Alternate History

Firearms (Superpowers)

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First firearm superpowers

First handheld firearm not used as an artillery piece (998)

Firearms (Latin: Fistularae), or guns, are handheld weapons which expel a high-velocity ballistic body to injure or kill a target. Propellant generates the force necessary for acceleration of the projectile. Its final kinetic energy leaving the firearm is determined by muzzle velocity as in the equation Ke = 1/2mv2.

Classical firearms achieve acceleration by a contained deflagaration of explosive compounds (originally black powder then cordit and nitrogenous compounds). The year 1947 overturned the classical paradigm with a Roman invention of electromagnetic acceleration of rifle rounds. This is arguably the greatest development in firearms since the invention of useable rifling in 1262 by the Maya. Weapons are being developed even more recently that only resemble firearms in form and function, operating by expulsion of plasma packets or laser beams.

Since 1857, every country could assemble its own firearms - none refraining from doing so. The losers of the last world war, however, lost the right to manufacture weapons. What little their armies equip their troops with must be imported under strict monitoring. By consequence, smuggling of arms became commonplace in these states, a serious problem for occupying forces trying to maintain order and control.

Technological disparities in small arms manufacturing are a major source of the modern inequality of warfare. The Roman Empire creates firearms - among other weapons - that exceed the understanding of other countries to such an extent that combat against even their infantry seems hopeless. It can be expected that the continued rapid advancement of technology today will only widen these disparities.

History of Firearms

Pre-powder ranged weapons

While firearms were a blessing to the foot soldier, weapons that can hit targets at a distance existed for most of human history. The bow and arrow, invented 60,000 years ago, is nearly as old as warfare itself. A staple of every armed forces, the bow was the dominant ranged weapon around the world until the 17th century. The last recorded use of archery in pitched battle was the Zulu conquest of South Africa in the 1850's and 60's. The latter decade saw the Zulus armed with Roman bolt-action rifles in one of the largest arm deals in African history.

Archery has been used in the East since the Shang Dynasty ruled China in 1600-1046 BCE. The Shangs' descendants and neighbors are famous using the bow. When the Mongols stormed through the plains of China, their horse archers struck fear in the hearts of everyone on the continent. Arming horseback riders with bows was undoubtedly a primary factor in the success of their nation. Archery persisted in China until the Siege of Temujin in 1704, a closing battle of the Great War. The bows used here by the Mongols were the most advanced ever designed for warfare, perhaps second only to those used by the Maya in the Two Hundred-Years War.

In Europe, the effectiveness of archers was ignored until the reformations of Emperor Sulla in the 3rd century. The Caesar noted how deadly barbarian bows were and spurred by his observations, created the first professional archery wing for the Legion in 199 CE. Auxiliary archers had fought beside Legionaries before, but these were the first professional units. Their addition contributed to the Roman success in the conquest of Caledonia, and they were established as a vital part of the Roman military machine. In 216, permanent archer wings of 500 men were legislated for every Legion. Emperor Benedictus increased the regulation to 4 wings of 600 men in 289. Archery came to a head in Legion activities from the late 1300's to early 1400's, under Emperor Alexander the first. At this time, a Legion averaged 8 archer wings, bringing the total to 153,600 archers. Nevertheless, the Romans only had the 2nd largest archer contingent in the world, exceeded by the Mongols.

The largest army of archers ever fielded was the 9th Golden Horde of Mongolia that fought from 1695 to 1704 CE. The Horde had 5,091,400 Mongolian horse archers who were put to devastating use against the Khmer in the Great War. Almost no force could stand against this Horde for long.

Advanced ancient projectile weapons

Bows and arrows aside, other types of ranged weapons existed before gunpowder. However, the majority of these were mechanical artillery pieces invented in Rome.

Crossbows entered history in China and Greece simultaneously around the 5th century BCE. Improvement of the crossbow, came from Roman scientist and engineer Archaedavincus Acutula. His invention, the Celerite Arquus, was a vital component of middle Rome's military prowess. Prototypes fired "bolts" at 0.5 per second till the 15 bolt magazine was exhausted. Reloading took only 10 seconds, as little time as a bow. Overall, the Arquus was an impressive piece of military engineering, allowing an untrained conscript to fire an average 40 bolts in one minute. While they had a faster rate of fire than bows and cost less to train and equip soldiers for their use, shots lacked the penetrative power of the longbow so they never entered use as primary weapons in The Legion. All archers, however, had one as a sidearm from 732 CE and auxiliaries were equipped with one alongside their Spatha. The celerite performed beautifully in close-quarters and against lightly armored opponents.

