AskDefine | Define culverin

Dictionary Definition



1 a heavy cannon with a long barrel used in the 16th and 17th centuries
2 a medieval musket

User Contributed Dictionary



From Old French coulevrine, from couleuvre ‘snake’, ultimately from colubra, coluber ‘snake’.


  • /'kʌlvərɪn/


  1. A kind of handgun.
  2. A large cannon.

Extensive Definition

A culverin was a simple ancestor of the musket, and later a medieval cannon of relatively long barrel and light construction that fired solid round shot projectiles with a high muzzle velocity, giving a relatively long range and flat trajectory. Round shot refers to the classic solid spherical cannonball. The culverin was adapted for use by the French in the 15th century, and later adapted for naval use by the English in the late 16th century. The culverin was used to bombard targets from a distance.

Hand culverins

The term "culverin" is derived from the Latin, colubrinus, or "of the nature of a snake". It was originally the name of a medieval ancestor of the musket, used in the 15th and 16th centuries.
The hand culverin consisted in a simple smoothbore tube, closed at one hand except for a small hole designed to fire the gunpowder. The tube was held in place by a wooden piece which could be held under the arm. The tube was loaded with gunpowder and lead bullets. The culverin was fired by inserting a lighted cord into the hole.
These hand culverins soon evolved into heavier portable culverins, around 40kg in weight, which required a swivel for support and aiming. Such culverines were further equipped with back-loading sabots to facilitate reloading, and were often used on ships.

Field culverins

There were three types of culverin in use, distinguished by their size: the culverin extraordinary, the ordinary, and the least-sized. The culverin extraordinary had a diameter of 5 1/2 inches (13.97 cm), a length of 32 calibers (13 ft, 3.9 m), and a weight of 4800 pounds (2177 kg); its load weighed over 12 pounds (5.4 kg), and it carried a shot with a diameter of 5 1/4 inches and weight of 20 pounds. The ordinary culverin was 12 ft long, carried a ball of 17 pounds 5 ounces, had a caliber of 5 1/2 inches, and weighed 4500 pounds. The culverin of the least size had a diameter of 5 inches, was 12 ft long, weighed 4000, carried a shot 3 1/4 inches in diameter, weighing 14 pounds 9 ounces.
There were also smaller versions, including the bastard culverin (4 inches diameter, 7 pound shot) and the demi-culverin or culverin-moyen (4 1/2 inches [11.43 cm] diamter, 10 pound [4.5 kg] shot).
The culverin was later replaced by the field gun once technology had advanced to the point where cannonballs had become explosive.
"Hurrah! the foes are moving. Hark to the mingled din,
Of fife, and steed, and trump, and drum, and roaring culverin."
Macaulay, Ivry, 31-32
"In this, my countrymen, be rul'd by me:
Have special care that no man sally forth
Till you shall hear a culverin discharg'd
By him that bears the linstock, 199 kindled thus;
Then issue out and come to rescue me,
For happily I shall be in distress,
Or you released of this servitude."
Marlowe, The Jew of Malta, Act V


External links

culverin in Asturian: Cullebrina
culverin in Bulgarian: Кулеврина
culverin in German: Feldschlange
culverin in Spanish: Culebrina
culverin in French: Couleuvrine
culverin in Italian: Colubrina
culverin in Dutch: Veldslang
culverin in Japanese: カルバリン砲
culverin in Polish: Kolubryna
culverin in Russian: Кулеврина
culverin in Finnish: Kulevriini
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