The Ottoman Artillery and the Cannons in the 14th and 16th Centuries

Professor Salim Ayduz, BMHC

In the second half of the 12th and 13th centuries, firearms were started to be use at first time in the Muslim armies in Andalusia. Then gunpowder, firearms and cannons transferred by the Christian armies to the England and the rest of the Europe. The firearms were started to be use from the beginning of the 14th century in the England. But they become more effectual war weapons in the late 14th century in the Europe. According to the some European sources, we know that firearms were very ineffective in the first half of the 14th century. Some European states have got the firearms and small size cannons besides England in the second half of the century. Meantime Ottomans has also some kind of cannons. According to the main Ottoman sources as historian Ibn Kemal’s Tawârikh-i Al-i Osman and Shikarî’s Karaman History, Turks have got firearms in the 1350’s. For example in the siege of the Gallipoli (1354) Ottomans has got cannon beside a catapult. Another example is that in the battle of the Karaman, Ottomans has cast iron cannon in the capital city of Bursa and they used it against enemies. In spite of these uncertain knowledge we know that in the battle of the Kosovo I (1389) both Ottoman and Christian armies has got firearms and cannons. Because, there were a significant firearms trade in Europe second half of the fourteenth century. European tradesmen were selling cannons, gunpowder and muskets to the Ottomans and the other states in the East of Europe. This trade was high commercial for the tradesmen especially Venetians and Balkans. Pope Gregoire XI was prohibited and threaded this trade for Christian tradesmen in May, 15th, 14731.
Firearms started to be used in Ottoman armies in the second half of the 14th century. But fire-arms, especially cannons become widespread after the first quarter of the 15th century in Ottoman State. Ottomans wanted to be effectual by exporting new weapons or getting weapons in wars with the West. But after a while Ottomans established their own cannon foundries. Increase in technology and product in the reign of Murad II, reached a high level in Muḥammed the Conqueror’s reign. In the reign of Muḥammed II, firearms technology developed which is a very important turning point.

Cannon Founding Attempts in Adrianople

As we stated above, cannon-founding attempts of Ottomans developed at the beginning of the 15th century. During these attempts, mobile and fixed cannons were produced. The oldest arsenal was produced in the reign of Murad II (1421-1451) in Adrianople. Also before this, there were mobile cannon foundries around castles to attack against them. In Balkans, it is unknown exactly when the state cannon foundry in Adrianople was established. But it is known that in the reign of Muḥammed II cannon founding attempts were increased. After ascending him to the throne, who made his first plans to conquer Istanbul, founded many cannon. These works were mainly organised by chief gunner Saruca Usta and architect Master Muslihuddin. Muḥammed II constantly took these works under control. Also it is known that he attended to the arrangements of some cannon sizes.

In the siege of the Constantinople, there were numerous both Muslim and Christian volunteer or waged soldiers in the Ottoman army. During 1452 summer the conquest preparations of Ottomans were very much, Hungary or German originated artilleryman Urban came to Ottomans from Byzantine Empire because of not getting money as much as he wished. He cast very huge sized cannon In Adrianople and tested it there in front of the sultan and the government officials. Urban also cast one or two huge size cannons in front of the Byzantium State walls during to siege time. Under the administration of the Sultan, there were numerous cannon founders. Urban only was one of them. In the siege of the Constantinople Ottomans have use and cast more than 150 cannons.

Conquest of Istanbul and Role of the Cannon

In recognizing the full importance of cannon, the sultans were equally up to date. The capture of Constantinople by Muḥammed II in 1453 was probably the first event of supreme importance whose result was determined by the power of artillery. The lighter guns of previous years had never accomplished any feat comparable in its results to that which was achieved by the siege-train of the Conqueror. For the walls of Constantinople, even in their days of decay under the Palaeologus, was still the most formidable system of defences in Europe. An important turning point is that along the siege, Muḥammed II and his artillerymen have improved new kind of the mortar (howitzer) even if it was early known. The conqueror redesigned the mortar for the purpose of striking the ships on the surface of Golden Horn (Halic) and it was cast by artillerymen in a first time. In this time the mortar was not invented by them but it was newly used in a functional way. Besides, the firstly used large calibre of cannon of besiege was influential over the fall of city walls of Istanbul. The tested cannon was developed more by Muḥammed II and they were used in other besieges later on.

