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I originally asked "How much did cannon cost during the renaissance?" However, comments below seem to be of the "ask for something more specific" kind. Well, ok then, how much did the cannons (bombards) used in the Battle of Grunwald cost in British pounds and what type were they? However what I actually want is generic answers, which is what I originally asked for. So if you can point me to any resources on the price of cannons in Europe, anytime from 1300 to 1600, of any sort, I'd be happy.

Apparently I have to document my research. I spent an hour googling various things like "price of cannon artillery renaissance", read the wikipedia article on the history of cannons and various other articles, searched reddit etc, and searched the history stack exchange for answers to this question.

what I'm trying to do is get some idea about the relative cost of creating (not buying on the market) cannons versus other items e.g. listed here medieval.ucdavis.edu/120D/Money.html. My immediate aim is to get a better understanding of the economics of that time, which I find fairly weird compared with the price structures of today.

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    Cannons in the early15th century are nearly, if not totally, massive bombards usually custom built with very limited mobility; while by the end of the century early field cannon of much smaller size and with significant mobility, costing much less, are becoming frequent. The cost difference might be 10, 15, 20, or more, times. Price lists not existing at either end of the scale, without a more precise specification of the question, this is unanswerable. Jun 10, 2023 at 3:42
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    For instance the Dardanelles Gun, constructed in 1464, weighs in at near 19 tons, has a 5 meter long barrel, and fired a 1000 lb iron ball 26 inches in diameter. Jun 10, 2023 at 3:47
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    While I really want to be able to answer this question, I'm not sure it has an answer in any meaningful sense. As I understand it, there was no market for canon, so you couldn't buy one. Kind of like asking "What is the price of a stealth bomber?" Now we have Generally Accepted Accounting Practices that allow us to establish a reference cost, but the price is not determined by the market, so it is whatever the owner decides. Help me to understand how a figure in British pounds would be useful, and we might be able to revise the question.
    – MCW
    Jun 11, 2023 at 15:07
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    (I'm not trying to pile on with comments, I'm groping for a way to provide an answer to the question) - the word cost doesn't have a standard meaning in this context. You cannot buy or sell the item, you can total up the materials cost and add labor and overhead, What does "cost" mean in the context of your question?
    – MCW
    Jun 11, 2023 at 15:12
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    The problem with asking for generic answers is that there was no generic production of cannon in this period. You didn't toddle down to the local gun shop and buy a couple of cannon off the shelf. The people acquiring cannon were rich and powerful enough that they got them made to order, how much it cost them depended on many factors, including the skill and experience of the gun maker and the quality of the materials. Cannon manufacture is one place you don't want to skimp on the quality...well, not if you want to make more than one shot. Jun 11, 2023 at 15:24

1 Answer 1

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I don't want to recite all the disclaimers and caveats from comments all over again. This is a little like asking what a car costs in the United States in the twentieth century, where the range is so huge that it's hard to give a really useful point answer. But I will offer an indicative budget for a cannon made in Burgundy in 1376-1377; this is obviously a different time and place, but it is an instance where we have documentation of unusual level of detail. Looking at this can perhaps show some of the factors involved in the cost of artillery manufacture, and therefore hopefully be helpful for you in understanding what is driving both the costs, and the large error bars around them.

This summary can be found with an English translation in Appendix 4 of The Artillery of the Dukes of Burgundy, 1363-1477 by Robert Douglas Smith and Kelly DeVries (Boydell, 2005), cited to L'artillerie des ducs de Bourgogne by Joseph Garnier (Paris: H. Champion, 1895), p9ff. This is from the account-books of Simon Lambert of Chalon, manuscript B 3522 in the Archives of the Côte-d'Or that now house a large number of Burgundian official records.

