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Gunpowder was first discovered possibly as early as the Tang dynasty in China. Although its explosive qualities were soon seized upon by experts realising its potential military use, modern firearms did not make an appearance worldwide until the end of the Hundred Years' War in France and the Hussite Wars in Central Europe.

The first gunpowder weapons were probably grenades, which were loaded in traction machines such as trebuchets, and while gunpowder weapons firing projectiles were soon invented in China and elsewhere, their reliability as a primary weapon was so low that archers continued to remain the main missile component of any defensive force despite firearms being easier to use than traditional bows and crossbows; this was the one reason why military leaders and authors such as Miyamoto Musashi, Niccolò Machiavelli and Shaka Zulu often eschewed firearms for simpler but harder to operate weaponry such as javelins or bows. In the case of the last, usage of javelins and archery persisted despite the introduction of exponentially improved firearms in the West during the late 19th century, with tragic results.

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