Turning points in 20th century history

Posted in Business, Current Affairs, European History, Gold Reserves, History, India, politics by Anuraag Sanghi on November 19, 2010
A poster advertising life of the "Abonos Nitrato de Chile" (Fertilizer Nitrate of Chile), 1930.

A poster advertising life of the "Abonos Nitrato de Chile" (Fertilizer Nitrate of Chile), 1930.

Gunpowder monopoly ends

Towards the end of 19th century, newly discovered nitrate deposits (sodium nitrate) in the Atacama desert of Chile came onto world markets. Chile’s nitrates were a crucial intermediate for gunpowder.

Chile’s nitrates broke the British monopoly over the trade in Indian saltpetre for the first time in modern history. French domestic production of saltpetre, barely enough for their own needs, could not challenge Indian saltpetre output that the British monopolized.

Indian saltpetre (potassium nitrate) could be simply refined and used directly in gunpowder – unlike Chilean nitrates. Also Chilean nitrates were limited natural deposits, whereas Indian saltpetre was produced on an industrial scale, accounting for some 70% of global production.

Germans quickly secured supplies of Chilean nitrates. A few years into the WWI, Germans brought the Haber-Bosch process from the laboratory stage to industrial production. The Haber-Bosch process for production of ammonia, gave Germans industrial capacity to produce gunpowder.

Causes for WW1

With this industrial capacity for gunpowder in place, Germany and Turkey, both non-colonial, industrialized powers challenged colonial powers, Britain and France, for access to world markets.

Diagram showing the world nitrogen quantities ...

Image via Wikipedia

The breakup of the Islamic Turkish Ottoman Empire was long seen (1890-1920) as an outcome essential for continued Anglo-French hegemony.

Funding WWI

Against Britain and France, the then dominant world powers, with extensive colonies, were Germany, the Austro-Hungarian Empire and the Ottoman Empire out of Turkey. Once WWI started, US funded both Britain and France. The US plied the Anglo-French alliance with extensive supplies and credit.

Emergence of USA

While millions died in European trenches, the USA bided its time. With mud, blood and disease taking a heavy toll, Britain, France, Germany, Turkey and Russia were soon exhausted and prostrate into a stalemate by the end of 1916. As the fate of WWI hung in balance, USA finally joined the Anglo-French side to gain a share of spoils.

 A soldier evacuated from the battlefront on a stretcher during WW1 - Image courtesy - bbc.co.uk. Click for larger image.

A soldier evacuated from the battlefront on a stretcher during WW1 - Image courtesy - bbc.co.uk. Click for larger image.

Financially unaffected, industrially strong, militarily effective, the US emerged on the world stage.


Soon after WWI, as Anglo-French colonies and markets started opening up, US products gained new customers. Indians started buying Chevrolets, Buicks, Packards in small numbers. Victrolas started playing music in India – and on India. Michelin’s radial tyres from France became a byword in India for long-life. Indian natural rubber started going to Italy’s Pirelli and France’s Michelin.

Impoverishment of India

But Britain, a victorious nation was deep in debt – to USA and Colonial India. US emerged as the largest creditor nation. To settle these wartime debts, debtor Britain and creditor USA worked out a debt-repayment ‘mechanism’. Nothing but financial jugglery, this mechanism slashed the amount due to Colonial India and actually transferred the debt-burden of WW1 onto the backs of Indian peasant.

To settle this debt, Britain took recourse to gold from India. To give impetus to this transaction US supplied Britain with silver – then in abundant supply, in the form of US silver currency coins. This silver was ‘sold’ to Britain at double the market price – under the guise of the Pittman Act. Britain paid its wartime debt to India with this silver – at this inflated Pittman Act price. Abundant silver coins were stuck by the Colonial Raj, which are still available across India in large quantities.

To settle loans taken from USA to fight WW1, Britain extracted scarce gold from India. While payments for Indian exports were made in overpriced silver, the Indian peasant was forced to pay for imports and taxes in under-priced gold.

Starving Indian woman with swollen ankles & feet because she suffers from dropsy as young daughter stands by with swollen belly from hunger during famine crisis. (Photographer - Margaret Bourke-White; Date taken-1946; picture courtesy - life.com). Click for larger image.

Starving Indian woman with swollen ankles & feet because she suffers from dropsy as young daughter stands by with swollen belly from hunger during famine crisis. (Photographer - Margaret Bourke-White; Date taken-1946; picture courtesy - life.com). Click for larger image.

Due to this overpriced silver-under-priced gold combination, a surge in gold outflows started from India. Soon the US banking system was flush with liquidity.

Great Depression

Expecting the closed markets of Anglo-French colonies to open up, US economy expanded trade relations and industrial capacity. This expansion in trade and production of industrial goods was funded partly on the back of inflows of gold from India through Britain.

Finally though, protective barriers did not come down substantially enough – creating industrial over-capacity and excess liquidity in USA. Seeing ‘irresponsible’ bankers, waste ‘hard-earned’ gold on ill-planned trade expansion and production capacities, the US Federal Reserve clamped down on liquidity.

Great Depression followed. To ‘save’ gold-reserves, Roosevelt went further and nationalized gold.

Crime in the 20th century

In turn, Roosevelt’s gold nationalization, sparked a global crime tsunami. Only after the easing of restrictions on gold ownership by 1990, did the crime tsunami subside. The axis of this tsunami of crime was gold smuggling into India and narcotics trans-shipment through India.

A tsunami that engulfed all major economies of the world.


Unresolved issues of WW1 triggered WW2. Germany hemmed in from all sides by British client-states, unable to find markets for its industrial production,  reacted.

Germany, allied with Japan and Italy, proposed creation of larger ‘home’ markets. This was to be done by ‘expanding’ their own borders – to include neighboring countries. As first steps, on 3 October 1935 Italy invaded Abyssinia, now Ethiopia, Germany on 11-12 March, 1938, swallowed Austria; and Japan occupied Manchuria.

The basic assumptions of all the European powers, Japan and the USA were the same. The Confucian-Platonic ideal of superior, wise rulers who ruled over ‘inferior’ peoples.

These militant powers shared the same disregard for human life. Britain wreaked havoc by creating The Great Bengal Famine. Some 40-50 lakh (4-5 millions) Indians died. Hitler rained the Holocaust on the Jews. Some 50-60 lakh (5-6 million) Jews died.

Same difference.

Three faces of stagnation

Production capacity of non-OECD world was destroyed by years of colonialism, WW1 and WW2. Economic conditions after WW2 improved due to relative peace and as countries of the world started rebuilding their economies in the last 60 years (1950-2010).

The last 60 years has seen significant increase in industrial capacity of non-OECD nations. US extended supplier’s credit – using the US dollar, the favored currency of the Bretton Woods system.