Muhammed II

Muhammed II

The Royal Cannon Foundry (Tophane-i Amire) and the Technology of Cannon Casting

Muḥammed the Conqueror gave much attention to the production of firearm after the conquest and he made construction of a foundry which includes both indigenous gunners as well as non- Muslim ones was the biggest foundry of the day. Even though there is not much knowledge about the arsenal in the reign of Muḥammed II It is known that large calibre of cannon was cast and the important effort has been made. Indeed some parts of the cannon still exist today. We have no information about when the arsenal established exactly. But we know it was established before 1472 in the Tophane district.

The Royal Cannon Foundry /Tophane-i Amire

The Royal Cannon Foundry /Tophane-i Amire

It is known that Ottomans have produced many cannon in the time of Muḥammed II and they have many numbers of huge calibre cannons. As a reference to some sources, it is evident that the enemy had seized two hundreds of cannon along siege of Belgrade in 1456. On the other hand, the cannon, which the enemy had seized, were carried away to the palace of Hungarian king later on. These cannon took much attention of the public. According to both native and European sources, the so extraordinarily fineness and largeness of these cannon created great excitement in Europe and the people from different countries come to see the cannon. It is evident that the fame of the cannon has been reached to all Europe. (One of the cannons will be mentioned below)

Cannons That Rest Today

It was stated before that many of cannons that were cast during the reign of Muḥammed II were large calibre siege cannons. In the next centuries, field battles took the place of siege wars. Therefore, the importance of siege cannons decreased. And also since they created difficulties because of their clumsiness and extreme gunpowder consumption, in the next centuries these cannons pulled into pieces and melted to produce small-scale cannons. Thus, from this period to today only a few cannons can reach. According to studies, the number of the cannons that reached today from the time of Muḥammed II is six. One of them is cannon with two parts and as it will be said, it is now in the Museum of Tower of London. The other four cannons are almost similar to each other. The last cannon is now in the courtyard of the Military Museum in Istanbul and it is one of the most interesting cannon that reached today. Cannons that reached today are these:

  • A Wonder of Technology: A Screwed Cannon That Consists Two Parts
    This cannon consist two parts and it is now displayed in Tower of London Museum. According to its inscription, a cannon master Ali cast it in March 1464, and it is displayed in the courtyard of the Museum. In the Dardanelles War, it caused to damage six ships of the fleet under the command of English Sir John Ducks Worth and at that moment, it was in Kilidbahir Castle. To get this cannon, England struggled with the Ottomans for a long time. English General J. H. Lefroy who came to the Dardanelles during the Crimean War (1856), offered 1600 sterling to Sublime Porte, but his diplomatic performance to get this cannon gave no result. And, this suggestion also was refused by the Ottoman Sublime Porte. On the other hand, with the mediation of Ambassador Mr Clavert, Lefroy continued to great effort to get it. After the long and adventurous struggle of Lefroy and after one year Europe journey of Sultan Abdul-Aziz, as a gift it was taken from Dardanelles, brought to London and placed in the Rotunda Museum in 1868. It was stated that Queen Victoria requested Sultan Abdul-Aziz in person; this can be the answer of the question why suddenly the Ottomans gave the cannon after 60 years struggle. Ffoulkes claims that the reason of this request is “to get the most important cannon of Europe”.

