Firearms in 16th century Peru and Mexico?

Discussion in 'Pre-Flintlock Wars' started by hyuzu, May 1, 2019.

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  1. May 1, 2019 #1

    hyuzu

    hyuzu

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    Does anyone know how widespread the use of firearms was among 16th century indigenous states and tribes in what's now Mexico and Peru? I'm asking about these two regions in particular because they're the only ones I know any background info on from this period.

    For example, this passage on wikipedia caught my eye, can any experts in Incan or Spanish American history elaborate?

    "It took the Incas approximately two decades to bridge the technological gap with the Spanish. As early as 1537, when king Manco Inca defeated them at Pilcosuni, they came into possession of modern Spanish weapons, including arquebuses, artillery and crossbows ... By the 1560s it was recorded that many Incans had developed considerable skill in utilizing arquebuses and riding horses."
    source: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Neo-Inca_State#Adoption_of_Spanish_warfare
     
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  2. May 17, 2019 #2

    tenngun

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    The availability was low. Cortez took about 600 men with him only a third was armed with arquebusesin. In 1588 none of Spanish navel forces and less then a third of the ground forces were armed with guns.
    After the conquest Spain was loath to put guns up for trade and severely limited civilian access to-arms.
    I would be taken a back to learn there was any practical battlefield used.
     
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  3. May 17, 2019 #3

    Loyalist Dave

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    They were "cheek" fired, matchlocks. Not too complicated, but the Spaniards knew them to be of limited use so far from regular resupply. The shock and awe of a volley probably did more to win the day for the Spaniards than did wounds inflicted by the arquebusmen. I'd venture that the Inca by capturing some and getting captured Spaniards to show them how they work, removed the mystery from the weapons and allowed the Inca to stand and fight against them.

    ARQUEBUS.jpg

    LD
     
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  4. May 18, 2019 #4

    DaveC

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    Far and away the most numerous and certainly the most effective projectile weapon used during the campaigns in New Spain/ Mexico and in Peru was the crossbow. It far out ranged Indian bows and rock slings, let alone the Central Mexican atlatl.

    Manco Capac may have closed the technological gap, but the folks who did so and also became a thorn in the side of first Spaniards and later independent Chile were the Mapuche/ aka. Arauco Indians. The became equestrian very quickly and soon gained a mastery of tactics.

    If one searches for the Lienzo de Tlaxcala, you should find images of later conquests where the Spaniards are mounted, wearing Indian cotton armor or otherwise attired as if on a hunting trip, and the Tlaxcaltec and other allied warriors are still dressed as Central Mexican warriors but have Toledo swords and so on. The Spaniards ended up fighting for something like 80 years against the "Chichimeca" attempting to drive north and seek out additional silver lodes.
     
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  5. May 18, 2019 #5

    DaveC

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    Incidentally, the wooden powder flask with spout in the wonderful illustration provided by Loyalist Dave was actually in use from the 1600s through the late 1700s, as incredible as that might seem. It had a belt hook so it could be attached to a sash or belt, and also a cord for wearing it over the shoulder. As archaic as it looks, it really did soldier on for a good long while.

    The crossbows used by the Spaniards in the initial conquest would have used the cranequin or the cord and pulley system to re-cock the bow, with a foot-long 12-in. bolt. These worked much, much more reliably than any harquebus in the tropics. Smaller "goats foot" hunting bows have turned up in archaeological sites from the 1500s, and are thought to be hunting weapons. While plausible, I find myself wondering if these might have had military applications as well?

    Some of the arquebus firearms would have had button triggers or levers. A document from Columbus himself on the 1495 voyage requested 200 cuirass/breast-plates, 100 match-lock arcabuzes, and 100 crossbows. It is thought that crossbow men, swords and shields, and lances/spears gave space for the harquebus and falconet to be reloaded. Cortes had something like four falconets and ten brass bombards when he landed, although the falconets were lost during the rout from Tenochtitlán--the "noche triste."

