Concerning Trebuchets

A trebuchet is a “machine for throwing or catapulting rocks during a siege, the device got its power from a counterweight, which, when freed, released an arm which slung a missile”1

Life in a Medieval Castle states that whilst the Arabs has used “a type of catapult in which the beam was pulled down and released European engineers introduced a decisive improvement”2. Thus was born the Trebuchet. Despite having apparent origins in Eastern Technology, it was Western Innovation that created a more efficient war machine.

The aforesaid European innovation was rather technical “In the trebuchet the firing beam was pivoted on a cross-pole about a quarter of its length from the butt end…the butt end was weighted with a number of weights calibrated for range and the long end pulled down by means of a winch”3

 ” The effectiveness of the trebuchet in a siege was formidable because of its capacity to hit the same target repeatedly with precision. In 1244 Bishop Durand of Albi designed a trebuchet for the siege of Montsegur that hurled a succession of missiles weighing 40 kilograms at the same point at the wall… at twenty-nine minute intervals until in battered an opening.

Ammunition of the attackers included inflammables for firing the timber buildings of the castle bailey. The effectiveness of stone projectiles depended on the height and thickness of the stone walls at which they were flung. The walls of the early twelfth century could be battered down and often were. The result was the construction of much heavier walls, in Windsor castle for example reaching a thickness of twenty four feet

Trebuchets and mangonels, mounted on the towers or even broad walls of castles, hurled rocks frequently the besiegers own back at them, with the additional advantage gained from height”4

 Thus the trebuchet stands as proof that even in the backwards and supposedly ignorant Middle Ages European engineers were able to utilise their technical knowledge and skills to significantly improve weaponry. The expertise and innovation of the East, it appears could be matched, and even surpassed by that of the West upon occasion.


1. Christopher Coreden, A Dictionary of Medieval Terms and Phrases (Cambridge, 2005) p279.

2. Joseph and Frances Gies, Life in a Medieval Castle (New York, 1974) p192.

3. Ibid,. p192-3.

4. Ibid,. p194-5.

Citation for image, ‘Blueprint for a Trebuchet’, 11th March 2008, Accessed 1st  August 2011,


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