History of the Trebuchet



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History of the Trebuchet

The word trebuchet comes from the French “Trebucher” which means “to throw (or fall) over.” It was sometimes known as the Ingenium, which is a word from Latin meaning an ingenious device. The trebuchet was mainly used for sieges during the Middle ages as a way to break down the defenses of the opposing side. The first known record of the use of trebuchets dates back to 300 BC in China. It first showed up in Europe during the Dark Ages, at around 500 AD.

The trebuchet was designed to act as a giant slingshot, and the missiles it used varied among armies. While it was generally used to throw large stones, some also used long wooden shafts or javelins. Firebrands, including the infamous Greek fire, a chemical liquid that produced fire when in contact and was nearly impossible to extinguish, were also used. But then some people got creative: some used dung, rotten food, or dead animals. Some people even used the dead bodies of their captives, or sometimes just their body parts. Due to the adaptability of the trebuchet’s slings, the simple machine had the ability to be turned into a medieval atomic bomb.

The trebuchet was first powered by a group of men, who would pull the arm of the trebuchet back and let it swing forward when released. Good teams of trebuchet pullers could load, release, and re-load the trebuchet four times within a minute. In 597 A.D, in the Middle East, Archbishop John of Tessalonikem described these teams of pullers, called petrobolos, as machines that “neither earth nor human constructions could bear the impacts (from). Later on, however, engineers from the Mediterranean created a “hybrid trebuchet,” which used a counterweight and the force of gravity rather than a large amount of manpower to swing the trebuchet arm. This design allowed armies to increase the distance missiles could be thrown by the trebuchet, and the amount of damage they could create. While these new trebuchets were slower at reloading and were more complicated, imposing possible drastic accidents to occur, the amount of damage they inflicted caused the trebuchet to rise to the top of medieval artillery for a time.


Works Cited

Farrell , Scott. "Arms and Men: The Trebuchet." History Net: Where History Comes Alive - World & US History Online. MHQ Magazine, 5 Sept. 2006. Web. 23 Apr. 2012. .



"Trebuchet." Middle Ages. N.p., n.d. Web. 23 Apr. 2012. .

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