    One misconception you must never buy into is the Spanish morión helmet! This was indeed one of the most popular steel helmets of the Spanish army... In the late 1500s and early 1600s! Definitely not used at all in the original forays. Simple war hats, barbutas, and salets would have been the norm, with an occasional burgonet. Shields assumed the form of the heart-shaped leather adarga/targe or the round rodela.

    Pikes--a hallmak of the fearsome tercios in Europe--were simply not necessary in the New World since the Indians initially did not have cavalry. But study the manual of arms of the halberd/ alabarda to see how fearsome the panoply of armor and weapons used by the Spaniards was.

    The earliest late Medieval/Renaissance period of the initial conquest has little to do with the muzzle loader, afraid to say... Apart from artillery and small cannon.
     
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  6. May 19, 2019 #6

    DaveC

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    Perhaps a typology of weapons might help?

    Muzzle-loading artillery aboard brigantines used in the lacustrine battle of Lake Texcoco 1 June 1521. With "naval"--lake--superiority accomplished, the siege of Tenochtitlán could commence.

    Brigantines built pre-fab and hauled by Tlaxcaltec, Totonac, and Texcoca allies with a strong breeze and oars rammed over the Mexica chimalcalli dug-out war canoes, many fitted with wooden shielding or pavises. Indian allies in droves of war canoes followed up and attacked the disrupted Mexica formations.
    Types: culverins, falconets, some breech-loading lombardas/bombards. these are the kind that had a mechanism looking quite like a German bier krug or "beer stein" holding the charge and shot, which would then be put into place and a wedge pounded in to create a quasi-seal of the breech. Many of these were put on contrived wooden carriages or operated as swivel/ rampart guns.

    The harquebus or gunpowder weapons: At initial contact, it is thought Hernán Cortés had only 13 harquebusiers with him. He had 32 crossbow men. Some Spaniards were mounted. Most fought as sword and buckler men, like those in the pike tercios back home.
    The "arcabuz" would probably have had a brass barrel that fired a 2-ounce ball or several shot.

    The crossbow--weighed about 6kg. and fied a wooden and iron/metal bolt approximately 12-inches long and weighing up to 850g. An arc-like range could put these out to 320meters, but point-blank range was about 64 meters. Five captive crossbowmen during the siege of Tenochtitlán were coerced into revealing how to load and fire these. They were also incorporated as captive soldiers fighting against the Indian allies of the Spaniards and their fellow Spaniards too. When the quarrels or bolts flew high, they were summarily taken away to face the sacrificial knife, dismemberment, and post-mortem anthropophagy.

    The Spaniards formed no more than 1/2% or .5% of the invading host. The vast majority of combatants were Indian warriors, who principally fought for prestige, esteem, status, and to capture and enslave enemies for ritual sacrifice or personal aggrandizement. They were completely familiar with total war, however, and it was not uncommon to exterminate all of the men, or men and women, of rival groups, distributing the children among themselves as slaves and repopulating the fallen city or town with settlers. Projectile weapons would have been the same for both rival armies:

    Atlatl--spear thrower
    Tlahuitolli--the bow and arrow
    Tematlatl--the rock sling made of magüey fiber.

    Atlatl range was about 46-meters, but highly skilled virtuosos could have cast the fletched heavy dart about 55-meters. The projectile was thought to offer greater thrust and penetration, but less range, than the arrow.
    The tematlatl or rock sling could hurl carefully, meticulously shaped sling stones up to 200-meters. Sling stones were a valuable tribute item extorted from subjugated groups as part of their onerous taxation.

    I confess I was a bit startled to learn that some scholars are now arguing that the cotton quilted armor of the Conquistadors was actually made in Cuba before they left. That was news, at least to me.