    Screwed Cannon, Ford Nelson Museum, UK

    Screwed Cannon, Ford Nelson Museum, UK

    An inscription on the cannon was written in three separate lines. The cannon that can be divided into two from the middle consists two parts and with cannon ball, the gunpowder reservoir consists separate parts. It was transported from one place to the other in separate parts and screwing the parts in that place used it. It is argued that the Ottomans cast these cannons in 15th and 16th century. On the outside of the cannon there are strengthening circles. Some circles are larger and they were decorated with stylised leaf figures. There are three small strengthening circles on the gunpowder reservoir and five on the barrel. There are manoeuvre blanks at the beginning and at the end of both parts. There are no trunnion, transportation circle and gunstock thread on it. It has 18 tone weights; it is 5.23 cm. length and 63.5 cm. in diameter. The length of the barrel is 3.15 cm; the gunpowder reservoir is 24.8 cm. in diameter. The proportion of tin is 10.2%, and also the amount of copper is 89.8%. It is known that the cannons with two parts that are assumed as the excellent cannons of the era were never cast in Europe same size.

  • Other Cannons
    There are four cannons in Istanbul that the diameter and length size is similar to each other. One of them is in the Military Museum, two of them are in front of the Rumeli Castle and the last one is in Eyup district. Although these cannons, which are very similar to each other in structure and cast from bronze, have no writing or date on them, it can be understood from their structural features, they are belong to the time of Muḥammed II They were massy cast in great haste, probably during a campaign. Due to this reason, they have no arty peculiarities. There are some deep sign marks on cannons. Because of these specialities, it can be accepted that they are the first rear sight cannons.

    The weight of the cannon that is displayed in the courtyard of the Military Museum is 15 tone, it is 63 cm. in diameter and the length of it 4.24 cm. It was cast as a single unit. The weight of the cannon ball of this cannon is 285 kg and it can be understood that it is a Shayka that throws five-steelyard stone cannon ball in one time. One of the cannons that are in front of the Rumelia Castle is 68 cm. in diameter and the length of it is 4.27 cm, the other is 66 cm. in diameter and 4.23 cm. in length. The cannon in Eyup district is 74 cm. in diameter, the length of it is 4.32 cm. and it has a decorative ring at he middle. That cannon was painted dark green in the recent years.

  • The Ornate Cannon
    The other cannon that is displayed in the courtyard of the Military Museum and belong to the time of Muḥammed II cast carefully and the outside of it decorated with beautiful figures with relief. After the cannon in London, it should be the most interesting cannon of 15th century. There is no inscription to inform the production date. There is an unreadable writing around the end of the barrel. The name of the master and the technical knowledge that can be seen on the other cannons are not found in these cannon. The length of it 3.46 cm. and it is 37 cm. in diameter. It is 11 tones, the weight of cannon ball is 218 kg and it can be understood that it is a Shayka cannon, which throws 4-steelyard stone cannon ball. On both sides of the barrel there are two transport circles and also on both sides of the back of the cannon, there are bronze manoeuvre threads. Like most of other cannons of Muḥammed II period, it has two levels from inside and outside. Gunpowder hole part is slimmer than the barrel and it is 18 cm. in diameter. The length of the way of cannon ball is1.65 cm, the length of gunpowder reservoir is 1.70 cm. The end of the barrel is cast in two levels. The end of the barrel is 74 cm. in diameter from outside to out. There are a lot of geometric and floral figures around the cannon. There are ornaments in 20 circle lines. 18 of these ornament circles are different from each other. Beyond military history, the cannon is also very important for art history.

    The Ornate Cannon, Military Museum, Istanbul, Turkey

    The Ornate Cannon, Military Museum, Istanbul, Turkey

    The vent is 30 cm, inner from the backside of cannon and in that place there is a beautiful flower figure. The figure so designed that there is the vent at the centre of the flower and nearly it did not loosest feature. By examining this part in detail, it can be understood that the cannon was used for a short period. This can be the cannon that was abandoned in Belgrade during the Belgrade Campaign in 1456. As it was said before, the Belgrade campaign of Muḥammed II was unsuccessful and 200 cannons were abandoned there and among them, there were many valuable cannons. Two of these cannons were brought before the palace of Hungarian rulers in Buda and put there to exhibit the public. They remained for a long time and after Mohacz Battle of Suleiman in 1526, with the taking of the capital city of Buda, they were brought to Istanbul.


