfare. In the early 16th century Turkish and Portuguese breech-loading swivel guns and matchlock firearms were incorporated into the Ming arsenal. In the 17th century Dutch culverin were incorporated as well and became known as hongyipao. At the very end of the Ming dynasty, around 1642, Chinese combined European cannon designs with indigenous casting methods to create composite metal cannons that exemplified the best attributes of both iron and bronze cannons. While firearms never completely displaced the bow and arrow, by the end of the 16th century more firearms than bows were being ordered for production by the government, and no crossbows were mentioned at all.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Chinese siege weapons</span> Overview of Chinese siege weapons

This is an overview of Chinese siege weapons.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Military history of the Song dynasty</span>

The military history of the Song dynasty encompasses military activity of the Han Chinese state of Song from 960 AD with the overthrow of Later Zhou until 1279 AD when China was conquered by the Mongol-led Yuan dynasty.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Historiography of gunpowder and gun transmission</span>

In the history of gunpowder there are a range of theories about the transmission of the knowledge of gunpowder and guns from Imperial China to the rest of the world following the Song, Jin and Yuan dynasties. The earliest bronze guns found in China date back to the 13th century, with archaeological and textual evidence for previous nascent gunpowder technology developed beforehand. Scholars note the scarcity of records for firearms in the Middle East prior to the mid-14th century, and in Russia before the late 14th century, yet cannons already appeared in Europe by the early 14th century. Less accepted theories include gunpowder as being independently invented in the Middle East or South Asia.

<span class="mw-page-title-main">Military of the Yuan dynasty</span>

The military of the Yuan dynasty (1271–1368) were the armed forces of the Yuan dynasty, a fragment of the Mongol Empire that Kublai Khan established as a Mongol-led dynasty of China. The forces of the Yuan were based on the troops that were loyal to Kublai after the Division of the Mongol Empire in 1260. Initially, this force was a Tamma, a frontier army drawn from all Mongol tribes for conquest of China, which had no central organisation but was rather a loose collection of local warlords and Mongol princely armies. However, the army was gradually reformed by Kublai Khan into a more systematic force.