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The Race to Big Calibres During the First War of Morea and Sigismondo Alberghetti’s Guns of New Invention

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I have been wanting to write something myself along the lines of this topic for a while now, however I have been deeply pressed for time so have been unable to do so myself, so here is a fantastic essay available on Academia.eu written by Guido Candiani, original link here:


The Essay is available either free online or as part of a collection of Essays looking at 16th and 17th Century naval artillery in the Mediterranean in the book "Ships and Guns: The Sea Ordnance in Venice and in Europe between the 15th and the 17th Centuries" by a series of authors and edited by Carlo Beltrame and Renato Gianni Ridella.


The Essay reads as Follows :

 The Race to Big Calibres During the First War of Morea and Sigismondo Alberghetti’s Guns of New Invention
Guido Candiani

Between 1684 and 1699 the Republic of Venice and the Ottoman Empire fought their sixth and penultimate military conflict: the first War of Morea. Following the Venetians’ initial capture of the Peloponnese – thanks to a series of spectacular amphibious assaults led by the Capitano Generale Francesco Morosini – the war was fought almost entirely at sea. In an attempt to break the equilibrium between the two evenly matched fleets, both sides launched efforts to deploy guns of ever larger calibre. It was in this context that the Venetians adopted a new type of cannon, capable of launching explosive projectiles. Gradually deployed throughout the Venetian fleet during the final phase of the war, the newly invented guns were also employed during the final conflict between the Venetians and the Turks (the second War of Morea, 1714–1718). However, in neither case did the new guns offer the Venetian fleet the decisive advantage the Republic had hoped for.
In its final phase, the first War of Morea witnessed an intense series of naval battles. Between 1695 and 1698, both the Republic of Venice and the Ottoman Empire sought a decisive victory through the widespread deployment of battle fleets composed of ships of the line. Over the course of four campaigns, the two fleets fought nine major engagements, transforming the Eastern Mediterranean into the most active site of naval conflict on the globe. Nevertheless, it was immediately clear that neither side was capable of scoring a decisive victory over the other – both on account of the intrinsic defensive strength of their respective lines, and because of the inability of the existing guns to breach the thick hulls of the vessels. This stalemate drove the Ottomans and then the Venetians to seek new artillery technologies to tilt the equilibrium in their favour.

The Ottomans dusted off the great stone cannons the Sultan’s forces had employed with great success in the fifteenth and sixteenth centuries. Thanks to the lower specific weight of stone compared to that of iron, these older pieces were capable of launching much larger projectiles than ordinary guns, while still maintaining an acceptable weight. In 1697 the Ottomans launched their first three-decker, which boasted three batteries of ordinary cannons of 16, 12, and 7 okka – the first two calibres were slightly greater than the English 40 and 32 pounder, while the third was equivalent to an English 20 pounder. In addition, the ship carried four to six stone cannons rated at 44 okka, and capable of launching a ball with a diameter of perhaps 230 mm (equivalent to a hypothetical English 124 pounder). Other Ottoman ships of the line carried similar pieces, which promised to inflict serious damage to enemy ships, even with only a limited number of direct hits. (Archivio di Stato di Venezia=ASV, PTM, filza 1336, 12.7.1697).

The need to match the Turkish stone cannon, drove the Venetians to introduce a gun capable of shooting an explosive projectile on a straight trajectory – in contrast to mortars, which employed a very steep trajectory – and therefore capable of striking a moving target such as an enemy ship. The principal figure in the development of the new guns was Sigismondo Alberghetti, fonditore pubblico (public gunfounder) in the Venetian Arsenal. Alberghetti belonged to a veritable dynasty of artillery casters: his ancestors had been employed in the same capacity by the Republic for nearly two centuries (Morin 1992). With his new invention, Alberghetti assumed a preeminent and highly original place in the world of artillery design and manufacture. The late seventeenth century witnessed a great deal of experimental activity aimed at overcoming the ever-more evident limits of naval guns in the face of stouter hulls. While in the past, the close-quarter nature of most naval engagements had favoured boarding tactics aimed at capturing and burning enemy vessels, the introduction of line tactics had reduced the opportunities for boarding, thereby transforming naval warfare into artillery duels in which traditional guns proved incapable of creating a decisive advantage. To restore power to naval artillery, the Venetians tried several new solutions involving explosive projectiles. Beginning in the 1670s, mortar techniques and technology made significant progress (the Venetians used the new technologies to conquer the Peloponnese). The English and French fleets had also experimented with