A significant portion of economic expansion of OECD economies during 1950-1980 happened as production capacity of the world was rebuilt. The same capacities that were destroyed by colonialism, WW1 and WW2 – especially during 1850-1950 period.


This creation of production capacity in non-OECD countries means economic stagnation and loss of political power for a few decades across OECD. With greater production capacity in the hands of non-OECD producers,  production capacity in OECD-USA must shrink.

Or a WW3 will be ‘needed’ to destroy the production systems of the poorest countries – to ‘save’ the West-OECD.

Creating false agenda's has become a full time job in the West with specialist think-tanks, media organisations and PR firms. (cartoon courtesy - http://polyp.org.uk). Click for larger image.

Creating false agenda's has become a full time job in the West with specialist think-tanks, media organisations and PR firms. (cartoon courtesy - http://polyp.org.uk). Click for larger image.

Red herrings

To get around this ‘problem’ of stagnation, the West has created artificial ‘crisis’ situations.

  1. Population Explosion
  2. Global Warming and climate change
  3. Civil Wars in Africa
  4. Islamic Demonization
  5. Terrorism
  6. Financial meltdowns

Complicating the current situation is the US currency mechanism, called USCAP (by 2ndlook) which favors selected US allies with advantageous exchange rates. China, Asian Tigers, Japan and NATO-Europe have gained significantly from the USCAP program.

The most notable loss due to trade distortion has been Africa’s.

Power Corrupts

During the 20th century, the world had to contend with an intolerable situation. The Anglo-Saxon Bloc (America, Australia, Britain and Canada) accounted for 80% of gold production (between 1200-1800 tons per annum) and controlled 80% of global gold reserves (around 100,000 tons circa  1920) also. Not even Chengez Khan had that kind of control over global economy.

Dawn of a new century

Things change.

At the beginning of 21st century, gold reserves in the hands of all the nation-States, are at a historic low. All the Governments in the world own less than 20%, i.e. 30,000 tons from global gold reserves of 150,000 tonnes.

Another 5 years of aggressive gold buying by global consumers will see this down to possibly 15%-17%. This will severely limit the ability of any State to wage a prolonged war.

A collapse of the currency systems in the world is imminent – in the next 5-15 years. Gold may give super-normal returns in the face of such an event.

Desert Twins - Westernization and Jihad. Problems both!

Desert Twins - Westernization and Jihad. Problems both!

Desert Bloc – beginning of the end?

The 20th century possibly saw the Desert Bloc reach its high-point. The world fully understands the bankruptcy of the Desert Bloc – and it may take some time for the effects of Desert Bloc propaganda to wear off.

Celebrations may, however, be premature. The alternate to Desert Bloc politics – भारत-तंत्र Bharat-tantra is yet to regain traction.

Indian Ships – British Navy

Posted in British Raj, Business, History, India by Anuraag Sanghi on October 27, 2010

Behind the rise of British power

British ascent as the prime military power started with the eclipse of Spain during The Seven Years War (1756-1763). Earlier we had seen the  importance of Indian saltpetre production to the British empire

The treaty of Paris of 1763 not only established Britain as a leading power, it also confirmed its control over Bengal saltpetre. This was the major source of the main ingredient of gunpowder in the world, and a commodity whose contribution to the maintenance and extension of Britain’s empire has hitherto been neglected. (from Gunpowder, explosives and the state: a technological history By Brenda J. Buchanan.).

Four elements were essential for this rise to happen.

  1. British naval power
  2. British access to gunpowder
  3. British access to financial liquidity
  4. Increase in British industrial production.
Francis Drake calling for pirate hands. ©Copyright 2009 The Way Network.

Francis Drake calling for pirate hands. ©Copyright 2009 The Way Network. Click for larger image

British naval power was based on numerical superiority and less on technical. Ability to commission, pay for and take delivery of warships needed high levels of financial liquidity. British liquidity was built on: –

One – Piracy – with Spanish ships being a prime target.

Two – Later, to piracy, add a huge trans-Atlantic slave trade, where Britain was again the world-leader in slave trading.

Three – Britain’s sugar colonies, based on slave labour in the West Indies, though smaller than French and later Spanish sugar colonies, were always the second-largest in the world. Sugar production was a passport to liquidity and profits in the 18th and 19th century.

Britain’s establishment of an industrial base was itself subject to vast financial investments and easy availability to raw materials – where again India played a major role.

What stopped the others

Since 17th-18th century Britain was not the industrial or technology leader that it later became, this begs a logical question. Why could other countries not compete with Britain?

An answer can be found in a recent new reports. Celebrating British naval power, was the refurbishing of a 200-year old British warship – a small news item that appeared in some Indian newspapers.

Some 400 ships were made in the Mumbai boat-yards alone. It is this huge industrial ship-building capacity in India gave the British Navy a significant edge. Contemporary writers wrote how

By the close of the Napoleonic Wars, the Royal Navy had come to rely heavily on the potential of India as a source for shipbuilding facilities and material, especially teak, a wood that is resistant to marine borers and seasons (from Warships of the world to 1900 By Lincoln P. Paine; page 13)

The British East India Company, in about 1675, established a shipyard in Bombay, India, for the construction of ships of Indian teak, considered to be the best ship timber to be found anywhere (from To harness the wind: a short history of the development of sails By Leo Block.).

Calico Jack Rackham with his two pirate wives - Mary Read and Anne Bonney.

Calico Jack Rackham with his two pirate wives – Mary Read and Anne Bonney.

Many ships were built at the ‘British naval dockyard in Bombay, India, which produced a steady flow of ships for the Royal Navy’. Why India?  The answer was Indian teak.

By the time of the First World War, teak was well established as one of the most valuable timbers that the world has ever known. (from Consuming space: placing consumption in perspective By Michael K. Goodman, David Goodman, Michael Redclift).

Why Indian Teak-wood?

teak ships are very strong, as the several pieces of which they are composed always retain their bulk and remain in contact ; its strength compared with English oak, may be considered in the proportion of nine to seven. The ships belonging to the British navy, built at Bombay, are constructed of Teak, its durability is great, as there are several instances of vessels built of this timber, the frames of which are sound, after a service of one hundred years. Tar of an excellent quality is to be obtained from teak, and in such abundance that the chips arising from the conversion of the timber requisite for the construction of the ship, are sufficient to afford a plentiful supply, not only for the purposes required on the hull, but also for the rigging. A small quantity of teak tar has been imported into this country, and found to have the best effects in preserving cordage and adding to its strength. (from An inquiry into the means which have been taken to preserve the British navy, from the earliest period to the present time, particularly from that species of decay, now denominated dry-rot By John Knowles; Published 1821; page 41.)

