Basel, 4th quarter 15th cent. (barrel), 16th cent. (carriage)
114 cm (barrel)
This octagonal bronze gun barrel was made in Basel, as is apparent from the Baselstab – Basel’s emblem – hammered into it on either side of the touch hole. The gun is thought to date from the late 15th century. Initially a hand-held weapon, it was presumably made for the defence of the city. Later the barrel was shortened and it was mounted on a naval gun carriage dating from the 16th century. The 1709 inventory of Basel Armoury lists the object as a “small metal piece on a naval gun carriage”.
Basel had a huge arsenal of artillery pieces – more than any other Swiss city. For although every burgher had to be able to defend himself by force of arms, this line of defence was deemed inadequate at a time when war was always imminent. The city therefore acquired more and more weapons of its own and kept these in the Zeughaus or Basel Armoury. The arms were regularly upgraded in line with the latest advances in weapons technology, which developed rapidly from the 16th century. Later, when the cannon was no longer fit for purpose, it was used alongside a second gun (inv. 1905.4975.) as an alarm signal on the tower of St. Martin's Church in Riehen, before being decommissioned for good and added to the city’s Medieval Collection in 1888. Nestling inside the barrel is an iron cannonball – its last charge destined never to be fired. (GP)