Catapult History Essay

A study of catapults, Dr. Cuomo, of the Imperial College London, wrote in the Feb. 6 issue of the journal Science, ''shows that such a divide did not exist in reality'' and that ''both engineers and their achievements were an important part of ancient society.''

Dr. Cuomo cited several telling examples from Greek and Roman history in which rulers employed scientists for their knowledge of geometry, physics and engineering skills in developing more powerful and reliable catapults. Dionysius, a king of Syracuse in the fourth century B.C., gathered craftsmen ''from everywhere into one place,'' as Diodorus wrote, and rewarded them with high wages, gifts, prizes and, for the best and brightest, places at his table.

Dr. Cuomo called it ''an inspiring example of policy-driven research.''

Later in the same century, catapult designers working for Philip II of Macedon, father of Alexander the Great, raised the stakes in the arms race by improving the weapon with twisted sinews and ropes that acted as powerful springs. By 200 B.C., Philo of Byzantium was writing that catapult research had moved beyond trial-and-error methods to the recognition of a principle based on mathematics.

The principle, as Dr. Cuomo pointed out, was that ''all parts of a catapult, including the weight or length of the projectile, were proportional to the size of the torsion springs.'' Mathematicians were then able to draw up precise tables of specifications for easy reference by builders, and also soldiers on the firing line.

The engineer Philo, the earliest direct source on this period of catapult design, reported that the improved weapons were something that ambitious rulers in the Mediterranean region ''display the greatest enthusiasm over and would exchange anything for.'' Scientists and engineers, he said, were paid handsomely to match wits in the catapult competition.

A later king of Syracuse, it is said, persuaded the legendary Archimedes to design advanced catapults for defense against the Romans. In time, the Romans themselves had catapults capable of delivering 60-pound boulders at least 500 feet. A historian in that time described a Roman legion with 160 catapults, some for shooting incendiary missiles and others for rounded stones, lined up in battle alongside archers and slingers.

One aspect of this ancient weaponry that caught Dr. Cuomo's attention was something Hero of Alexander wrote in the first century A.D., which has the ring of the cold war policy of mutual deterrence.

''You didn't just have to have catapults to use them,'' the historian said in an interview. ''You needed your potential enemy to know that you had catapults so they would not attack you in the first place.''

Other scholars praised the essay, especially its insights into the close relationship of science and technology in ancient political affairs.

''She's right on target,'' Adrienne Mayor, an independent scholar in Princeton, said of Dr. Cuomo's thesis. ''A lot of people still think of ancient science as something carried out in ivory towers. But war and science are intertwined from the beginning -- something military historians have not ignored, but others have.''

Ms. Mayor is a classical folklorist whose latest book, ''Greek Fire, Poison Arrows & Scorpion Bombs'' (Overlook Duckworth, 2003), describes biochemical warfare in antiquity, including many instances of catapults that rained fire and pestilence in battle.

Dr. Alex Roland, a historian of technology at Duke University, agreed that at least as early as the fourth century B.C. rulers ''kept mathematicians'' and set up ''what were essentially research and development laboratories,'' primarily to support military technology. One difference from today, he said, was a conspicuous lack of secrecy in these matters.

''Rulers seemed to promote the technology for immediate payoff for themselves and had not yet worked through the notion that you ought to protect your investment with secrecy and restrictions,'' Dr. Roland said. ''So engineers shopped their wares around, and the information circulated freely among countries.''

In fact, Dr. Cuomo said, the ancient engineers ''saw themselves as an international community,'' and Philo mentioned with pride his exchanges with colleagues in cities throughout the Mediterranean basin.

A few other scholars have been studying and writing along similar lines, Dr. Roland noted, citing Dr. John G. Landels, a British historian whose book, ''Engineering in the Ancient World,'' was reissued in 2000 by the University of California Press.

Dr. Cuomo pointed out in an interview that ''what historians are doing at a more insider level has not really entered the general public level yet.''

Dr. Josiah Ober, a professor of classics at Princeton, said that in the fourth and third centuries B.C. the new technology began stimulating changes in the architecture of defensive fortifications, providing, for example, openings in towers wide enough for catapult-launched projectiles to pass through from the inside. That, too, became the task of engineers who, he said, worked for ''very centralized monarchies pushing military technology.''

