Absurdly Expensive Weapons of dubious use in war

The Man

Former Staff
Jul 2011
Looks pretty amazing for 1580's . What would that round shot weigh?
It's unclear if it was ever actually fired:


The Tsar Cannon is located just past the Kremlin Armory, facing towards the Kremlin Senate. The very low ratio of the length of its barrel to its caliber makes it technically not a cannon, but a stylized mortar. The Tsar Cannon is made of bronze; it weighs 39.312 tonnes[3] and has a length of 5.34 m (17.5 ft).[4] Its bronze-cast barrel has an internal diameter of 890 mm (35.0 in),[4] and an external diameter of 1,200 mm (47.2 in).[4] The barrel has eight cast rectangular brackets for use in transporting the gun, which is mounted on a stylized cast iron gun carriage with three wheels. The barrel is decorated with relief images, including an equestrian image of Tsar Fyodor Ivanovich, with a crown and a scepter in his hand on horseback. Above the front right bracket the message "The grace of God, Tsar and Great Duke Fyodor Ivanovich, Autocrat of all All Russia" was cast. There were two more labels cast at the top of the barrel, to the right is "The decree of the faithful and Christ-king and the Grand Duke Fyodor Ivanovich, Sovereign Autocrat of all Great Russia with his pious and god-blessed queen, Grand Princess Irina"; While to the one to the left is "Cast in the city of Moscow in the summer of year 7904(c. 1585 in Gregorian calendar), in his third summer state, by Andrey Chokov." The cannon-style gun carriage, added in 1835, is purely decorative. This weapon was never intended to be transported on or fired from this gun carriage.

According to one version, the name of this cannon, "Tsar", is associated with the image of Tsar Fyodor Ivanovich. However, it is more likely that this name owes to the massive size of this cannon. In old times the cannon is also sometimes called the "Russian Shotgun"(Дробовик Российский, Drobovik Rossiyskiy, lit. Shotgun Russian), because the gun was meant to shoot 800 kg stone grapeshot rather than true, solid cannonballs.

The cannon ought to be classified as only a mortar by its barrel length in modern classification, with the barrel length at only 6 calibers. However, in the 17th to the 18th century, it was rather called a "Bombard cannon", since mortars at that time had barrel lengths of no more than 2.5 calibers, or 3.5 calibers at maximum for long-range mortars.

The spherical cast-iron projectiles located in front of the Tsar Cannon—each of which weighs approximately one ton—were produced in 1834 as a decoration, and are too large to have been used in the cannon. According to legend, the cannonballs were manufactured in St. Petersburg, and were intended to be a humorous addition and a symbol of the friendly rivalry between Moscow and St. Petersburg.[citation needed]


Czar Cannon on a 1978 USSR postage stamp.

The cannon was cast in bronze in 1586,[5] during the reign of Tsar Fyodor Ivanovich, in the Cannon yard, by Russian master Andrey Chokhov.

The carriages and the cannon itself was richly decorated in 1835 at the St. Petersburg plant of Berd, with designs by architect A. P. Bryullov and drawings engineer P. Ya. de Witte.

The Tsar Cannon was placed at several points around Moscow in its history. It is known to have been mounted on a special frame with a fixed inclination angle in the Red Square near the Place of Skulls in order to protect the eastern approaches to the Kremlin, indicating that it originally did have a practical application. However, by 1706, it was moved to the Kremlin Arsenal and mounted on a wooden gun carriage. It was not used during the French invasion of Russia, although Napoleon Bonaparte considered removing it to France as a war trophy. The wooden gun carriage burnt in the fire that consumed Moscow in 1812, and was replaced in 1835 by the present metal carriage, which disabled the firing function of the cannon.

In 1860, the Tsar Cannon was moved to its current location on Ivanovskaya Square near the Tsar Bell, which is similarly massive and is the largest bell in the world (but which has never been rung).

Voltaire joked that the Kremlin's two greatest items were a bell which was never rung and a cannon that was never fired.[5] For a long time, there was a common theory that the Tsar Cannon was created only to impress foreigners of Russia's military powers. Thus, according to writer Albert Valentinov:

"...Andrey Chokov knew from the very first moment that this would not be a whopper cannon at all. Even if we assume that the barrel would fire grapeshot, a massive amount of propellant would be needed to push the two-ton shot, making it impossible for the cannon to be transported from one position to another. Therefore Chokhov did not mean to cast it as a functional cannon at all. His cannon is always only a symbol of Russian power and of the capabilities of the Russian industry. If we render a Russian master able to create such a whopper cannon, the smaller ones would have much less use. Therefore, the Tsar Cannon was put on display in the Kremlin for foreign diplomats."​

However, subsequent studies showed that this version, which emphasized that the creation of the cannon was purely propagandistic, was only fiction.

The cannon was last restored in 1980 in the town of Serpukhov. It was thoroughly studied by specialists in the Artillery Academy at that time and gunpowder residue was found, indicating that the cannon had been fired at least once, hinged and dug into the ground.[6]

Another theory by other researchers the Tsar cannon never fired because the main part was bronze that would fade away after the shot, also due to the absence of a pilot hole that makes firing completely impossible.[7]
Tsar Cannon - Wikipedia
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