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Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey,


A Summary of the History, Construction and Effects in Warfare of the projectile throwing engines of the Ancients, withh a treatise on the Structure, Power and Managements of Turkish and other Oriental Bows of Medieval and Later Times


Longmans Green and Co. London, 1907, 44 pgs., 40 illustrations


Note: There is an excellent article on Trebuchet in the July 1995 issue of Scientific American by Paul Chevedelen with lots of illustrations and diagrams. And a reference to Trebuchet by Sandra Alvarez in De Re Militari of Feb 2014 - There are four Osprey books relevant to this topic - Duncan Campbell wrote Greek and Roman Artillery 399 BC - AD 363 and Greek and Roman Siege Machinery 399 BC- AD 363 - And David Nicolle wrote two volumes on Medieval Siege Weapons.) Sir Payne-Gallwey made a few wrong guesses but his booklet is worth reading for historical purposes.


Part I


Introductory Notes on Ancient Projectile Engines


Of anceint Greek authors who have left us accounts of these engines, Heron (284-221 B. C and Philo (about 200 B.C.) are the most trustworthy.
Both these mechanicians give plans and dimensions with an accuracy that enables us to reconstruct the machines, if not with exactitude at any rate with sufficient correctness for practical application.
Though in the books of Athenaeus, Biton, Apollodorus, Diodorus, Procopius, Polybius, and Josephus we find incomplete descriptions, these authors, especially Josephus, frequently allude to the effects of the engines in warfare; and scanty as is the knowledge they impart, it is useful and explanatory when read in conjunction with the writings of Heron and Philo.


Among the Roman historians and military engineers, Vitruvius and Ammianus are the best authorities. Vitruvius copied his descriptions from the Greek Writers, which shows us that the Romans adopted the engines from the Greeks.
Of all the old authors who have described the engines, we have but copies of the original writings. It is therefore natural that we should come across many phrases and drawings which are evidently incorrect, as a result of repeated transcription, and which we know to be at fault through we cannot actually prove them to be so.


With few exceptions, all the authors named simply present us with their own ideas when they are in doubt respecting the mechanical details and performances of the engines they wish to describe.
All such spurious information is, of course, more detrimental than helpful to our elucidation of their construction and capabilities.


It frequently happens that in a medieval picture of one of these machines some important mechanical detail is omitted, or, from the difficulty of portraying it correctly, is purposely concealed by figures of soldiers, an omission at may be supplied by reference to other representations of the same weapon.


It is indeed, impossible to find a complete working plan of any one of these old weapons, a perfect design being only obtainable by consulting many ancient authorities, and, in may be said, piecing together the details of construction they individually give. Fig 1 {short description of image}


We have no direct evidence as to when the engines for throwing projectiles were invented.
It does not appear that King Shalmaneser II, of Assyria (859-825 B. C. ) had any, for none are deapicted on the bronze doors off the palace of Balawat, now in the British Museum, on which his campaigns are represented, though his other weapons of attack and defense are clearfly shown.


The earliest allusion is to one in the Bible, where we read in Uzziah, who reigned from B.C 808-9 to B.C. 756-7. "Uzziah made in Jerusalem engines invented by cunning men, to be on the towers and upon the bulwarks, to shoot arrows and great stones withal.' (2 Chronicles XXXVI, 15).


Diodorus tells us that the engines were first seen about 400 B.C., and that when Dionysius of Syracuse organised his great expedition against the Carthaginians (397 B. C.) there was a genius among the experts collected from all over the world, and that this man designed the engines that cast stones and javelins.
From the reign of Dionysius and for many subsequent centuries, or till near the close of the fourteenth, projectile-throwing engines are constantly mentioned by military historians.


But it was not till the reign of Philip of Macedon (360-336 B.C.) and that of his son Alexander the Great (336-323 B.C.) that their improvement was carefully attended to and their value in warfare fully recognized.
As before stated, the Romans adopted the engines from the Greeks.


Vitruvius and other historians tell us this, and even copy their descriptions of them from the Greek Authors, though too often with palpable inaccuracy.
To ascertain the power and mechanism of these ancient engines a very close study of all the old authors who wrote about them is essential, with a view of extracting here and there useful facts amid what are generally verbose and confused references.


There is no doubt that the engines made and used by the Romans after their conquest of Greece (B. C. 146), in the course of two or three centuries became inferior to the original machines previously constructed by the Greek artificers.


Their efficiency chiefly suffered because the art of manufacturing their important parts was gradually neglected and allowed to become lost.
For instance, how to make the skein of sinew that bestowed the very life and existence on every projectile-casting engine of the ancients. The tendons of which the sinew was composed, the animals from which it was taken, and the manner in which it was prepared, we can never learn now.
Every kind of sinew, or hair or rope, with which I have experimented, either breaks or loses its elasticity in a comparatively short time, if great pressure is applied. It has then to be rendered as no small outlay of expense and trouble. Rope skeins, with which we are obliged to fit our models, cannot possibly equal in strength and above all in elasticity, skeins of animal sinew or even of hair. (Fig. 2) {short description of image}


The formation of the arm or arms of an engine, whether it is a catapult with its single upright arm or a balista with its pair of lateral ones, is another difficulty which cannot now be overcome. for we have no idea how these arms were made to sustain the great strain they had to endure.


We know that the arm of a large engine was composed of several spars of wood and lengths of thick sinew fitted longitudinally, and then bound round with broad strips of raw hide which would afterwards set nearly as hard and tight as a sheath of metal.
We know this, but we do not know the secret of making a light and flexible arm of sufficient strength to bear such a strain as was formerly applied to it in a catapult or a balista.
Certainly, by shaping an arm of great thickness we can produce one that will not fracture, but substance implies weight, and undue weight prevents the arm from acting with the speed requisite to cast its projectile with good effect.


A heavy and ponderous arm of solid wood cannot, of course, rival in lightness and effectiveness a composite one of wood, sinew and hide.
The former is necessarily inert and slow in its action of slinging a stone, while the latter would, in comparison, be as quick and lively as a steel spring.
When the art of producing the perfected machines of the Greeks was lost they were replaced by less effective contrivances.


If the knowledge of constructing the great catapult of the ancients in its original perfection had been retained, such a clumsy engine as the mediaeval trebuchet would never have gained popularity. The trebuchet derived its power from the gravity of an immense weight at one end of its pivoted arm tipping up the other end, to which a sling was attached for throwing a stone.


As regards range, there could be no comparison between the efficiency of a trebuchet, however large, as worked merely by a counterpoise, and that of an engine deriving its power from the elasticity of an immense coil of tightly twisted sinew.


It is certain that if the latter kind of engine had survived in its perfect state the introduction of cannon would have been considerably delayed, for the effects in warfare of the early cannon were for a long period decidedly inferior to those of the best projectile engines of the ancients.
Not withstanding many difficulties, I have succeeded in reconstructing, though of course on a considerably smaller scale, the chief projectile throwing engines of the ancients, and with a success that enables them to compare favourably, as regards their range, with the Greek and Roman weapons they represent.
Still, my engines are by no means perfect in their mechanism, and are, besides, always liable to give way under the strain of working.


