Gunpowder has been used in various applications throughout the course of history, but did you know that this ancient substance actually got its start in ninth century China?

The world’s first explosive substance was not originally intended to be used in weaponry. Its discovery by Chinese alchemists was somewhat accidental, and yet it had a huge impact on the course of human history, as weapons that used gunpowder began to be used throughout the world.

Read on as we unpack the intriguing history of this unique substance, its applications, and its impact on human history.


Use of Gunpowder in China

During the late Tang dynasty, the Chinese developed early gunpowder as a pill that they thought would keep a person living forever. As they worked to improve the formula, they eventually stumbled upon the invention of gunpowder. At first, they used this invention to make fireworks during important events. Soon they discovered the military applications of this substance.

Chinese Alchemists Perfect the Formula of Chinese Gunpowder

The earliest gunpowder formula dates back to the Song dynasty. Potassium nitrate and sulphur were the two main ingredients in ancient Chinese gunpowder. These two substances had the ability to ignite at the same time. The two substances were experimented with by Chinese alchemists until the formula for gunpowder technology was uncovered.

The original formula that the Chinese used was charcoal, sulphur, and potassium nitrate. The formula also contained the toxic substances of arsenic and mercury, making the Chinese the first to dabble in chemical warfare.

History of Gunpowder Weapons Throughout the World

Once the Chinese formula for explosive gunpowder was perfected and it was put to use in military weaponry, its use began to spread throughout other countries around the world. Weapons that used gunpowder were used in the Middle East, India, and throughout western Europe.

As the usage spread, the formula began to experience some refinements that made it what it is today, which is still quite similar to the original formula.

Chinese Gunpowder Weapons

With the invention of gunpowder came many applications when it came to weaponry. It was used to fire cannons and fire arrows. They also invented flame throwers, which operated by packing gunpowder into bamboo tubes and lighting them up in battle.

Another Chinese application that came along with the invention of gunpowder was the early rocket. Rockets are said to have had their beginnings around the time of the Song dynasty. Little is known about when exactly the rocket originated, but the early gunpowder formulas were not sufficient to propel a rocket, so it was probably not until at least the 12th century that these were invented.


What was the impact of gunpowder on European warfare?

Gunpowder had a profound impact on life in Europe. It changed the emphasis of warfare from the cavalry to one of siege and field artillery, which brought on the decline of the feudal system. The firepower that Europe possessed also made them a leader in colonization. Europe’s use of gunpowder had a huge impact on the course of world history.

When was the first use of gunpowder in the Middle Ages?

After the use of gunpowder spread to India, it spread to the Middle East around 1240 to 1280.

Did ancient China have guns?

The ancient Chinese hand cannon is typically considered the first gun to have been formed. The concept has existed since the 12th century.