Made in India, with Indian technology, with Indian teak, this British warship is now some 200 years old. On the other side modern steel-warships, multi-billion dollars worth, have a life of less than 50 years. British ships made of oak wood had an even worse life span.

To us who are accustomed to hear of the durability of ships built with Teak, the rapidity with which those constructed of Oak are said to decay, will appear almost incredible ; and yet the respectable author … tells us, that according to the present mode of ship-building, that noble structure a first-rate man of war, becomes useless from premature decay in five or six years; … Suppose we take somewhere about the medium of these authorities and allow ten years,— the whole British navy, said to consist of about 800,000 tons, to be renewed once every ten years! This, particularly when the scarcity of Oak timber is considered, is by no means a bright prospect; and is the source of a most serious expence to the nation.  To us in this part of the world, nothing would appear so likely to remedy this evil as building the navy of Teak…

The following taken from a late publication, are some examples of the durability, of Teak built ships. The Turkish flag ship at Bussorah was built by Nadir Shah more than 70 years ago; this ship was not long since in dock; when all her timbers were ascertained to be perfectly sound. The Hercules, built in 1763, and constantly employed till 1805, when she was captured by the French, sound as when launched. The Milford of 679 tons, after constant employment to China and Europe for ii years, was then examined, but it wan not found necessary to shift a single timber; and the whole of her repairs did not cost £1000. Prejudices, it seems .were entertained in England against Teak timber: it was said to be heavier than Oak; but this is proved to be unfounded, as one description of Teak has been found to be lighter than Oak, and another about the same weight It was also thought to splinter more than Oak; an idea equally erroneous with the former; indeed, Teak is supposed to have the advantage in this respect, and to splinter less than Oak. It a well known that Teak has an oil in it which preserves iron, and destroys the worm; while the acid of the Oak corrodes iron, and appears peculiarly grateful to the taste of the worm. Nor is Teak, we believe, subject to that incurable cause of rapid decay in Oak, called the dry rot.

Having thus cleared the way in favour of Teak, we shall presume that Ships can be built in this country at the same price per ton as in England, which under economical and proper arrangement we believe to be the case, and we will also suppose that a plan was adopted, by which a proportion of the navy should be built in India, and the remainder in England, from timbers sent from this country.

From the foregoing examples, and others that might be cited, we may also presume, that a Teak built ship, having the same sum laid out for repairs as a modern ship, (during her date of 10 years) built of Oak, will be fit for service, for at least half a century: thereby giving her an advantage in point of durability over the Oak ship, of 40 years. (from The Literary panorama and national register, Volume 1 edited by Charles Taylor; INTERESTING INTELLIGENCE  FROM THE  BRITISH SETTLEMENTS IN INDIA – published 1814,).

British access to India’s huge ship-building capacity, raw-material sources, technicians, shipwright, gave them a decisive edge – considering that Britain controlled Chittagaon (colonial Chittagong), Surat and Mumbai (colonial Bombay), Chennai (colonial Madras), Northern Sircars (modern Andhra Coast) – all famous Indian ship-building centres. Based on this experience, British further expanded teak sources to include Burma by the middle of 19th century. Just before steel started to take over from teak.

Ancient Indian Shipbuilding

Ancient Meluha (Saraswati-Indus complex) traded using sea-routes with Egypt, Tyre, Dilmun (modern Bahrain-Oman), Mesopotamia et al. Remember Greek accounts of how Alexander commissioned in India, an entire flotilla to carry his retreating armies. Zheng He, the great Chinese admiral in his 14th century voyages, had his ships repaired at Chittagaon and Kerala’s shipyards. A contemporary British traveller, Abraham Parsons in 1775 wrote of a Mumbai shipbuilding in

a dock-yard, large and well contrived, with all kind of naval stores deposited in proper warehouses, together with great quantities of timber and planks for repairing and building ships, and forges for making of anchors, as well as every kind of smaller smiths’ work. It boasts such a dry dock, as, perhaps, is not to be seen in any part of Europe, either for size or convenient situation. It has three divisions, and three pair of strong gates, so as to be capable of receiving and repairing three ships of the line, at the same or at separate times; as the outermost ship can warp out, and another be admitted in her place every spring tide, without any interruption of the work doing to the second and innermost ships; or both the outermost and the second ship can go out, and two. others be received in their places, without hindrance to the workmen employed on the third or innermost ship. Near the dock is a convenient place to grave several ships at once, which is done as well, and with as great expedition, as in any dock in England. Near the dock-yard is a rope walk, which for length, situation, and conveniency, equals any in England, that in the king’s yard at Portsmouth only excepted, and, like that, it has a covering to shelter the workmen from the inclemency of the weather in all seasons. Here are made cables and all sorts of lesser cordage, both for the royal navy, the company’s marine, and the merchant, ships which trade to these parts of India. Besides cordage made of hemp, cables, hawsers, and all kinds of smaller ropes, are made of the external fibres of the cocoa-nut, which they have in such abundance in India, as to make a great article of trade among the natives of this place and those along the coasts, between Bombay and Cape Comorin. The yarn made of these fibres is mostly manufactured in the towns and villages, on or near the sea coast of Malabar : many vessels belonging to the natives are laden entirely with this yarn, which they always find a quick sale for at Bombay and Surat, let the quantity be ever so great, as it is the only cordage made use of amongst the small trading vessels of the country: large ships use much of it, made into cables, hawsers, and smaller ropes ; it is called kyah. Ships built at Bombay are not only as strong, but as handsome, are as well finished as ships built in any part of Europe; the timber and plank, of which they are built, so far exceeds any in Europe for durability that it is usual for ships to last fifty or sixty years; as a proof of which I am imformed, that the ship called the Bombay grab, of twenty-four guns, (the second in size belonging to the Company’s marine) has been built more than sixty years, and is now a good and strong ship. This timber and plank arc peculiar to India only; the best on this side of India grows to the north of Bombay; what grows to the south, on the coast of. Malabar, is, however, very good, and great quantities of it are, brought to Bombay; it is called tiek, and will last in a-hot climate longer than any wood whatever. (from Travels in Asia and Africa: including a journey from Scanderoon to Aleppo … By Abraham Parsons – Published 1808.).

British access to financial liquidity was a result initially of organized piracy on high seas – targeting Spanish merchant shipping. British ‘celebration’ of Drake’s fugitive flight from Spanish ships has been credited by no less than Keynes himself as the turning point in British fortunes. Drake apart, there were other similar ‘celebrated’ British pirates.

Using slave labour, Britain gained from sugar Caribbean colonies – especially after the fall of Haiti.

