When you picture a war from, say, a thousand years ago, what are the combatants fighting with? Swords, right? Maybe with the odd bow and arrow thrown in?
Well, one thing you should never underestimate is mankind's ability to come up with cool-ass ways to kill each other. Believe it or not, our ancestors were equipped with weaponry as high-tech as...
In short, it was a semi-automatic weapon... from 2,400 years ago.
In fourth century B.C., the Chinese developed a new kind of crossbow that revolutionized the way siege warfare was fought:
That's a feeder on top and the lever near the end is the repeating action. The repeating crossbow was the first semi-automatic weapon ever invented. Trained soldiers could let fly 10 bolts in 15 seconds before the magazine needed to be reloaded. Due to the nature of the action, it needed to be shot from the hip in order to fire that quickly. Oh, and the bolts were often dipped in a fast acting poison so that just a scratch could be fatal. Fighting in small teams reduced the risk of friendly fire.
Siege warfare was all the rage when this baby hit the scene. It proved to be an essential defensive weapon as one could keep backing away from the enemy while shooting wildly into the advancing horde.
Seriously, just look at that shit. It was a damned crossbow assault rifle, and it existed so long ago Jesus could have owned one. An old one.
"Jesus Christ! Cover me!"
The repeating crossbow never goes out of style and in fact was still in widespread use during the early part of the 20th century as an anti-burglar weapon. This makes it the longest continuously used mechanical device in the world.
When the Byzantine Empire invented Greek fire around 673 A.D.--a terrifying, napalm-like liquid that could keep burning even sitting on water--the only thing they were worried about was finding new and exciting ways to deploy it in battle. When the "light-it-and-run" method just didn't cut it anymore, they were inspired to invent the first hand grenades. But as cool as that probably was, they had another method which they preferred: flamethrowers. Probably because they cut down on the time it took to fry their enemies into charred little pieces.
"You wanted yours well done, right?"
Flamethrowers, which experts say rank on the badass scale somewhere above Monster Trucks and just below playing the solo from "Stairway to Heaven" with your junk, were the most powerful weapon of the Byzantine navy. It allowed them to rule the seas for hundreds of years, and they somehow existed in an age when humans were pretty sure outer space was a blanket of smoke emanating from Bezelda, the She-Dragon.
Even more surprising, the way they were made and operated back then was not that different from their modern counterparts in design. The Byzantine flamethrower used a piston to shoot liquid naphtha through a lit flame.The Chinese improved the Byzantine design by adding double-piston bellows which were able to shoot fire with both the up and the downstroke, creating a steady stream similar to modern flamethrowers.
Above: either a flamethrower schematic or IKEA instructions.
But the device's roots go back even further than that. The basic idea of the flamethrower existed long before the invention of Greek fire, as early as third century B.C. The dream was always there. When mankind discovered the secret to creating fire, the next challenge was figuring out how to hurl it at people we didn't like.
This would be the Chinese model.
By the 14th century A.D., just when all of Europe was enjoying being almost completely wiped out by the Black Plague, the Chinese had mastered the many military implications of gunpowder and had become well versed in the ancient art of "blowing shit up." But trust us, they weren't just using their exploding rockets to celebrate the New Year.
The Chinese had invented goddamn missiles that could fire rockets. These beasts could climb hundreds of feet into the air before descending on their enemy. Then, once the main booster of the missile depletes, the rockets inside are automatically ignited, sending down a flaming hailstorm of pants-shitting terror on the soldiers below.
The first multistage rockets were used by the Chinese navy and were called "huo long chi shui" which translates to "fire-dragon issuing from the water." The multi-stage rockets could launch over walls and fire projectiles that would explode on impact. Packed with 750g of gunpowder and weighing five to 10 kilograms, one of these missiles could cruise up to a mile and a half.
Did we mention they looked like dragons?
And while we're on the Chinese, we should point out they also had...