Dr. Ober suggested that scholars had been slow to recognize the importance of technology in antiquity's hierarchies of power because classical philosophers like Plato and Aristotle were known for the aristocratic view, he said, that ''productive labor was destructive to your capacity to truly live the highest form of life.''

The Greeks, who knew their Homer and his celebration of the courage of single-warrior combat, seemed to have deep qualms about the new projectile weapons, as Dr. Cuomo noted in a story of a king of Sparta in the fourth century B.C.

''On seeing the missile shot by a catapult which had been brought then for the first time from Sicily,'' Plutarch wrote, the king ''cried out, 'By Heracles, this is the end of man's valor.' ''

Archaeological evidence indicates that catapults may be as old as ninth-century B.C. Nimrud in what is now Iraq. Some of the first crude instruments had large bows drawn back with winches for firing. They evolved into heavier timber frames with pulleys and iron levers by which hair or sinew cords were wound tightly as torsion springs for greater power and range.

So awesome was catapult technology that by the first century A.D. the Roman engineer Sextus Julius Frontinus allowed pride to blind him to human nature and ingenuity. The invention of these machines of war, Frontinus wrote, ''has long ago been completed, and I don't see anything surpassing the state of the art.''

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What is a catapult? The general definition is that a catapult is a machine that stores energy then quickly releases the energy to fire a projectile. To be a catapult the machine generally has to be too large for a person to carry. If we just used the storage and release of energy to define a catapult then a longbow would also fit this definition. So the size of the machine is important.

How did catapults develop? Catapults are an offshoot of the Crossbow. Over time crossbows got larger and larger. The went from being a hand-held weapon to something called the Belly-Bow which were so large they had to be braced against a knight's belly. From there they got even larger and became something called a stand crossbow where they were mounted on stands. Eventually they got large enough to be defined as something in their own right and no longer crossbows. This size change also brought about changes in how they operated.

When did the first catapults appear and where? The earliest writings of catalpults were that they originated in China around the 3rd and 4th Century BC and this type of catapult was much like a big crossbow. They stood around 8 feet tall. The illustration here shows this early type of catapult. You can see by the design that it is a natural extension of the crossbow. It is pretty much a very big crossbow! But the unique development that turns it into what we consider to be a catapult is the swinging arm. This is mounted on a pivot and thus we have a catapult. The crossbow string itself is not used to fire the projectile, it is used to move the arm which hold the projectile.

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BOOKS

Want to build a bigger, better, more powerful or fancier catapult? There are some great books available to you. These books, available at Amazon.com will help take your catapult building to new heights! Pun intended!

Ancient and Medieval Siege Weapons: A Fully Illustrated Guide To Siege Weapons And Tactics

In this richly illustrated guide, author Konstantin Nossov masterfully analyzes and recreates the weaponry, tactics, and stratagems of the ancient world. He offers first a comprehensive history of siege warfare in Ancient Egypt, Assyria, Judea, Persia, Greece, and Rome as well as Gaul, the Byzantine Empire, the Muslim world, and Medieval Europe. Discover, among other weapons, how scaling ladders, battering rams, borers, siege towers, throwing machines, and finally cannons developed over time. Numerous charts, illustrations, photographs, and tables explain how engineers constructed and adjusted these weapons and how warriors employed them on the battlefield. Chapters on methods of attack and defense show the weapons in action and reveal the various strategies used to implement and to overcome them. Based on an in-depth analysis of the work of ancient engineers, historians, and generals-including Apollodorus, Herodotus, Julius Caesar, Leonardo da Vinci, Livy, Plutarch, Thucydides, Vitruvius, and others- Ancient and Medieval Siege Weapons not only shows you how to recreate the siege weapons themselves but provides a deeper, clearer picture of the history of war.

