15th century culveriners.

A culverin was a relatively simple ancestor of the musket, and later a medieval cannon, adapted for use by the French in the 15th century, and later adapted for naval use by the English in the late 16th century. The culverin was used to bombard targets from a distance. The weapon had a relatively long barrel and a light construction. The culverin fired solid round shot projectiles with a high muzzle velocity, producing a relatively long range and flat trajectory. Round shot refers to the classic solid spherical cannonball.

Hand culverins

"Hand bombard", or early culverin, 1390-1400.
Hand culverin (middle) with two small cannons, Europe, 15th century.
Early culverins (15th century): a hand culverin (top), and a sabot-loaded culverin (bottom).

The term "culverin" is derived from the Latin, colubrinus, or "of the nature of a snake". It was originally the name of a medieval ancestor of the musket, used in the 15th and 16th centuries.[1]

The hand culverin consisted in a simple smoothbore tube, closed at one end except for a small hole designed to allow ignition of the gunpowder. The tube was held in place by a wooden piece which could be held under the arm. The tube was loaded with gunpowder and lead bullets. The culverin was fired by inserting a burning slow match into the hole.

"Murderer", 1410 France.

These hand culverins soon evolved into heavier portable culverins, around 40 kg (88 lb) in weight, which required a swivel for support and aiming. Such culverins were further equipped with back-loading sabots to facilitate reloading, and were often used on ships. Many were immobile due to the heavy weight.

Field culverins

There were three types of culverin in use, distinguished by their size: the culverin extraordinary, the ordinary, and the least-sized.[2]

Name Bore diameter Length Weight Shot diameter Shot weight
culverin extraordinary 5 12 in (140 mm) 32 calibers (14 ft 8 in; 4.47 m) 4,800 lb (2,200 kg) 5 14 in (130 mm) 20 lb (9.1 kg)
ordinary culverin 5 12 in (140 mm) 25 calibers (12 ft; 3.7 m) 4,500 lb (2,000 kg) 5 in (130 mm) 17 lb 5 oz (7.9 kg)
culverin of the least size 5 in (130 mm) 29 calibers (12 ft; 3.7 m) 4,000 lb (1,800 kg) 3 14 in (83 mm) 14 lb 9 oz (6.6 kg)
Bronze culverins and demi-cannon

There were also smaller versions, including the bastard culverin (4 inches; 100 mm), 7 pounds (3.2 kg) shot and the demi-culverin or culverin-moyen (4 12 inches; 110 mm), 10 pounds (4.5 kg) shot.[1]

Overall, the culverin was a significant advance. Since it fired a ball of iron and relied on gunpowder for propulsion, the heavy ball meant a relatively stable flight and the gunpowder propulsion meant a fast and long-range. A replica culverin extraordinary has achieved a muzzle velocity of 408 m/s, and a range over 450 m using only minimal elevation.[3] This velocity and mass imply that the cannonball had a kinetic energy of roughly 600 kilojoules (440,000 ft·lbf) when leaving the muzzle.

The culverin was later replaced by the field gun once technology had advanced to the point where cannonballs had become explosive.

See also


  1. 1 2 "culverin". Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press. September 2005. (Subscription or UK public library membership required.)
  2.  This article incorporates text from a publication now in the public domain: Chambers, Ephraim, ed. (1728). "article name needed". Cyclopædia, or an Universal Dictionary of Arts and Sciences (first ed.). James and John Knapton, et al.
  3. Discovery Channel, Battlefield Detectives, episode "Who Sank the Armada"

External links

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