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 Appendix   >  Book of the Crossbow    >  Ancient Projectile Engines   >  Catapult Sling   > p.12

Table of Contents List of Illustrations Index Appendix

 The Catapult

The difference in this respect is as between the range of a short sling and that of a long one, when both are used by a schoolboy for slinging pebbles.

The increase in power conferred by the addition of a sling to the arm of a catapult is surprising.

A small model I constructed for throwing a stone ball, 1 lb. in weight, will attain a distance of 200 yards when used with an arm that has a cup for holding the ball, though when a sling is fitted to the arm the range of the engine is at once increased to 300 yards.

The only historian who distinctly tells us that the catapults of the Greeks and Romans had a sling to its arm, is Ammianus Marcellinus. This author flourished about 380 A.D., and a closer study of his writings, and those of his contemporaries, led me to carry out experiments with catapult and balistas which I had not contemplated when my work dealing with the projectile engines of the ancients was published.

Ammianus writes of the catapult 1:

'In the middle of the ropes 2 rises a wooden arm like a chariot pole… to the top of the arm hangs a sling... when battle is commenced a round stone is set in the sling… four soldiers on each side of the engine wind the arm down till it is almost level with the ground… when the arm is set free it springs up and hurls forth from its sling the stone, which is certain to crush whatever it strikes. This engine was formally called the "scorpion," because it has its sting erect,3 but later ages have given it the name Onager, or Wild Ass, for when wild asses are chased they kick the stones behind them.

Fig. 2. - Catapult (With a Sling), See Opposite Page.

A. The arm at rest, ready to be wound down by the rope attached to it and also to the wooden roller of the windlass. The stone may be seen in the sling.

The upper end of the pulley rope is hitched by a metal slip hook (fig. 1. p.10) to a ringbolt secured to the arm just below the sling.

B. The position of the arm when fully wound down by means of the windlass and rope. See also EE, fig. 3. p.14.

C. The position of the arm at the moment the stone D leaves the sling, which it does at an angle of about 45 degrees.

1 Roman History, Book XXIII, Chapter IV.

2 i.e. in the middle of the twisted skein formed of ropes of sinew or hair.

3 The upright and tapering arm of  a catapult, with the iron pin on its top for the loop of the sling, is here fancifully likened to the erected tail of an angry scorpion with it sting protruding.


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