Model Of Vasco Da Gamas  nau

Model Of Vasco Da Gama’s nau


50 years before Independence, a 100 years ago, India was one of the largest ship building countries in the world. Indian shipbuilding was centered along the Western Coast in Kalyan, Bhivandi and Mumbai, in South India at Narsapurpeta (near Masulipatnam) and in Bengal at Chittagong and Hooghly.

The “modern era” began with the building of a dry dock at Mumbai (then Bombay) about 1750; a second was erected in Kolkatta about 1780. During the 19th century, the industry was in a period of expansion and prosperity. However, for the last 100 years, the yards have been in a general decline.

During Shivaji’s reign, as per estimates, more than 300 ships of 300 tons capacity were launched. The Wadias alone built more than 350 ships – during 1735-1863 170 war vessels for the East India Company, 34 man-of-war defence vessels for the British Navy, 87 merchant vessels for private firms, and three vessels for the Queen of Muscat at Bombay docks.

After the Bombay Port Trust was formed in 1870, the shipbuilding on the Western Coast moved to Mumbai. In 1872, Jamshedji Wadia, from a Parsi ship-building family, constructed the “Cornwallis”, a frigate with 50 guns, bought by the East India Company. This led to several orders from the British Navy.

Sixteenth century painting of the Calicut port - showing  shipbuilding yards. (Courtesy - www.saudiaramcoworld.com; BRAUN AND  HOGENBERG, CIVITATES ORBIS TERRARUM, 1572 (2)) Click for larger image.

Sixteenth century painting of the Calicut port – showing shipbuilding yards. (Courtesy – http://www.saudiaramcoworld.com; BRAUN AND HOGENBERG, CIVITATES ORBIS TERRARUM, 1572 (2)) Click for larger image.

Bengal was the other major port where ship building was for global markets. Chittagong was the center for shipbuilding (now in Bangladesh). The Turkish Navy (a major world power till WWI) was a major customer.

The Mughal and British navies were the other significant defence customers. Merchants cargo ships were in significant demand. Ma Huan, the famous chronicler and interpreter of Zheng He (also called Cheng Ho) voyages, during the Ming dynasty, studied boat building in Bengal during the early 15th century (1400-1410).

The third major center for ship building was Narsapurpeta (near Masulipatnam) port – which was a major center of exports of steel, diamonds, saltpetre (potassium nitrate, for gunpowder, to kill Indians, ‘Negroes’, Aborigines and ‘Red Indians’ with) from the Deccan plateau.

These buyers preferred Indian ships, because of better jointing technology and elimination of metal sheeting. Indian shipbuilders had a special system where wood was seasoned in partial vacuum, with oils for timber improvement. British shipbuilders, colonialists ensured through tariff and other barriers, that Indian shipbuilding “was prevented from continuing to develop, even though it had a proven ability to adapt to changing technological needs” – and thus finally killing it. British naval superiority rested on Indian ships – and paid for by exploitation of Indian resources.

In 1498, Vasco da Gama’s ocean-going ship, the Sao Gabriel came to India. The Portuguese caravels are well-known. But what do the Portuguese call their ocean-going ships?


Yes, nau as in Hindi, for boat. Few of these Indian built ships have been recovered in various parts of the world. British naval superiority, of 200 years, built on Indian shipbuilding capacities was first challenged by Germany.

The new German empire owned no colonies but had the world’s third-largest merchant marine and thus needed cruising warships to show the flag overseas. … the naval-industrial complex that helped make Germany a first-class naval power in the years before the First World War. After the Kaiser and the Deutschland, all German battleships were built in German shipyards; aside from Zieten and some torpedo biseoats constructed in Britain, all smaller warships likew were built in Germany. Stosch also took steps. (from Naval warfare, 1815-1914 By Lawrence Sondhaus.).

Indian shipbuilding expertise ruled the world – till colonialism killed it. The Mumbai dockyard was used till 1932 for shipbuilding. Another 40 years later, British shipbuilding was wiped by the Japanese.

What about modern India itself. This shipbuilding and sailing tradition continues. Thousands of small Indian boats criss-cross the Indian Ocean. Carrying scarce material to Somalia, smuggling gold into India earlier – and sometimes hijacked by terrorists, like the 26/11 attacks on Mumbai.

It was finally, Indian saltpetre (for gunpowder), the loot from India and Indian shipbuilding, which allowed the British to become a world power.

Is it then surprising that the British Crown gave up America, allowing them to focus their war efforts against wars raging across India, against British expansion.

Indian Gunpowder – the Force Behind Empires

Posted in Business, European History, Gold Reserves, History, India, politics by Anuraag Sanghi on June 18, 2010
A vizcacha, relative of the chinchilla, in Chile's Atacama Desert. These herbivores are among few who thrive in the Atacama. (Photo shot on assignment for "The Driest Place on Earth," August 2003, National Geographic magazine) Photograph by Joel Sartore

A vizcacha, relative of the chinchilla, in Chile's Atacama Desert. These herbivores are among few who thrive in the Atacama. (Photo shot on assignment for "The Driest Place on Earth," August 2003, National Geographic magazine) Photograph by Joel Sartore

Arid, Desolate Atacama

On Chile’s northern border is the remote, arid Atacama desert. Desolate and dry, rain in Atacama happens once in 2-3 years. Some people living in the Atacama have never seen rainfall in all their lives. Yet, there is some sparse wildlife – a tribute to hardiness of living beings.

Strangely, the Atacama is home to a few ghost-towns – once boom towns. For five years, from 1879-1884, Bolivia and Peru fought with Chile over this rainless, arid and desolate terrain.

Behind this curious importance of the Atacama desert was nitrates. It was Atacama’s nitrates interestingly that broke an important British monopoly – based on India’s saltpetre production.

Untold secrets

In 1809-1810, the British had to mount a serious campaign in the Indian Ocean. The French, from their Indian Ocean naval bases at Île de France (Mauritius), Bourbon (Réunion) and Rodrigues, attacked East India Company ships carrying valuable saltpetre (also saltpeter, nitre, niter) – so essential for the Spanish War (1808-1809).

Indian saltpetre for could not reach Confederate armies due to Union naval blockade!

Indian saltpetre for could not reach Confederate armies due to Union naval blockade!

The British army, retreating across Spain, in harsh winter conditions, needed saltpetre. Under the onslaught of the French forces, ruthlessly pursued, the final escape of the British army, from Corunna was a miracle. The British General, John Moore’s death, at Corunna, Spain, was turned into a heroic ‘victory’. Charles Wolfe’s poem, The Burial of Sir John Moore after Corunna became essential reading for every English schoolboy.