these technologies, but had abandoned them due to the fear of storing explosive projectiles on board ships at sea (Paixans 1822, 83–84, 88).
Alberghetti had first encountered the issue during a journey to England in the early 1680s. He had been sent there to purchase iron guns and to investigate the possibility of learning the techniques necessary to produce them in the Venetian Arsenal. In July 1684 he wrote a letter from London in which he first broached the possibility of employing an iron cannon loaded with a hollow projectile filled with explosives (ASV, Senato Mar, filza 653, 9.8.1684). The French bombardment of Genoa in May of the same year had amply demonstrated the terrible destructive power of such projectiles in coastal bombardments when launched from mortars mounted on galiotes a bombes. The French successes inspired the Venetian founder to consider the possibilities of employing bombs in ship-to-ship combat as well. He proposed building a gun with a Venetian calibre of 120 libbre (equivalent to 212 mm) that could fire a hollow projectile of the same weight as the solid shot from a Venetian 20 libbre, which was roughly equivalent to an English 15 pounder (the Venetians measured the weight of solid balls in libbre sottili instead of grosse). Alberghetti also intended to use a spherical powder chamber, a technology drawn directly from recent advances in mortar design: the spherical chamber allowed the use of a greater charge without the need to increase the thickness of the gun. The more powerful charge together with the lighter projectile would, in Alberghetti’s opinion, allow the construction of a very light and short gun in spite of the large calibre. The new gun would, he claimed, demolish the flanks of enemy ships and provoked explosions and fires below decks. It is the very same concept that would lead to the introduction of the French designer Paixans’ canon-obusier in the 1830s, which would in turn lead to the development of iron hulls to replace traditional wooden ships.

Alberghetti’s concept for the projectile called for a cylindrical design: two iron hemispheres joined by a central cylindrical body. The main goal that the Venetian caster had set for the design was that of facilitating the production of the projectile on the lathe, so as to obtain accurately turned projectiles that would reduce the gap between the round and the barrel – the so-called windage – thereby increasing the initial velocity of the projectile and augmenting its accuracy and penetrating power. The cost of turning traditional round balls on the lathe would have been excessive – a perfect round ball was considered one of the masterpieces of lathework – while a cylindrical form could be turned with relative ease and at great savings. The cylindrical design also had the distinct advantage of preventing the projectile from turning about during loading, thus bringing the lit fuse on the round into contact with the propellant charge, with resulting misfires or worse (Alberghetti 1703, 3–4). In this respect Alberghetti’s cylindrical bombs were superior to Paixans’ traditional round balls, which had to be fitted with a wooden sabot (shoe) to prevent their turning about during loading (Paixans 1822, 209). The sabot arrangement scored the barrels of Paixans’ guns, reducing their effective life. Another characteristic that distinguished Alberghetti’s design from Paixans’ was the much greater effective range expected by the Venetian guns, thanks in part to an innovative sighting mechanism. Thus Alberghetti’s innovations were twofold: large calibre pieces capable of firing explosive projectiles and at a far greater effective range with respect to traditional guns. Not only would the enemy suffer from the explosions, but he would not even be in a position to return fire. In this sense, Alberghetti anticipated the British Admiral “Jack” Fisher’s motto “hit first and hit hard” by two centuries.

