“WHILE pursuing my researches into ancient Indian history,” says Dr. Oppert, “I lighted upon two ancient Sanskrit manuscripts containing interesting information on many new and important topics. One of them, the Nītiprakā'sikā, has been, I believe, up to now utterly unknown, and the other, the Sukranīti, though known to exist, has never been described and published.” The manuscripts relate to the weapons and military organisation of ancient India, a subject upon which fresh light was much needed. If for no other reason, therefore, they deserved to be edited and translated. But one of them at least also contains statements sufficiently novel and startling to claim for them a special hearing. If we may believe it, not only was gunpowder invented in India long before the days of Berthold Schwarz or Roger Bacon, but firearms, including both cannon and guns, were known and used. The guns were even provided with sights and flints. “The tube” of one of them, it is said in the Sukranīti, “is five spans long, its breech has a perpendicular and horizontal hole, at the breech and muzzle is always fixed a sesame-bead for aligning the sights. The breech has at the vent a mechanism which, carrying stone and powder? makes fire by striking. Its breech is well-wooded at the side, in the middle is a hole, an angula broad; after the gunpowder is placed inside, it is firmly pressed down with a ramrod. This is the small gun which ought to be carried by foot-soldiers. . . A big gun is called (that gun) which obtains the direction of the aim by moving the breech with a wedge; its end is without wood; but it is to be drawn on cars. . . .The ball is made of iron, and has either small balls in its inside or is empty.” Dr. Oppert believes that the Nītiprākā'sikā also contains references to firearms, though the passages he quotes seem rather to refer to supernatural weapons or to fire-machines like those used by the Greeks of the Eastern Empire. A work, too, which mentions the Hunas (“Huns,” or Europeans) cannot be of the antiquity to which he would assign it.
On the Weapons, Army Organisation and Political Maxims of the Ancient Hindus, with Special Reference to Gunpowder and Firearms.
By Gustav Oppert. (Madras: Higginbotham and Co.; London: Trübner and Co., 1880.)
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On the Weapons, Army Organisation and Political Maxims of the Ancient Hindus, with Special Reference to Gunpowder and Firearms . Nature 22, 581 (1880). https://doi.org/10.1038/022581a0