In 1800, a son from a rich family of refugees from the French Revolution in America, after a survey of business opportunities in America, wrote

There already exist in the United States two or three mills which make very bad powder and which do however a very good business. They use saltpeter from India which is infinitely better than that which is produced in France but they refine it badly.

The son was Eleuthère Irénée du Pont, the family was the Du Pont family – and their firm is now known as EI du Pont de Nemours and Co. EU du Pont’s expertise in manufacturing saltpeter came from his training with the French Agency for Powder and Saltpeter (Regie royale des poudres et Salpetres) – and under the tutelage of Antoine Lavoisier, the French chemist, he boasted.

Behind the Dupont fortune was Indian saltpetre. Behind Lincoln’s success in the American Civil War was saltpetre. Behind Anglo-French confidence against Germany in WW1 was the control of the saltpetre deposits from India. Germans were able to sink many of these British saltpetre shipments. In turn, Germans with the Haber-Bosch process, in BASF factories, continued the war – without Indian saltpetre or Chilean nitrate supplies.

Saltpetre – what’s that?

What was saltpetre? Why was saltpetre important. Why did India play such an important role in saltpetre?

Unusually important, the chemical name of saltpetre is potassium nitrate – an essential ingredient in gunpowder. Indians had perfected the method of preparing potassium nitrate (KNO3). The other two ingredients in gunpowder being charcoal and sulphur – easily and freely available and cheap.

India’s military technology is history’s greatest ‘hidden’ secret. Official (and Western) portrayal of Indian military systems in the face of Islamic invaders, Mughal sultanate  and the rise of British imperialism makes out India as a sitting duck with ill-trained and terrified soldiers, armed with bows and arrows, who were hopelessly outclassed by the enemy.

Facts being otherwise, it raises questions about motives for this deliberate wrong portrayal.

The story from Mongolia

In the last 1000 years, there are sketchy records of gunpowder in India, with Rai Hamir Deva of  Ranathambore of the Malwa region, who supposedly used some Mongol deserters (1300 AD) to fight Khilji armies with gun powder. This may be misleading for two reasons.

Modern history credits China with the invention of gunpowder. Firstly, this is largely based on the work of a self-confessed Sinophile – Needham. With a dismissive one sentence, Needham opines, “On Gunpowder history in India, Oppert (1) was duly exploded by Hopkins(2).” And Indian history as the world’s largest producer of gunpowder was swept under the carpet. Needham conveniently ignores evidence like how

Jean Baptiste Tavernier recorded a local tradition in the 1660s that gunpowder and artillery were first invented in Assam from whence they spread to China and he mentioned that the Mughal general who conquered Assam brought back numerous old iron guns captured during the campaign.

Secondly, Mongol territories extended from Mongolia to the gates of Vienna and Russia – but not India. How is it that a few deserters-soldiers could establish the world’s largest gunpowder production system, so rapidly in non-Mongolian India. But, could not do so in conquered territories of China, Central Asia, Middle East, West Asia, and Europe.

A 100 years before Needham, India’s pioneering status in saltpetre was common knowledge. English publications, for instance in 1852 and another in 1860 gave weightage to the opinion of

those who believe that gunpowder was invented in India and brought by the Saracens from Africa to the Europeans; who improved its manufacture and made it available for warlike purposes.

Unlike China, with an odd textual reference or a drawing or a singular artefact, was the entire industry in India – which remained unrivalled in the history of the world. Compared to China’s paltry production of gunpowder, India’s widespread and organized gunpowder production system points towards indigenous development. There are reports, that in “664 an Indian visitor to China reportedly demonstrated the peculiar flamability of saltpeter and provided instructions on how to locate it (Pacey 1990, 16).”

Tall tales … thin stories

The deserter Mongol soldier source seems rather far-fetched considering that Mongol armies studiously avoided attacking India.  India, the richest economy of the world at that time, known and famous for its wealth, was spared by Genghis Khan! Just why would history’s foremost looter, invader, pillager spare India?

When Genghis Khan’s Mongol armies were running rampant, Islamic refugees found shelter in India, during the reign of Iltutmish. In 1221, Khwarezm-Shah and other Persian refugees, sought refuge in India, across the Indus into the Punjab, India, from Genghis Khan’s Mongol armies.

Encyclopedia Britannica says Fortunately, the Mongols were content to send raiding parties no further than the Salt Range (in the northern Punjab region), which Iltutmish wisely ignored …” (emphasis mine). As Indian military reputation waned under foreign Islamic rule, the Mongols mounted a military expedition. The Mongols could succeed in India only under the foreign rule of the much-derided Islamic Tughlaks.

Was Nalanda behind the gunpowder expertise in Bihar and Bengal region. A section of the Nalanda Mahavihara. The qualities of Buddhahood were personified in the vibrant style of art that was created in the university's intellectual atmosphere. (Picture by BENOY K. BEHL, courtesy: The Frontline). Click for larger image

Was Nalanda behind the gunpowder expertise in Bihar and Bengal region. A section of the Nalanda Mahavihara. The qualities of Buddhahood were personified in the vibrant style of art that was created in the university's intellectual atmosphere. (Picture by BENOY K. BEHL, courtesy: The Frontline). Click for larger image

India – the largest gunpowder source in the world

Now, combine saltpetre production with the fact that the heart of the Indian saltpetre production was in Bihar, which was also the home of the Nalanda seminary /university.

By the 16th-17th century,

In parts of India that never were frequented either by Mohammedans or Europeans, we have met with rockets, a weapon which the natives almost universally employ in war. The rocket consists of a tube of iron, about eight or ten inches long, and above an inch in diameter. It is filled in the same manner as an ordinary sky-rocket, and fastened towards the end of a piece of bamboo, scarcely as thick as an ordinary walking cane, and about five feet long, which is pointed with iron.

What about Europe

Saltpetre based gunpowder was in constant short-supply in Europe. Gold from the Americas, flowing into European trade channels, fuelled demand for gunpowder. Gunpowder became an essential ingredient for subjugation of natives, extraction of gold, capture of territories and slaves, piracy on the high seas – all the real reasons for ascent for European power.

The European gunpowder situation was grim. This can be gauged from “a letter of 1605 from the King of Spain to the Viceroy of Goa (the Portuguese trading settlement on the south-west coast of India) for example ordering the annual dispatch of 10 or 12 caskets of saltpetre.” Remember in 1605, Spain was the prime power European power. Compare that to the Indian situation.

When Raja Pratapaditya of Jessore capitulated to Islam Khan in 1609, he agreed to surrender twenty thousand infantry, five hundred war boats, and a thousand “maunds” (41 tons) of gunpowder.

Saltpetre from India kept the British 6-pounders busy at Waterloo!

Saltpetre from India kept the British 6-pounders busy at Waterloo!

