Chinese Fire Lance: The First Firearm

Key Point: Fire lance was an early Chinese gunpowder weapon with a tube filled with gunpowder and projectiles.

Join me on a captivating journey through time as we delve into the enigmatic history of the fire lance. You will witness its humble beginnings and how this one crude weapon changed human history forever.

Through and through fire lance is the original firearm. As crude as it was, it was the granddaddy of the firearms that came after it. In this article, we will discuss the history of the fire lance, where it was used, and how.

So before, we go into details let’s start by examining what is a fire lance. And how was the fire lance even used?

The fire lance was a primitive form of a firearm that originated in China as early as the 10th century. It consisted of a tube around 1 meter long, that was usually made from bamboo. This tube was sealed off from one end and on the other side gunpowder and a projectile was inserted.

And when the enemy was close enough the gunpowder was ignited thus inflicting damage. The fire lance was an inaccurate weapon but it was still prized for its ability to create confusion and disorder among the enemy.

That was the short takeaway of the entire article. But now, let’s go a little deeper, starting with the history and development of the fire lance.

The Origin Of The Fire Lance

Fire lance used by a knight

The fire lance was a primitive weapon that was invented in China as early as the 10th century. Back then the Chinese were using bows and crossbows already, so why bother with fire lances?

Well, bows had great benefits, but also more than a few drawbacks when compared to gunpowder weapons. Mainly it was expensive to make proper Chinese bows since the actual production of Chinese bows could take years. On top of that training, a proper archer was also expensive.

What about crossbows? Well, these were a lot easier to build and train people to use. They were still more expensive than a bamboo stick filled with gunpowder. But it was an improvement over the bow. The main problem was the expense. And the fact that fire lances had the added benefit of creating loud noises and smoke that disorganized the enemy a lot more than a hail of crossbow bolts.

So, even though accuracy was a problem the Chinese didn’t care. They adopted the fire lance quite extensively. There were some important battles where massive numbers of fire lances were used in China.

Battles That Were Fought Using Fire Lances

There were two famous battles in China that made massive use of the fire lance.

One of the most notable examples is the Battle of Caishi in 1161, during the Song dynasty. Here the Chinese army, armed with fire lances, defeated a much larger and better-equipped army of the Jurchen Jin dynasty. According to historical records, the Chinese army used the fire lances to create a wall of fire and smoke, which disoriented and panicked the enemy, allowing the Chinese soldiers to defeat them in a surprise attack.

Another notable example is the Battle of Tangdao in 1274, during the Mongol invasion of China, where the Chinese army, again armed with fire lances, held off the Mongol invaders for a time. The Chinese used the fire lances to create a wall of fire and smoke and this time to slow down the Mongols and make it difficult for them to use their cavalry effectively.

Now it’s time we take a look at how the fire lance worked.

How The Fire Lance Was Loaded And Fired

The process of loading and firing a fire lance was relatively quick. It took a few seconds to complete.

The fire lance was loaded with a tube filled with gunpowder and a projectile, such as a spear or an arrow, which was inserted into the tube and held in place with a wooden plug. The gunpowder was then ignited by a slow match or a spark generated by striking flint against steel. Once ignited, the gunpowder would burn rapidly, propelling the projectile out of the tube at high speed.

The process of loading a fire lance was simple, but required some level of training and practice, especially when reloading and firing in rapid succession during a battle.

It’s important to note that the fire lance was not a very accurate weapon, and the projectiles were not able to travel very far, but they were effective in creating a wall of fire and smoke, which disoriented and panicked the enemy. This leads us perfectly to our next segment …

Its Main Advantage And Disadvantages

The main appeal of the fire lance was it was able to create confusion and disorder in the enemy ranks. Imagine a horse charging at a wall of fire lances. The sound and smoke created when that wall of lances gets fired will spook any horse, thus creating an advantageous position for the other party.

The main disadvantage was of course its lack of any accuracy. In short-ranged encounters, that was not really a problem, but as soon as you got a little distance from the fire lance the chances of t hitting you were greatly diminished.

Now, before we take a look at how fire lances are depicted in modern media … I want to just take a moment and provide answers to some commonly asked questions people have when researching fire lances and their role in firearm history.

Frequently Asked Questions

Did the Mongols use fire lances?

Yes, the Mongols employed fire lances as part of their military tactics. Fire lances were early firearms that originated in China and spread to other regions, including Mongol-controlled territories.

Was the fire lance the first gun?

The fire lance is considered one of the early precursors to firearms but not the first gun in the strictest sense. While it had gunpowder-based propulsion and projectile capabilities, the distinction of the “first gun” is attributed to more developed and advanced firearms that came later in history.

What came after the fire lance?

After the fire lances came even more sophisticated weapons such as hand cannons, matchlock muskets, and eventually even more advanced firearms like flintlock muskets and rifles. These advancements marked significant milestones in the history of firearms.

What was the fire lance used for?

The fire lance served as a means to project flames and projectiles toward enemy forces, causing damage and chaos on the battlefield. The fire lance provided the Mongols and other users with a powerful tool to disrupt enemy formations and create havoc during military engagements.

Now to wrap things up, let’s see how fire lances are depicted in modern media.

Modern Media Depictions

Fire lances have made appearances in various forms of modern media.

One notable example is in the popular video game series “Dynasty Warriors.” This franchise, set in the Three Kingdoms period of ancient China, features characters who utilize fire lances as part of their arsenal. Players can engage in epic battles, wielding fire lances to unleash devastating attacks on their foes.

Moreover, fire lances have also found representation in historical fiction literature.

Some novels set in ancient or medieval East Asia incorporate fire lances into their narratives, highlighting the weapon’s significance and impact on warfare during that era. These depictions provide readers with a glimpse into the historical context and the role fire lances played in military strategies.

It’s worth noting that the portrayal of fire lances in modern media may vary in terms of accuracy and interpretation, as creative liberties are often taken for dramatic effect. Meaning, while it is cool to see fire lances in games and books, don’t rely on those to give you an accurate depiction of what this weapon was capable of.

In Conclusion

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope you learned a thing or two. If you wish you can continue reading about the history of firearms by taking a look at the Arquebus, right here.

Take care!

Sources: The Gunpowder Age: China, Military Innovation, and the Rise of the West in World History by Tonio Andrade