    Spanish weapons: the lance/lanza, the halberd/alabarda, and the espada or sword. Historian Matthew Restall has noted that the Toledo sword was the epitome or apotheosis of the European sword, "The one weapon ... whose efficacy is indubitable ... It alone was worth more than a horse, a gun, and a mastiff put together."

    Mexica close-combat weapons:
    Tepoztopilli--the 2-meter thrusting spear, often fitted with a "fathom-long" blade set with obsidian used for slashing as well as thrusting. At least one Spaniard described the obsidian as sharp enough to shave with.

    Macuahuitl--this is the hideous two-handed "sword" club of the Mexica, a large wood club set with obsidian blades. It often had to be raised quite far for a downward slash, a bit like a battle axe, and thus rendered the user vulnerable to stabbing from the Spanish cut-and-thrust sword of steel.

    Blunt force trauma weapons, aka. cudgels, clubs, maces-- Cuauhololli with a spherical ball at one end. Macuahuitzoctli, a bit like the spiked ball war-clubs of the Haudenosaunee/ Iroquois or Algonquian peoples one supposes, the huitzauhqai. Quilted armor was ichcahuipilli, and in the complex ranking system, nobility could wear animal skins, but the elite could wear feathers. The yaochimalli was a tough round shield. Use of vambraces--matemacatl and greaves--cozehuatl of wood and/or bark was possibly common too.
     
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  7. May 19, 2019 #7

    hyuzu

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    Fantastic posts, @DaveC. You definitely know your stuff here, and from my (much more limited) knowledge on this subject, what you're saying about the lack of firearms in comparison to crossbows and melee weapons seems accurate. I did wonder though whether, by the later years of the Neo-Inca State (ca. 1560s-70s), firearms may have become more common in the Americas, or if the situation was relatively similar to what you have described from the 1490s-1530s. Tenngun indicated in his post that guns were still a relative minority in Spanish ground forces during the 1580s...
     
    Last edited: May 19, 2019
  8. May 20, 2019 #8

    DaveC

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    Yes, I think you are right that arcabus technology became more common by the later period. As you probably know already, the oldest "death by gunshot" is an archaeological find of a Quechua/Incaic Indian who died fighting the Spaniards and their allies in the 1530s. There is a large hole in his skull. If I recall correctly, an analysis of the wound and possibly a bone plug knocked into the skull interior by the ball revealed it was made of iron rather than lead? I could be wrong...

    Additional archaeological analysis revealed wounds caused by Spanish steel weapons as well as blunt force trauma by one or another of the clubs and maces used in close quarter combat by Andean peoples. Incidentally, the cotton armor and a shield with heavy fabric draping down was common to both Andean South America and Central Mexico, albeit in different shapes. Some of the descriptions sort of beggar belief? For example, there are descriptions of Andean Indian warriors heating stones in a fire, like typical "stone boiling," but lifting them out good and hot with simple wood tongs, placing them in a bundle of pitch-soaked cotton, and then putting the smoking, sputtering bundle into the Andean rock sling, whirling it and launching the stone in its wrapping, and the rushing air brought in extra oxygen that caused it to flare into full-on flames. The result was a "fire sling stone" about like a flaming fire arrow! These were used to set thatched roofs aflame.

    In addition to the neo-Inca resistance that lasted a very, very long time, do check out the Araucanians/ Mapuches. Pretty incredible stuff. My sense is that they even contrived leathern armor to go "mano a mano" with the would-be conquerors. As time permits, I can see if I can find anything about the Andes and guns.
     
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  9. May 29, 2019 #9

    DaveC

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  10. May 29, 2019 #10

    hyuzu

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    Thanks DaveC.
    Maybe I missed it, but I didn't see anything in that link on whether firearms of that type were known to be adopted by indigenous Americans of the period? As I said earlier, I have come across scattered mentions of some of the Andean peoples adopting firearms during the 16th century; not sure about the Meso-Americans or tribes further north in Mexico who ran in to them during the period. For example, on page 31 of the book 'The Conquistadores' by Terence Wise, it states that during Manco Inca's rebellion in the 1530s-40s, Spanish prisoners were used to make gunpowder, and some of the Incan soldiers started learning how to use captured arquebuses (as well as officers kitting out with "captured helmets, bucklers, and swords").
     