One reason of this is that all modern engines of the kind require to be worked to their utmost capacity, i.e. to the verge of their breaking point, to obtain from them results that at all equal those of their prototypes.
A marked difference between the ancient engines and their modern imitations, however excellent the latter may be, is, that the former did their work easily, and well within their strength, and thus without any excessive strain which might cause their collapse after a short length of service. (1) {short description of image}Again, though my largest catapult will throw a stone to a great distance it cannot throw one of nearly the weight it should be able to do, considering the size of its frame, skein of cord and mechanism. In this respect it is decidedly inferior to the ancient engine.


The oft-disputed question as to the distance to which catapults and balistas shot their projectiles can be solved with approximate accuracy by comparing their performances - as given by ancient military writers - with the results obtainable from modern reproductions.
While treating of this matter we should carefully consider the position and surroundings of the engines when engaged in a siege, and especially the work for which they were designed. As an example, archers, with the advantage of being stationed on high towers and battlements, would be well able to shoot arrows from 270 to 280 yards. For this reason it was necessary for the safe manipulation of the attacking engines that they should be placed at about 300 yards from the outer walls of any fortress they were assailing.


As a catapult or a balista was required not only to cast its missile among the soldiers on the ramparts of a fortified place, but also to send it clear over the walls amind the houses and people within the defenses, it is evident that the engines must have had a range of from 400 to 500 yards or more, to be as serviceable and destructive as they undoubtedly were.


Josephus tells us that at the siege of Jerusalem, A. D. 70 ('Wars of the Jews' Book V. Chapter VI') stones weighting a talent (57 3/4 lbs. avoirdupois) were thrown by the catapults to a distance of two or more 'stades'.
This statement may be taken as trustworthy, for Josephus relates what he personally witnessed and his comments are those of a commander of high rank and intelligence.
Two or more 'stades,' or let us say 2 to 2 1/4 'stades' represent 400 to 450 yards. Remarkable and conclusive testimony confirming the truth of what we read in Josephus is the fact that my largest catapults - though doubtless much smaller and less powerful than those referred to by the historian - throws a stone ball of 8 lbs. in wieight to a range of from 450 to nearly 500 yards. (Fig. 3) {short description of image}


It is easy to realise that the ancients, with their great and perfect engines fitted with skeins of sinew, could cast a far heavier stone than one of 8 lbs. and to a longer distance than 500 yards.


Agesistratus, a Greek writer who flourished B.C. 200, and who wrote a treatise on making arms for war, estimated that some of the engines shot from 3 1/2 to 4 'stades' (700 to 800 yards).
The writings of Agesistratus are non-exitant but are quoted by Athenaeus.


Though such a very long flight as this appears almost incredible, I can adduce no sound reason for doubting its possibility. From recent experiments I am confident I could now build an engine of a size and power to accomplish such a feat if light missiles were used, and if its cost were not a consideration.




The Catapult with a Sling


The medieval catapult was usually fitted with an arm that had a hollow or cup at its upper end in which was placed the stone it projected, as shown above in (fig. 5) {short description of image}. I find, however, that the original and more perfect form of this engine, as employed by the Greeks and ancient Romans, had a sling, made of rope and leather, attached to its arm. (Fig 6. ){short description of image}.
(In mediaeval times catapults which had not slings cast great stones, but only to a short distance in comparison with the earlier weapons of the same kind that were equipped with slings. I can find no allusions or pictures to show that during this period any engine was used with a sling except the trebuchet, a post-Roman invention. All evidence goes to prove that the secret of making the skein and other important parts of a catapult was in a great measure lost within a couple of centuries after the Romans copied the weapon from their conquered enemies the Greeks, with the result that the trebuchet was introduced for throwing stones. The catapult was gradually superseded as the art of its construction was neglected, and its efficiency in sieges was therefrom decreased. The catapults of the fifth and sixth centuries were very inferior to those described by Josephus as being used at the sieges of Jerusalem and Jotopata (A. D. 70, A. D. 67).) (Fig. 4) {short description of image}


Fig 5 - Criticism - This engine was moved into position on rollers and then props were placed under its sides to adjust the range of the projectile. The end of the arm was secured by the notch of the large iron catch and was released by striking down the handle of the catch with a heavy mallet. The arm is, however, too long for the height of the crossbar against which it strikes and would probably break off at its center. The hollow for the stone is much too large, as a stone big enough to fit it would not be cast by a weapon of the dimensions shown in the picture. (From an Illustrated Manuscript Fifteenth Century.)
See also The Crossbow, etc Chapters LV, LVI illustrations 193 to 202. In medieaval times catapults which had not slings cast great stones, but only to a short distance in comparison with earlier weapons of the same kind that were equipped, with slings. I can find no allusions or pictures to show that during this period any engine was used with a sling except the trebuchet, a post_Roman invention. All evidence goes to prove that the secret of making theskeins, and other important parts of a catapult was in great measure lost within a couple of centuries after the Romans copied the weapon from their conquered enemies the Greeks, with the result that the trabuchet was introduced for throwing stones.


The addition of a sling to the arm of a catapult increased its power by at least a third, - For example, the catapult described in Chapters LV, LVI, of my book (The Crossbow) will throw a round stone 8-lbs. in weight, from 350 to 360 yards, but the same engine with the advantage of a sling to its arm will cast the 8-lb. stone from 450 to 460 yards, and when its skein is twisted to its limit of tension to nearly 500 yards.


If the upper end of the arm of a catapult is shaped into a cup to receive the stone, as shown in fig. 5, {short description of image}the arm is, of necessity, large and heavy at this part.
If, on the other hand, the arm is equipped with a sling, as shown in fig 6, {short description of image}it can be tapered from its butt-end upwards, and is then much lighter and recoils with far more speed than an arm that has an enlarged extremity for holding its missile.
When the arm is fitted with a sling, it is practically lengthened by as much as the length of the sling attached to it, and this, too, without any appreciable increase in its weight.


The longer the arm of a catapult, the longer is its sweep through the air, and thus the farther will it cast its projectile, provided it is not of undue weight.
The difference in this respect is as between the range of a short sling and that of a long one, when both are used by a school-boy for slinging pebbles.
The increase of power conferred by the addition of a sling to the arm of a catapult is surprising.


A small model I constructed for throwing a stone ball, one pound in weight, will attain a distance of 200 yards when used with an arm that has a cup for holding the ball, though when a sling is fitted to the arm the range of the engine is at once increased to 300 yards.


The only historian who distinctly tells us that the catapult of the Greeks and Romans had a sling to its arm, is Ammianus Marcellinus. This author flourished about 380 A. D., and a closer study of his writings, and of those of his contemporaries, led me to carry out experiments with catapults and balistas which I had not contemplated when my work dealing with the projectile engines of the Ancients was published.


Ammianus writes of the catapult (Roman History, Book XXIII, Chapter IV)
"In the middle of the ropes ( i.e. in the middle of the twisted skein formed of ropes of sinew or hair) rises a wooden arm like a chariot pole... to the top of the arm hangs a sling... when battle is commenced a round stone is set in the sling... four soldiers on each side of the engine wind the arm down till it is almost level with the ground..." when the arm is set free it springs up and hurls forth from its sling the stone, which is certain to crush whatever it strikes... This engine was formerly called the 'scorpion', because it has a sting erect, but later ages have given it the name of Onager, or wild ass, for when wild asses are chased they kick the stones behind them. (The upright and tapering arm of a catapult, with the iron pin on its top for the loop; of the sling, is here fancifully likened to the erected tail of an angry scorpion with its sting protruding.)


