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Gunpowder is probably one of the most renowned inventions that originated from China. It was invented early in the third century or during the late days of the Han Dynasty (Buchanan, 2006, p.123). During this period, no one knew that gunpowder could be of great importance in the battlefield.
Hence, the various dynasties that regularly went into war did not use gunpowder as one of their weapons. The Mongols invasion that led to the ouster of the Sung dynasty saw the use of gunpowder in war fields for the first time. The Chinese used gunpowder-propelled weapons against the Mongols, but they could not overcome the Mongols since they had a strong army.
The Mongols borrowed the art of using gunpowder to make their weapons from the Chinese and later applied it in fighting the Chinese (Rossabi, 2012, pp.79-87). One of the factors that led to the success of gunpowder usage among the Mongols touches on the fear that weapons made of gunpowder instilled on the enemies. Gunpowder facilitated in the development of more devastating weapons like flaming arrows, gunpowder canisters, and cannons.
All these weapons caused immense damage thus instilling fear in the victims, which forced a majority of the victims to surrender to their adversaries. The Mongols used this advantage to surmount all their enemies in Europe and other areas. This paper will focus on a brief history of gunpowder and the Mongolian invasion before exploring the effects of gunpowder on the Mongolian invasion of the Europe before 1850.
History of Gunpowder
The invention of gunpowder marked the beginning of gun production. The development of gunpowder runs back to the Chinese alchemy. In addition, it is widely classified as one of the four great innovations made by the Chinese (Cocroft, 2000, p.246). Gunpowder emerged as early as the 9th Century during the Tang Dynasty.
Nevertheless, many people did not know about the substance until the 13th century during the Mongolian invasion. It was manufactured from carbon, potassium nitrate, and sulfur. During the 14th century, people began to use gunpowder in production of weapons. Nonetheless, they could hardly manufacture superior weapons using gunpowder until the 15th century when firearms surfaced (Gray, et al., 1982, pp. 3385-3400).
Initially, gunpowder was used in the engineering and mining industries. Before the discovery of gunpowder, engineers laid down their railways in line with contours of the terrain. It was hard for engineers to cut across a hill since they were not capable of blasting rocks.
Nevertheless, the discovery of gunpowder made it possible for railway constructors to build tunnels on high grounds, thus reducing the distance that railway line could cover. For instance, in constructing the Great Western Railway that runs between Bristol and London, engineers used a lot of gunpowder to develop the box tunnel.
After the discovery of gunpowder in China, it did not take long before the substance reached other countries. The Mongolian invasion in Europe opened a way for gunpowder to reach Europe (DeVries, 1998, pp. 127-145). Moreover, after the Mongolian attack, William of Rubruck, who worked as an ambassador for the Mongols, contributed to the introduction of gunpowder in Europe.
He was a great friend of Roger Bacon and in the process of their interaction; he shared with him the idea on how to manufacture gunpowder leading to its development in Europe. With time, the Europeans started manufacturing gunpowder and even developing guns.
The Mongolian Invasion
The Mongols invaded Hungary with the assistance of three armies. One of the armies attacked from Poland. The second army attacked through Transylvania, while the third army attacked via Verecke Pass ensuring that it cleared everything it came cross during the invasion (Duiker & Spielvogel, 2008, pp.167-185). In 1223, the Mongolian army invaded the Cumans who decided to flee to Hungary on sensing defeat.
Their move to Hungary convinced the Mongols that the King of Hungary was threatening to control their subjects, and thus to stop this threat, the Mongols had to wage war against Hungary. They attacked Hungary at a time when it was experiencing political unrest (Chambers, 2002, p.183).
The King’s support of the Cumans led to some of the noble people in Hungary rebelling against the king. The arriving Cumans entered into a conflict with the Hungarians leading to riots in the country. The riot led to the murder of the Cuman’s leader, thus forcing the Cumans to move south. No one believed that the Mongols’ attack posed a threat to Hungary.
On March 15, the Mongols front line walked into Pest and started looting and destroying the place. Nevertheless, King Béla did not take the attack seriously and warned his soldiers against retaliation. Duke Frederick went ahead and invaded a minor army comprising of the Mongols.
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His victory made the Hungarians to view their king as coward. After the victory, the archbishop of Kalocsa decided to face the Mongols in a battlefield, but was defeated and killed (May, 2011, p.69). In the end, the King decided to fight the Mongols, which led to their retreat.
The retreat confirmed the Hungarian opinion that the Mongols were not a major threat to their kingdom. After a series of confrontation with the Mongols, the Hungarian soldiers together with their king reached river Sajo, where they decided to take a rest. They were not aware of the trap laid against them by the Mongols.