  11. May 29, 2019 #11

    DaveC

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    That's great! If the Spaniards were coerced into revealing the secrets of the crossbow in Central Mexico, then why not gun powder in Andean Peru?

    Tricky. I'll see if I might find anything specific to Manco Inca and Vilcabamba.

    I just posted the button-trigger arquebus there as built by master Brian Anderson to illustrate the type generally used early on. I would think that "rampart guns" or the equivalent swivel-type gun might have come into use too? Particularly for ambushes--unless the smell of the slow match gave the game away.
     
  12. May 30, 2019 #12

    hyuzu

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    It was an interesting link, thanks again.
    Actually, now that you mention swivel guns, that's one type of weapon I haven't come across much mention of with regards to the 16th century Americas. I wonder if the Spanish brought any of the breech-loading kind along with them to the Americas? I know that China adopted breech-loading artillery from examples that were brought by the Portuguese in the 16th century.

    Of course, this is a muzzle-loading forum, so I may have just committed a faux pas by asking about that... :p
     
  13. May 30, 2019 #13

    DaveC

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    The "lombarda" or "bombard" had a very unsatisfactory and even dangerous breech loading mechanism. A powder charge and shot was housed in a metal unit that looked quite a bit like a German bier krug or stein. This was placed behind the breech, and a wedge was hammered in behind it to "seal" the breech--at least enough, although lots of flaming hot gas will leak out around the margins. These have been found in shipwrecks, including the 1500s ship excavated after the Mansfield shipping channel was dug on the Texas coast. Many of the finds of that discovery, including remnants of the iron guns.

    Brass guns were lighter, more resistant to salt spray and sea water and presumably tropical conditions too. They were not as strong, and required a smaller powder charge, and hence had less range. Other swivel guns, the "Esmeril" were muzzle loading.

    The Portuguese introduced the matchlock to Japan. For that matter, they introduced deep fat frying too, which resulted in tempura. They also gave their word for bread "pão" to the Japanese, who call it "pan" just as the word is spelled in Spanish. The Chinese gave all sorts of weird and terrible weapons to Europe too...
    At the time of the Armada campaign in 1588, the Spaniards and Portuguese (the kingdoms were conjoined at that time, at least until the 1640s) there was the so-called "fire lance." This was nothing more than a giant, enormous, roman candle on the end of a wooden stave. This was lit, hung over the side in the face of an enemy boarding party, and left to spew out flaming balls at the seasoned timber and pine tar and weathered rigging and linen sail cloth of the enemy ship to start fires.
     
  14. May 30, 2019 #14

    Nyckname

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    This may be where thunder mugs originated,

     
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  15. May 30, 2019 #15

    DaveC

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    Perhaps so! Those seem like some primitive mortars, no?
     
  16. May 30, 2019 #16

    DaveC

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    The Spanish nao or carrack San Esteban that was excavated in the 1970s near the Mansfield shipping channel and intracoastal waterway wrecked in 1554. Much of the cargo and so on was salvaged not long after the wreck. Some of the swivel guns and ship-borne artillery were the sorts of wrought iron hoop-made or welded bar construction that was long obsolete in Europe... But still perfectly adequate in the New World. Crossbows were also still found in the wreckage too. I'm not sure about shoulder fired firearms from the wreck. On to Peru and the Andes, I guess...!
     
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  17. May 30, 2019 #17

    Nyckname

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    Far's I know, they're strictly for signaling.
     
  18. May 30, 2019 #18

    Zonie

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    Interesting.

    My father often spoke of a "thunder mug" he used during his childhood but he wasn't talking about one of those things.

    They kept it under the bed.
    :rolleyes:
     
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