The invention of gunpowder and its distribution in Europe, had enormous consequences for the entire future history of mankind. Although Europeans last of civilized nations have learned to do this explosive mixture, they were able to draw from its opening of the greatest practical benefit. Rapid development of firearms and the revolution in military affairs were the first consequences of the spread of gunpowder. This in turn led to a profound social shifts: clad in armor knights and impregnable castles were powerless to fire guns and arquebuses. Feudal society was dealt a blow from which it has never recovered. In a short time, many European powers to overcome feudal fragmentation and turned into a powerful centralized state. In the history of art there are few inventions that would lead to such a grand and far-reaching changes.
Before the gunpowder was known in the west, he already had a long history in the East, and it was invented by the Chinese. The most important part is the gunpowder nitrate. In some areas of China, she met in the native form and looked like snow flakes, priporoshit ground. Later they discovered that nitrate is formed in an area rich in alkalis and rotting (delivers nitrogen) materials. Stoking the fire, the Chinese were able to observe the flash that occurred when burning saltpeter with charcoal. The properties of nitrate described the Chinese physician Tao Hung-ching, who lived at the turn of the V and VI centuries. Since that time, it was used as part of some medicines. Alchemists often used it conducting his experiments. In the VII century one of them, Sun Si-Miao, prepare a mixture of sulfur and saltpeter, adding to them a few lokustovogo tree stakes. By heating this mixture in a cup, he suddenly got a strong flash of flame. This experience he described in his treatise 'Tribute ching. " It is believed that the Sun Si Miao-prepared one of the first samples of the powder, which, however, did not have more powerful explosive effect. In the future composition of the powder was perfected by other alchemists, have established empirically its three main components: carbon, sulfur and potassium nitrate.
Medieval Chinese could not scientifically explain what happens for the explosive reaction when ignited gunpowder, but they soon learned to use it for military purposes. However, in their lives powder does not have that the revolutionary impact that has had on later European society. This is explained by the fact that the master for a long time preparing a powder mixture of raw ingredients. Meanwhile crude nitrate and sulfur containing impurities are not allowed to strong explosive effect. Several centuries gunpowder was used solely as a means of incendiary. Later, when its quality has improved, gunpowder began to be used as an explosive in the manufacture of bombs, hand grenades and flash-bangs. But after a long time we had no idea to use force arising during the combustion of gunpowder gases, to shoot bullets or cores. Only in the XII-XIII centuries Chinese began to use a gun, very vaguely resemble firearms, but they invented firecrackers and rockets.
From Chinese secret powder learned Arabs and Mongols. In the first third of the XIII century the Arabs have achieved great skill in pyrotechnics. They used the nitrate in many joints, preventing it with sulfur and carbon was added thereto, and other components of organized fireworks of surprising beauty. From a powder mixture composition Arabs it became known to European alchemists. One of them, Mark the Greek, already in 1220 wrote in his treatise recipe gunpowder. 6 parts of nitrate per 1 part of sulfur and 1 part of coal. Later accurately the composition of gunpowder wrote Roger Bacon. However, it was still about a hundred years before this recipe is no longer a secret. This rediscovery of powder is associated with the name of another alchemist, Freiburg monk Berthold Schwarz. Once he began to pound in a mortar and ground mixture of saltpeter, sulfur and coal, causing an explosion occurred, Opal Berthold beard. This and other experiences Berthold gave the idea to use the power of propellant gases for throwing stones. It is believed that it is produced one of the first artillery shells in Europe.
To understand the principle of operation of a firearm, you should at least in general terms, imagine what kind of chemical reactions occur in the powder mass. If the powder was well promeshan and properly prepared, it was quite a spark to ignite it. The fact is that when heated above 300 degrees nitrate starts to produce its own oxygen and gave it mixed with her substance, that is oxidized or burned them. Coal played a role in the powder fuel, delivering the required amount of gaseous products of high temperature. Due to this nitrate and carbon in themselves form a blasting agent. Sulfur is added because it facilitated the generation of more heat and facilitates the ignition of gunpowder (sulfur already lighted up at 250 degrees, and only the coal at 350). Once the fire appeared in any part of the mixture, burning spread with extraordinary rapidity, because, once started, it did not require more air access and form a large number of gases have a high temperature. Gaza with great force expanded in all directions, forming an explosive effect. Thus, combustion and spread equally in the mixture and on its surface. Reactions occurring during combustion of gunpowder, can be roughly described by the following formula:
2KNO3 + 3C + S = K2S + 3CO2 + N2,
where K2S - the solid residue of combustion, and CO2 and N2 - gas. Classical composition powder: ammonium nitrate - 75%, coal - 15% sulfur - 10%. This composition gave the highest yield of gas. But here, they drew only about 40% of the powder weight. The rest were solid combustion products. They were deposited in the form of soot or escaped during firing in the form of thick clouds of smoke.
Soon after the discovery of gunpowder of Berthold Schwarz was already very widespread, and it was produced in the most remote corners of Europe. Each of the components of the mixture required special preparation. Charcoal powder prepared by burning alder wood in special iron retorts without air access. Native sulfur by melting freed from impurities. While nitrate was imported from the east. Then he discovered that it can be produced artificially by creating the appropriate conditions. Since the end of the XIV century edition of nitrate settled in Italy and Germany. It is extracted from the walls of cellars, pre-moistened with a solution of ammonium nitrate, or tubes filled with cream of tartar, lime, salt and urine of people drinking wine. The resulting precipitated with ammonium nitrate and wine vinegar. It was the most expensive component. Therefore, even tried to remove nitrate from the tainted powder tarnished. To this powder was boiled in vinegar. During this operation, the coal pop up, precipitated sulfur and nitrate dissolved. It was then evaporated from the solution.
The quality of the powder is largely dependent on how well and evenly is a mixture of its components. In order to better material mixed, they were subjected to severe grinding. Originally, the powder was a thin mukoobrazny powder. Using them was uncomfortable, as when charging guns and arquebuses powder flesh stuck to the walls of the barrel. Finally, we notice that the powder in the form of lumps is much more convenient - it is easy to be charged and when ignited produce more gas (2 pounds of gunpowder in komyah given greater effect than 3 pounds in the flesh). The first quarter of the century for convenience XV started using corn powder, a powder obtained by rolling pulp (with an alcohol, and other impurities) in the dough, which is then passed through a sieve. To grind the grain is not in transit, they learned how to polish. For this purpose they were placed in a special drum, hit or rub against each other and compacted unscrewing whose grain. After the treatment, their surface becomes smooth and shiny.