|Catapult History - History of Roman and English Catapults
HISTORICAL NOTES ON ANCIENT AND MEDIEVAL SIEGE
ENGINES AND THEIR EFFECTS IN WARFARE
IT is evident that a history of ancient siege engines cannot be created
that can be done is to quote
with running criticism what has been
written about them.
The first mention of ballistas and
catapults is to be found in the
Testament, two allusions to these weapons being made therein.
The references are :
2 Chronicles xxvii.15, ‘And he1 made
in Jerusalem engines, invented by
cunning men, to be on the towers
and upon the bulwarks, to shoot arrows
and great stones withal.’
Ezekiel xxvi. 9, ‘And he shall set engines of war against thy walls’.
Through the latter extract is not so positive in its wording as the
given, it undoubtedly refers to engines that cast either stones or
arrows against the
walls, especially as the prophet previously alludes to other means
One of the most authentic descriptions
of the use of the great missive
engines is to be found in the account by Plutarch of the siege of Syracuse
Romans 214-212 B.C.
Cesar in his Commentaries on the Gallic and Civil wars, B.C. 58-50,
mentions the engines which accompanied him in his expeditions.
The ballistas on wheels were harnessed to mules and called carro-ballistas.
The carro-ballista discharged its heavy arrow over the head of the
which the shafts of the engine
were attached. Among the ancients these
carro-ballistas acted as field artillery
and one is plainly shown in use
on Trajan’s Column.
According to Vegetius, every cohort was
equipped with one catapult and
every century with one carro-ballista ; eleven soldiers being required
to work the
Fig. 20. -- THE ACTION OF THE TREBUCHET.
A. The arm pulled down and secured by the slip-hook previous to
unhooking the rope of the windlass. B. The arm released from the
slip-hook and casting the stone out of its sling. C. The arm at the
end of its upward sweep.
Sixty carro-ballistas accompanied, therefore,
besides ten catapults, a legion.
The catapults were drawn along with the army on great carts yoked to
In the battles and sieges sculptured
on Trajan’s Column there are several
figures of ballistas and catapults. This
splendid monument was erected in Rome, 105-113, to commemorate
the victories of Trajan over the Dacians, and constitutes
a pictorial record in carved stone contain some 2,500 figures of men
It is astonishing what a large number
of catapults and ballistas were
sometimes used in a siege. For
instance, at the conquest of Carthage, B.C.
146, 120 great catapults and 200 small ones were taken from the defenders,
besides 33great ballistas and 52 small ones (Livy).1
Abulfaragio (Arab historian, 1226-1286) records that at the siege of
1191, 300 catapults and ballistas were employed by Richard I. and Philip
Abbo, a monk of Saint German des Pris, in his poetic but very detailed
the siege of Paris by thee Northmen in 885, 886, writes ‘that the besieged
hundred catapults on the walls of the town’.2
Among our earlier English King’s Edward
I. was the best versed in
projectile weapons large and small, including crossbows and longbows.
In the Calendar of Documents relating to Scotland, an account is given
his ‘War-wolf,’ a siege engine in the construction of which he was
and which was no doubt a trebuchet.
This machine was of immense strength and size, and took fifty carpenters
and five foremen a long time to
complete. Edward designed it for the
siege of Stirling, whither its parts were sent by land and by sea.
Sir Walter de Bedewyne, writing to a friend on July 20, 1304 (see Calendar
of State Documents relating to Scotland), says : ‘As for news, Stirling
absolutely surrendered to the king without conditions this Monday,
Day, but the King wills it that none of his people enter the castle
till it is struck
with his “War-wolf,” and that those within the castle defend themselves
said “War-wolf” as best they can.’
From this it is evident that Edward,
having constructed his ‘War-wolf’ to
cast heavy stones into the castle of Stirling to induce its garrison
to surrender was
much disappointed by their capitulation before he had an opportunity
of testing the
power of his new weapon.
1 Just previous to the famous defense of Carthage,
the Carthaginians surrendered to the Romans ’two hundred thousand suits
of amour and a countless number of arrows and javelins, besides catapults
for shooting swift bolts and for throwing stones to the number of two thousand.’
From Appian of Alexandria, a Greek writer who flourished 98-161.
2 These were probably ballistas, as Ammianus
Marcellinus writes of the catapult, ‘An engine of this kind placed on a
stone wall shatters whatever is beneath it, not by its weight but by the
violence of its shock when discharged.’
Catapult History - History of Roman and English Catapults