(Fig 7) {short description of image}- Catapult (with sling).
A. The arm at rest, ready to be wound down by the rope attached to it and also to the wooden roller of the windlass. The Stone may be seen in the sling. The upper end of the pulley rope is hitched by a metal slip-hook (fig 6) to a ring -bolt secured to the arm just below the sling. {short description of image}The sling.
B. The position of the arm when fully wound down by means of the windlass and rope. (See also "EE, fig 8) {short description of image}
C. The position of the arm at the moment the stone D leaves the sling, which it does at an angle of about 45 degrees.
E. By pulling the cord E the arm B is at once released from the slip-hook and, taking an upward sweep of 90 degrees, returns to its original position at A.
F. its fixed end which passes through a hole near the top of the arm,
G. The leather pocket for the stone.
H. The loop which is hitched over the iron pin at the top of the arm when the stone is in position in the sling, as shown at A and B Fig 7.{short description of image}


I - I The side pieces
II - II The side pieces
III, IV, - The large cross -pieces
V. The small cross piece.
The ends of the cross-piece beams are stepped into the side pieces.
AA The skein of twisted cord.
BB The large winding wheels.
The skein is stretched between these wheels, its ends passing through the sides of the frame, and then through the wheels and over their cross-bars (Fig 12){short description of image} By turning with a long spanner (fig 6) the squared ends of the spindles DD, the pinion wheels CC rotate the large wheels BB and cause the latter to twist the skein AA between the halves of which the arm EE is placed.
FF The wooden roller which winds down the arm EE (Fig 6) The roller is revolved by four men (two on each side of the engine) who fit long spanners on the squared ends of the iron spindle GG.


This Spindle passes through the centre of the roller and through the sides of the frame.
The small cogged wheels, with their checks, which are fitted to the ends of the spindle GG, prevent the roller from reversing as the arm is being wound down (Fig 6)


(Fig. 9 ){short description of image} - One of the pair of winches of a catapult.
I. Surface view of one of the winches and of the thick iron plate in which the socket of the large winding wheel of the winch revolves.
II. View of the winch (from above) as fitted into one of the sides of the frame of the catapult. One end of the twisted skein may be seen turned round the cros-bar of the large wheel.
III. Side view of the large wheel of a winch.
IV. The cross-bar of one of the large wheels. These pieces fit like wedges into tapering slots cut down the barrels, or inside surfaces of their respective wheels.
V. Perspective view of the wheels of a winch.
The winches are the vital parts of the catapult as they generate its projetive power.


They are employed to twist tightly the skein of cord between which the butt-end of the arm of the engine is placed.
The cord compsing the skein is stretched to and fro across and through the sides of the catapult, and alternately through the insides of the large wheels and over their cross-bars; as shown in fig 8.


(Fig 10) - {short description of image}
The Iron Slip-hook
This simple contrivance not only pulled down the arm of a catpult but was also the means of setting it free. However great the strain on the slip-hook, it will, if properly shaped, easily effect the release of the arm.


The trajectory of the missile can be regulaed by this form of release, as the longer the distance the arm is pulled down the higher the angle at which the projectile is thrown. On tre other hand, the shorter the distance the arm is drawn back, the lower the trajectory of its missile.


The slip-hook will release the arm of the engine at any moment, whether it is fully or only partially wound down by the windlass.


The slip-hook of the large catapult shown in fig 6 has a handle, i.e. lever, 10 inches long, the point of the hook, which passes through the eye-bolt secured to the arm, being one inch in diameter.


(Fig 11) {short description of image} - A Spring engine with a sling attached to its arm, which cast two stones at the same time.


(Fig 12) {short description of image} - The skein of cord
A. The skein as first wound over the cross-bars of the large wheels (shown in section) of the winches.
B. The skein with the butt-end of the arm (shown in section) placed between its halves.
C. The skein as it appears when tightly twisted up by the winches. Compare with AA of (Fig 8) {short description of image}.


Cord of Italian hemp, about 1/4 in. thick, is excellent for small catapults. For large ones, horsehair rope, 1/2 in. thck is the best and most elastic. Whatever is used, the material of the skein must be thoroughly soaked in neats-foot oil for some days previously, or it is sure to fray and cut under the friction of being very tightly twisted. Oil will also preserve the skein from damp and decay for many years.




There is little to write under this heading, as the plans, details of construction and illustrations will, I trust, elucidate its management.


The skein should never remain in tightly twisted condition, but should be untwisted when the engine is not in use.
Previous to using the catapult its winches should be turned with the long spanner, fig 6, first the winch on one side of the engine and then the one on the other side of it, and each to exactly the same amount.
Small numerals painted on the surfaces of the large wheels near their edges, will show how much they have been revolved; in this way their rotation can be easily arranged to correspond.


As the skein of cord is being twisted by the very powerful winches, the arm will gradually press with increasing force against the cross-beam between the uprights. The arm should be so tightly pressed against the fender, or cushion of straw, attached to the centre of this beam, that, whether large or small, it cannot be pulled back the least distance by hand.


If the skein of my largest catapult is fully tightened up by the winches, three strong men are unable to draw the arm back with a rope even an inch from the cross-beam, though the windlass has to pull it down from six to seven feet when the engine is made ready for action.


When the skein is as tight as it should be, attach the slip-hook to the ring-bolt in the arm and place the stone in the sling suspended from the top of the arm.


The arm can now be drawn down by means of long spanners fitted to the windlass. Directly the arm is as low as it should be, or as is desired, it should be instantly released by pullling the cord fastened to the lever of the slip-hook. The least delay in doing this, and the resulting continuation of the immense strain on the arm, may cause it to fracture when it would not otherwise have done so.


The plans I have given are those of my largest engine, which, ponderous as it seems - (it weighs two tons) - is, however, less than half the size of the catapult used by the ancients for throwing stones of from forty to fifty poinds in weight.


As the plans are accurately drawn to scale, the engine can easily be reproduced in a smaller size.


An interesting model can be constructed that has an arm 3 feet in length, and a skein of cord about 4 inches in diameter. It can be worked by one man and will throw a stone, the size of an orange, to a range of 300 yards.
The sling, when suspended with the stone in position, should be one third the length of the arm, as shown in fig 7.


If the sling is shortened, the ball will be thrown at a high elevation. If the sling is lengthened, the ball will travel at a lower angle and with much more velocity.






This engine is here shown ready for discharge with its bow-string drawn to its full extent by the windlass. (Fig13) {short description of image}


The heavy iron-tipped arrow rests in the shallow wooden trough or groove which travels along the stock.
The trough has a strip of wood, in the form of a keel, fixed beneath it. This keel travels to or fro in a dove-tailed slot cut along the upper surface of the stock for the greater part of it length (F in Fig 14). {short description of image}


Figure 14 - The Mechanism of the Stock of an Arrow - Throwing Balista.
A. Side view of the stock, with the arrow in the sliding trough before the bow-string is stretched.
B. Surface view of the stock, with the arrow in the sliding trough before the bow-string is stretched.
C. Section of the fore-end of the stock, and of the trough which slides in and along it.
D. Surface view of the trough with the trigger and catch for the bow-string.
E. Side view, showing the keel (F) which slides along the slot cut in the surface of the stock as the trough is drawn back by the windlass.
G. Enlarged view of the solid end of the Trough.
This sketch shows the catch for the bow-string, the trigger which sets it free, the ratchets which engage the cogs on the sides of the stock, and the slot cut in the stock for the dove-tailled keel of the trough to travel in.


