Forum: Research Questions

Discussing: Catapults


This is an open-ended thread, to collect catapult information generally. I was intrigued by the trebuchets mounted on the walls of Minas Tirith in RotK EE. Accuracy aside, they were just *cool*. So, what about catapults? How far would a catapult throw? Maximum payloads? Typical projectiles? Peter Jackson aside, is it reasonable that Gondor would have trebuchets? Any and all information appreciated. Writers of siege scenes will thank you. Toodles - Ang



Re: Catapults

Trebuchets have been in use since at least 1224 A.D., which places them well within the realm of Dark Age technology, so it should be theoretically possible for Gondor to have the technology. Karri



Re: Catapults

Here is a historical account that might be somewhat helpful (taking place in 1315): "The Chronicles of the Age of Chivalry", Tiger Books, 1995.   "From 22 July, Robert Bruce with his entire army laid siege to Carlisle for ten days. Every day of the siege they attacked one of the city gates, and some days all three gates at once, but never without loss, for the defenders hurled down on them from the walls darts and spears in such profusion that the besiegers wondered whether stones were breeding inside the walls. On the fifth day of the siege, the Scots set up a machine near to Holy Trinity Church, to hurl stones at the wall and gate, but despite a continuous rain of stones they did little damage, killing only one man. Inside the city, however, there were seven or eight similar machines, as well as other engines of war called ‘Springalds’ (which hurl long darts), and slings on poles for throwing stones, all of which terrified and injured the besiegers. Then the Scots built a ‘belfry’, a tower-like structure, considerably higher than the walls, but they never succeeded in bringing it up to the walls, because as they were transporting it on wheels across some wet and muddy ground, it sank under its own weight and could be pulled no further. They set up long ladders, which they climbed under covering fire from a huge body of archers, whose rain of arrows prevented the defenders from putting their heads above the parapet. But - God be praised! - the defenders found the strength to hurl the ladders away. Many of the besiegers were killed, wounded or captured, there or elsewhere around the walls, but only two Englishmen were killed throughout the siege. After ten days, whether because they had news of the approach of English forces, or because they despaired of success, the Scots returned homewards in confusion, leaving their siege engines behind them." Karri



Re: Catapults

Here is another account, this time from a Byzantine bishop on 597 A..D.: "These petroboles were tetragonal and rested on broader bases, tapering to narrower extremities. Attached to them were thick cylinders well clad in iron at the ends, and there were nailed to them timbers like beams from a large house. These timbers had the slings from the back side and from the front strong ropes, by which, pulling down and releasing the sling, they propel the stones up high and with a great noise. And on being fired they sent up many great stones so that neither earth nor human constructions could bear the impacts. They also covered those tetragonal petroboles with boards on three sides only, so that those inside firing them might not be wounded with arrows from those on the walls. And since one of these, with its boards, was burned to a char by a flaming arrow, they returned, carrying away the machines. On the following day they again brought up these petroboles covered with freshly skinned hides and with the boards, and placing them closer to the walls, shooting, they hurled mountains and hills against us. For what else might one term these immensely large stones?" ("The Traction Trebuchet: A Reconstruction of an Early Medieval Siege Engine")



Re: Catapults

Actually, the trebuchets in RoTK were pretty accurate. The minatures department built working models for them that were tossing rocks across parking lots. The second appendix disk has some stuff on them. I think it was the section about the miniatures. Both trebuchets and catapults use the properties of centripetal force and gravity to get their loads moving. A catapult works more like a play ground see-saw on a big scale. Using a rigid rod with a counterweight (which has to be heavier than the ammo being loaded), the load is accellerated through an upward arc. The rod is then stopped abruptly and the load continues onward thanks to momentum. Once released, it takes on the path of a projectile since there is no longer anything to pull it into the circle established by the rigid rod. The problem is that the load has to be released from the catapult at the apex of the arc to get any kind of range without running the risk of hitting the catapult itself. From the moment the load leaves the cup, it's traveling under the power of gravity. For all intents and purposes it's like tossing a ball stright horizontally, with no upward motion. It falls to the ground a lot sooner than is advantageous in a seige. In this way, a catapult has something of an upward limit on its range that actually depends on the length of the rigid rod. The trebuchet, meanwhile, uses a sort of a sling instead of a cup on a rigid rod to hold the load. It also uses a system of pullies attached to the counterweight to get the load moving faster, sooner. A trebuchet setup allows for the counterweight to fall straight downwards rather than swing out in an arc. The counterweight falls faster and doesn't waste energy on resisting the centripetal force that you see on a catapult. A load gets moving faster and as a result leaves the sling before it reaches the apex of the arc. The load travels in an upward motion as well as a horizontal one when it starts out and therefore stays in the air longer and is able to travel farther (it takes the time to go up, then down, instead of just going down). The range of a trebuchet then, in theory, depends on how well it's built. The faster you can get the load moving in the sling, the farther it's going to go. The drawback of the trebuchet is that it's harder to aim, since the thing doing the throwing is not rigid. In a battle where two armies are marching toward each other and the one is opposing the other, the trebuchet will always be effective before the catapult is. Though it's harder to aim the trebuchet, it's hard to aim either one of them so they work best when they're shooting against large, condensed armies; if you don't hit the opposing seige weapon, you can always crush some nearby troops. Hope some of that is helpful ^_^ Bado na sídh. Berz.



Re: Catapults

Ooh, this is all most excellent! OK, I think I'm safe with my catapults for now, but may need advice on reasonable range for throwing objects of 10 to 15 pounds, but not so dense as stone - burnings objects, severed heads, blocks of wood, etc. The accounts of throwing payloads of many small projectiles at once is also fascinating. Must go dig into EE disc soon... Anyone else who has some info about catapults and other similar projectile weaponry, please keep posting so we can collect enough for a research article. Toodles - Ang



Re: Catapults

And just in terms of simplicity - my 13 year old nephew built a fully functioning catapault out of some timber scraps in a couple of hours on Boxing Day (yes, we're hoping he stays on side of good too ;-)). Silly aunty had thought he meant the handheld sort we made as kids when he said that he was into building catapaults. I thought this might be relevant in that it shows you could have your relatively young or unskilled character build one fairly quickly with minimal tools. Avon



Re: Catapults

Anyone else who has some info about catapults and other similar projectile weaponry, please keep posting so we can collect enough for a research article. Are you volunteering? Seriously, this is excellent information, (thanks, all!) and I'd love to see it as an article. Lyllyn, who can't bear to see an orphan resource!nuzgul



Re: Catapults

Lyllyn, keep your evil nuzgul away from me! I'm warning you. Hmm, maybe I can distract you. Look, over there, a new Hotk Chapter has just been posted! Ang [running away]



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