From the points that were explained, we can say that the reign of Muḥammed II is very important period for the history of the Ottoman firearm technology. The other significant developments of the period, beyond the quick advance of firearm technology, are the organisation of groups that will use them and the opening of Royal Artillery at Tophane district. Far from these developments, it is impossible not to see the personality of Muḥammed II who organise the Ottoman State and not to appreciate him. It is certain that new and original knowledge will appear by studying and examining of firearms of this period under the general title of military technology.

Further Reading

  • Salim Aydüz, Osmanli Devleti’nde Tophâne-i Âmire ve Top Döküm Teknolojisi, PhD Dissertation, University of Istanbul, 1998;
  • A. N. Kennard, Gunfounding and Gunfounders A Directory of Cannon Founders from Earliest times to 1800, London 1986, p. 95;
  • A. Vasiliev, “Jörg of Nuremberg, A Writer Contemporary with the Fall of Constantinople (1453)”, Byzantion 10 (1935), pp. 205-209);
  • Adnan Adivar, Osmanli Türklerinde Ilim (publ. A. Kazancigil-S. Tekeli), Istanbul 1982, p. 40;
  • Charles Oman, A history of the art of war in the middle ages, London 1991, p. 357;
  • F. Babinger, Mehmed the Conqueror and his Time (trans. R. Manheim, ed. W. C. Hickman), Princeton 1978, p. 201;
  • E. H. Ayverdi, “Fatih Devrinde Istanbul Mahalleleri”, Vakiflar Dergisi, 4 (1958), p. 257;
  • Fatih Imareti Vakfiyesi (ed. Osman N. Ergin), Istanbul 1945, pp. 19-23;
  • Feridun Dirimtekin, “Belgrad’in Iki Muhasarasi”, Istanbul Enstitüsü Dergisi, Istanbul 1956, II, 61;
  • Ffoulkes, “”The ‘Dardanelles’ Gun at the Tower”, The Antiquaries Journal, 25 (Aralik 1929), pp. 217-227;
  • Gabor Agoston, “Ottoman Artillery and European Technology in the Fifteenth and Seventeenth Centruies”, Acta Orientalia Academiae Scientiarum Hungaria, XLII/1-2 (Budapest 1994), p. 25;
  • Gazavât-i Sultân Murâd b. Mehemmed Hân (ed. Halil Inalcik-M. Oguz), Ankara 1978, pp. 67-68;
  • Geoffrey Parker, The Military Revolution Military Innovation and the Rise of the West 1500-1800, Cambridge 1996, p. 225;
  • H. J. Kissling, “Baljemez”, Zeitschrift der Deutschen Morgenlandischen Gesellschaft, 101 (1951), p. 333 vd.);
  • Halil Inalcik, “Mehmed II”, IA, VII, p. 535;
  • J. Needham, The Development of Iron and Steel Technology in China, London 1958, p. 22;
  • J. von Hammer, Devlet-i Osmaniye Tarihi (trans. Mehmed Ata), Istanbul 1332, III, p. 172;
  • Kemalpasazâde, Tevârih-i Âl-i Osman X. Defter (ed. Ş. Severcan), Ankara 1996, pp. 316-317;
  • I. H. Konyali, “Fatih’in Toplari ve Askerî Müze”, p. 650;
  • J. H. Lefroy, ““The Great Cannon of Muhammad II (A.D. 1464)”, The Archaeological Journal, 25 (1868), pp. 263-264;
  • Rhoads Murphy, “Osmanlilarin Bati Teknolojisini Benimsemedeki Tutumlari: Efrenci Teknisyenlerin Sivil ve Askerî Uygulamalardaki Rolü”, Osmanlilar ve Bati Teknolojisi Yeni Arastirmalar Yeni Görüsler, Istanbul 1992, pp. 7-19;
  • V. J. Parry, “Barud”, EI2, I, p. 1062.