17th c. artillery weapon found in Croatian fortress

A rare bronze artillery weapon has been discovered in the 14th century fortress of Nečven in Croatia’s Krka National Park. The mačkula was found during conservation work on the remains of the hexagonal tower to the right of the fortress entrance. It is in excellent condition.

The mačkula is a mortar-launcher that holds great significance in Croatia’s cultural history. While military technology has long since left it behind, the mačkula is still used today in heritage events, particularly the Sinjska alka, a descendant of knightly jousts held in the town of Sinj to commemorate the unlikely victory of a tiny band of a few hundred Croats and Venetians against an overwhelmingly huge Ottoman force of 60,000 on August 14th, 1715.

In the event, which was inscribed on the UNESCO Intangible Cultural Heritage list in 2010, horsemen race at a full gallop and drive a lance through an iron hoop (the alka) mounted 11 feet from the ground. The ring is made of two concentric circles connected by three spokes in a Y-shaped configuration. Points awarded depending on which opening the lance goes through. If it goes through one of the bottom two segments left and right of a spoke, the rider earns one point. If it goes through the top wedge, he gets two points. Driving the lance through the tiny central circle earns the horseman three points.

Every time a competitor drives his lance “u sridu” (in the middle) of the alka, a shot is fired from a mačkula. Multiple mačkula shots ring out after the tourney when the winner is proclaimed.

“The mačkula is another valuable finding that will complete the Krka NP archaeological collection and contribute to the valorisation of the cultural and historical heritage of our region,” Nella Slavica, director of the Public Institute of Krka National Park said.

Slavica says that the conservation of the Nečven fortress is a long-lasting project to preserve heritage along with preparatory activities for the future construction of a 462-metre pedestrian suspension bridge over the Krka River connecting Nečven and Trošenj fortresses.

You can hear the shot and see the smoke from a mačkula being fired at the Sinjska alka in this video at the 1:33 mark.


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Comment by Erik V. Smykal
2020-05-11 22:48:54

that’s not a complete weapon.
nor is it a mortar.
it’s a mug-breech! it’s basically the ‘firing chamber’ of a cannon, usually a culverin.
the front taper would be forced into the rear of the barrel, via a simple cam/lever like a tiller, parallel to the bore.
the bores were often slightly tapered, to increase velocity.
a gun would have several removable breeches, which could be pre-loaded, and then reloaded by crew while the gunner fired.
the long barrel, fast rate of fire & accuracy meant these could be used as a anti-armored knight ‘sniper’ role, very dangerous in the late medieval period.
fantastic find!

Comment by Erik V. Smykal
2020-05-11 23:03:53

here, to support my comment, is a link to the Wikipedia article on this type of gun, with multiple photos of the type, both guns and breeches, it’s a style in use from at least the 14thC, but advanced enough to remain in use for centuries.

Comment by Erik V. Smykal
2020-05-11 23:06:54

this wiki article has pictures that show the type of gun.

Comment by Peter
2020-05-12 00:50:10

Conrad Haas (1509–1576) was a Transylvanian Saxon military engineer from the Kingdom of Hungary in Transylvania and a pioneer in rocket propulsion. His designs include a three-stage rocket and a manned rocket.

Haas wrote a German-language treatise on rocket technology and ‘arsenal mastery’, involving fireworks and weapons technologies. His manuscript was discovered in 1961, in the Sibiu public records (Sibiu public records Varia II 374), and the last paragraph reads:

“Aber mein Rhat wehr Friedt unnd kein Krieg, die Büchsen do seinn gelassen unnder dem Dach, so würdt die Kugel nit verschossen, das Pulffer nit verbrent oder nass, so behielt der Fürst sein Gelt, der Büchsenmeister sein Leiben; das ist der Rhat, so Conrad Haas thut gebenn.”

“But my advice would be peace and no war, leaving the rifles calmly in storage [‘under the roof’], so the bullet is not fired, the gunpowder is not burned or wetted, so the prince keeps his money and the arsenal master his life; that is the advice that Conrad Haas gives.”

PS –on a personal side note: A couple of years ago, I was contacted by the “Austrian Space Agency”, totally unaware that they even had one in Austria :D

Comment by Jim
2020-05-12 06:00:29

Thank you, Erik, for the great additional information.

Comment by Erik V. Smykal
2020-05-12 11:02:44

you’re welcome, Jim.
I love this blog & know the author was just working off the information in the original article, but I realized immediately what the breech was and felt it was cool to speak up.
The Wikipedia entry on ‘breech-loading swivel gun’ has some great pics on this type of cannon if you’re interested in further details.

Comment by Jim
2020-05-12 20:35:33

THANKS Erik. I had done an image-search, and got some more visuals, and look forward to checking the wiki… I’d known nothing about the design, but it is ingenious, and, well, you learn something every day, especially checking in on the History Blog.

Comment by Dex
2020-05-12 20:45:28

Erik, exactly right. I saw that, and immediately thought, “Ok, they found a breech, where’s the gun?”

Comment by Jim
Comment by Jim
2020-05-12 20:58:27

Good demo at youtube.com/watch?v=2V_OW_Rw5Ko

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