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The Crossbow   >  Chapter 52   >  Antiquity of Balistas and Catapults   > p.261

Table of Contents List of Illustrations Index Appendix

Antiquity of Balistas and Catapults

sometimes used in a siege. For instance, at the conquest of Carthage, B.C. 146, 120 great catapults and 200 small ones were taken from the defenders, besides 33 great balistas and 52 small ones (Livy).1

Abulfaragio (Arab historian 1226-1286) records that at the siege of Acre in 1191, 300 catapults and balistas were employed by Richard I. and Philip II.

Abbo, a monk of Saint Germain des Pres, in his poetic but very detailed account of the siege of Paris by the Northmen in 885, 886, writes ' that the besieged had a hundred catapults on the walls of the town.' 2

Among our earlier English kings, Edward I. was the best versed in projectile weapons large and small, including crossbows and longbows.

In the Calendar of Documents relating to Scotland, an account is given of his ' War-wolf,' a siege engine in the construction of which he was much interested.

This machine was of immense strength and size and took fifty carpenters and five foremen a long time to complete. Edward designed it for the siege of Stirling , whither its parts were sent by land and by sea.

Sir Walter de Bedewyne writing to a friend on July 20, 1304 (see Calendar of State Documents relating to Scotland), says : ' As for news, Stirling Castle was absolutely surrendered to the King without conditions this Monday, St. Margaret's day, but the King wills it that none of his people enter the castle till it is struck with his " Warwolf," and that those within the castle defend themselves from the said  'Warwolf" as best they can.'

From this it is evident that Edward having constructed his 'Warwolf to cast heavy stones into the castle of Stirling to induce its garrison to surrender, was much disappointed by their capitulation before he had an opportunity of testing the power of his new weapon.

Edward was not, however, to be baulked in this way, for he was anxious to try his 'Warwolf,' which had been transported to Stirling at much trouble and expense. For this reason he would not accept the surrender of the castle till he had shot off his 'Warwolf at it, to see how the machine acted in warfare.

One of the last occasions on which the ancient form of siege engine was used with success, is described by Guillet in his Life of Mahomet II.. This

1 Just previous to the famous defence of Carthage, the Carthaginians surrendered to the Romans 'two hundred thousand suits of armour and a countless number of arrows and javelins, besides catapults for shooting swift bolts and for throwing stones, to the number of two thousand.' From Appian of Alexandria, a Greek writer who flourished 98-161.

2 These were probably balistas, as Ammianus Marcellinus writes of the catapult, 'An engine of this kind placed on a stone wall shatters whatever is beneath it, not by its weight but by the violence of its shock when discharged.'

3 Guillet de Saint George, born about 1625, died 1705. His Life of Mahomet II was published in 1681. He was the author of several other works, including one on riding, warfare and navigation termed the Gentleman's Dictionary. The best edition of this book is in English and has many very curious illustrations. It is dated 1705.


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Inspired by the great war machines and siege catapults of Leonardo da Vinci , this all Red Oak hardwood trebuchet features an open counterweight cabinet for range and trajectory adjustment. 

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