An extract from Armies and Enemies of the Crusades 1096-1291
by Ian Heath

[Based on The Book of Horsemanship and Ingenious War Devices, by Hassan Al-Rammah, c. 1280.]

A certain al-Hassan al-Rammah describes and illustrates the Midfa in a work of c. 1280-1290. It was clearly an early firearm, made of wood with a barrel only as deep as its muzzle width, used to fire Bunduks (?bullets) or feathered bolts. The charge filled a third of the barrel and consisted of a mixture of 10 parts saltpetre (Barud), 2 parts charcoal, and 1˝ parts sulphur.

The actual discovery of gunpowder is a dubious distinction which has been variously claimed for Chinese, Indians, Byzantines, Arabs, Germans and Englishmen, but the name of the discoverer and date of actual discovery remain uncertain. The date of the application of gunpowder to a projectile-firing weapon is even more hazy, but if the dating of this Mamluk ms. is correct then this source is certainly amongst the earliest pieces of evidence outside of China. This weapon was probably no more than an experimental device of the Royal Arsenal and may never have seen active service, though the late-13th century chronicler Ibn 'Abd al-Zahir remarks that for the siege of al-Marqab in 1285 'iron implements and flame-throwing tubes' were issued by the royal arsenals, and one wonders whether any of the Mamluk engineers armed with 'naptha tubes' at Salamiyet in 1299 (apparently mounted), or storming the breaches of Acre in 1291, might have actually carried such weapons. It has to he admitted that hand-siphons like those used earlier by the Byzantines seem more probable.

'Midfa' was also the name applied to the earliest known Mamluk cannons, dating to 1366 or possibly 1340 (late dates considering the apparent earliness of the weapon described here).

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