The arrow is laid in the trough before the bow-string is stretched. (A, B Fig 14).


The balista is made ready for use by turning the windlass. The windlass pulls back the sliding trough, and the arrow resting in it, along the stock of the engine, till the bow-string is at its proper tension for discharging the projectile (Fig 13). {short description of image}


As the trough and arrow are drawn back together, the arrow can be safely laid in position before the engine is prepared for action.
The catch for holding the bow-string, and the trigger for releasing it, are fixed to the solid after-end of the wooden trough (Fig 14)


The two ratchets at the sides of the after-end of the trough travel over and engage, as they pass along, the metal cogs fixed on either side of the stock.
(When the bow-string has been released and the arrow discharged, the ratchets are lifted clear of the cogs on the stock of the engine. This allows the trough to be slid forward to its first position as shown in A B,
Fig 14). It is then ready to be drawn back again for the next shot.)


By this arrangement the trough can be securely retained, in transit, at any point between the one it started from and the one it attains when drawn back to its full extent by the windlass.


As the lock and trigger of the balista are fixed to the after-end of the sliding trough (fig 14) it will be realized that the arrow could be discharged at any moment required in warfare, whether the bow-string was fully or only partially stretched. In this respect the balista differed from the crossbow, which it somewhat resembled, as in a crossbow the bow-string cannot be set free by the trigger at an intermediate point, but only when it is drawn to the lock of the weapon.


It will be seen that the balista derives its power from two arms; each with its separate skein of cord and pair of winches.
These parts of the balista are the same in their action and mechanism as those of the catapult.


Balistas were constructed of different sizes for the various purposes of siege and field warfare. The smallest of these engines was not much larger than a heavy crossbow, though it more than equalled the latter in power and range.
The small balistas were chiefly used for shooting through loopholes and from battlemented walls at an enemy assaulting with scaling ladders and movable towers.


The largest had arms of 3 ft. to 4 ft. in length, and skeins of twisted sinew of 6 in. to 8 in. in diameter.
Judging from models I have made and carefully experimented with, it is certain that the more powerful balistas of the ancients could cast arrows, or rather feathered javelins, of from 5 to 6 lbs. weight, to a rqange of from 450 to 500 yards.


(Fig 15) {short description of image}It will be seen that this engine is almost identical in construction with the one last described (Fig 13.
The difference is that it propelled a stone ball instead of a large arrow.
The ball was driven along a square wooden trough, one-third of the diameter of the ball being enclosed by the sides of the trough so as to keep the missile in a true direction after the bow-string was released.
The bow-string was in the form of a broad band, with an enlargement at its centre against which the ball rested.


The description given of the mechanism and management of the engine for throwing arrows can be applied to the construction and manipulation of this form of balista, which was also made in large and small dimensions.
Small engines, with arms about 2 ft. in length and skeins of cord about 4 in. in diameter, such as those I have built for experiment, will send a stone ball, 1 lb. in weight, from 300 to 350 yards.


There is little doubt that the large stone-throwing balista of the Greeks and Romans was able to project a circular stone, of 6 to 8 lbs. weight, to a distance of from 450 to 500 yards.
The balls used by the ancients in their catapults and balistas werer often formed of heavy pebbles inclosed in baked clay, the reason being that balls made of in this way shattered on falling and hence could not be shot back by the engines of the enemy. The balistas for throwing arrows, and those employed for casting stones, were fitted with axles and wheels when constructed for use in field warfare.


(Fig 16) {short description of image} - The Sliding Trough of the Stone-throwing Balista
A. Surface view, with the stone in position.
B. Side view, with the stone in position.
C. Front view of the stone as it rests in the trough against the enlarged centre of the bow-string.
D. Enlarged view of the solid end of the sliding trough.
This sketch shows the ball in position against the bow-string; the catch holding the loop of the bow-string, and the pivoted trigger which, when pulled, releases the catch.
One of the pair of ratchets which engage the cogs on the sides of the stock, as the trough is drawn back by the windlass to make ready the engine, is also shown. The trough has a keel to it, and slides to or fro along the stock in the same manner as in the arrow-throwing balista. (Fig 13) {short description of image}


Compare with figs 13, further explanation of details.


(Fig. 17) {short description of image} -
A Siege Balista in the Form of an Immense Stonebow. (from 'Il Codice Atlantico", Leonardo da Vinci, 1445- 1520).
Criticism -
A stonebow of vast size. A and B represent two kinds of lock. In A, the catch of the lock over which the loop of the bow-string was hitched, was released by striking down the knob to be seen below the mallet. In B, the catch was set free by means of a lever. C shows a manner of pulling back the bow-string. By turning the spoked wheels, the screw-worm revolved the screwed bar on which the lock A, travelled. The lock, as may be seen, worked to or fro in a slot along the stock of the engine. In the illustration the bow is fully bent and the man indicated is about to discharge the engine. After this was done, the lock was would back along the screw-bar and the bow-string was hitched over the catch of the lock preparatory to bending the bow again. Besides being a famous painter, Leonaredo was distinguished as an inventor and exact writer on mechanics and hydraulics.
"No artist before his time ever had such comprehensive talents, such profound skill or so discerning a judgment to explore the depths of every art or science to which he applied himself" - John Gould, Dictionary of Painters, 1839.
From the above eulogy we may concluid that the drawings of ancient engines by Leonardo da Vinci are fairly correct.






This engine was of much more recent invention than the catapult or the balista of the Greeks and Romans. It is said to have been introduced into siege operations by the French in the twelth century. On the other hand, the catapult and the balista were in use several centuries before the Christian Era. Egidio Colonna gives a fairly accurate descripton of the trebuchet, and writes of it, about 1289, as though it were the most effective siege weapon of his time.


The projectile force of this weapon was obtained from the gravitation of a heavy weight, and not from twisted cordage as in the catapult and balista.
From about the middle of the twelth century, the trebuchet in great measure superseded the catapult. This preference for the trebuchet was probably due to the fact that it was able to cast stones of about 300 lbs. in weight, or five or six times as heavy as those which the largest catapults could project.
(The catapult had, besides, become an inferior engine to what it was some centuries before the trebuchet was introduced, the art of its constuction having been neglected.)


The stones thrown by the siege catapults of the time of Josephus would no doubt destroy towers and battlements, as the result of the constant and concentrated bombardment of many engines. One huge stone of from 200 to 300 lbs., as slung from a trebuchet, would, however, shake the strongest defensive masonry.
The trebuchet was essentially an engine for destroying the upper part of the walls of a fortress,. so that it might be entered by means of scaling ladders or in other ways. The catapult, by reason of its longer range, was of more service in causing havoc to the people and dwellings inside the defenses of a town.


