Tipsiles the Jew as inventor of gunpowder in mediaeval Augsburg


This Shabbes marks the 650th death-day of Karaite Jew David-ben-Josef ha-Tiplisi (1279 – 1359)- aka “Tipsiles” or “Typsiles” – who at the request of the municipal leaders in the first quarter of the 14th century (another source states the year 1353, what is less likely ) legendarily invented in Augsburg  gun-powder and early cannon.

Of course there are quite a lot of different stories relating the invention to “Greek fire”, “the” Chinese, to Alchemists as Roger Bacons and the like, but the Augsburg legend obviously is the only one which directly affects the invention of the gun-powder on a weapon grade level, what isn’t the case with any others. Without  known reference to “Tipsiles” there also is a legendary Hebrew scripture ספר כיבוש (Book of Conquest and Siege) which reportedly has ilustrations and Hebrew descriptions of siege weapons in a large variety. However no known copy has survived.

15th century illustration (now at Vienna Hofmuseum)

15th century illustration (now at Vienna Hofmuseum)

 

As a Karaite Jew from “the Eastern World” David lived apart from the Jewish quarters of the mediaeval Imperial City of Augsburg and his practice to wear a green turban on his head made a great stir. The urban legend reports that Tipsiles (or Tibsiles who also is supposed to be the first maker of paper and the city’s pharmacist) was amply rewarded with a piece of ground in the northeastern part of the then expanding city suburb of “Jakobervorstadt” . The street name “Pulvergaesschen” (lit. powder alley) is said to go back to it. Maybe the reference of a David mentioned in a deed of 1323 (David received the sum of 120 Augsburg Pfennigs and another 76 the following year) confirms the presence of Tipsiles, but of course David would not be entirely sufficient to serve as a proof.

Illustration from the "Book of Fireworks", Augsburg 1529

Illustration from the "Book of Fireworks", Augsburg 1529

Another likely relic however might be a small figurine fixed at a wall in St. Anna Chapel (built in 1321), which depicts the head of a red bearded  man wearing a green or greenish blue turban. The small sculpture only in late 19th century was found at construction works under the flooring of the Chapel of the Hirn family which is the oldest part of the Church. Since there are no other known stories of people wearing greenish turban in mediaeval Augsburg, there probably unavoidable is a connection to the “Legend of Tipsiles the Jew who invented Gun-powder” (even if it was the other way around).

maybe it is Tipsiles maybe it's not

maybe it is Tipsiles maybe it's not

One Response to Tipsiles the Jew as inventor of gunpowder in mediaeval Augsburg

  1. Joshua says:

    mazal tov ..!

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