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Thursday, March 24, 2011

Medieval Weapon’s Part Four

*Please note the photos in this post have been removed. I will update with new photos once I have more time. Thank you.*

Okay, last blog in this series. You can find the original blogs here http://ladyscribes.blogspot.com/search/label/medieval%20weapons

War’s change more than the people who’ve fought them; it changes the land and history as well. The quest for power led the medieval era into violence and siege warfare was brutal. In a land of castles, Kings, lords and knights, the medieval era was rife with conflict. So many unwritten stories still await the opportunity to be shared. I love to research such a fascinating subject. Siege warfare became a common occurrence and over the years often determined the outcome of many wars.

War is a fascinating subject. Last time I discussed the ballista in detail. This time I’ll cover the Mangonel and the Trebuchet. Both weapons were formidable weapons of warfare and many sieges were won with them.

The Mangonel, similar to a catapult, which worked by using torsion or counterpoise. Mangonels fired heavy projectiles from a bowl-shaped bucket at the end of its arm. The word Mangonel is derived from the Latin word manganon which means “an engine of war”.

This type of catapult was easy to construct and wheels were added for maneuverability. It wasn’t as accurate as the Ballista but it could throw missiles further than the Trebuchet. Invented by the Roman’s in 400BC and didn’t reach European countries until the medieval era by the French. It wasn’t introduced in England until 1216 during the Siege of Dover.

Mangonels were capable of firing projectiles up to 1,300 feet. Made of timber, the missiles were launched from the bowl shaped arm. The rope attached to the arm was the spring of the Mangonel and made of twisted strands of human hair or animal sinew. The rope at the bottom end of the throwing arm was twisted, providing the force to propel the arm.

The missiles used were varied: stones, sharp wooden poles and darts, fire, casks of burning tar, burning sand which became trapped inside armor, pots of Greek fire, dung, dead, diseased and sometimes mutilated bodies, dead animals, any rotting matter, and quicklime.

Trebuchets were like giant slings and hurled large projectiles long distances in order to smash castle walls and breach its defenses. It was invaluable. A work of art that many people continue to be fascinated with today. Over the years the Trebuchet evolved into one of the most powerful and accurate siege weapons in history and it was capable of reducing castle walls, fortresses and entire cities to rubble.

The word 'Trebuchet', also known as the Trebucket, is derived from the Old French word 'Trebucher' meaning to throw over. In England siege weapons were known as the Ingenium from the Latin word ingenium meaning ingenious device.

This particular weapon has a fascinating history and dates back to antiquity. The traction trebuchet is believed to be an ancient war engine which was invented in China in 300BC and thought that the trebuchet may have developed from the stave sling where a large troop of men would pull on ropes to propel the missile. The Trebuchet reached Europe in the early middle ages or Dark age, in 500 AD by the French. At this time the design of the trebuchet was revised so that the troop of men used to pull down the ropes were replaced with a large fixed, or pivoting, counterbalance weight.

Again, Louis the Dauphin of France crossed the Channel with a large force and laid siege to Dover Castle making a violent and incessant attack on the walls and used the trebuchet against the enemy. The constable of Dover castle was Hugh de Burgh. King Edward I ordered his chief engineer, Master James of St. George, to begin work on a new, more massive engine called Warwolf, a version of the trebuchet. The Warwolf is generally thought of as the most powerful and most famous of the trebuchets in history.

Highly accurate, the Trebuchet consisted of a lever and a sling. The siege engine's arm could measure up to 60 feet in length as heavy lead weights or a pivoting ballast box (filled with earth, sand or stones) were fixed to the short end of the Medieval trebuchet arm. A heavy stone, or other missile, was placed in a leather pouch that was attached by two ropes to the other, long, end. When the arm was released, the force created by the falling weight propelled the long end upward and caused the missile to be flung in the air toward the target. It was capable of hurling stones weighing 200 pounds with a range of up to about 300 yards.

The Trebuchet is generally associated with throwing stones. It’s massive size required the machine be built on location and many sieges lasted months or years. The men who operated the trebuchet were called Gynours and were constantly under attack from the enemy archers or enemy catapults. It was a dangerous job.

I hope this helps compile some information for those of you researching the era. Once again, I’m leaving a list of links and books that will be helpful on your search for medieval warfare.


Medieval Warfare: A History by Maurice Keen

Medieval Warfare by Helen J. Nicholson

Ancient and Medieval Siege Weapons: A Fully Illustrated Guide to Siege Weapons and Tactics by K. Nosov


  1. These are so cool. Have any of you seen the Punkin' Chunkin' competitions, where teams build these machines and see who can launch a pumpkin the farthest? Fun! Thanks for sharing your research.

    Good luck tomorrow to those of you waiting for that 'call'. :)

  2. I've seen something on TV about Punkin' Chunkin'. That would be a fun event to attend.

    Great research, Melissa. :)

  3. Gillian I love those shows! My hubby and I watch them all the time and we've discussed building one ourselves. That would be so much fun.

    Thanks for stopping by you two and letting me bore you to tears lol.