The outcome of Waterloo can be gauged from a forgotten statistic – “In the year before the battle of Waterloo (1815) the East India Company exported 146000 cwt. of saltpetre to England.” 146,000 cwt is  7300 tons of saltpetre. British Ordnance Board powder mills in 1809,

produced 36,623¾ ninety pound barrels of powder and private contractors using government supplied saltpetre a further 24,433 ninety pound barrels. Some of British munitions output was supplied to allied governments: Portugal received in the years 1796-1801 … 10,000 barrels of powder, 500 tons of saltpetre; the British Government put into execution the gigantic plan of being a depot, the manufactory, the place of arms, and the centre of the European war

Spain and Sweden also received munitions for fighting on the British side against Napoleon. British victory at Waterloo, was in no small measurethanks to the use of Indian saltpetre, British gunpowder was widely recognised to be far superior to the charcoal-like French product.” British creditworthiness received a boost just before Waterloo. British debt, trading at 25% discount in 1813, was boosted by Indian gold, in 1813, procured by Britain.

Western historians now reluctantly admit, that without the “accumulated credits from Indian transfers since 1757, Britain’s financing of land warfare during the French wars could have been compromised.” Napoleon and France could not “march their combined armies to India, and strangle the supplies of British gold that had been financing successive coalitions against France.”

Without the advantage of Indian saltpetre, with a threatening Britain

in 1792 France was able to face danger on all sides, it was because Lavoisier, Fourcroy, Guyton de Morveau, Chaptal, Berthollet, etc., discovered new means of extracting saltpetre and manufacturing gunpowder.

Some 6000 factories manned by ‘salpetriers worked in France to overcome the naval blockade.

Meanwhile in India

Malwa’s rulers recruited  Purbias from Bengal and Bihar for their expertise in gunpowder. The British initially valued and later (after 1857) feared the Purbias for the same reason. The other reason was an established saltpetre production in the Malwa region till the 19th century. In Punjab, the main centres were Lahore, Hissar, Multan and Amritsar.

India’s gunpowder production system

India was the largest gunpowder production system – in the history of the world, till the 20th century. Specifically Bengal and Bihar regions. Operated by a caste of peoples called the nuniah, saltpetre beds supplied the most vital element in gunpowder – saltpetre. And India produced virtually all of it.

Especially, Bihar, Bengal, Agra and Tamil Nadu, Andhra and Karanataka regions (Anantapur, Coimbatore, Guntur, Kurnool). The Guntur Sircar also manufactured saltpetre on a commercial scale. A mid 17th century Royal Society paper documented how saltpetre was made in India. Most of the miniscule amounts of saltpetre produced in the rest of the world was calcium nitrate, a hygroscopic salt, which spoilt easily by absorbing moisture from air.

The Armenians, the ill-fated Omichund, a “notorious Calcutta merchant who was later to engineer the Plassey Revolution” played an important part in the Bengal/Bihar saltpetre trade. They were all significant players in the export of saltpetre (potassium nitrate). Also known as niter, saltpetre was a necessary ingredient for gunpowder.

Gunpowder becomes a British monopoly

After the annexation of Bengal,

“By seizing Bengal, the British exerted mastery over 70 percent of the world’s saltpeter production during the latter part of the eighteenth century. Since powder stocks could not be prepared quickly or easily, demand was no less during peaceful interims than during times of war, for, in addition to normal sales for peaceful purposes, gunpowder was steadily purchased or produced to build up military powder reserves for emergency use.

One reason why China developed fireworks, rockets, and other incendiaries rather than shot-firing artillery was China’s reliance on artificial saltpeter for making gunpowder. The Chinese also often used a higher proportion of charcoal and sulfur, which resulted in more fire and less ballistic strength. (16) India, on the other hand, produced saltpeter of very high quality, enabling the development of gunpowder weapons, in particular heavy siege guns, in addition to rockets. In many ways, Indian gunpowder making was more advanced than that of China, particularly regarding the strength of the final product, in its commercial organization, and in its application to military purposes.

As early as the 1460s, nearly forty years before the commencement of the East India trade, these Persian sources make it clear that the rulers of Jaunpur and Bengal already had organized saltpeter production as state monopolies managed by their chief merchants.

India was roughly a century ahead of Western Europe in terms of developing the infrastructure for gunpowder technology. It is significant, though, that gunpowder was not shipped to India from Europe in any significant quantities. By 1617, the Portuguese king had joined the general European clamor for more saltpeter. The capitalization of the saltpeter trade at Rajapur was in the hands of Saraswat Brahmins, with investors participating from as far away as Goa and Diu. Shivaji (r. 1664-1680) and his successors made nitrate procurement into a state monopoly, thus forcing the Portuguese, their Indian agents, and Banjara peddlers to deal with the Maratha state.

The Mughal Empire has been styled a “gunpowder empire,” which is a debatable characterization. (34) It is clear from Mughal records that guns were important, if only as symbols and occasional instruments of imperial power. The victory of Babur (r. 1526-1530) over Ibrahim Lodi (r. 1517-1526) often is attributed to his use of artillery, however, Babur himself valued his own judgment at least as much as his Turkish guns. (35) After the Battle of Panipat (1526), the first Mughal ruler ordered executions by firing squad, which are some of the first such killings recorded. Contemporary descriptions of Babur’s battles, however, emphasize the continuing dominance of cavalry, with guns present but not decisive. Nevertheless, warfare was changing in South Asia. Babur’s eldest son and successor, Humayun (r. 1530-1539/1555-1556), was keen to bring Rumi Khan, the Turkish artillery expert employed by the Sultan of Gujarat, over to his side. (36) The widespread use of firearms by Sher Shah (r. 1540-1545) during the brief Sur interregnum is significant, as is the fact that Sher Shah himself was killed by a gunpowder explosion. (37) The early sixteenth century, for India, was a time of significant military change, a watershed between the age of the blade and the age of the gun.

Sher Shah realized that a large army of peasant matchlockmen, recruited and paid by the state, could only exist in the context of a bureaucratic regime with enhanced revenue-collection capabilities and in a kingdom with strong commercial institutions. This lesson was not lost upon Akbar (r. 1556-1605), whose advisor, Abu al-Fazal, adopted many of Sher Shah’s innovations. The rising importance of the saltpeter trade, as well as its lowly origins, may be gauged by the meteoric rise of the warlord Hemu, who had opposed Akbar’s accession to the throne. Akbar’s biographer-courtier, Abu al-Fazl, uncharitably informs us that Hemu was a member of “the Dhusar tribe, which is the lowest class of hucksters in India. At the back lanes he sold saltpetre (nimak-i-shor) with a thousand mortifications … till at last he became a government huckster….” As Akbar’s army set out to challenge Hemu, their spirits were roused by a giant image of the saltpeter merchant-turned-general, filled with gunpowder and set on fire. (38) Ironically, Hemu was killed by the Mughals not with a musket shot, but in the old-fashioned style, with an arrow in the eye, followed by a sword blow to the neck.