The Venetian Senate – which was always alert to innovations in artillery technology – accepted the proposal and ordered two specially built iron 120 libbre calibre guns from England. Six calibres long and weighing 3,500 Venetian libbre grosse (1670 kg) (far less than ordinary Venetian 20 libbre calibre gun), the new guns were cast under Alberghetti’s supervision in Sussex at the Thomas Western foundry in Ashburnham. Tested in early 1685, they proved to have a range of over five kilometres – confirming the best hopes of their inventor (ASV, Senato Mar, filza 657, 24.3.1685). Alberghetti planned to mount four such guns on every Venetian ship of the line, and an equal number on every great galley, still the pride of the Republic’s battle fleet. Unfortunately for him – and as he himself would often admit – he lacked the essential “talents” for convincing his interlocutors (and his financers for that matter) of the quality of his ideas. Once the guns reached Venice, they lay forgotten in the Arsenal. In large measure, this neglect was due to recent Venetian successes at sea. The Venetian fleet enjoyed an easy supremacy in the early phases of the war, which “put to sleep the industry and art of arms with which one studied how to prevail against enemies.” Moreover, on his return from London, Sigismondo became embroiled in a dispute over how to fuse mortars with a protegé of the influential Capitano Generale Francesco Morosini. Alberghetti came out the loser in the dispute, and more importantly was damaged politically by the encounter. The “cannons of new invention” as they would later be called, lay abandoned in the warehouses, while the Senate shifted its attention to the production of traditional iron guns in the Republic’s mainland territories.
The recovery of Ottoman naval power after 1693, the Venetian defeat at Chios in 1695, and most of all the adoption by the Turkish fleet of the great stone cannons, brought the “cannons of new invention” back to mind. In late 1696 – following the limitations shown by the great galleys in the recent battle of Andro – the commander of the galleys requested permission to employ Alberghetti’s guns for the purpose of matching “the fury” of the enemy ships of the line (ASV, PTM, filza 1386, 2.12.1696). In June 1697, the Senate decided to take up the project once again. In the meantime the public founder had conceived of two distinct models of the gun. The first, destined for the great galleys, was a Venetian 200 libbre calibre gun (265 mm), weighing 5,000 libbre grosse (2385 kgs); the second, designed for ships of the line, was the same as the ones

cast in England a decade earlier (Venetian 120 libbre/212 mm calibre, 3,500 libbre grosse). Both models were to be cast in bronze in the Arsenal itself, and equipped with two-wheel carriages – perhaps to facilitate repositioning them to achieve superior sweep. In the notes attached to the design, Sigismondo expressly indicated that the guns were intended to contain the Turks who had become “proud and powerful” on the sea (ASV, Senato Mar, filza 735, 14.6.1697).

In October 1697, after another inconclusive naval campaign, the Senate approved the casting of the new pieces, and by November a 120 libbre calibre gun was ready for trials. The tests were delayed by bad weather, but were eventually undertaken with great success on 6 December. The noteworthy performance in terms of both range and accuracy was due in large part to the reduction of the windage between projectile and bore. The cannons of new invention had a windage of one tenth of an oncia (2.9 mm) while English guns of the same period achieved no better than a 7.5 mm one. Even the carronades, introduced at the end of the 1770s achieved no better than a 3.7 mm windage (Biblioteca Nazionale Marciana=BNM, ms. it., cl. VII, 1542 (8889), Obiezioni e risoluzioni sulla nuova artiglieria, n. 7; Padfield 1973, 105). The new guns also proved easy to aim, thanks to a novel sighting mechanism mounted over the trunnions that was far easier to use than a traditional artillery quadrant. The results of the trials persuaded the Provveditori alle Artiglierie (the magistracy in charge of the Republic’s entire artillery park) to requisition six of the new guns for every two-deck first-rate ship of 70–80 guns (the largest then in service). After debating the issue, the Senate opted to mount four per ship on a trial basis, and ordered the Arsenal to cast 48 guns for twelve first-rates (ASV, Senato Mar, filza 739, 14.12.1697).

