The modern firearm didn’t simply spring out of the human mind, ready to go. Guns as we know them evolved for much simpler versions that any firearm enthusiast should be well-learned about.
Let’s take a look at the arquebus: a criminally understood early firearm that predated the common musket!
What Is an Arquebus?
While the term “arquebus” is occasionally misused for any type of musket-like weapon in past centuries, it’s actually a specific type of old-fashioned long rifle.
Specifically, an arquebus is a type of long gun that has a hook-like projection right under the receiver or barrel. This is used to study the weapon against the ground, battlements, or fortifications.
The weapon has this hook to reduce the recoil that the operator will feel upon pulling the trigger. It's a muzzle-loaded firearm like a traditional musket. Variations of the weapon existed as either stationary fortified weapons or as the shoulder-fired firearms.
An arquebus is/was used similarly to a regular musket with a matchlock mechanism. Before the matchlock’s design, handguns were fired with one hand while the other maneuvered an ignition torch or pricker to ignite a pocket of gunpowder.
The arquebus benefited from the development of the matchlock, which held some smoldering rope soaked in saltpeter. This acted as the match for the gunpowder.
A trigger mechanism was later added that lowered the match into a priming pan and ignited the powder.
What Was It Used For?
The arquebus was primarily used against enemy combatants by armies that marched between the 15th and 17th centuries. In those days, many soldiers wore steel-plated armor, so marksmen needed something that could punch through that armor reliably and at semi-close ranges.
An arquebus is much lower in velocity than a modern firearm can produce. Arquebus users had to get relatively up close and personal to make their shots count.
An arquebus was considered to be deadly at around up to 400 yards, which allowed it more consistent killing power compared to its primary ranged weapon competition: the bow. Thus, the arquebus saw rapid adoption by many militaries in the time.
However, its clunky loading mechanism and relative inaccuracy compared to what a skilled archer could put out meant that many arquebus users had to be protected by other elements of an army.
Arquebuses first appeared around 1411 in Europe and 1425 and the Ottoman Empire. These earlier versions were actually closer to pistols than rifles, though they quickly evolved to become the more powerful counterparts over the next couple of decades.
These weapons saw heavy use in European military campaigns and in the Ottoman Empire’s conquests. European armies added a crossbow-like shoulder stock around the 1470s, in addition to a matchlock mechanism around 1475.
This also accompanied the trigger mechanism, which saw the real “birth” of the modern musket firearm we know from American history.
Are They Useful Now?
Not a chance! An arquebus is an interesting historical weapon and would be a great thing to see on a historical reenactment battlefield. But these ancient firearms are far inferior to modern weapons in every sense of the word.
They’re better understood and enjoyed as novelty items you can purchase from antique weapons collectors or donate to museums. Still, it’s very interesting to examine these weapons and see what’s arguably the clearest progenitor to the modern rifle.
Firearm science and technique have come a long way since the days of the arquebus!
As you can see, the arquebus played a big role in firearm development and shaped the world like nothing had before. Good luck trying to track down a working one, but if you do…can we see it?
Are you a fan or historical weapons? If so, why or why not? We'd love to hear from you in the comments section!