Arquebus vs. Musket – The Ultimate Showdown

Key Point: Muskets, with their longer barrels, smoothbores, and flintlock mechanisms, offered improved accuracy and firepower compared to the arquebus.

So, what is the difference between an arquebus and a musket? This article will cover just that. The topic of arquebus vs musket. All the way from the origin of the two guns to how they were used on the battlefield.

As always I will give you a quick summary of the entire article before we go into detail about the differences between the two weapons. And here is a short paragraph detailing the main differences between an arquebus and a musket:

A musket was a lighter and smaller gun compared to the arquebus. Most importantly it was also far easier to shoot and reload due to its reloading mechanism being simpler than that of the arquebus. Its faster rate of fire coupled with lower weight meant it was a huge improvement to the arquebus.

That was the short version of the differences. Now, let’s delve into greater detail about each of these differences. And why the musket had more explosive gunpowder than the arquebus.

Let’s begin of course with the …

Size Difference – Arquebus vs Musket

The dimensions of an arquebus can vary. But on average an arquebus is larger and heavier than a musket. An Arquebus weighed at least 9-10 lbs and was around 3.2 feet in length. On the other hand, the musket weighed around 7 lbs and was around 4 feet in length.

According to this book: “When first introduced in the latter part of the 16th century the musket
was distinguished from other military firearms not only by its longer
barrel but also by its caliber, which was at first of 12 bore”
– page 20, The Flintlock Musket: Brown Bess and Charleville 1715–1865

So, what does 12-bore caliber mean? Well, basically that you could make 12 round lead balls from roughly a pound of lead. Of course as time passed by muskets became smaller and the caliber got smaller and smaller.

But, when it comes to size, the arquebus was smaller than the early muskets of the 16th century.

Now that we covered size. Let’s continue to the next performance metric. Their range.

Range Of An Arquebus Vs That Of A Musket?

The arquebus had a shorter range than the musket. An Arquebus could shoot around 200 meters while the musket could shoot up to 400 meters. So why such a big difference?

Well, there are 3 big reasons:

  1. Muskets had better gunpowder than the Arquebus guns
  2. Longer barrels
  3. Rifled barrels (earlier muskets did not have that)

So let’s begin with point number 1

Muskets Had A More Explosive Gunpowder Than The Arquebus

Hard to believe but it’s true. One of the reasons why muskets had better range than the arquebus is the gunpowder they used. Yes, I know what you are thinking “gunpowder is gunpowder, it’s the same thing”, well not exactly.

Gunpowder used with muskets was usually made with a process called “corning”. This means the raw ingredients of gunpowder (charcoal, sulfur, and saltpeter) were ground into a fine powder and pressed into “hard cakes” or “corns”.

This made the gunpowder more consistent since the ratio of raw ingredients was the same in every batch. And since the ratio was just right, it was also more explosive. Which of course propelled the bullet farther than the gunpowder from an Arquebus.

On the other hand with an Arquebus, things were a bit different. The ingredients were ground together without the “corning” process. This made the gunpowder batches for Arquebuses less consistent and of course less explosive on average.

Muskets Had Longer Barrels Than An Arquebus

So how do longer barrels play a role here? Well, they play 2 roles. When a bullet exist a barrel it faces two major forces that impact its flight, gravity and air resistance. While you can not do much when it comes to air resistance you can minimize the effect gravity has on the bullet.

You do this by giving the bullet more speed. Think about it the longer the bullet stays in the barrel the more speed it can accumulate before it is released. The difference in barrel lengths between muskets and arquebuses allows the bullet to get more speed before it is released.

Hence it is less affected by gravity due to its greater speed. Now later musket barrels were also rifled. That allowed the bullet to spin mid-flight which greatly increased the range and of course accuracy.

Which ties in perfectly with our next segment. Which is more accurate the Arquebus or the Musket?

Accuracy Of The Arquebus vs Musket

Accuracy was up for debate in the earlier years but towards the modern era, of the 19th century, you can make a definitive claim. That the musket was more accurate than the arquebus. This was due to the musket’s longer barrel, which allowed for a tighter spin on the bullet if the barrel was rifled.

Rate Of Fire

The musket had a faster rate of fire than the arquebus. The arquebus had a slow rate of fire due to its complicated firing mechanism. Here is what I mean.

The arquebus was fired using a matchlock mechanism. Which was a slow and complex process. The shooter had to first attach a lit match to the arquebus’ firing mechanism. Then ignite the gunpowder and fire the bullet.

This process was slow and required the shooter to have both hands free to operate the matchlock.

In contrast, the musket was fired using a flintlock mechanism, which was much faster and simpler.

The shooter had to:

  1. Pull the trigger

Which caused a flint to strike a piece of steel and create a spark that ignited the gunpowder and fired the bullet. This process was faster and required only one hand to operate the flintlock.

In both cases, of course, they had to load the gunpowder and the bullet into the barrel but the time delay was caused by the final part. The firing mechanism. The musket, by simplifying made the whole process faster for the user.

Therefore, the slower rate of fire of the arquebus compared to the musket was due to the complex and time-consuming nature of its firing mechanism. The musket’s simpler and faster firing mechanism allowed it to have a higher rate of fire, making it a more effective firearm in military conflicts

Historical Impact – Arquebus vs Musket

The arquebus and the musket both played important roles in military history. It was the first firearm to be used in large numbers on the battlefield and played a significant role in the development of modern firearms. It was an important step in the development of gunpowder weapons and it laid the perfect groundwork for what is to come after it. Which is, you guessed it the musket.

The musket was first used in the mid-16th century and became widely used in the early modern period. It was a significant improvement over the arquebus and was used in military campaigns across the world by colonial powers such as the English and the Spanish.

In Conclusion

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope you learned something new here. Feel free to take a look at some of my other articles concerning the history of gunpowder weapons. For example, the article covering the difference between flintlock and percussion weapons right here.

Another article you can take a look at is this one where we cover the differences between a rifle and a musket.

See you there.

Take care!

Sources: The Flintlock Musket: Brown Bess and Charleville 1715–1865