From experiments with models of good size and from other sources, I find that the largest trebuchets - those with arms of about 50 ft. in length and counterpoises of about 20,000 lbs. - were capable of slinging a stone from 200 to 300 lbs. in weight to a distance of 300 yards, a range of 350 yards being, in my opinion, more than these engines were able to attain.
(Egidio Colonna tells us that the trebuchet was sometimes made without a counterpoise, and that in such a case the arm of the engine was worked by a number of men pulling together instead of by a heavy weight. l cannot believe this, as however many men pulled at the arm of a trebuchet they could not apply nearly the force that would be conveyed by the gravitation of a heavy weight).


The trebuchet always had a sling in which to place its missile.
The sling doubled the power of the engine and caused it to throw its projectile twice as far as it would have been able to do without it.


It was the length of the arm, when suitably weighted with its counterpoise, which combined with its sling, gave power to the trebuchet. Its arm. when released, swung round with a long easy sweep and with nothing approaching the velocity of the much shorter arm of the catapult.


The weight of a projectile cast by a trebuchet was governed by the weight of its counterpoise. Provided the engine was of sufficient strength and could be manipulated, there was scarcely any limit to its power. Numerous references are to be found in mediaeval authors to the practice of throwing dead horses into a besieged town with a view to causing a pestilence therein, and there can be on doubt that trebuchets alone were employed for this purpose.


As a small horse weighs about 10 cwt., we can form some idea of the size of the rocks and balls of stone that trebuchets were capable of slinging.
When we consider that a trebuchet was able to throw a horse over the walls of a town, we can credit the statement of Stella (1) who writes 'that the Genoese armament sent against Cyprus in 1376 had among other great engines one which cast stones of 12cwt.'


Villard de Honnecourt (2) describes a trebuchet that had a counterpoise of sand the frame of which was 12ft. long, 8 ft. broad, and 12 ft. deep. That such machines were of vast size will readily be understood. For instance, twenty-four engines taken by Louis IX at the evacuation of Damietta in 1249, afforded timber for stockading his entire camp. (3) A trebuchet used at the capture of Acre by the infidels in 1291, formed a load for a hundred carts. (4) A great engine that combered the tower of St. Paul at Orleans and which was dismantled previous to the celebrated defense of the town against the English in 1428-9 furnished twenty-six cartloads of timber (5)


All kinds of articles besides horses, men, stones, and bombs were at times thrown from trebuchets. Vassaf records that when the garrison of Delhi refused to open the gates to Alla'uddin Khilji in 1296, he loaded his engines with bags of gold and shot them into the fortress, a measure which put an end to the opposition.


1 - Stella flourished at the end of the fourteenth century and beginning of the fifteenth. He wrote The Annals of Genoa from 1298 - 1409. Muratori includes the writings of Strella in his great work. Rerum Italicarum Scriptores, 25 vols. 1723-38
2 Villard de Honnecourt, an engineer of the thirteenth century. His album translatred and edited by R. Willis, M.A. 1859
3. Jean, Sire de Joinville. He went with St. Louis to Damieta. His memoirs, written in 1309, published by F. Michel, 1858
4 Abulfeda, 1273-1331, Arab soldier and historian, wrote Annals of the Moslems. Published by Hafnire, 1789-94. Abulfeda was himself in charge of one of the hundred carts. -
5 From an old history of the siege (in manuscript) found in the town hall of Orleans and printed by Saturnin Holot, a bookseller of that city, 1576
6 Persian historian, wrote at end of thirteenth and beginning of fourteenth century. The preface to his history is dated 1288, and the history itself is carried down to 1312.


(Fig. 18) {short description of image} - The Trebuchet - The arm is fully wound down and the tackle of the windlass is detached from it. The stone is in the sling and the engine is about to be discharged by pulling the slip-hook off the end of the arm. The slip-hook is similar to the one shown in fig 10. N.B. A Roman soldier is anachronisticaly shown in this picture. The trebuchet was invented after the time of the Romans.


(Fig. 19) {short description of image} - Casting a dead horse into a besieged town by means of a trebuchet


(Fig. 20) {short description of image} - 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






It is evident that a history of ancient siege engines cannot be created de novo, All that can be done is to quote with running criticism what has already been written about them.


The first mention of balistas and catapults is to be found in the Old Testament, two allusions to these weapons being made therein. The references are:
2 Chronicles xxvi 15, 'And he made in Jerusalem engines, invented by cunning men to be on the towers nnd upon the bulwarks, to shoot arrows and great stones withal.'
Ezekiel xxvi 9 - "And he shall set engines of war against thy walls."


Though the latter extract is not so positive in its wording as the one first given, it undoubted refers to engines that cast either stones or arrows against the walls, especially as the prophet previously alludes to other means of assault.


One of the most authentic descriptions of the use of great missive engines is to be found in the account by Plutarch of the siege of Syracuse by the Romans, 214-212 B.C.


Caesar in his Commentaries on the Gallic and Civil wars, B.C. 58-50, frequently mentions the engines which accompanied him in his expeditions. The balistas on wheels were harnessed to mules and called carro-balistas. The carro-balista discharged its heavy arrow over the head of the animnal to which the shafts of the engine were attached. Among the ancients these carro-balistas 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-balista; eleven soldiers being required to work the latter engine. Sixty carro-balistas accompanied, therefore, besides ten catapults, a legion. The catapults were drawn along with the army on great carts yoked to oxen.


In the battles and sieges sculptured on Trajan's Column there are several figures of balistas and catapults. The spended monument was erected in Rome, 105-113, to commemorate the victories of Trajan over the Dacians, and constitues a pictorial record in carved stone containing some 2,500 figures of men and horses.


It is astonishing what a large number of catapults and balistas were sometimes used in a siege. For instance, at the conquest of Carthage, B.C. 146, 120 great catapults and 2 small ones were taken from the defenders, besides 33 great balistas and 52 small ones (Livy) 1


1 - Just previous to the famous defence of Carthage, the Carthaginians surrendered to the Romans two hundred thousand suits of armour 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.


Abulfaragio (Arab historian, 1226-1286) records that at the siege of Acre in 1191, 300 catapults and balistas were employed by Richard I, and Philip II.
Abbo, a monk of Saint Germain des Pres, in his poetic but very detailed account of the siege of Paris by the Northmen, in 885 - 886, writes 'that the besieged had a hundred catapults on the walls of the town'. (2)


2. - These were probably balistas, as Ammianus Marcellinus writes of the catapult, "An engine of this kind placed on a stonewall shatters whatever is beneath it, not by its weight but by the violence of its shock when discharged."


Among our earlier English kings 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 of his 'War-wolf', a siege engine in the constrruction of which he was much interested and which was no doubt a trebuchet. This machine was of immense strength and size, and took fifty carpenters and five toremen 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 Castle was absolutely surrendered to the King without conditions this Monday, St. Margaret's 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 from the 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 befor he had an opportuntiy of testing the power of his new weapon.


One of the last occasions on which the trebuchet was used with success is described by Guillet in his 'Life of Mahomet II," (1). This author writes 'At the siege of Rhodes in 1480, the Turks set up a battery of sixteeen great cannon, but the Christians successfully opposed the cannon with a counter-battery of new invention. (2).


