Thursday, July 3, 2014

Catapults, Mangonels, Trebuchets

The post on the siege of Zara mentioned using a mangonel being used to attack the walls with stones. As you can imagine, a mangonel was a form of catapult. Catapults of various kinds were used during war from at least the 4th century BCE right up to World War I (where they were used to throw grenades into trenches at a distance).

According to the Greek historian Diodorus Siculus (who wrote in the 1st century BCE), the Greeks were using a device he called a catapult (from Greek καταπέλτης [katapeltēs] meaning "to throw across/against") to fire arrows to greater distances. This makes it similar to a giant crossbow. Most devices that fall into the catapult category throw things other than arrows.

The mangonel specifically used a large bucket at the end of an arm in order to throw stones. The arm, anchored at its other end,  is pulled back to create tension. This is different from a trebuchet, which uses a counterweight at the other end to create the throwing force.

Whereas the word "catapult" has a clear meaning and "trebuchet" is from Old French trebucher, "to overthrow," there is no clear origin for the word "mangonel." It may be called that because of mangon, a hard stone found in southern France. It may be from Greek mágganon, "engine of war." The mangonel was sometimes called an onager, the name for a wild ass, because when fired it "kicked and bucked" like a wild ass.

Besides stones, the enemy could be attacked by throwing burning logs, manure, rotting flora or fauna, quicklime (good for treating soil, bad for humans), and the bodies of defeated enemies.

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