On the heavy side, the Romans invented other impressive long range weapons. The Magna Ballista could make short work of most fortifications and split dense troop formations, and the Celeballista mowed down waves of enemy infantry with a multitude of small metal balls. The former was primarily a siege weapon, firing large metallic projectiles, and had the purpose of toppling fortress gates with minimal complexity, proximity and manpower. These artillery pieces were combined into a moving platform called the Testudo (Eng: Tortoise). Once implemented in a Legion, Testudos were a force to be reckoned with as cities easily fell to their lethal assortment of weapons.

Beginning of gunpowder

Gunpowder was discovered in the Maya city-states around 419 CE, before their unificatiion into a conglomerate. An application of the mixture in warfare didn't occur until the first firearm was built in 979 CE. Even the Chinese, who discovered gunpowder in the 850's, didn't turn their discovery into a weapon until the 10th century. And this instrument was merely a rudimentary projectile launcher. The Chinese ultimately invented cannons but knowledge of the technology was lost during the devastating Mongol invasion of the 1220's. The cannon was ignored in the East anyway due to the prevalence of ancient magna ballistae from Europe. Only Japan kept the technology of gunpowder from its entry into its borders in the 880's.

First cannons

The Maya made the first great leap in gunpowder technology by inventing the first cannon in 872. The original cannon design was a simple three-meter long tube that was loaded with round 50 kg shells which it launched up to 100 meters. By the 10th century, they had grown in size and firepower to match the bombards of other timelines. These monstrous cannons were purely weapons of fear, as the primitive natives of the Maya home continent had no concept of static defenses stronger than wooden fortifications. If the bombards had been used against real targets, then no fort could possibly withstand a single blow from these 5 m long beasts firing 900 kg projectiles.

However, the Maya armies prefered small cannons, which were efficient against wooden buildings and infantry. The heyday of Maya cannon construction was the double-barrel cannon used from 960-1229 CE, at half to 2 m in length. Firing 0.5 to 3 kg shots to distances over one km, these advanced weapons pummeled all opposition into submission within minutes. Triple-barrel cannons, with the third resting above the others in a triangle, were popular at the end of that period and were heavily favored during the 216 year war with the Romans. The new design had rifled barrels, and so 1229 is the accepted end of the era of ancient cannon technology. This improvement of the firing tube preceded a simila change in handheld firearms half a century later.

Early guns

Protanibolum pyrobola

Drawing of the first grenade launcher

Pyrobolum silexis were standard infantry hand grenades from the 6th century onwards. The first handheld gun was a new mechanism for deploying flint grenades. Easily launching explosives 300 m, the fistulara pyrobola was a major step forward for the technology of 976. The Maya Holy Army adopted grenade launchers in huge quantities, elevating them to a level of warfare where armies could be wiped out before entering effective archery range. The technology adapted by 998 for the launching of single pellet (up to 500 m) for killing individual targets. The smooth barrel muskets were relatively inaccurate for ranged weapons but were suitable for the large-scale formations deployed by the Conglomerate. They were accurate enough that a trained soldier could snipe an enemy at 50 meters, and were easy enough to reload that a recruit could be ready to fire again in 16 seconds. When an entire army was equipped with these fistulara silexis, a massacre could be perpetrated in minutes.

The Maya government was most interested in how the gun would affect the untrained soldier. Anyone can be armed with a musket, shown how to reload, and be ready to fight in an hour. Physical exertion over short periods was minimal, since the gun was as simple to fire as pulling the trigger, and ammunition was light and convenient to carry around. The reduced cost of paying a standing army lightened the load on the Maya economy, while at the same time improved its industries enough for the creation of more guns. Over the 11th and 12th centuries, the Great Chiefdom and other tribes were completely dominated by the Maya, who lost virtually zero battles until they encountered visitors from the East in 1221.

Prior to the invention of the flintlock mechanism in 1017, guns were fired by lighting the gunpowder while holding them against the ground like a mortar. The musket era of firearms ended with the invention of the coclius silexis, or rifled gun, in 1262. This was hoped by the Maya to turn the balance of the war with Rome but really only served to prolong it further by instigating a Roman mission in search of the Maya homeland in 1271, leading to their discovery of South Columbia.

Rome developed firearms from Maya blueprints. This rifle dates from 16th century Carthage

Maya Soldiers

Maya infantrymen, like Roman legionaries for Europe, were the paragon of classical era soldiers. Months of training instilled discipline and harmony into the ranks of troops, who were reported to alternate fire with such clockwork-like precision that an almost continuous line of fire could be held by only six rows of men.