Alberghetti, despite the fact that he now enjoyed the support of important members of the patriciate, once again found someone ready to block his path. This time his opposition came from the Englishman Jacob Richards, who had recently been appointed Sergente Generale dell’Artiglieria of the Republic. Richards came from the nation that was proving itself the most dynamic naval power in the world, and yet he still contested Alberghetti’s project. However, it is worth remembering that following the Glorious Revolution, England had entered a conservative period in naval policy that would last until 1740 – and that this political climate influenced Richards’ thinking. He recorded his doubts on paper immediately on his arrival in Venice in June of 1697 and later reiterated them in March of 1698, after the casting of the first forty-eight cannons. Richards stressed the danger of handling explosive projectiles at sea – which had placed an English ship at grave risk during analogous trials – thereby raising similar fears in Venice because several vessels had recently been lost due to unexplained explosions. In addition, the Englishman judged Alberghetti’s cannon too light, and doubted the efficacy of the cylindrical projectiles. He proposed instead spherical shot filled with inert clay instead of dangerous gunpowder (ASV, Senato Mar, filza 735, 14.6.1697; filza 741, 8.3.1698). The Senate decided to hold a trial comparing the traditional spherical loads with the new cylindrical projectiles. The tests were held on 26 March and 12 April, 1698. Once again, the Alberghetti’s munitions emerged as clearly superior. The cylindrical projectiles showed greater range and precision, as well as far lesser barrel scoring that Richards’ spherical shot (ASV, Senato Mar, filza 741, 16.4.1698).


Figure 3.1. Drawing of the guns of new invention (above calibre 200, under calibre 120). It can be noticed the cylindrical shells, the two-wheels carriage and the elevating/sighting mechanism (permission Archivio di Stato di Venezia).

Despite the fact that thirty-three “cannons of new invention” were immediately dispatched to the Levant, the intervention of the Englishman had delayed not only the availability of the guns, but also of the new munitions. These delays had serious repercussions in terms of the deployment in battle of the new technology. At Nauplion, the Venetians’ most important forward base, they were only able to mount two 120 guns on the topdeck of every first-rate, while the great galleys carried a single 200 on the quarterdeck. Along with the new guns, Venice shipped 600 cylindrical projectiles for the 120s. However, to save time, 289 of them had been manufactured out of stone, and were consequently inert. Stone could be shaped in the Arsenal itself, while the iron projectiles had to be cast in mainland foundries (ASV, Senato Mar, filza 742, 15.5.1698). The delay caused by Richards’ trials also set back the training of crews for the new guns. This last task was assigned to one of Sigismondo’s brothers, Carlo Alberghetti, who would also command the new artillery once it was fully deployed with the fleet. At any event, thanks to the ease of aim and accuracy of the new pieces, the results of the training exceeded even the most optimistic projections. In the general trials undertaken on the Lido on 24 August, almost all the gunners achieved “a success [of aim] unheard of with any sort of artillery tried up until now” (ASV, Senato Mar, filza 767, 16.9.1702; BNM, ms. it., cl. VII, 1542 (8889), Informatione circa li cannoni di nuova invenzione). The Venetian fleet appeared to have found a weapon capable of altering the balance of power on the high seas.

The true test arrived at the battle of Mitilenos, fought on 20 September, when twenty Venetian ships of the line – twelve armed with “cannons of new invention”– faced twenty-five Ottoman ships supported by about half-a-dozen corsair vessels. The new weapons performed well, but their impact was not what Sigismondo Alberghetti had hoped. On the flagship Rizzo d’Oro, Sigismondo’s brother Carlo directed the guns with great courage and skill under the watchful eyes of the squadron commander, Daniele (4°) Dolfin, who issued him a certificate of merit. The two other admirals present at the scene, Pietro Duodo and Fabio Bonvicini, declared themselves particularly satisfied with Alberghetti’s cannons. Nevertheless, they also downplayed the innovative nature of the new guns. Dolfin appreciated, above all, the rate of fire, while Duodo noted that the gunners were able to fire very few explosive projectiles because no more than 54 had arrived from Venice due to the delays caused by Richards’ objections. In any case, both Duodo and Bonvicini were contrary to the use of explosive projectiles, because they feared that they could do as much damage to friendly ships as to the enemy (ASV, PTM, filza 1341, 22.9.1698; filza 1337, 26.9.1698; filza 1133, 4.10.1698). Above all, none of the three admirals thought to use the “cannons of new invention” at the great ranges imagined by Sigismondo Alberghetti. Thanks to the sighting system and the consequent ease of aiming the guns, Alberghetti maintained that his guns could hit a ship to a range of two miles (nearly 3,500 m). He placed particular emphasis on the long interval between the aiming of traditional guns and the actual shot – a result of the rigid firing sequence. By contrast he argued, his “cannons of new invention” could actually be manoeuvred and aimed “like muskets” by a mere three-man crew and without any interruption in aiming, thus greatly reducing the time between sighting and firing (Alberghetti 1703, 8). In many ways, the technology anticipated the constant aim system introduced in 1898 by the Englishman Percy Scott, which initiated the most important revolution in shipboard gunnery since the first deployment of guns on ships in the second half of the fifteenth century (Padfield 1973, 211). During the battle of Mitilenos, the limited availability of projectiles and the lack of Alberghetti’s range tables meant that the guns were only employed in traditional close-quarter combat. The eye-witness testimony – including Turkish accounts – record several instances of ships withdrawing with enormous holes above the waterline that had been caused by the new guns of the Rizzo d’Oro. Indeed, the new cylindrical projectiles had penetrated both flanks of the enemy ships. Nevertheless, the close range meant that the projectiles had not entered the near flank at a sufficient angle to penetrate below the waterline of the opposite flank, which would have, in all probability, sunk the target. The straight trajectory, combined with the low resistance offered by the superstructure on both sides of the Turkish hulls also meant that the charged rounds did not detonate inside the ship – an analogous issue to the problem faced by gunners two centuries later when firing piercing munitions against unarmoured targets.
Mitilenos ended up being the last battle of the war, which ended in early 1699. The Venetians judged the “cannons of new invention” to be of little use in peacetime and opted to remove them from the fleet and deploy them as shore batteries at home – a direct consequence of the tensions in the Adriatic caused by the War of Spanish Succession