(1) - Guillet de Saint George, born about 1625, died 1705. His "Life of Mahomet II", was published in 1681. He was the author of several other works, including one on riding, warfare and navigation , termed the "Gentleman's Dictionary". The best edition of this book is in English and has many very curious illustrations. It is dated 1705.
(2), Called a new invention because the old siege engine of which this one (probably a trebuchet) was a reproduction had previously been laid asidefor many years.


'An engineer, aided by the most skilful carpenters in the besieged town, made an engine, that cast pieces of stone of a terrible size. The execution wrought by this engine prevented the enemy from pushing forward the work of their approaches, destroyed their breastworks, discoverd their mines, and filled with carnage the troops that came within range of it.'


At the siege of Mexico by Cortes in 1521, when the ammunnition for the Spanish cannon ran short, a soldier with a knowledge of engineering undertook to make a trebuchet that would cause the town to surrender. A huge engine was constructed, but on its first trial the rock with which it was charged instead of flying into the town ascended straight upwards, and falling back to its starting-point destroyed the mechanism of the machine itself. (3)


(3) Conquest of Mexico, W. Prescott, 1843.


Though all the projectile engines worked by cords and weights disappeared from continental warfare when cannon came to the front in a more or less improved form, the - if Vincent de Blanc is to be credited - survived in barbaric nations long after they were discarded in Europe. This author (in his travels in Abyssinia) writes 'that in 1576 the Negus attacked Tamar, a strong town defended by high walls, and that the besieged had engines composed of great pieces of wood which were wound up by cords and screwed wheels, and which unwound with a force that would shatter a vessel, this being the cause why the Negus did not assault the town after he had dug a trench round it' (4)


(4) - Vincent le Blanc, Voyages aux quatre partries du monde, redige par Bergeron, Paris 1649. Though the accounts given by this author of his travels are imaginative, I consider his allusion to the siege engine to be trustworthy, as he was not likely to invent so correct a description of one.


Plutarch, in his Life of Marcellus the Roman General, gives a graphic account of Archimedes and the engines this famous mathematician employed in the defence of Syracuse.
It appears that Archimedes showed his relative, Hiero II., King of Syracuse, some wonderful examples of the way in which immense weights could be moved by a combination of levers.
Hiero, being greatly impressed by these experiments, entreated Archimedes temporarily to employ his genius in designing articles of practical use, with the result that the scientiest constructed for the king all manner of engines suitable for siege warfare.
Though Hiero did not require the machines, his reign being a peaceful one, they proved of great value shortly after his death when Syracuse was besieged by the Romans under Marcellus, 214-212 B.C. On this occassion Archimedes directed the working of the engines he had made some years previously for Hiero.


Pluarch writes : 'And in truth all the rest of the Syracusans were no more than the body in the batteries of Archimedes, whilst he was the informing soul. All other weapons lay idle and unemployed, his were the only offensive and defensive arms of the city.'
When the Roman s appeared before Syracuse, its citizens were filled with terror, for they imagined they could not possibly defend themselves against so numerous and fierce an enemy. But, Plutarch tell us, 'Arhimedes soon began to play his engines upon the Romans and their ships, and shot against them stones of such an enormous size and with so incredible a noise and velocity h that nothing could stand before them. The stones overturned and crushed whatever came in their way, and spread terrible disorder through the Roman ranks. As for the machine which Marcellus brought upon several galleys fastened together, called sambuca (1) from its resemblance to the musical instrument of that name; whilst it was yet at a considerable distance, Archimedes discharged at it a stone of ten talent's weight and, after that, a second stone and then a third one, all of which striking it with an amazing noise and force competely shattered it.' (2)


(1) - Sambuca. A stringed instrument with cords of different lengths like a harp. The machine which Marcellus brought to Syracuse was designed to lift his soldiers - in small parties at a time and in quick succession - over the battlements of the town, so that when their numbers inside it were sufficient they might open its gates to the besiegers. The soldiers were intended to be hoisted on a platform, worked up and down by ropes and winches; As the machine was likened to a harp, it is probable it had a huge curved wooden arm fixed in an erect position and of the same shape as the modern crane used for loading vessels. If the arm of the sambuca had been straight like a mast, it could not have slung its load of men over a wall. Its further resemblance to a harp would be suggested by the ropes which were employed for lifting the platform to the summit of the arm, these doubtless being fixed from the top to the foot of the engine.
(2) It is, I consider, impossible that Archimedes, however marvellous the power of his engines, was able to project a stone of ten Roman talents or nearly 600 lbs. in weight, to a considerable distance. Plutarch probably refers to the talent of Sicily, which weighed about 10 lbs. A stone of ten Sicilian talents, or say 100 lbs., could have been thrown by a catapult of great strength and size.
Though the trebuchet cast stones of from 200 lbs. and more, this weapon was not invented till long after the time of Archimedes.


Marcellus in distress drew off his galleys as fast as possible and sent orders to his land forces to retire likewise. He then called a council of war, in which it was resolved to come close up to the walls of the city the next morning before daybreak, for they argued that the engines of Archimedes, being very powerful and designed to act at a long distance, would discharge their projectiles high over their heads. But for this Archimedes had been prepared, for he had engines at his disposal which were constructed to shoot at all ranges. When, therefore, the Romans came close to the walls, undiscoverd as they thought, they were assailed with showers of darts, besides huge pieces of rock which fell as it were perpendicularly upon their heads, for the engines played upon them from every quarter.
This obliged the Romans to retire, and when they were some way from the town Archimedes used his larger machines upon them as they retreated, which made terrible havoc among them as well as greatly damaged their shipping. Marcellus, however, derided his engineers and said, 'Why do we not leave off contending with this geometrical Briareus, who sitting at ease and acting as if in jest has shamefully baffled our assaults, and in strikikng us with such a multitude of bolts at once exceeds even the hundred-handed giant of fable?'
'At length the Romans were so terrified that, if they saw but a rope or a beam projecting over the walls of Syracuse, they cried out that Archimedes was levelling some machine at them and turned their backs and fled.'


As Marcellus was unable to contend with the machines directed by Archimedes and as his ships and army had suffered severely from the effects of these stone - and javelin - casting weapons, he changed his tactics and instead of besieging the town he blockaded it and finally took it by surprise.
Though, at the time of the siege of Syracuse, Archimedes gained a reputation for divine rather than human knowledge in regard to the methods he employed in the defence of the city, he left no description of his wonderful engines, for he regarded them as mrre mechanical appliances which were beneath his serious attention, his life being devoted to solving abstruse questions of mathematics and geometry.
Archimedes was slain at the capture of Syracuse, B.C. 212, to the great regret of Marcellus.


The following extracts from Josephus, as translated by Whiston, enable us to form an excellent idea of the effects of great catapults in warfare:
(1) Wars of the Jews, Book III, Chapter VII, - The siege of Jotapatas, A. D. 67. "Vespasian then set the engines for throwing stones and darts round about the city; the number of engines was in all a hundred and sixty.... At the same time such engines as were intended for that purpose threw their spears buzzing forth, and stones of the weight of a talent were thrown by the engines that were prepared for doing so... But still Josephus and those with him, allthough they fell down dead one upon another by the darts and stones which the engines threw upon them, did not desert the wall... The engines could not be seen at a great distance and so what was thrown by them was hard to be avoided, for the force with which these engines threw stones and darts made them wound several at a time, and the violence of the stones that were cast by the engines was so great that they carried away the pinnacles of the wall and broke off the corners of the towers, for no body of men could be so strong as not to be over thrown, to the last rank by the largeness of the stones... The noise of the instrruments themselves was very terrible, the sound of the darts and stones that were thrown by them was so also; of the same sort was that noise that dead bodies made when they were dashed against the wall."


