Military History Books
by Harold A. Skaarup   
Artillery preserved in Portugal (Part 1), Museu Militar de Lisboa (Portuguese Army Military Museum of Lisbon)

Artillery preserved in Portugal (Part 1)

Museu Militar de Lisboa (Portuguese Army Military Museum of Lisbon)

Data current to 8 March 2019.

The aim of this website is to locate, identify and document every historical piece of artillery preserved in Portugal.  Many contributors have assisted in the hunt for these guns to provide and update the data found on these web pages.  Photos are by the author unless otherwise credited.  Any errors found here are by the author, and any additions, corrections or amendments to this list of Guns and Artillery in Portugal would be most welcome and may be e-mailed to the author at

Artillery and Military Museum Artifacts, Lisbon, Portugal

Artillery on display in Lisbon - a short history

Artillery is the Army’s way of “reaching out and touching someone” in support of the Combat Arms Family in the Field of Battle.  Over the years it has been moved by hand, horse and vehicle, mounted on ships and aircraft and generally made itself useful in ways most appreciated by those on the protecting end of it, and of course least appreciated by the recipients of its lethal effects.  Gunners serve them, most often in batteries of three guns or more, with the guns either towed or self-propelled.  Towed guns have been used primarily to defend a fixed line of defence, while self-propelled guns are designed to provide continuous fire support while accompanying a mobile attack force.

The earliest forms of artillery were engines of war such as the catapult, onager, trebuchet and ballista.  The first documented use of gunpowder took place on a battlefield in China on 28 Jan 1132.  The invention found its way into the Middle East and reached Europe in the 13th century.  Most of the early firearms and pieces of artillery were muzzle loaded, with breech-loaders, while crude and dangerous, followed as ways to improve their use were developed.

In 1415 the Portuguese invaded the Mediterrannean port town of Ceuta, and set up bombardas, colebratas and falconetes to defend it.  In 1419 Sultan Abu Sa’ud brought cannon with him to retake the city.  Artillery was in use in Europe during the Hundred Years’ War, and between 1420 and 1430 artillery technology grew to have the power to knock down the walls of strongholds and fortresses.  The army of Mehmet the Conquerer used artillery in its conquest of Constantinople in 1453, dragging 69 guns in 15 separate batteries with them to blast the walls of the city.  The barrage of Ottoman gun fire lasted 40 days and it is estimated some 19,320 rounds were fired on the city.  Mehmet’s bronze guns breached the city’s walls which led to the end of the Byzantine Empire.

Bombards were large smoothbore weapons primarily used in sieges.  Often they were made of metal staves or rods bound together with hoops, giving them a barrel-like appearance, thus the name “gun barrel”.  Cannon were guns developed in the 15th century with a dedicated field carriage, usually horse-drawn, while the gun barrels were reduced in size and weight as technology improved.  Trunnions were added to the side of the gun, becoming an integral part of the casting process and allowing the barrel to be attached to a more moveable base and easily elevated.

Shot and powder were combined into a form of fabric bag or cartridge in the 1620s, speeding the loading of guns and greatly improving their safe operation.  Shells, which were explosive-filled fuzed projectiles were also developed in the 17th century.  Development of artillery for use on ships as well as various forms of howitzers and mortars quickly followed.  Over time, the guns became smaller, lighter and more effective at longer ranges.  Modern breech-loading artillery was developed in the 19th century.  Rifled guns with improved range and accuracy came into the battle lines.  Recoil mechanisms were added, which allowed a gun to return to its firing position without having to be moved.  With improved range and elevation, indirect fire became a significant part of the process of dominating a battlefield.

Artillery use in Canada has been primarily based in its early years on French equipment – Jacques Cartier is documented as firing his ships guns to ward off Micmac warriors in the Bay of Chaleur in 1534.  Following the English conquest of New France in 1758, British equipment has been the mainstay of artillery in service in British North America.  With the Confederation of the provinces to form Canada in 1867, most of the guns in service with the Canadian Militia and later the Canadian Army have been British or American, occasionally supplemented with weapons from other European nations such as Sweden, France, Germany and Italy to the present day. 

