The Alcázar castle in Segovia, an hour’s drive from Madrid, is of great interest to the military historian. The link will tell you some of the background of this 12th century castle that later served as an artillery school. In this post I want to concentrate on the armory, which houses a rare collection of early artillery from the 15th and early 16th centuries.
As I discussed in my book Medieval Handgonnes: The First Black Powder Infantry Weapons, the first depiction of a cannon appears in a manuscript from 1326. By the end of the 14th century, they were a common sight at sieges, although their weight and slow rate of fire limited their battlefield use. The obvious solution was to make smaller black powder weapons that could be carried by the individual warrior, and thus the handheld firearm was born.
By the 15th century, artillery was coming into its own. Crude wheeled carriages offered better movement, developments in gunpowder technology reduced cost and increased power, and artillery was being used in the field as well as against walls. The armory at the Alcázar in Segovia offers a glimpse into this important period in the history of artillery.
You’ll note that many of these pieces have rings along the barrel. Many early cannon were made of long bars of metal fused together, and these rings were essential for strengthening the barrel. Even so, there were numerous instances of weak joins leading to burst barrels. Cannons cast from bronze appear right at the beginning of the gunpowder period, but their high cost prohibited them from being very big at a time when gunpowder was weak. Once gunpowder became more efficient in the 15th century, cast cannons become more common, and became the favored method in later centuries.
The armory and the rest of the castle have some nice suits of armor, barding, and weapons from various periods. If you are in Madrid, I highly recommend going to Segovia as a day trip!
1: The main tower of the Alcázar, at one end of the promontory on which the city of Segovia sits.
2: This cannon dates to the 15th century, is 2.35 meters long, a calibre of 18.5 cm, and has a 52cm chamber.
3: Another 15th century cannon of similar design. The smaller gun in the foreground is undated but probably 16th century. These smaller breechloading guns were commonly mounted on ships.
4: 16th century cannonballs.
5: This mortar is labeled 15th century but I’m thinking it may actually be 16th. Anyone have a better guess on this? It has a calibre of 42 cm.
6: Another cannon, this time with a crude sight. One wonders how useful such a thing would be with the very basic ballistics of the time!
7: A longer shot of the armory, with some fine pavises on the wall.
8: This piece still guards the entrance to the Alcázar. It has a typical mount of the early period of artillery, with very basic elevation control.
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