(2) Wars of the Jews, Book V., Chapter VI - The siege of Jerusalem, A. D. 70 "The engines that all the legions had ready prepared for them were admirably contrived; but still more extraordinary ones belonged to the tenth legion; those that threw darts and those that threw stones were more forcible and larger than the rest, by which they not only repelled the excursions of the Jews but drove those away who were upon the walls also. Now the stones that were cast were of the weight of a talent (57 3/4 lb. avoirdupois) and were carried two or more stades. (Two stades would be 404 yards; the measure of a stade is 606 3/4 English feet.) "


"The blow they gave was no way to be sustained, not only by those who stood first in the way but by those who were beyond them for a great space. As for the Jews, they at first watched the coming of the stone, for it was of a white colour and could therefore not only be perceived by the great noise it made, but could be seen also before it came by its brightness; accordingly the watchmen that sat upon the towers gave notice when an engine was let go...so those that were in its way stood off and threw themselve down upon the ground. But the Romans contrived how to prevent this by blacking the stone; they could then aim with success when the stone was not discerned before hand, as it had been previously."


The accounts given by Josephus are direct and trustrworthy evidence, for the reason that this chronicler relatres what he personally witnessed during the sieges he describes, in one of which (Jotapata) he acted the part of a brave and resourceful commander.


Tacitus in describing a battle fought near Cremona between the armies of Vitellius and Vespasian, A.D. 69, writes: "The Vitellians at this time changed the position of their battering-engines, which in the beginning were placed in different parts of the field and could only play at random against the woods and hedges that sheltered the enemy. They were now moved to the Postumian way, and thence having an open space before them could discharge their missiles with good effect. (1)


(1) Tacitius continues: "The fifteenth legion had an engine of enormous size, which was played off with dreadful execution and discharged massy stones of a weight to crush whole ranks at once. Inevitable ruin must have followed if two soldiers had not signalised themselves by a brave exploit. Covering themselves with shields of the enemy which they found among the slain, they advanced undiscovered to the battering-engine and cut its ropes and springs. In this bold adventure they both perished and with them two names that deserved to be immortal.


Froissart chronicles that at the siege of Thyun-l Evoque, 1340, in the Low Countries, John, Duke of Normandy, had a great abundance of engines carted from Cambrai and Douai. Among others he had six very large ones which he placed before the fortress, and which day and night cast great stones which battered in the tops and roofs of the towers and of the rooms and halls, and much so that the men who defended the place took refuge in cellars and vaults.


Camden records that the strength of the engines employed for throwing stones was incredibly great and that with the engines called mangonels (2) they used to throw millstones. Camden adds that when King John laid siege to Bedford Castle, there were on the east side of the castle two catapults battering the old tower, as also two upon the south side besides another on the north side which beat two breaches in the walls.


(2) Catapults were often called mangons or mangonels, but in course of time the name mangonel was applied to any siege engine that projected stones or arrows. In this case the trebuchet is intended, as no catapult could project a millstone.


The same authority asserts that when Henry III, was besieging Kenilworth Castle, the garrison had engines which cast stones of an extraordinary size, and that near the castle several balls of stone sixteen inches in diameter have been found which are supposedo have been thrown by engines with slings in the time of the Baron's war. (3)


(3) The engines here alluded to by Camden were trebuchets


Holinshed writes that 'when Edward I attacked Stirling Castle, he caused an engine of wood to be set up to batter the castle which shot stones of two or three hundredweight'.: (See allusion to this above)


Pere Daniel, in his Histoire de la Milice Francoise, writes, "The great object of the French engineers was to make siege engines of sufficient strength to project stones of such enormous size that their missiles even penetrated the vaults and floors of the most solidly built houses. (4) These engines would also be trebuchets.


The effects of the balista on the defenders of a town were in no degree inferior to those of the catapult. The missile of the balista consisted of a huge metal-tipped wooden bolt which, although of far less weight than the great ball of stone cast by a catapult or the far larger one thrown by a trebuchet, was able to penetrate roofs and cause great destruction in ranks of soldiers.
Caesar records that when his lieutenant, Caius Trebonius, was building a moveable tower at the siege of Marseilles, the only method of protecting the workmen from the darts of engines (1) (balistas) was by hanging curtains woven from cable-ropes on the three sides of the tower exposed to the besiegers'. (2) For this was the only sort of defence which they had learned, by experience in other places, could not be pierced by darts or engines.' Caesar's Commentaries on the Civil War, Book II., Chapter IX.


Procopius relates that during the siege of Rome in 537 by Vitgiges King of Italy, he saw a Gothic hieftain in armour suspended to a tree which he had climbed, and to which he had been nailed by a balista bolt which had passed through his body and then penetrated into the tree behind him


Again, at the siege of Paris byh the Northmen in 885-886, Abbo writes that Ebolus discharged from a balista a bolt which transfixed several of the enemy. (3) Abbot of Saint-Germain des Pres and one of the chief defenders of the town.)
With grim humor Ebolus bade their comardes carry the slain to the kitchen, his suggestion being, that the men impaled on the shaft of the balista resembled fowls run through with a spit previous to being roasted.
Not only were ponderous balls of stone and heavy bolts projected into a town and against against its walls and their defenders, but, with a view to causing a pestilence, it was also the custom to throw in dead horses, and even the bodies of soldiers who had been killed in sorties or assaults.


For example, Varillas (4) (French historian, born 1624, died 1696) writes that 'at his ineffectual siege of Carolstein in 1422, Coribut caused the bodies of his soldiers whom the besieged had killed to be thrown into the town in addition to 2,000 cartloads of manure. A great number of the defenders fell victims to the fever which resulted from the stench, and the remainer were only saved from death by the skill of a rich apothecary who circulated in Carolstein remedies against the poison which infected the town'.


Froissart tells us that at the siege of Auberoche, an emissary who came to treat for terms was seized and shot back into the town. This author writes: 'To make it more serious, they took the varlet and hung the letters round his nexk and instantly placed him in the sling of an engine and then shot him back again into Auberoche. The varlet arrived dead before the knights who were there and who were much astonished and discomfited when they saw him arrive'.


Another historian explains that to shoot a man from the sling of an engine he must first be tied up with ropes, so as to form a round bundle like a sack of grain.
The engine, with which such fiendish deeds were achieved was the trebuchet.


A catapult was not powerful enough to project the body of a man. This difficulty was overcome by cutting off the head of any unfortunate emissary for peace, if the terms he brought were scornfully rejected. His letter of supplication from the besieged was then nailed to his skull, and his head was sent flying through space to fall inside the town as a ghastly form of messenger conveying the refusal to parley.


As it was always an object to the besiegers of a town to start a conflagration if they could, Greeak Fire was used for the purpose. The flame of this fearfully destructive liquid, the composition of which is doubtful, could not be quenched by water. It was placed in round earthenware vessels that broke on falling, and which were shot from catapults; as the roofs of ancient and mediaeval dwelling-houses were usually thatched, it of course dealt destruction when it encountered such combustible material.


