Types of Catapults in the Medieval Times

Written by laurence girard
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Types of Catapults in the Medieval Times
The word "catapult" comes from the Greek words "pultos" and "kata," according to Middle-Ages.org. (Medieval Catapult image by Dario Corno from Fotolia.com)

In medieval times, catapults were too large to be transported with an entire army, reports Middle-Ages.org. As a result, commanders would instruct the engineers to build catapults on-site during or before large battles, and sometimes the soldiers would even help engineers build the catapults. Catapults were a major part of warfare until the invention of gunpowder in China.


Ballistas are a type of catapult in the shape of a crossbow used in medieval times, according to the University of Colorado. Ballistas were used to throw large bolts and had higher accuracy than other types of catapults; however, ballistas had a much shorter range. Ballistas used twisting ropes to create torsion, and when the twisted ropes were released, the ropes unwound and released a quick surge of energy. This surge of energy is used to throw objects such as stones, arrows and flaming balls through the air. The ballista was first used in Greece in the 3rd century B.C.


Trebuchets were the primary siege weapon used in Europe from 850 A.D. to 1350 A.D., according to the University of Arkansas, and, perhaps surprisingly, trebuchets were still used for a century after the invention of gunpowder. A trebuchet was referred to as an "ingenium" in England, and the engineers that worked on the siege weapons were termed "ingeniators." Some of the larger types of trebuchets were capable of throwing cows, stones and even rotting flesh. Trebuchets hurl items by using the potential energy of a suspended weight. A variety of different types of trebuchets were used, varying in range and accuracy. Trebuchets were known to release as many as 2,000 stones in a day, according to Middle-Ages.org. If the supply of stones was inadequate, darts and wooden poles were used. The trebuchet was first used in China in 300 B.C., according to Middle-Ages.org, but they weren't used in Europe until around 500 A.D., and then largely in France.


Mangonels used twisting ropes to create torsion just like ballistas, according to the University of Colorado. Releasing the energy stored in the twisted ropes helped launch huge rocks, flaming balls and even giant arrows at enemy forces in medieval times. The Romans were one of the first civilisations to use the mangonel, and the type of mangonel they used featured a specialised design. Instead of two arms, the Roman mangonel had one arm. When the arm was released, it lunged forward, hit a wooden barrier and released a projectile. The mangonel was invented by the Romans in 400 B.C., according to Middle-Ages.org., because they needed a lighter alternative to the ballista with wheels, so they could easily transport them.

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