There are many separate artillery histories for the development of guns by nations in their preparations for war.  The photos of historical guns found in Lisbon, Portugal, presented here should give the reader some idea of the vast number of incremental developments of smoothbore muzzle-loading artillery and later rifled breech-loaders that have had to unfold to reach the level of technology available to us today. 


Artillery and Military Museum Artifacts in Lisbon

Museu Militar de Lisboa (Portuguese Army Military Museum of Lisbon)

The Museu Militar (Military Museum) located at Largo do Museu da Artilharia in Lisbon, stands on the site of a 16th-century shipyard.  The collection of ancient and modern artillery pieces and military artefacts in this museum is reported to be one of the world’s largest and most extensive displays of guns, pistols and swords, including 14th century cannon and Vasco da Gama's sword.  

This is the largest Army museum in Portugal.  Construction began in 1842 and there are now 34 exhibit rooms presenting the evolution of weapons and military artifacts, along with military illustrations in tiles, painting, and sculpture from the18th to the 21st centuries.  Medieval armour is on display, along with early land and naval artillery and the military history of the Portuguese forces from the French invasion to the First World War, as well as elements of the African campaigns between the end  of the 19th century and 1974.

Some of the rooms have rich Baroque decoration, large spreads of tiles portraying battle scenes, and paintings on military themes. The first two rooms on the right of the main staircase are devoted to the Napoleonic invasions, the Vasco da Gama Room has murals depicting the discovery of the sea route to India, and the first floor displays First World War exhibits.

On display in the Portuguese artillery section is the wagon used to transport the triumphal arch to Comercio Square, and outside is a large courtyard flanked by cannons telling the story of Portugal in tiled panels, from the Christian Reconquest to the First World War.

Cast Iron Mortar, No. 75, 9070, guarding the front entrance to the museum.

Vasco da Gama statue, on display in the is the display area of some of the oldest artillery preserved in the Military Museum in Lisbon.  Vasco da Gama was a Portuguese navigator and the Captain of the armada that sailed to India on 8 June 1497, arriving in India in mid-1498.

Vasco da Gama's two-handed broadsword, on display in the Military Museum in Lisbon.

225-pounder Espalhafato, also know as "Tigre" (Tiger), bronze gun cast at Goa, India in 1533.  This stone-throwing gun was used in siege operations.  This gun has a 244.5-cm calibre, is 331-cm long and has a bore length of 284-cm.  It throws a 103.5 kg (225 lb) stone ball.  The gunwas in the fortress of Ormuz and of Diu and came to Lisbon in 1897.

200-pounder Espalhafato "Touro" (Bull), wrought iron gun cast at Goa, Portugal in the 16th century.  This stone-throwing gun was used in siege operations.  This gun has a 43-cm calibre, and is 304 cm long with a bore length of 277 cm and throws a 92 kg (200 lb) stone ball.  It is built with iron staves reinforced with metal bands, similar to the bombards of the 15th century, but constructed at the beginning of the 16th century in 1515, supposedly in India by Francisco Anes.  This gun armed the fortress of Diu.

Wrought Iron 38-pounder Smoothbore Muzzleloading "Aguia" Bombard "known as “Peça de Malaca”, built with wrought iron iron staves reinforced by thick iron rings cast in India in the 16th century. This gun was used in siege operations.  It has a calibre of 17.5-cm, is 336 cm long with a bore length of 308 cm, and throws a 17.5 kg (38 lb) stone or iron ball.

Bronze 11.4-cm Áspide or short half-culverin Gun cast in Portugal in the mid-16th century.  This gun was used in siege operations and on ships.  It is 300 cm long with a bore length of 277 cm, and throws a 4.5 kg (10 lb) iron ball. 

18-cm Camelete bronze gun cast in Portugal in the 16th century.  This gun was used in land and sea operations.  It is 222 cm long with a bore length of 216 cm, and throws a 6.5 kg (14 lb) stone ball.

12.5-cm Áspide bronze gun cast in Portuguese India in the 16th century.  This gun was used in siege operations.  It is 362 cm long with a bore length of 341 cm, and throws a 6 kg (13 lb) iron ball. 