The wooded terrain made it hard for the Hungarian soldiers to notice that there were more Mongolian soldiers awaiting them ahead. They planed to attack the Hungarians as they crossed the river. However, one of their captives escaped and informed the Hungarians about their motive thus sabotaging the plan.
Finally, the Mongols decided to cross the river and attack the Hungarians and this is where the Hungarian soldiers managed to catch up with them as they crossed the river thus defeating them (May, 2011, p.73). The victory at the bridge misled the Hungarians into celebrate long before the battle was over.
The Mongols regrouped and came up with new attacking methods. The frustration from the Hungarian King made it hard for the Hungarian soldiers to organize themselves thus giving the Mongols a chance to cross the river and stage a major attack. The Hungarians had the numbers and were in a position to overcome the Mongols. Nevertheless, the weapons that the Mongols used in their attack were a shocker to the Hungarians.
The Mongols used gunpowder to come up flaming arrows. The shocked Hungarians soldiers could not defend themselves leading to most of them dying in the hands of the Mongolian soldiers. Most of the Hungarian civilians fled to mountains and other areas where the Mongols could not reach them.
The remaining Hungarian soldiers kept engaging the Mongols in guerrilla attacks, but were unable to surmount them. As the Mongols were preparing to expand their territory in Europe, they received a message of the demise of the Great Khan Ogedei forcing them to retreat to their land, which brought heralded the end of the Mongolian invasion in Europe (Saunders, 1971, p. 215).
Effects of Gunpowder on Mongolian Invasion
One of factors that led to the Mongolians waging war against Europe is that some of the European countries like Hungary agreed to host the Cumans and Kipchaks as they fled from the Mongolian attacks in Russia. The two groups were nomadic like the Mongols (May, 2011, p.81). Consequently, the Mongolian ruler believed that they were his subjects and were supposed to submit to his leadership only.
Therefore, to ensure that he regained his subjects and perhaps teach Hungary a lesson, Subedei hatched a plan to attack Hungary. He came up with two groups of soldiers where one group was to attack Poland while the other one proceeded to Hungary. In March 1241, the Mongolian troops proceeded to Hungary, but later withdrew from attacking the Hungarians. This move duped the Hungarians into thinking that the Mongolians were afraid of them.
Therefore, they dismissed the assistance of the Kipchaks and Cumans who were experienced in war. Meanwhile, the other group proceeded to Poland where it attacked the country causing immense damage. During this invasion, gunpowder played a significant role. It reinforced the fighting capacity of the Mongolian soldiers.
The Poland’s army comprised of armored knights. Nevertheless, they could hardly withstand the wrath of the Mongolian soldiers who had guns and other weapons propelled using gunpowder. Gunpowder made it possible for the Mongolians to attack and destroy the Poland soldiers from a distance. It was possible for the Mongolians to send gunpowder-propelled shells to the Poland soldiers, which left most of them dead and others maimed.
Another effect of gunpowder in the Mongolian invasion of Europe is that it facilitated in destroying and annihilating all the major cities in the region (Khan, 1981, pp. 146-164). The ancient troops used the scotched earth technique as one of the ways to surmount their enemies.
The soldiers ensured that they burnt down everything they came across as they pursued their enemies. The technique aimed at ensuring that their enemies did not get any material support or access hiding places. By burning everything, the victims had no alternative but to surrender to their rivals or move away from their land leaving it in the hands of their enemies.
The Mongols used gunpowder to burn down all the European cities they came across leaving their inhabitants with nowhere to hide. It would have been hard to burn down the cities without something explosive, and thus gunpowder acted as the best alternative for this intention thus helping the Mongols execute their intentions with limited challenges.
The Mongols ensured that they gutted down all the towns and cities they came across during their European invasion. This move left the Europeans with nothing to rely on thus rendering them incapacitated. During war, most armies depend on their cities for supply of barely everything ranging from food to military support. Besides, some cities act as forts through which soldiers accost their enemies (Khan, 1996, pp. 41–45).
Annihilation of such cities leaves the soldiers with nothing to use as their barrier. Moreover, it makes the soldiers weak due to lack of food supply. The Mongols used their long-time experience coupled with gunpowder to incapacitate their enemies in Europe. As gunpowder is explosive, they applied it in burning all the cities that offered support to the European soldiers.
In some of the cities, it was hard for the Mongols to create their way without the help of gunpowder. In some of the European cities, residents had established huge walls that acted as their protective armor during wars.
It was hard for the Mongols to get over these walls without coming up with a way of bringing them down (Pacey, 1997, p.137). Therefore, gunpowder played a significant role in helping the Mongols demolish these walls, eventually making their way into the cities. Besides, gunpowder helped the Mongols to strengthen their cavalry.
