Ancient Siege Engines
The Distances to Which Ancient Siege Engines Cast Their Projectiles
The catapults, balistas and trebuchets employed for bombarding the walls,
houses and people of a town, were, of course, placed well out of range
of the bows and crossbows of its defenders.
If the besiegers located their engines within reach of arrows, the men
who worked the engines would be slain by the archers of the opposing side,
especially as it was not possible to shelter the larger machines, such
as the trebuchets, behind screens of wood or earth on account of their
great size and height.
With the advantage of shooting downwards from the commanding elevation
of towers and battlements, the archers were certainly able to attain a
range of from 270 to 280 yards, and in any case could shoot considerably
farther than they were able to do when standing on level ground.
In order merely to ensure their safety from archers, it would, therefore,
be necessary to place the engines at about 300 yards from the outer walls
of a besieged town.
As catapults were not only required to hurl their missiles against the
towers and battlements of a town, but were designed also to shoot clear
over the walls upon the houses and soldiers inside the defences, it is
evident that whether large or small they must have had a range of from
350 to 400 yards to be effective.1 See extracts from Josephus,
Which side could produce the larger and more powerful engines was always
an important point among the combatants at a siege, the advantage at first
being usually with the besieged, as they could build their engines in time
of peace and keep them ready for war. On the other hand, the besiegers
had to bring their smaller engines from a distance and, as was usual, construct
their larger ones on the spot.
1 400 yards was an immense distance for even
a 50 lb. stone to be projected by a weapon that derived its power merely
from twisted cordage. 450 yards was probably the extreme range of any of