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Definition of a Trebuchet

The Trebuchet was a weapon used during siege warfare. The Medieval Trebuchet was similar to a catapult, or stave sling, which was used for hurling heavy stones to smash castle or city walls. The word 'Medieval Trebuchet' is derived from the Old French word 'Trebucher' meaning to throw over.

In England siege weapons, including the Medieval Trebuchet, was also known as the Ingenium from the Latin word ingenium meaning ingenious device! The Medieval Trebuchet is also referred to as the Trebucket.

Description and Medieval Trebuchet Design
One of the Medieval siege weapons used during the Medieval times of the Middle Ages was the Medieval Trebuchet. The Medieval Trebuchet was an invaluable Medieval siege attack weapon, similar to a catapult, which was used for hurling heavy stones to smash castle or city walls. Medieval engineers of the Middle Ages worked hard on the design of the Medieval Trebuchet to ensure that this siege weapon and the aim of this type of catapult, or sling, would have the greatest effect. The force of the Medieval Trebuchet was capable of reducing castles, fortresses and cities to rubble.

Medieval Trebuchet History
Medieval Trebuchet history dates back to antiquity. The traction Medieval Trebuchet is believed to be an ancient war engine which was invented in China in 300BC. It is thought that the Medieval Trebuchet may have developed from the stave sling. In the traction Medieval Trebuchet a large troop of men pulled down on ropes to propel the missile. The Medieval Trebuchet reached Europe during the early Middle Ages, or Dark Ages, in 500 AD and was used extensively by the French. The Medieval Trebuchet (Trebucket) was introduced to England in 1216 during the Siege of Dover - as were many other types of siege engine. 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. He used the Medieval Trebuchet against the walls of Dover Castle. The constable of Dover castle was Hugh de Burgh - he refused to surrender. 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 Medieval Trebuchet. The Warwolf is generally thought of as the most powerful and most famous of the trebuchets in history.

Building and Design of the Medieval Trebuchet
The Medieval Trebuchet was a highly accurate siege engine requiring expert building and design skills. The Medieval Trebuchet was a scaled-up stave sling used to reduce fortresses and is a counterweight siege engine. The initial design of the Medieval 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. The Traction Medieval Trebuchet used people to power the device. The Counterpoise Medieval Trebuchet replaced the people power with a weight on the short end.

  • The Medieval Trebuchet consisted of a lever and a sling
  • A very large force was applied to the shorter end of the arm, the load is on the other longer end of the arm with the fulcrum in the middle
  • The siege engine's arm could measure up to 60 feet in length
  • 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 towards the target
  • The Medieval Trebuchet was capable of hurling stones weighing 200 pounds with a range of up to about 300 yards
  • After maximum range was achieved, the Medieval Trebuchet was moved toward or away from the target

The first type of Medieval Trebuchet (Trebucket) were powered by man power, but the later Medieval type of Medieval Trebuchet relied on a huge counterweight that swung a long arm. The rate of release was amazing - up to two thousands stones could be released in one day!

Medieval Trebuchet Missiles
The Medieval Trebuchet was designed as a giant catapult, or sling. Missiles thrown from the Medieval Trebuchet catapults were deadly. The Medieval Trebuchet is generally associated with throwing stones. A Medieval Trebuchet could release up to 2000 stones in one day! Should the supply diminish sharp wooden poles and darts would be used. Fire caused havoc in a besieged castle or city and a variety of fire missiles, including firebrands were thrown. Terrifying Greek Fire was also used as a missile from the Medieval Trebuchet. Medieval Trebuchets could launch missiles hundreds of yards at, or even over, a castle, fortress or city wall. Attackers were ingenious in their ideas for launching Medieval Trebuchet missiles which would cause as much distress and discomfort inside the castle or town walls. Medieval Trebuchet missiles included the following objects:

  • Stones
  • Sharp wooden poles and darts
  • Fire
  • Casks of Burning Tar
  • Burning Sand ( this became trapped inside armor )
  • Pots of Greek Fire
  • Dung
  • Dead, sometime mutilated, bodies
  • Disease ridden bodies
  • Body parts
  • Dead animals
  • Any rotting matter
  • Quicklime

The Medieval Trebuchet and the Gynours
In the late Medieval times of the Middle Ages the men who operated the Medieval Trebuchet were called ' Gynours '. The Medieval Trebuchet was a massive war engine and its size required that the machine would be built at the site of the siege. The Gynours were under constant bombardment from the arrows and missiles of the enemy. The enemy would also attempt to burn the Medieval Trebuchet during any daring reconnaissance trips. Catapults would also be built by the enemy within the castle or city walls to attack any of the attackers siege engines. Warning cries were often made when a fire missile had been launched by a Medieval Trebuchet.

Building a Medieval Trebuchet
Building a  Medieval Trebuchet required the design and building skills. Siege weapons, such as the Medieval Trebuchet, were made to order! They were far too cumbersome to move from one place to another. In a siege situation the commander would assess the situation and the siege weapons design requirements to break a siege. Engineers would instruct soldiers as to the construction and building of siege weapons such as the Medieval Trebuchet.

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