Before the discovery of gunpowder, dynasties depended on heavy cavalry during wars. The introduction of gunpowder led to the infantry and cavalry becoming some of the major fighting forces for the Mongols and other fighting blocks (Ling, 1947, pp.160-178). The Mongols managed to establish a light cavalry, which had the benefits of mobility and speed.
With this cavalry, the Mongols could now attack their adversaries at swift speed giving them no time to regroup themselves and stage a meaningful opposition. The Mongols used light cavalry to attack Poland. The discovery of gunpowder made all these conquests possible.
The cavalry rode on horseback and used crude weapons like spears with explosives tied at their tips. Besides, the invention of gunpowder led to the establishment of novel fighting tactics dubbed caracole, which comprised of orthodox cavalry that used firearms and carbines to fight.
Without gunpowder, it would have been hard for the Mongols to overcome the European soldiers at the Battle of Mohi. The European soldiers used plate armor, which was designed in a way that it was hard for sharp objects like spears to penetrate it. Prior to the discovery of gunpowder, most of the soldiers used sharp objects like spears during the war.
Hence, the warriors had come up with armors to help in mitigating the impacts of spears during war (Roux, 2003, pp.214-227). However, the invention of gunpowder forced the European soldiers to work on their plate armors. They designed the armors in a way that soldiers could withstand pistol or harquebus balls. It meant that for any troop to surmount the European forces, it had to have superior weapons.
The invention of gunpowder helped the Mongols to come up with superior firearms, which could penetrate the plate armor. Without these guns, it would have been hard for the Mongols to advance their conquest cross the Europe. European soldiers had already borrowed the idea of gun production from China and had come up with strong plate armor.
The Mongolians took advantage of gunpowder to instill fear on their subjects throughout their invasion in Europe. They not only used the weapons made out of gunpowder to kill those opposed to them, but also ensured that they destroyed the entire city as a way of sending a strong message to their next victims (Ragan & Ridenour, 2004, pp.436–443).
The trend of killing their victims as well as destroying all the cities where they faced opposition worked very well towards subduing many dynasties. Some dynasties were not ready to face their wrath and had to give in to their demands, collaborate with them, and become their subjects as a way of protecting their cities.
Having seen some major cities in countries like Poland and Hungary come down and their people killed, it instilled the “Mongolian” fear in many cities across Europe. These actions not only instilled fear on the Europeans, but also made them to believe that the Mongols were superior to any kingdom. Hence, to avoid any damage, there was no need of the cities to engage in battles they could not win.
After the Mongols used flaming arrows on Hungarian soldiers entrapped within a camp, the soldiers got terrified and opted to escape through a route that the Mongols had established purposely to trap them. As the soldiers fled the camp, the Mongols got a chance to attack and kill most of them.
The Mongols knew that it would be easier to kill the Hungarians as they escaped than accosting them within their safe zones. Hence, they used gunpowder to make sure that the soldiers came out of the camp. The gunpowder explosion terrified the Hungarians forcing them to bolt from the camp falling into the hands of the Mongols.
The Chinese were the first people to invent gunpowder. Initially, no one knew that gunpowder could be a crucial component in the manufacture of weapons. Hence, people used it in launching fireworks as well as blasting rocks during construction of railway lines. With time, people started to use gunpowder in the manufacture of crude weapons. One of instances where gunpowder played a significant role in the manufacture of weapons was during the Mongolian invasion of Europe.
Use of gunpowder to manufacture weapons greatly contributed to the Mongolian victory during their invasion. It strengthened the fighting capacity of the Mongolian soldiers (May, 2011, p.81). Without gunpowder-propelled weapons, it would have been hard for the Mongols to surmount Polish and Hungarian soldiers who used plated armors.
It was hard to pierce through the armor using spears and arrows. Nevertheless, the gunpowder firearms that the Mongols used were strong enough to penetrate the armors. Besides reinforcing the fighting capacity of the Mongolian soldiers, gunpowder helped combat soldiers in their scotched earth tactic. Using gunpowder, the Mongolians managed to annihilate everything belonging to their rivals, thus subduing them easily.
The Mongols came up with light weapons. Consequently, they stopped depending on the heavy cavalry and turned to light cavalry during their attacks (Khan, 1981, p. 147). Consequently, it was possible for them to attack at a swift speed giving their enemies no time to prepare. Besides enhancing the attacking speed, gunpowder helped the Mongols to instill fear in their enemies, which compelled the majority to flee while others opted to negotiate with the Mongols.
One of the factors that made the Mongols overcome the Hungarians is the fear they instilled on the Hungarian soldiers. After the Mongols attacked the Hungarian soldiers using flaming arrows, the soldiers got terrified and thus they could not withstand the attack. In the ensuing melee, the Hungarian soldiers tried to escape only to run straight into the Mongolians trap where majority were killed as they escaped (Ragan & Ridenour, 2004, p.448).
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