The successful attack or defence of a fortified town often depended on which of the armies engaged had the more powerful balistas, catapults of trebuchets, as one engine of superior range could work destruction unimpeded if it happened that a rival of similar power was not available to check its depredations.


Frosaart related that 'at the siege of Mortagne in 1340, an engineer within the town constructed an engine to keep down the discharges of one powerful machine in the besieging lines. At the third shot he was so lucky as to break the arm of the attacking engine.' The account of this incident, as given by Froissart, is so quaint and graphic that I quote it here:
"The same day they of Valencens raysed on their syde a great engyn and dyd cast in stones to that it troubled sore them within the town. Thus y first day passed and the night in assaying and devysing how they might greve them in the fortress.
Within Mortagne there was a connying maister in making of engyns who saw well how the engyn of Valencens did greatly greve them: he raysed an engyn in y castle, the which was not very great but he trymmed it to a point, and he cast therwith but three tymes. The first stone fell a xii fro the engyn without, the second fell on y engyn, and the third stone hit so true that it brake clene asonder the shaft of the engyn without; then the soldyers of Mortagne made a great shout, so that the Hainaulters could get nothing ther; then the erle sayd how he wold withdrawe.'
(From the translation made at the request of Henry VIII, by John Bourchier, second Lord Berners, published 1523-1525)


These siege engines when only a moderate size were not always successful, as in some cases the walls of a town were so massively built that the projectiles of the enemy made little impression upon them. Froissart tells us that it was then the habit of the defenders of the walls to pull off their caps, or produce cloths, and derisively dust the masonry when it was struch by stones. (Fig 21) {short description of image}


Some of the historians, mechanicians and artists from whom information on balistas, catapults and trebuchets may be derived, are as follows. I name them alphabetically irrespective of their periods.


Abbo: A monk of Saint-Germain des Pres, born about the middle of the ninth century, died in 923. He wrote a poem in Latin describing the siege of Paris by the Northmen in 885-886.


Ammianus Marcellinus: Military historian. Died shortly after 390. His work first printed in Rome 1474. The latest edition is that of V. Gardthausen, 1874-1875.


Appian; historian. Lived at Rome during the reigns of Trajan, Hadrian and Antonius Pius, 98-161. The best edition of his History is that of Schweighaeuser, 1785.


Apollodorus of Damascus: Built Trajan's Column, 105-113. Architect and engineer. Addressed a series of letters to the Emperor Trajan on siege engines (vide Thevenot).


Athenaeus: Lived in the time of Archimedes, B.C. 287-212. The author of a treatise on warlike engines (vide Thevenot)


Biton: Flourished about 250 B.C. Write a treatise on siege engines for throwing stones (vide Thevenot)


Blondel, Francois: French engineer and arechitet: born 1617; died 1686


Caesar, Julius (the Dictator) - born B.C. 100; died B.C. 44. Author of the 'Commentaries' on the Gallic and Civil Wars.


Camden, William; Born 1551; died 1623. Antiquary, Published his "Britannia' 1586-1607.


Colonna, Egidio: Died 1316. Archbishop of Bourges 1294, after having been tutor to Philip the Fair of France. His best known works are 'Queaestiones Metaphysicales' and "De Regimine Principum"; the latter was written about 1280. Colonna gives a description of the siege engines of his time.


Daniel, Pere Gabriel: Historian. Born 1649; died 1728


Diodorus (The Sicilian): Historian. Lived under Julius and Augustus Caesar (Augustus died A. D. 14). The best modern edition is that edited by L. Dindorff, 1828


Fabretti, Raffael: Antiquary. Born 1618; died 1700.


Froissart, Jean: French chronicler. Born about 1337; died 1410. His Chronicles printed about 1500. Translated into English by Lord Berners, and published 1523-1525.


Grose, Francis: Military historian and antiquary. Born about 1731; died 1791. Published "Military Antiquities' 1786-1788.


Heron of Alexandria; Mechanician. Lived B.C. 284-221. Bernardino Baldi edited his work on arrows and siege engines, 1616 (vide Thevenot).


Isidorus, Bishop of Seville: Historian. Died 636.


Josephus, Flavius: Jewish historian. Born A. D. 37: died about the year 100. Wrote the "History of the Jewish Wars' and also "Jewish Antiquities" Josephus acting as commander of the besieged, bravely defended Jotapata, A. D. 67, against the Roman general Vespasian. He was also present with the Roman army during the siege of Jerusalem by Titus, A. D. 70.


Leonardo da Vinci; Italian painter. Born 1445; died 1520. In the immense volume of sketches and MSS, by this famous artist, which is preserved at Milan and entitled "Il Codice Atlantico," there are several drawings of siege engines.


Lipsius, Justus: Historian. Born 1547; died 1606


Mezeray, Francois E. de: French historian. Born 1610; died 1683. Published "Histoire de France", 1643-1651.


Napoleon III; "etudes sur l'artillerie,' compiled by order of the Emperor and containing many drawings of the full-sized models of siege engines made by his orders, with interesting and scientific criticism of their power and effect.


Philo of Byzantium; A writer on and inventor of warlike and other engines. Lived shortly after the time of Archimedes (Archimedes died 212 B.C.); was a contemporary of Ctesibius, who lived in the reign of Ptolemy Physcon, B.C. 170-117 (vide Thevenot).


Plutarch; Biographer and historian. Time of birth and death unknown. He was a young man in A. D. 66.


Polybius; Military historian. Born about B. C. 204. His History commences B. C. 230 and concludes B. C. 146. The most interesting edition is the one translated into French by Vincent Thuillier with a commentary by de Folard. 1727-1730.


Procopius; Byzantine historian. Born about 500; died 565. The best edition is that of L. Dindorf, 1833-1838.


Ramelli, Agostino; Italian engineer. Borfn about 1531; died 1590. Published a work on projectile qnd other engines, 1588.


Tacitus, Cornelius; Roman historian. Born about A. D. 61.


Thevenot, Melchisedech, 1620-1692; Edited a book called "Mathematici Veteres," the construction and management of their projectile engines. In this book are to be found the writings on the subject of military engines that were compiled by Athenaeus, Apollodorus, Biton, Heron and Philo. Thevenot was King's librarian to Louis XVI. After his death the manuscript of "Mathematici Veteres," or "The Ancient Mathematicians," was revised and published by La Hire in 1693. The book was again edited by Boivin, and official in the king's library, who lived 1663-1726. The treatises contained in Thevenot were finally re-edited and published by C. Wescher, Paris 1869


Valturis, Robertus; Military author. Living at the end of the fifteenth century. His book "De Re Militari" first printed at Verona, 1472.


Vegetius, Flavius Renatus; Roman military writer. Flourished in the time of the Emperor Valentinian II., 375-392. The best edition is that of Schwebel, 1767.


Viollet-le Duc; French military historian. Published his "Dictionnaire raisonne de l'Architecture, " 1861.


Vitruvius. Pollio: Architect and military engineer and inspector of military engines under the Emperor Augustus. Born between B. C. 85 and 75. His tenth book treats of siege engines. Translated into French with commentary by Perrault, 1673. The most interesting editions of Vitruvius are those containing the commentary on siege engines by Philander. The best of these is dated 1649.


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