Standard armament for a Maya soldier in the 11th or 12th century was a 0.8 m long flintlock musket, accurate to a range of 50 m. This was holstered on a belt slung over the shoulder. Two smoothbore flintlock pistols were held in holsters across the breast, able to be fire while holstered, and a 0.83 m steel blade lay under the arm. Pistols took longer to reload than muskets as they were last resorts, intended to be wedged in deep enough to remain loaded for days without being fired. The 13th century saw smoothbores replaced with rifled guns of similar dimensions. Range was magnified three times, eventually eight times, what was accurate for muskets. Maintaining alternating fire by row was essential to the success of the Maya army, giving a force of 30 the ability to wipe out a 100 enemy troops in under a minute at a distance close to 400 m. One need only imagine what a force of 1,000 soldiers can do.


The three-barreled cannon was only the first of the Maya's Two Hundred Years War inventions they developed. Roman Testudos (tanks) were entirely immune to their small arms fire, and largely resistant to cannon fire. Only the massive 5 m bombards could destroy them. Therefore, it was imperative for the Maya to build ones that could fire more quickly than one shot every 10 minutes. This led to the invention of breech-loaded cannons in 1237 CE, a design adapted for use in all forms of cannons, both large and small. Furthermore, the bombard design became no longer for inspiring fear but was given a more practical use. The barrel was shrunk down to 4 m, its width was decreased and the weight of each shot became around 400 kg. Though on the field these new superweapons took about 3 minutes to be reloaded, when part of a fortification there would usually be a dedicated reloading mechanism, reducing this time down to about 40 seconds.

Three-barreled cannons were soon built into Maya boats as well, finally giving the Maya a naval advantage over the Romans. Still, because the Romans used the Magna Ballista as one of their naval weapon, the advantage was only one to catch them up a little. The Roman weapon was far more powerful and could be reloaded even more quickly, allowing a single Galleon to take out enemy ships with unquestionable ease. Soon the use of Maya cannons on ships was the norm, replacing kamikaze attacks that were being done since 1257.Though the Maya had caught up in artillery technology by 1237, on the ground the Romans were still achieving victories through their soldiers' armor's ability to protect its occupants from stray bullets. Since a musket's only real way of hitting something at a distance was by a stray bullet, this was a serious problem. In 1262 however, a Maya scientist found a way for bullets to be loaded into rifles without being put in through sheer force. The rifles would use a new bullet design that was far smaller than the barrel width itself, but would expand when fired, allowing the indents on the bullet to lock with the rifle grooves. This made rifles almost as quick to reload as muskets were. By 1266 the new design had entirely supplanted smoothbore firearms, once again putting the Maya Army at the top of the arms race.

The first rifles, though only starting with an average range of 150 m, were quickly advanced in technology and by the 1350's most rifles had a very good accuracy even up to around 250-400 m. Loading times however were increased to about 20-30 seconds. Still, due to the Maya's proficient use of battle formations, an army could hold up almost continuous fire, with only about 3 seconds between each volley.

By 1437, the end of the war period, Maya archers had been completely dissolved from the military forces for quite some time. The rifles had shown far greater efficiency however and so were the obvious choice for the standard armament of all Maya soldiers, their military planners correctly believing that it would be the future of warfare.


The original propellant in guns was basic black powder, a mixture of sulphur, charcoal and potassium nitrate. The effect of detonation is a cloud of smoke which muskets are famous for in the media. While the intimidating effect of the smoke is desirable, especially for an empire subjugating a primitive populace, it is a hazard in situations where one fights a similarly equipped opposing force. All that smoke builds up on the battlefield, obscuring vision and choking one's own soldiers. This is obviously undesirable.

Maya scientists developed a replacement propellant in the form of a mixture of 5% petroleum jelly, 36% nitro-cellulose and 59% nitroglycerine. Invented in 1693, this cordite was exactly what the Maya needed to support their efforts in the First World War. More and more potent or smokeless powders were invented over the years. Modern smokeless powders tend to be some mixture of nitrogenous explosives.

Replacing a powder propellant with electrical coils produces a perfectly smokeless acceleration. However, the primary advantage for which coilguns are desired is their nearly limitless muzzle velocity. Projectiles can be given kinetic energies by a short-barreled coilgun which exceed 23 MJ, similar to 30 kg artillery shell fire using normal explosive propellants. The effect such rifles can have on a human body is disturbing.

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