 

The Art of the Catapult: Build Greek Ballistae, Roman Onagers, English Trebuchets, and More Ancient Artillery

Whether playing at defending their own castle or simply chucking pumpkins over a fence, wannabe marauders and tinkerers will become fast acquainted with Ludgar, the War Wolf, Ill Neighbor, Cabulus, and the Wild Donkey-ancient artillery devices known commonly as catapults. Building these simple yet sophisticated machines introduces fundamentals of math and physics using levers, force, torsion, tension, and traction. Instructions and diagrams illustrate how to build seven authentic working model catapults, including an early Greek ballista, a Roman onager, and the apex of catapult technology, the English trebuchet. Additional projects include learning how to lash and make rope and how to construct and use a hand sling and a staff sling. The colorful history of siege warfare is explored through the stories of Alexander the Great and his battle of Tyre; Saladin, Richard the Lionheart, and the Third Crusade; pirate-turned-soldier John Crabbe and his ship-mounted catapults; and Edward I of England and his battle against the Scots at Stirling Castle. stantin Nossov masterfully analyzes and recreates the weaponry, tactics, and stratagems of the ancient world. He offers first a comprehensive history of siege warfare in Ancient Egypt, Assyria, Judea, Persia, Greece, and Rome as well as Gaul, the Byzantine Empire, the Muslim world, and Medieval Europe. Discover, among other weapons, how scaling ladders, battering rams, borers, siege towers, throwing machines, and finally cannons developed over time. Numerous charts, illustrations, photographs, and tables explain how engineers constructed and adjusted these weapons and how warriors employed them on the battlefield. Chapters on methods of attack and defense show the weapons in action and reveal the various strategies used to implement and to overcome them. Based on an in-depth analysis of the work of ancient engineers, historians, and generals-including Apollodorus, Herodotus, Julius Caesar, Leonardo da Vinci, Livy, Plutarch, Thucydides, Vitruvius, and others- Ancient and Medieval Siege Weapons not only shows you how to recreate the siege weapons themselves but provides a deeper, clearer picture of the history of war.

 

The Developmental History of the Catapult - Explanation with Drawings of how catapults developed. Starting with the Crossbow and evolving into bigger and more powerful siege engines. The development of the Catapult

 

Make a Cardboard Catapult

This is an easy project for a powerful catapult. You need almost nothing to make it. I give you the template. Cut out the pieces and glue it together. Make a Cardboard Catapult

 

Table top catapult: The Troll
Rubber band powered

 


Kits and More Siege Engine Projects

Another Interesting Project: How to Build a Trebuchet

The Trebuchet was a unique siege engine of the middle ages. It was extraordinarily powerful and was easier for military engineers to build because it used gravity as the energy source. I also have a complete project on how to make the Little Dragon Trebuchet.

 

Catapults and Siege Engines

MOTA Catapult - Desktop Battle Kit -

  • Engage in a fun hands-on learning experience and build your own desktop catapult with the included easy-to-understand instructions and pre-cut wooden pieces
  • Test your precision and your catapult's power, or change the trajectory angle with the adjustable cord
  • Take aim and fire away with five lightweight wooden ammo that's safe for indoor use
  • Replicate the ancient art of war, or learn about the physics and engineering while constructing the catapult
  • Guaranteed fun for all ages, imagination and wood glue not included

Working Wood Catapult DIY Kit, 6" X 5" X 10"

A fun, wooden catapult DIY kit for all ages to enjoy. Every piece is already pre-cut for you as you will not need to make other hard drilling work. All you need to do is assemble following the instruction and you will have a working catapult in no time. You may enjoy it with another friend or family to see this medieval wonder comes to life.

 

Leonardo DaVinci Catapult Kit

  • Comes complete with all pieces pre-cut and ready to assemble
  • Glue included
  • Suitable for beginner model makers
  • Easy to understand instructions

 

 

What good is a catapult if you don't have a castle to attack!

I have another project you might like. It is the Paper Castle and it has everything you could want in a castle making project including all the art work you can download. You just follow the instructions and make it yourself with some glue and cereal boxes. Build a Paper and Cardboard Castle It also has a learning sheet that helps to learn about castles when you are building it.

 

If you are looking for something easier to make you might want to try my project on making a popsicle stick catapult. Fast, easy and fun project! Goes great with the paper medieval castle. Make a popsicle stick catapult

 

Storm The Castle Catapult Game - Build a Popsicle stick catapult and hurl paper balls at the castle. How to make the Game and the catapult are here

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