Has this story idea been done before?

I had what might be a nifty idea for a fantasy/ alternate history story, but I’m wondering if it’s original or if I somewhere read/heard about it and just don’t remember. It seems vaguely familiar somehow.

The idea is that back in the bronze age, someone stumbles upon the formula for black powder and ends up inventing the hand-cannon. This is refined over a century or two into a flintlock musket, and guns exist before even smelted iron. One of the results of this is that fighting wars no longer depends on upper-body strength and so a tradition of accepting women as soldiers gets established, with all the ramifications on gender roles that go with it.

There have been a lot of fantasy stories in which pre-industrial societies somehow have proto-feminist women warriors, but I think this concept would offer far more justification for the idea.

How can muskets exist before iron? Are they made of bronze or something?

In any case, in the absence of a nation-state I can’t see the accidental discovery of gunpowder that early in history making any substantial impact.

Bronze was good enough for cannons (the English used them for centuries after the introduction of iron), so it’s certainly possible that it could be used for a musket.

No it’s not. It doesn’t remotely have the strength to hold together, if made light enough to be carried. The muskets would have to be the size of cannons.

And even with gunpowder, war is still to no small extent a matter of running while carrying heavy loads, so this wouldn’t level the playing field (hell - it’s still not level with all the technology we have.)

There are also historical sources for preindustrial women warriors.

It all depends upon the amount of powder you load into the weapon and the size of the projectile. You wouldn’t be able to get the kind of power and range out of bronze barreled gun as you would from an iron barreled one, but given that you’d probably be going up against folks who’re wearing armor that’s primarily made of leather, it’s not like you’re going to need high velocity rounds. What you’d have is a really thick barrel, about a foot or two long, with a tiny hole for your bullet.

Forged bronze (and many ancient weapons before the introduction of iron were made of the stuff) is quite strong. Early iron guns had to be supported by a monopod (generally a strong branch with a fork), so the weight issue could be handled. You’d never be able to stand back out of spear range and bring down a target, and accuracy wouldn’t be high, but I imagine the psychological effect of seeing a “thunderstick” go off, with lots and lots of smoke would be really effective at demoralizing your opponents, even if you didn’t manage to kill any of them.

As the rarest of rare exceptions. I was trying to postulate a scenerio in which it was nearly as routine and normal for women to serve as foot soldiers as it was for men.
It’s probably moot if the bronze musket idea doesn’t hold water. I could move the date of invention up to classical iron age, but what I’d had in mind was to eliminate a millenia-long ingrained tradition of mass armies being male.

What motivation would women have to be soldiers, exactly? Who’s taking care of their small children? If they don’t have small children, aren’t they trying to remedy that? And if their children are grown, hasn’t the woman already passed her life expectancy?

Spears leveled the playing field against animals, but that didn’t make women into hunters. I just don’t understand your basic premise.

Women and men are actually different. Humans didn’t go through a million years of consistent gender roles due to peer pressure. The genders gravitated to their preferred roles naturally.

Look at it from the modern perspective. Let’s say, sports fans rioting. What percentage of the hooligans are women? If it isn’t a 50-50 split, is that simply because women are having their tendency to riot suppressed by a patriarchal society? I say of course not. It’s men that have a tendency to riot. Women have a tendency to shake their head at the thought of rioters and think “wtf?”

Much of what I’m trying to convery – and no doubt failing miserably – is from the article Is There Anything Good About Men? It’s not ridiculously long, and the whole thing is worth a read. Here is a particularly relevant passage:

I just don’t see a pre-industrial female population having any motivation whatsoever to become soldiers.

Put gun powder back to, say, 10,000 BC and you’d have a rip roaring flick.

Or give Ayla and Jondalar gatling guns and watch evolution take wing and fly.

Okay, to get your warrior-women, the dominant culture will need to have some sort of creche system, where women foster out their offspring to be raised by others in a group environment.
The women who send their children off would invest their energy in protecting these childminders and the nurseries.

For the most part that’s true; your point about men being more expendable than women is well taken. But in most pre-industrial agricultural societies, there was a strange double standard: women who were properly attached to a man were expected to bear and raise as many chiildren as possible. If their culture expected them to have a dowry and they were too poor, they couldn’t marry. If they had sex outside of marriage, they were whores and their children bastards. And if for some reason it wasn’t allowable or expedient for a women to marry, such as the surplus daughters of nobles, the usual solution was to become cloistered: to join a celibate religious order and remain lifelong virgins. If firearms could have allowed them to be effective warriors, I could easily see an order of militant nuns (and ain’t that a kickass image?)So even in a pre-industrial society it’s not hard to imagine armies including or consisting entirely of warrior nuns, women divorced for infertility, lesbians, poor girls seeking dowry money (other than by covert prostitution), and the usual motley assembly of misfits, rebels and women with nowhere else to go.

I’m reviving this thread because I found that back in the days of sailing ships they had what were called signal cannons used for salutes and such. Some were very tiny indeed, with bores of an inch or less. So assuming the metallurgy skills were there, I don’t see any intrinsic obstacle to bronze muskets.

It’s a perfectly good concept for a fantasy/alternate history novel. Ignore the nitpickers – they aren’t going to appreciate the story, anyway.

I think you’ve got the premise backwards. It’s not that men are soldiers because they have upper-body strength; it’s that they have upper-body strength because they are soldiers. Or more precisely, in any species, males will tend to take on the more risky jobs (such as soldier), because males are more expendable than females, evolutionarily speaking. Because of this, they tend to develop adaptations to make them more suited to those roles.