Middle Age Catapults, what they were, how they were made, how they were used

Middle age catapults were used as siege engines to attack fortresses or cities, causing crushing and sometimes flaming and piercing damage to walls, people and whatever stood in the path of their deadly projectiles.

They were common in warfare until gunpowder was introduced in the 14th century. Middle age catapults were used to hurl large stones, spears or other deadly projectiles at an enemy, causing damage to both property and people. They were, however, difficult to aim. Despite this, they were in use for centuries and took on many forms during their employment on fields of battle.

Sometimes, medieval catapults were mounted on carts for mobility. As an attacking force changed positions, they were moved accordingly. They were also permanently mounted in fortresses for use in defense. Many types of middle age catapults are known, but two of the most commonly used types were the mangonel and the trebuchet.

The Roman-developed mangonel is based on the earlier Greek ballista. Ballistas, the forerunner of middle age catapults, used torsion as its power. In both the ballista and mangonel, ropes were twisted repeatedly to create force.

When the ropes were released, they launched deadly, and sometimes flaming, projectiles at an enemy. The ballista operated in much the same manner as a crossbow with two wooden arms inserted horizontally into the twisted ropes, with a single cord attached to both arms used to pull them back against the force of the ropes.

The more common medieval catapult, the mangonel, only had one arm. The ropes were twisted horizontally, and the arm of this middle age catapult was instead inserted vertically into the ropes. A projectile was placed within a scoop held on the end of the arm. The arm itself was pulled down, loaded and released. The arm would hit a wooden barrier on the mangonel and cause the projectile to become airborne. Although simpler than the ballista, the mangonel wasted propulsion energy as its arm stuck the wooden barrier. This middle age catapult, although the most commonly used, was not known for pinpoint accuracy.

Considered one of the most imposing of the middle age catapults, the trebuchet was unlike its brothers in arms. Its power came from muscles or gravity, not torsion. In this design, a long wooden arm rested on a pivot point, which acted as a large lever. A projectile was placed on one end of this medieval catapult, 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 of the middle age catapult, warriors would pull down against the counterweight, load the missile and release the arm.

Whatever their design and their flaws, middle age catapults struck fear in an enemy’s heart, as their often misplaced projectiles were known to wreak havoc.


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