(1701–1714). Later, they were warehoused, and once again forgotten. Alberghetti himself died in 1702, which also put an end to a series of trials he had planned for more thorough testing of the guns’ capabilities. The weapons were rediscovered only with the onset of the second War of Morea (1714–1718). Caught unprepared by the Ottoman assault, the Venetians quickly resolved to redeploy the “cannons of new invention” aboard first-rates, and to arm them with both explosive and inert iron projectiles, as well as stone munitions. New trials were conducted with one of the 120 guns, all of which confirmed the ease of loading and the high degree of accuracy even at significant ranges. Moreover, the trials included three explosive rounds whose fuse was lit when the gun was lit. Two of these detonated as expected. The first penetrated the mock hull and set fire to the gun carriages stacked behind it. The second shot set fire to the mock hull itself, a demonstration that particularly impressed the observers. (ASV, Senato Mar, filza 833, 23.2.1715). This time, ships in service also received the 200 libbre calibre guns that had originally been intended for the great galleys. Eight “cannons of new invention” (two 200s and six 120s) became the standard equipment for Venetian first-rates.

The guns were put into use on 8 July, 1716 in the Corfù channel during the very first naval engagement of the new war. The battle followed an Ottoman assault on the island by infantry supported by ships. The Venetians had the better of the encounter and successfully relieved the island’s beleaguered fortress. Much of the credit was given to the “cannons of new invention,” even though they only fired inert rounds (ASV, PTM, filza 1339, 13.7.1716). Explosive projectiles were employed in the three major battles fought the following year. Nearly 1,300 cylindrical rounds – both explosive and inert – were expended in these battles, but there was no evidence that the explosive rounds caused particular damage to the enemy fleet. By this time, all agreed that the new guns were too short and too light. The short barrels posed a fire risk when fired against the wind due to sparks from the muzzle blast; while the light weight reduced the firing rate because the guns was not stable on the carriage and had to be manoeuvred back into position between each shot (ASV, PTM, filza 1342, 22.9.1717). It remains an open question – especially in light of the positive reports concerning rate of fire in the earlier war – to what degree these problems were a function of the guns, and to what degree they were due to the lack of experience of the crews firing them. Indeed, a manpower crisis had forced the Venetians to hurriedly recruit inexperienced seamen for the war. The criticisms did not prevent the new guns from being deployed on the new second-rate ships that entered service in 1718. These were 60 gun ships that the Venetians hoped would be capable of serving in the line in wartime and replacing the role of first-rates in peacetime. These new ships carried ten “cannons of new invention” (four 200s and six 120s), as compared to the eight mounted on 70–80 gun first-rates (ASV, Senato Rettori, filza 182, 9.12.1717; Senato Mar, filza 859, 10.2.1718).
The new guns were last used in the course of the three day battle of the coast of Cape Matapan between 20 and 22 July, 1718. However, the sources make no specific reference to their performance. After the war the Venetian Senate confirmed the importance of the guns in the eyes of the authorities when it mentioned their utility in a 1725 decree that listed the lessons learned in the war (ASV, Archivio Gradenigo Rio Marin, busta 317, 22.9.1725). The guns continued to be part of the standard armament of Venetian ships of the line until at least the middle of the 18th century. In any case, the Venetian navy did not square off against another fleet for the remainder of the Republic’s existence, and the guns invented by Sigismondo Alberghetti were never used in anger again.
In conclusion, it could be argued that the “cannons of new invention” offered the Venetian battle fleet a potentially revolutionary weapon, but that due to conservatism (typical of turn of the 17th-century navies) they did not have the impact that their inventor had predicted and hoped for. Venetian commanders hesitated to use them with explosive munitions and did not fire them at the extended ranges that Alberghetti had designed them for. Consequently, the guns were only fired at the close ranges typical of the day, and mostly with inert projectiles. Under such conditions, the guns were capable of inflicting serious damage to enemy ships, but could not destroy the solid structure of ships of the line. More than a century would pass before explosive rounds would become a mainstay of European fleets. At that time, thanks to the first industrial revolution, explosive munitions will meet a response in the widespread adoption of ironclads, thus initiating a struggle between gun and armour that would last until the definitive abandonment of battleships following the Second World War.
Translation by Karl Appuhn, whom the author sincerely thanks.

