History of Trebuchets from The Middle Ages On

The history of trebuchets, an advanced outgrowth of earlier catapults, is believed to begin in the 12th century, during a time when mangonels were still in use.

Their mention as weapons of war continues forward well into the 1800s when it is recorded that French Emperor Napoleon III ordered the construction of a lightweight version. This history of trebuchets continues today as re-enactors, historians and even filmmakers create replicas of these great weapons of war.

It is said this weapon was first created in France, and in fact, there are descriptions that help point to the roots of the history of trebuchets in the late 1200s. The accounts give the impression that trebuchets were very effective in battle, easily crushing fortified walls. They, too, were feared for their ability to loft much heavier projectiles at enemy installments than earlier catapults were able to handle.

Trebuchets gained their force from the gravity of a heavy weight, and not from tightly twisted cords used in earlier catapults such as the ballista and mangonel. During the history of trebuchets, there are many accounts that point to this type of middle age catapult being a preferred siege class weapon.

The trebuchet used a long wooden arm rested on a pivot point, which acted as a large lever. A projectile was placed on one end and warriors pulled on ropes attached to the other end to essentially swing the arm around and hurl the stone. More advanced designs used a counterweight rather than muscles to provide the energy. In these versions, warriors would pull down against the counterweight, load the missile and release the arm.

In the Middle Ages, the history of trebuchets was set as they began to dominate the siege engine scene, taking top billing over earlier, less accurate, catapults. The device would launch objects that weighed as much as 300 pounds, crumbling castle or city walls.

Some of the larger models in the history of trebuchets were said to have had arms of roughly 50 feet in length and counterpoises of 20 tons. These were able to launch objects of up to 300 pounds an estimated 300 yards.

Within the history of trebuchets it is found that the model ordered by Napoleon III, who was emperor of France well after the Middle Ages came to a close, boasted an arm 33 feet in length. Its counterpoise weighed five tons and the machine could propel a 50-pound object some 200 yards. This light version is said to not have been able to operate at its full potential.

The history of trebuchets continues today as historians and re-enactors create replicas for learning and for mock battle. Their power to bring down fortified walls was even displayed recently on the big screen within the epic trilogy “The Lord of the Rings.”


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