Like the ‘Gunpowder Empires’ of Islamic Asia (the Ottoman Empire based in Constantinople, the Safavid Empire based in Iran and the Mughal Empire based in India), the Western European ‘gunpowder states’ of the early modern ‘military revolution’ made ceaseless efforts to secure the raw materials for explosive munitions. Their siege trains, fighting ships, fortresses and musketry consumed vast amounts of powder as they vied for dominance and projected their force beyond their frontiers. From the fifteenth century to the nineteenth the Spanish, Portuguese, French, Dutch, Swedes and English built their strength on gunpowder. Neither monarchies nor armies could operate without this special commodity. Without gunpowder weaponry they could have no national security, and without its principal ingredient — saltpetre — there could be no firepower munitions.1 Only with the development of chemical explosives in the later nineteenth century did dependence on...

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