Significantly, Sher Shah’s infantry, carrying firearms, were recruited from the eastern Ganges Plain, the same region in which saltpeter production had already become an important component of the regional economy. Later, this area provided infantry for the Mughals and eventually for the British, too. (from The Indian saltpeter trade, the military revolution and the rise of Britain as a global superpower. from: The Historian, Article date: September 22, 2009, Author: Frey, James W.)

After obtaining this vital monopoly, Britain protected this. Saltpetre exports were banned. Thus an ancient Indian technology was harnessed by the English to subjugate the Indian.

From gold came saltpetre, which made getting gold easier

Greater access of saltpetre to the British and with the shutting out of other European powers, saltpetre became essential for other European powers, because English had it. It became rare, as the English monopolised the trade.

In 1775, the French scientific publication, Observations sur la physique a proposal by Academie Royale des Sciences for increased saltpetre production within France.  Finally, a prize was announced in 1783. Nicolas Leblanc set up a factory at St.Denis, during 1791-194, near Paris for manufacture of saltpetre in France. The whole of France was mobilized for this saltpetre collection and gunpowder production.

Directions for gathering of saltpeter were printed and sent all over France. The prescribed recipe for saltpeter, charcoal, and sulphur was dispatched to the flour mills and the powder was ground according to simple specifications. Each district was directed to send two citizens to Paris for a month’s course in the casting of bronze and iron and in new methods for the manufacture of powder. (from From crossbow to H-bomb By Bernard Brodie, Fawn McKay Brodie.).

At the start of the American Civil War, against the Southern  Confederates, The North started with the benefit of a stockpile of some 3 million pounds of niter – i.e. saltpetre. The Confederates  sent James Mason and John Slidell to obtain saltpetre from Britain – and not empty diplomatic recognition from European powers. Mason and Slidell were captured by Unionist forces. Britain demanded release of Mason Slidell. Lincoln refused.

Queen Victoria issued a proclamation forbidding the export from all ports of the United Kingdom, of gunpowder, nitre, nitrate of soda, brimstone, lead, and fire-arms.—London Gazette, Dec. 4.

Britain imposed a ban on exports of saltpetre. Known in history as the Trent Affair, as Union saltpetre stocks went down, Lincoln backed down and agreed to release Mason and Slidell. Prices of saltpetre skyrocketed from some US$0.20  to US$3.0 within one year after the war began. The  Confederates established a Niter Corps to manage this shortage. British godowns overflowing with Indian and Egyptian cotton, did not really depend on Southern cotton, declared neutrality – and supplied both sides with Indian saltpetre.

Well understood by the US Government, C.H.Davis, of the Bureau Of Ordnance, Navy Department, on November 22, 1862 reported to the US Congress,

I feel it, therefore, to be my first duty to urge that suitable provision of ordnance material be made for probable future necessities of the Navy. Most important among them is nitre, which enters so largely into the composition of gunpowder that it may be said to be gunpowder itself, with some slight additions of sulphur and charcoal under proper combination.

It is not produced naturally in this country, nor by any other but India, except in insignificant quantities.

Hindostan alone supplies the whole world, which being a British dependency, places us entirely at the mercy or caprice of that power for our stock of this essential article.

India's widespread manufacture of saltpetre was private enterprise! Without state subsidy or support! (Picture by BENOY K. BEHL, courtesy: The Frontline). Click for larger image.

India's widespread manufacture of saltpetre was private enterprise! Without state subsidy or support! (Picture by BENOY K. BEHL, courtesy: The Frontline). Click for larger image.

End of the saltpetre era

With the arrival of Chile’s nitrate (sodium nitrate – NaNO3) deposits in Atacama desert, the world was weaned away from Indian saltpetre. Chilean nitrates were used to derive nitric acid, a key intermediate for explosives manufacture.

Chilean nitrate was sodium nitrate, (NaNO3), which could be used to derive nitric acid. Nitric acid was used for manufacture of explosives. HAPAG, the Hamburg based shipping line,  became the biggest in the world, carrying Chilean nitrates to Germany. The end of Boer War (1899-1902) saw the emergence of Germany as a major producer of munitions – especially the smokeless gunpowder. Even Britain started buying from Germany.

For a brief while, guano, a natural fertiliser composed of bird droppings, was also a source of nitrates for explosives. But, with the Haber-Bosch process, Germany could manufacture explosives – without the Chilean nitrate.

With the discovery of nitroglycerine and TNT and its widespread commercialization by Alfred Nobel (of Nobel Prize fame) from the 1860s onwards, this British saltpetre monopoly end. As the British monopoly over gunpowder started weakening, the British policy changed.

Pirate nation to super-power

Till 1856, sea piracy was legal.

The British crown gave permits for pirates to operate on high seas – through, what were known as, letters of marque. With the sanction of the English State, high seas piracy became a national pastime in Britain. Pirates like Sir John Hawkins made money on slave trade and piracy – targeting Spanish ships. Queen Elizabeth, apart from knighting him, also participated in these criminal enterprises. The Spanish Armada was assembled by Spain to end British piracy. Further on, British propaganda made these pirates and privateers into heroes – and the Spanish Armada into an instrument of Catholic repression.

Piracy was outlawed by The Declaration of Paris, in 1856, ratified by various powers. Initially by Austria, France, Great Britain, Prussia, Russia, Sardinia and Turkey – but not by Spain, Portugal and the USA. Soon after, Britain became a buyer of explosives, munitions. Challenges to British power started soon after this.

In less than than a 100 years after invention of alternates to Indian saltpetre, Britain was a shadow of its former imperial self.

The end of Indian saltpetre

To cover the cost of the Anglo-Indian War of 1857, the British Raj increased taxes on saltpetre. British traders from India started clamoring for a reduction in export duty from 1860 onwards. From more 20,000 tons of saltpetre exports in 62-62, it fell to around 11000 tons by 1865, and continued declining there after.

By which time, Britain was already the preeminent power in the world. On the back of Indian gunpowder factories.

Behind the Dupont chemical empire and  fortune was Indian saltpetre.

The Trio – Alexander, Sangala and Jan Zizka

Posted in European History, India, politics by Anuraag Sanghi on January 21, 2009


Alexander’s retreating  armies saw a new way of chariot fighting at Sangala Battle as did Vatican – 1700 years later.

Roma-Gypsy Family With Varda Wagon & Bender Tents at Barnhurst, 1902. From the Boswell Collection.

