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An extract from Armies of the Middle Ages, Volume 2
by Ian Heath


The handgun was for a long time thought to have been first introduced amongst the Ottomans only between 1440-43, but it is now known that its introduction probably took place a decade or two earlier, one source mentioning handguns as well as cannon aboard Ottoman ships in 1421 and 1430. One anonymous Ottoman source records the use of handguns at the Battle of Varna in 1444, and most contemporary sources refer to handguns being used at the siege of Constantinople in 1453, the eye-witness Italian accounts calling them by the names schiopetti or zarbattane (the latter a corruption of zabtana or zabtaniya, one of the early names by which the Mamluks, and seemingly the Turks, called the handgun). The usual Ottoman name for the handgun was tufek, which probably derives from tuwek, recorded in the 11th century as a blowpipe used to kill birds with small pebbles; zabtana and bunduq have similar derivations.

Despite the presence of ‘10,000 culverines’ (doubtless handguns in this instance) being referred to by Tetaldi and Montaldo at the siege of Constantinople, it is clear from many other sources that the Ottomans were nevertheless slow in their universal adoption of the handgun, and that in the first half of the 16th century they are still recorded as ‘not yet used to the arquebus’. With this in mind, it is interesting to note that in the second half of the 15th century roughly half of the Ottoman handgunners in Serbia and Bosnia at least were provided by Christian auxiliaries. The figure depicted here is from the Zonchio woodcut.
[Based on The Battle of Zonchio (Navarino), 1499]

Next: 8. OTTOMAN HEAVY INFANTRYMAN in Armies of the Middle Ages, Volume 2 by Ian Heath

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