So gunpowder is one of those inventions that could have easily been delayed, because there was no logical reason to mix those ingredients together for an intended purpose. It thus seems reasonable that it could have been delayed. It becomes harder once we start to get industrialization and better science, as this both gives other options and the understanding to see why something like gunpowder might work.

Would this have done anything to limit industrial development? What would have been the other major effects in history?

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    $\begingroup$ you would need to delay all of chemistry to delay it that much. which would likely have hamstrung industrialization. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Jun 27, 2021 at 2:18
  • $\begingroup$ FYI the reason those three materials were mixed is they were three of the most effective preservatives. $\endgroup$
    – John
    Jun 27, 2021 at 2:20
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    $\begingroup$ Questions of the "what would be the effects if" type are problematic as if they are insufficiently specific, they tend to generate opinion-based answers. You would need to do some research and narrow it down for it to really work. $\endgroup$ Jun 27, 2021 at 3:20
  • $\begingroup$ Well, the obvious major effect in history is that Europe does not dominate the world. Which means that the entire history after 1400 or so is profoundly altered, making it completely different. History being completely different from the 15th century onwards makes this question both egregiously too broad and entirely opinion based. Please note that I do believe that this is a worthy subject of speculation; it just does not fit the format of this site. $\endgroup$
    – AlexP
    Jun 27, 2021 at 3:32
  • $\begingroup$ As Wikipedia notes "Besides its use as a propellant in firearms and artillery, black powder's other main use has been as a blasting powder in quarrying, mining, and road construction (including railroad construction)", so there would have been some discernable level of economic and industrial impairment caused by the absence of gunpowder. $\endgroup$ Jun 27, 2021 at 4:18

2 Answers 2


Are you familiar with the term gunpowder empire? Some of that is after-the-fact rationalization of visible patterns, but one can make a good case that early, expensive, relatively inefficient siege artillery favors the central government at the expense of small feudal holdings.

Yes, that bombard takes days to emplace. But knowing that the king has one, and they don't, has a salutary effect on the compliance of vassals behind their old-fashioned castle walls. Building cannon-proof fortresses is expensive, but a king can do it.

The other effect is getting easier mass armies. They said that one starts training an archer by training his grandfather. A bit of hyperbole, but quickly trained peasant levies were just spearmen. With gunpowder, you can also get musketeers and thereby pike and shot, another nail in the coffin of armored knights.

So one might guesstimate a world where Europe remains more splintered than in the real world.


As already been mentioned, gunpowder was the thing that allowed monarchies to overpower feudal aristocracy - artillery allowed to break aristocratic castles in a matter of days rather then months, while being so expensive that only monarchy was able to field large amount of them (especially early on in XV-XVIth century). As result, centralised empires could be formed.

Gunpower was massively important in naval combat, first supplementing and then (second half of XVI century) replacing boarding as main type of combat on the sea. This gave European (and Ottoman) navies massive superiority over others further supporting the growth of those empires.

On land, gunpowder was the force that defeated armoured knights and swiss style pike blocks. Later, but still in time period you are after (XVIIIth century) gunpowder mostly replaced melee combat, though charges by infantry and cavalry were still possible until rapid fire rifles appeared in mid-XIXth century. This changed warfare in many ways - first, proffesional infantry replaced the heavy cavalry as decisive arm on the battlefields (reducing the power of nobles towards monarchy) and later, as gunpowder massively increased losses suffered in battles by both sides (but especially the winners often took disproportionately low losses before) armies started to grow, leading to massed armies of napolepnic wars (typical battle of Thirty years war was in 30000 men per side, while in XVIIIth century this was closer to 80000 and in Napoleonic wars battles with 120 000 per side were common).

Without gunpowder armies absolutist regimes of XVIIIth century would be very hard to enforce leading to much more fractured Europe and middle east but on the other hand, French revolution would be much less likely to happen (there were may such revolutions in XVIIth century for example, all were defeated).


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