The total accounted cost of the weapon, an iron cannon of 60 livres, was 38 francs and 10.5 gros, including:

  • 320 livres of iron (fer au pois), bought locally at 2 francs 10 gros per hundredweight
  • 16.5 more livres of a different kind of iron (taulles de fer): 10 francs 5.5 gros
  • charcoal: 4 francs and 3 gros
  • labour for a Parisian metalworker and four labourers for 13 days, plus whatever tools they needed that couldn't be supplied locally: 17 francs and 4 gros. Their lodging was provided by the ducal "masters of cannon" and not included in this account. Note that serrurier means a locksmith these days, but was more general back then.
  • 1.5 livres of gunpowder, which had to be bought in from Lyon because the masters of cannon advised the locally-available stuff was no good: 2.5 sous
  • "a big piece of wood": 6 gros
  • carpenter to carve the big piece of wood into a cannon mount: 6 gros
  • transport of the finished piece and two balls of shot, on a two-horse cart, from Chalon to Dijon: 18 gros

This does not include the salaries of the two expert cannon-makers in charge of the project, who were retained at 10 francs per month each (Garnier, p13).

In trying to transpose these costs to any other time and place, we can see that quite a lot hinges on being able to get the right quality of raw materials, and the necessary expert labour to make the thing. This particular example, of a very wealthy and seasoned user of artillery, still shows difficulties in procurement: somebody who was less well-connected would have found it harder to source the parts and labour, and might have spent much more while ending up with a less good cannon. Even this group later spent 223 livres on an enormous weapon which broke on its first trial.

For example, this accounting is based on the fact that the duchy already had the forge infrastructure available. Considering the charcoal alone - which you need in order to reach the necessary temperature and control the chemical makeup of the metal - those four francs are the price for locally-produced charcoal of known quality. It is hard to transport charcoal because it falls to bits. You can transport the raw wood but it's really heavy. So charcoal production tended to be very local to where it was needed; hopefully, you have a good source of wood nearby, or else all this is going to cost a lot more. Equally, you can see (just as well as the strategists of the time) that making an enormous weapon would be really expensive, compared to one or more which were smaller and more manoeuvrable. Those would naturally have different tactical uses.

Over the mentioned time period (1300-1600) there were also enormous changes in artillery technology, the economy, etc., which make it difficult to extrapolate figures from one context to another. Also, as you may be able to tell from the several currency units mentioned, the currencies were not particularly stable - this was an especially difficult period for French coinage - which has an effect on what sort of money your counterparty will even accept for his big piece of wood.

In the context of actually using these things in the field, they need:

  1. To be transported, which can be difficult because they are heavy. Wagon wheels sink into the mud, horses eat food, etc. If you look at the 18 gros transport cost above, between two nearby towns (< 80km), and imagine trying to bring lots of these much further, then you can see that pretty soon we're talking real money.
  2. To also have gunpowder and shot. Cannonballs are heavy too. But some rulers were able to maintain stocks at several locations in case of need.
  3. A crew to fire them. It is actually quite difficult to do this properly. Sources mentioned above show a 6 livre salary for a lead artilleryman, and there would be several other gunners under him. All of these people also need to travel and eat food.

There are thus several other cost factors, especially if you want to use field artillery (vs. something that sits in a castle and points outward). So overall, how much a cannon cost would be "lots of money", but it's very hard to say in specifics without knowing an awful lot about the local circumstances of manufacture.

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    Thank you for providing an answer. I'll probably throw a bounty your way when the answer is eligible
    – MCW
    Jun 12, 2023 at 14:46
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    You can also find similar style statistics in the 1865 work Ancient cannon in Europe There is even a footnote on pg 7 about converting livres to pounds.
    – justCal
    Jun 12, 2023 at 14:57
  • Thank you very much for the detailed answer and references. Very helpful. Jun 12, 2023 at 22:45
  • Just to convert the units, livre is just French for pound so approximately half a kilo? A hundredweight is 100 pounds? One franc is equal to 12 gros and 1 gros is 12 sous?
    – quarague
    Jun 14, 2023 at 12:57
  • Sadly, a "livre" is ambiguous and could mean anything from about a third of a kilo to about half a kilo. But a hundredweight is a hundred of whatever that is. The franc, like the English pound and following the Roman model, was divided into 20 sols or sous (shillings), and each of those into 12 deniers (pennies). A gros is a silver coin worth one sou.
    – alexg
    Jun 14, 2023 at 13:12

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