Roma-Gypsy Family With Varda Wagon & Bender Tents at Barnhurst, 1902. From the Boswell Collection.

The barbarians came forth to fight with chariots lashed together, some of them were equipped with spears, others with lances, and they would jump nimbly from chariot to chariot whenever they wished to aid comrades, who were under pressure (from The History of Alexander, By Quintus Curtius Rufus, John Yardley, Waldemar Heckel)

From Alexander to Zizka

Now this is very interesting.

Some 1700 years later, during the Hussite wars, the Moravian armies under Jan Zizka, routed the combined armies of Prussia, Austria and various Catholic countries, commandeered by the Vatican. It was the Hussite Wars that started off the Reformation and Renaissance in Europe, from Moravia – now a part of modern Czechoslovakia.

The Taborites, one of the two factions (along with the Utraquists or the Calixtines) formed a front under Jan Zizka to take on the might of the Vatican. Zizka’s armies were made up by two factions – The Utraquists and the Taborites.

Zizka used a similar tactics – like what retreating armies of Alexander saw at Sangala. It was the Taborite use of wagons in war that was revolutionary in Europe – and the blind general, Jan Zizka defeated the combined armies of European Superpowers of his time. The Taborites used Wagenbergs, (fortified wagons).

Roma Gypsy wagon - Picture from UK c. 1910 (Bexley Local Studies and Archives Centre of Gypsies).

Roma Gypsy wagon – Picture from UK c. 1910 (Bexley Local Studies and Archives Centre of Gypsies).

Who were the Taborites? Moravians living in Tabors, were named Taborites – and a mountain on which they lived, was also known as the Tabor mountain. And what does Tabor mean?

Tabor, in various Eastern European languages meaning camp, tribe, community. In English Tabor means a drum – which comes from the drums used by the Taborites. Jan Zizka’s dying wish was that the combined Hussite armies would use his skin on a drum to lead the Czech armies against the Vatican.

Trust, Betrayal …

How did the alliance break?

The Utraquists, made a deal with the Vatican, called the “Compactata of Basle” (1433) – and betrayed the Taborites. The combined forces of the Utraquists and the Vatican waged war against the Taborites. This massacre called the Battle of Lipan /Lipany, on May 30th, 1434, ended the Taborite faction. Thousands were locked inside barns and huts – and burnt to death. And that was the end of the Hussite Wars and the challenge to the Church. But it broke the military might of the Church also.

Similarly, Jan Hus had earlier been invited to a meeting – was captured and burnt at the stake, under false promises. The Taborites on the other were different. When Aeneas Sylvius Piccolomini (later Pope Pius II) sought shelter with the Taborites, he was welcomed openly and warmly.

Interestingly, a 100 years later, the European persecution of the Roma Gypsies began in full earnest. And during WW2, the Vatican joined with the Nazi collaborators, the Ustashe,  to extort gold and the genocide against the Roma Gyspises.

Roma Gypsy wagon-houses at Tarnow Muzeum, Poland  |  Click for image.

Roma Gypsy wagon-houses at Tarnow Muzeum, Poland | Click for image.

Coming back …

Who were the major users of the wagons in Europe then (and now?) Answer – The Roma Gypsies.

Who were the people who could pose spiritual and ecclesiastical questions to the Vatican? Answer – The Gypsies, with their Indian heritage, were not not new to spiritual dialectics (contests, discourse and debates). For instance, Mani, and his adherents, an Indic teacher of Buddhist thought, known to Christians as Manichean thought, were the nightmare for Christianity till the 15th century. When Mani called for overthrow of slavery, the Vatican at the Council of Gangra, re-affirmed its faith in slavery. European minds were occupied with the questions raised by the Hussite reformers.

Some think they (the Waldensians) had held them for centuries; some think they had learned them recently from the Taborites. If scholars insist on this latter view, we are forced back on the further question: Where did the Taborites get their advanced opinions? If the Taborites taught the Waldenses, who taught the Taborites?

Who were the people who could help the persecuted Waldensians, the Bogomils, the Cathars to escape persecution and spread out across the Europe? Answer – The Roma Gypsies – in their wagons. The same Gypsies, had earlier pioneered the Troubadour culture in the Provence Region, which provoked the Albigensian Crusade by the Vatican.

Prokop Coat Of Arms

Prokop Coat Of Arms

And who was the King of the Taborites? Answer – An entire clan of leaders who called themselves as Prokop (The Shaven /Bald; The Little and The Great) were the military leaders of the Taborites.

The word and name Prokop have no meaning in any European language – except in Sanskrit, where it means vengeance, retribution, violent justice. But, this did not stop the cultural dacoity – and the name was  Hellenized to Procopius.

And where do the Roma Gypsies come from? Answer – India, where at the Battle of Sangala, 1700 years ago, Alexander’s retreating  armies, saw a new way of fighting from chariots- which the Vatican saw 1700 years later, again!

The Gypsy secret weapon

And gunpowder was the secret weapon that the Taborite Gypsy armies of Jan Zizka used, mounted on top of the wagons that cut enemy troops to size?

Gunpowder. And Gypsies?

At the end of the 19th century, this was still known. And an extract from that books goes onto trace the introduction of gunpowder to Europe.

Now, Mons is the capital of Hainault ; and the first people known to have used firearms in England were the Hainaulters. “In 1327 the English employed some Hainaulters, who used cannon for King Edward III against the Scotch.” Do these facts not suggest very strongly that the artillerymen among the Hainaulters were procured from one or other of the ” quartiers des Sarrazins ” of that province ? The connection between Edward III and Hainault was very close, for in the year following the arrival of the gunpowder-using Hainaulters, he married Philippa of Hainault. And, since he imported artillerymen from Hainault, it is quite likely that those “foreign traders,” who came to St. Giles’ Fair. Winchester, during his reign, selling ” brazen vessels of all kinds,” were really from Dinant, near Namur, as has been suggested. These people are cited by Mr. Groome {Gypsy Lore Journal, i. 50), as possible Gypsies ; if one grants that there were Gypsies in Belgium in the fourteenth century. For, of course, both of these suggestions are based upon that assumption. (from Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society by FRANZ VON MIKLOSICH).

But do Gypsies and war ever mix?

They have often been employed in military expeditions, but never as regular soldiers. In the Thirty Years’ War the Swedes had a body of them in the army ;  and the Danes had three companies of them at the siege of Hamburg, in 1686. They were chiefly employed in flying parties, to burn, plunder, or lay waste the enemy’s country. In two Hungarian regiments nearly every eighth man is a Gypsy. ((from Journal of the Gypsy Lore Society by FRANZ VON MIKLOSICH).

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