Jan 10, 2013

Spread of Guns in the World History

In the book "Guns, Germs, and Steel" Jared Diamond pointed out that three of things: "guns, germs, and steel" vitally influenced the history of the Old and New World.

One of the main reasons that Hernan Cortes could conquer the Aztec Empire and Francisco Pizarro could conquer the Inca Empire with few soldiers was obviously their possession of guns.

But Western people with guns didn't always conquer the peoples without them.

It took over two hundred years for Western colonists to predominate over all of the indigenous tribes in North America. Western people finally occupied the west coast of North America in the late nineteenth century.

What is different between Central America, South America, and North America, when it comes to the roles that guns played?

In Central America and South America the Aztec Empire and the Inca Empire conquered the peoples around them and built centralized empires, so Spanish conquistadors could conquer them by seizing their emperors with small soldiers and controlled them using the government's institutions.

On the contrary in North America native tribes were quite decentralized, so it was difficult for Western colonists, who were  smaller in numbers than the indigenous tribes, to conquer them. In the beginning of the colonization, Western colonists received support from the indigenous tribes and engaged in trade with them. As a result of the trade, the natives got guns from Western merchants. Some native tribes formed alliances with either France or Britain and fought against American colonies.

In the middle of the sixteenth century, Portuguese brought guns to Japan just in the age of provincial wars. Portuguese didn't have enough soldiers to conquer Japan, so they sold guns to the feudal lords, who could. Japanese craftspeople began to make guns by themselves and the feudal lords competed with others buying guns. From that point on, guns revolutionized the way war was waged and Japan began to move toward unification.

James Cook "discovered" the Hawaiian Islands in 1778, and the indigenous people were introduced to guns. In the early nineteenth century, King Kamehameha I unified Hawaiian Islands and founded the Hawaiian Kingdom. He used guns, which were imported from Western countries and had Western military advisers.

In Japan and the Hawaiian Islands, the introduction of guns from the West unified the countries. After that, Japan has maintained independence, but the Kingdom of Hawaii was annexed by the United States of America.

The spread of guns had a great impact on the world history in a variety of ways. I will study the patterns of the influences of the diffusion of guns in regions around the world.


  1. This is a book that I've been meaning to read for a (very) long time, thanks for posting on it. His new book is 'The World Until Yesterday:What Can We Learn From Traditional Societies', which I hope to read soon.

  2. I read this book several years ago, but I've just decided I should dig it out of a box (most of my books are still in boxes in the passage!) and read it again.

    ME, he's done a new book? Ta for that tip! It sounds like a very interesting title. Amazon, here I come ...

  3. I read this book in Japanese, so I'd like to try English version (someday...)

  4. If you are going to study the spread of guns, I have to warn about the book "Giving Up the Gun" by Noel Perrin. I don't know if you heard about it, but it's about how the Japanese adopted guns and then turned their back on it during the Edo period. I haven’t read the book myself and it might be worth a read, but what I have heard the premise that the Samurai stopped using gun because the saw it as a threat to them and something dishonorable as the book argues, is wrong. The usage of guns went down but didn't stop completely and the primary reason was because the lack of war.
    Some interesting discussion on this:

    1. Thank you for your comment.
      I'll try the book you recommended!

    2. Almost forgot, there is also the book Tanegashima: The Arrival of Europe in Japan, wchich I haven't read (yet), but I have heard it's good.