Alberghetti, S. (1703) Artiglieria Moderna Veneta. Venezia.
Morin, M. (1992) Alberghetti. In K. G. Saur (ed.) Allgemeines
Kuenstlerlexicon. Die bildenden Kuenstler aller Zeiten und Voelker, 2, 779–784. Muenchen-Leipzig.
Padfield, P. (1973) Guns at Sea. London, Evelyn.
Paixans, H. J. (1822) Nouvelle Force Maritime. Paris.

Here are also a handful of more images taken from the post I made recently from a similar article also on Academia.eu which give a little more of an insight into the design of the weapon.






These are taken from the article I posted recently looking at Edinorogs/Unicorns/Licorns and The Tirar Bombe. Full article available here;


Thank you for reading, I hope it adds some nice insight. :)

Edited by Fluffy Fishy

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Thanks very much for the essay Fluffy Fish! This was some darn good reading. I thought I had collected about everything on the subject - especially concerning the Venetian Arsenal - but there were some nuggets in here that are absolute gold! I find it is still of some value to occasionally peruse this forum.

While this is fascinating information, these two Italian gentlemen's focus on Mediterranean warfare causes them to forget all of the innovations that were happening in the Low Countries, Sweden and England at the same time. The English focusing on improved iron gun manufacture instead of the preferred bronze for large guns had some tremendous breakthroughs that would influence ALL gun manufacturing practices into the next century.

Also the Dutch were the greatest ship builders/exporters and arms builders and arms traders of the 17th century founding and financing the great armories at Tula, Wetzlar and Asslar, and numerous factories in Sweden which would come to produce the finest most reliable bronze guns in Europe. In several very reliable sources I've read - it is posited that the Dutch were responsible for manufacturing roughly 80 percent of the worlds ships and arms both for domestic use and export consumption (for the entire world) during the 1660s/70s. In Liege the Spaniards had converted the old bell foundries to building massive bronze 50 pounder naval and fort guns that were exceptional in beauty, function, reliability and design. They were the largest in mass production of that period.


I'm certain most of you aren't interested in what happened back in the boring old 1600s/17th century though.... but I thought I would reciprocate in kind for these fine sources and provide my favorite source (written by one of my favorite historians who also happens to be Italian)  Carlo M. Cipolla


Here are a couple of articles of my own that are directly germane to this discussion that also may be of some interest. MK





Edited by modernknight1

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well mostly we talk about guns on ships ,but 

but guns are also in the forts and fortifications 

here is a link about guns in forts 

especially in the dutch waters of the caribbean antilles 

it a good read indeed..



willemstad  had 14 forts  (we need more forts in ws)

Edited by Thonys

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