Basilisk (cannon)

For other uses, see Basilisk (disambiguation).

The basilisk was a very heavy bronze cannon employed during the Middle Ages. The barrel of a basilisk could weigh up to 4,000 lb (1,800 kg) and could have a calibre of up to 5 inches (13 cm).[1] On average they were around 10 feet long,[2] though some, like Queen Elizabeth's Pocket Pistol, were almost three times that length.

The basilisk got its name from the mythological basilisk: a fire-breathing venomous serpent that could cause large-scale destruction and kill its victims with its glance alone.[3] It was thought that the very sight of its 160 lb shot would be enough to scare the enemy to death.[4]

In 1588 the Spanish Armada was equipped with many basilisks for their invasion of England with the intent of using them to besiege towns loyal to Elizabeth I.[5] Many of these guns were lost when the ships were wrecked on their return to Spain.

Due to its large size, the basilisk fell out of favour of European generals, who preferred lighter, more accurate artillery in the late 16th century.[6] A late example is the Maltese Gun, built in Holland in 1607 and, like many of its contemporaries, fitted with a replacement carriage during the Napoleonic Wars.[7]

A large English basilisk known as Queen Elizabeth's Pocket Pistol

Further reading


  1. "NPS Interpretive Series: Artillery Through the Ages". Retrieved 2015-08-20.
  2. "Medieval Glossary - Basilisk (Cannon)". Retrieved 2015-08-20.
  3. "Medieval Bestiary : Basilisk". Retrieved 2015-08-20.
  4. "History of the Scots Greys". Retrieved 2015-08-20.
  5. Manucy, A.C. (1994). Artillery Through the Ages: A Short Illustrated History of Cannon, Emphasizing Types Used in America. DIANE Publishing Company. p. 36. ISBN 9780788107450. Retrieved 2015-08-20.
  6. "basilisk | weapon |". Retrieved 2015-08-20.
  7. "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2011-07-27. Retrieved 2008-10-18.
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