Powder keg

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This article is about the metaphorical term "powder keg". For the 1998 Serbian film, see Powder Keg (film). For the Marvel Comics supervillain, see Powderkeg.

A powder keg is a barrel of gunpowder. The powder keg was the primary method for storing and transporting large quantities of black powder up until the 1870s and the adoption of the modern cased bullet. However, the barrels had to be handled with care, since a spark or other source of heat could cause the contents to deflagrate.


Powder keg is also a metaphorical term for a region that political, socio-economic, historical or other circumstances have made prone to outbursts. The analogy is drawn from a perception that certain territories may seem peaceful and dormant until another event triggers a large outburst of violence.[1] The term is most often used to simplify and help the understanding of what is often a complex set of circumstances that lead to conflicts (see diagram of World War I Powder Keg).[2]

While the term is used to designate the entire region of Europe it is often used specifically to refer to countries on the Balkan peninsula and particularly the ex-Yugoslavian countries. The most cited event attributed to the use of the term was the assassination of Franz Ferdinand that took place in Sarajevo, Bosnia and Herzegovina in 1914 which triggered World War I.

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