Ballista Catapults Early Siege Weaponry At Its Finest

Ballista catapults are believed to have made their first appearance on the battlefield in the fighting days long before the birth of Christ.

Engineers of Phillip of Macedonia, the father of Alexander the great, are credited with creating these simplistic machines of distance warfare in the 300 BC period to assist warriors in propelling objects a great distance. Ballista catapults were known for their ability to strike fear in opposing armies not necessarily for their accuracy, but for their ability to reach an enemy camp well in advance of the warriors who fired them.

Though not as effective as later models built using similar principles, these early catapults dominated the siege scene well into the 14th century because they were in fact more accurate at distances than humans.

To create ballista catapults the Greeks capitalized on the propulsion theory of the crossbow. By enabling the firing of a projectile at a greater force than a human arm, the projectiles could quite simply travel harder and farther – reaching an enemy at a distance, doing quite a bit of damage if they struck their mark.

In the grand scheme of things, ballista catapults are quite basic in design, but brilliant nonetheless. To create such a catapult, or ballista type launcher, the use of quality ropes or sinew for twisting is necessary. The ropes used in the design are twisted tightly to create a force called torsion to assist in the launch. In early Greek ballista catapults, two wooden arms were constructed and then inserted horizontally into the ropes. Platforms were also used to hold the ballistas – some stationary others more mobile.

When the ballista catapult’s base, arms and ropes were in place, a cord was attached to both arms and used to pull back against the force of the ropes to launch the projectile. As time passes, the triggering mechanisms for ballista catapults became more advanced, but the basic theory behind the propulsion remained that same.

Once a catapult was constructed, warriors could use the simple machines to hurl deadly objects at enemies or at an enemy encampment. Since the speed and distance of the projectile was greater than a human alone could muster, these simple machines could wreak havoc on the battlefield. Imagine a rain of spears coming down upon an enemy from a well-placed battery of these catapults.

Although ballista catapults served their makers well for literally hundreds of years, their design was continually improved upon by other engineers. Later models using similar ideas behind construction, such as the French trebuchet, could quite literally crumble castle walls with the size objects they could hurl with impressive force. The Romans, too, expanded on ballista catapults, making smaller more mobile models.


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