17.3-cm Camelete bronze gun cast in Portugal in the 16th century.  This gun was used in land and sea operations.  It is 224 cm long with a bore length of 216 cm, and throws a 5.5 kg (12 lb) stone ball.

12.4-cm Espera bronze gun cast in Portugal in the 15th century.  This gun was mainly used in siege operations.  It is 301 cm long with a bore length of 282 cm, and throws a 6 kg (13 lb) stone ball.


43-pounder Águia (Eagle) bronze gun cast in 1550 in Portuguese India.  This gun was mainly used in siege operations.  This gun weighs 3,865 kg and has a calibre of 17.9-cm.    It is 380 cm long with a bore length of 359 cm, and throws a 19.7 kg (43 lb) iron ball.

Bronze 43-pounder Águia (Eagle) Gun cast in Portugal in 1549 by Joao Dias.  This gun was used mainly in siege operations.  This gun weighs 3,865 kg and has a calibre of 17.9-cm.    It is 380 cm long with a bore length of 357 cm, and throws a 19.7 kg (43 lb) iron ball.

Bronze, breech-loading swivel gun, heavily ornamented, possibly 15th or 16th century, on display on the staircase.

Bronze, breech-loading swivel gun, ornamented with shields and crests, possibly 15th or 16th century.

Bronze, breech-loading swivel gun, possibly 15th or 16th century.

5.5-cm Berço wrought iron gun cast in Portugal in the 15th or 16th century.  This gun was used both on land and at sea.  It is 162 cm long with a bore length of 67 cm, and throws a .45kg (1 lb) stone ball or .67 kg (1.5 lb) lead ball. 

8-cm Berço bronze gun cast in Portugal in the 17th century.  This gun was used on ships at sea.  It is 160 cm long with a barrel length of 76 cm, and throws a 1.4 kg (3 lb) iron ball or .45 kg (1 lb) stone ball.

Wrought iron breech-loading swivel gun with reinforcing bands around the barrel, cast in Portugal, ca 15th century.  Used on ships, throwing a stone or iron ball. 

Wrought iron breech-loading swivel gun with reinforcing bands around the barrel, cast in Portugal, ca 15th century.  Used on ships, throwing a stone or iron ball.  

Although this type of gun has always been thought to be quite early, some work Kay Smith Brown did a few years ago shows that they were actually made from the late 16th century and through the 17th century.  They were made all over Europe though, from the evidence we have at the moment, they appear to be a northern European speciality.  A very similar gun, with a cast 
bronze barrel, and called a pertriera a braga or a musquet de braga, were a speciality of southern Europe, especially Italy.  Do note that  museum catalogues, especially old ones, are not always accurate and it is the work from modern work derived from nautical archaeology that has allowed us to be accurate about their dating.

They are not cast but built up from components made from wrought iron and have a very complex design so that, although they look simple (and to some eyes, crude) they are very sophisticated.  Wrought-iron guns were actually used throughout Europe until the first decade of the 18th century.

They are, in English sources, called murderers, and were used as anti-personnel weapons especially on ships.  Before the 
20th century the aim of ship warfare was to kill the crew and capture the ship, not sink it - it was worth a fortune in bounty. Anti-personnel weapons were an important part of a ship's armament.  For chapter and verse see Kay Smith Brown's article ‘Wrought-iron swivel guns’.  In M Bound (ed) The Archaeology of Ships of War. Oswestry, 1995.
It is still a very important and a very early piece in North America.  Incidentally there is a similar gun in the Met in New York and one in the Stewart Museum in Montreal.

Entrance to the second floor stairway and the main interior exhibit section of the Military Museum with a pair of Bronze Smoothbore Muzzleloading Guns flanking a bronze statue of a Vimara Peres.  This mounted knight statue is a miniature of an original on display next to the cathedral of Oporto.  The two Bronze Guns date from the reign of King Joao V.

A pair of Bronze Smoothbore Muzzleloading Guns dating from the reign of King Joao V near the second floor stairs.