Temporary exhibition "The Return of the Radziwills' Cannon to the Arsenal of Biržai Castle"

2022 - 11 - 20

From 20 November 2022 until 17 November 2024, the arsenal of Biržai Castle is a temporary home for the original bronze cannon from the 16th century. It is believed it had belonged to the dukes Radziwills.

Information about the cannon

This cannon is a great falconet. Its caliber is 73 mm, gauge 2.5 pounds, length (without breech): 35.5 caliber, total length - 2557 mm, weight - 490 kg. It might have been manufactured in years 1550–1590.

The inscriptions on the cartouche are completely obliterated and the unindentified coat of arms is partially damaged. The barrel was probably cast for one of the Polish or Lithuanian magnates, possibly the Radziwill family, as indicated by the styled trumpets in the upper left field of the four-field shield of the coat of arms, placed on the breast of a styled eagle.

Historical context

The ship "Solen" was part of a group of nine vessels ordered in the Netherlands in 1623. This 150-last galleon with a displacement of 450 tonnes was handed over to the Swedes in 1624.

The ship "Solen" took part in the Battle of Oliwa which was victorious for Poland. During the battle, "Solen" was boarded by the Polish ship "Wodnik". Unwilling to surrender the vessel, the Swedes caused an explosion in the powder chamber, as a result of which the ship sank. The wreck of "Solen" was found in 1969 during the construction of the Northern Port in Gdansk. About 6000 items were lifted from the wreck and the preserved part of the hull was towed to another safer place. Among the most interesting relics excavated from"Solen" are the artillery equipment (especially a collection of 20 bronze cannons), the crew's armament, kitchen and table equipment, the sip's carpenter's equipment and the sailors' personal belongings.

For the 1627 campaign, the ship was to receive a completely different set of cannons from the arsenal in Stockholm, in accordance with a fleet armament plan drawn up at the turn of 1626 and 1627.

This document indicates that the ship was intended to be completely rearmed with bronze cannons, with 12-pounder cannons as her core. The armament of "Solen" was to consist of 22 cannons and 4 small cartridge guns. The main battery was to consist of 10 bronze 121-pounder guns. However, in the end, due to shortages, "Solen" did not receive a single such gun. Her armament consisted  of 14 6-pounder cannons, one field cannon and two captured cannons of Russian origin. The auxiliary armament consisted of four 3-pounder cannons (including two trophy Polish falconets) and two 48-pounder assault cannons. The 3-pounder guns were situated in the bow section of the ship on the cannon deck and on the upper deck. They all were cast in bronze. 


Today it is no longer possible to establish the exact origin of the barrel in questions since the inscription on the cartouche, surrounding the coat of arms, has become completely obliterated and the coat of arms shield has become damaged. The provenance of the barrel in question can be determined in two possible ways. The first suggests that it may be a mid-16th-century cannon bearing  the Radziwill eagle with a four-field shield on its breat (Trąby, Dąbrowa, Wadwicz, Leliwa), made by an unknown bell founder for Duke Mikolaj Radziwill. The second ways pushes its manufacture dates later to the beginning of the 17th century (year 1602). The author of these findings - Tadeusz M. Nowak - mentions a barrel which bears a Radziwill eagle with a rather unspecified four-field shield on the chest. He mentions Hertmann Moltzfelt, the head  of the Radziwills' bell foundry in Nieswiez who manufactured cannons for Mikolah Radziwill "Sierotka".

Quality of the casting
From a metallurgical point of view, the barrel is not a very successful casting - there are numerous casting blisters on the outer surface, especially in the muzzle section. Vent area burnt out due to the prolonged use of the cannon; the vent was protected by a cover, of which one hinge has remained.
In addition, there are identations/oval cavities on the barrel, which are not characteristic of casting errors but may have been caused by heavy impact against other objects, e. g. as a result of a nearby explosion. Muzzle plane damaged - a material breach is visible. This damage may have been caused by the impact of an outgoing bullet against the barrel which has already been heated up by firing. 

Last edited: 2023-09-19 10:39

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