All About Catapults

Updated on February 7, 2018

All About Catapults

Catapults have a certain mystique and a very long history. They have been used in warfare and in fun competions. Here are resources to learning more about catapults and how to make them. The great thing about making a catapult is that when the project is complete you are not done! You still have to fire it off! Have competitions or create games with it.

The History of the Catapult

The catapult wasn't something that just was invented one day. It was something that developed slowly over time and it was a logical development of the crossbow. It is generally accepted that crossbows were invented first and over time they got larger and larger until they were considered catapults. But a big crossbow isn't considered a catapult. There were some changes that define this switch from big crossbow to catapult and it was when the makers made two significant changes. First they started putting things other than crossbow bolts into it. And second they made the switch to a swinging arm. So we can consider that the first "real" catapult was the first crossbow that had a swing arm and had the bolt taken out and some kind of other object like a rock put in.

Nobody really knows when the catapult was exactly first invented but the earliest writings of catapults were that they originated in China around the 3rd and 4th century BC and this type of early catapult was much like a big crossbow. They stood around 8 feet tall.

Catapults, the Middle Ages and the Medieval Arms Race

We often think of catapults as weapons of war that sieged medieval castles, and while this is true, they actually saw very limited use during the middle ages. Catapults were engineering feats that took a lot of engineering knowledge and quite a bit of resources. They also took a long time to make which meant they had to be made ahead of time and then brought along to an enemy's castle for a siege. Which meant they were a logistical problem.

Catapults were also a victim of a medieval arms race. As catapults started being used builders of castles started making their castles catapult resisitant with thicker walls and further distances between walls which put the catapults out of range. The final demise of the catapult pretty much came as gunpowder started being used and the cannon was created.

A Mangonel Style Catapult

A Simple Catapult

The Development of the Catapult over the Centuries

We may never exactly know when the first legitimate catapult was developed but it is generally credited with being around the 3rd to 4th Century BC. An interesting thing about catapults and siege engines in general is that they developed over time from smaller weapons. The Catapult is pretty much a derivative and direct result of the Bow and. The catapult is the end result of the desire to make weapons that are bigger, more powerful, and can hurl bigger objects longer distances.

Flexion Based Power

The Beginnings of the Catapult is with the Greek Gastrophetes (Belly Bow) This was a bow that was laid out horizontal and braced up against the belly. This way the user could use both hands to draw back the string. It was more powerful than the regular bow.

These Belly Bows got larger and more powerful and eventually they were taken off the belly and placed on a stand (This allowed them to get even larger. This new arrangement was called the Oxybeles. If you consider a catapult to be a siege weapon that stands along and is not hand-held then the Oxybeles is the first of this type.

Torsion Based Power

The Ballista - A fundamental change came about in the development of Cataputls with the Ballista. Up until this point all of the typical catapult like weapons used the bending of wood as their source of power. The ballista used Torsion in the form of twisted ropes. This twisted rope torsion power was much stronger than the bending of wood and the ballista got much bigger and much more powerful.

Even though the ballista used torsion for its power it still looked much like a crossbow in that it had two arms. This configuration changed significantly and other types of siege engine configurations came into use.

The Mangonel - When we think of a catapult this is often what we think of. Twisted ropes were attached to an arm with a bucket at the end. When the twisted ropes were released the arm shot forward and came to a stop against a crossbar. This would shoot whatever was in the bucket.

The Onager - This is an interesting variation on the Mangonal in that instead of a bucket it had a rope and sling.

The Trebuchet - Often considered to be the height of Siege Engine making because its simplicity allowed tremendously large ones to be made. It used gravity as its form of energy. This is what made it so simple.

Build A Catapult

Free Online Resources

Make a Small Catapult

A Site with a variety of projects on how to make a catapult of the table top size including a small wooden one and a popsicle stick one.

A Site with a variety of projects on how to make a catapult of the table top size including a small wooden one and a popsicle stick one. Make a Catapult

Make a larger Catapult

Excellent video from the Weekend Builder on how to make a larger backyard style catapult out of pvc plastic pipes

Excellent video from the Weekend Builder on how to make a larger backyard style catapult out of pvc plastic pipes Make a pvc catapult

KITS

Catapult Making Kit at Amazon.com - Nice little table top sized wooden catapult.

Learn More About Catapults

Resources for learning about catapults, their history, how they were made and how you can make them.

  • Wikipedia article about Catapults
  • Airplane Launching Catapult Did you know that catapults were used to launch airplanes off of naval ships? Here is a great pic of just this type of catapult with the plane mounted and ready for launching.
  • A compound catapult - Neither a catapult or a trebuchet yet a little bit of both. Nice article including the necessary mathematical formulas. A nice project by a high school student.
  • The Sinews of War: Ancient Catapults - Interesting article about the history of catapults - The construction of catapults is called "belopoietics" ( poietike = making of; belos = projectile, projectile-throwing device)

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      rey 

      10 days ago

      cool

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      qwertyuio 

      4 weeks ago

      I was thought to be retarded as a child, and all the evidence indicates that I was. Guy Davenport

      Read more at: https://www.brainyquote.com/topics/retarded

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      REEEEE69 

      4 weeks ago

      hen in the Course of human events it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature's God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

      We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness. — That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, — That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security. — Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

      He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.

      He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.

      He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.

      He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their Public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.

      He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.

      He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected, whereby the Legislative Powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.

      He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.

      He has obstructed the Administration of Justice by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary Powers.

      He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.

      He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harass our people and eat out their substance.

      He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.

      He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil Power.

      He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:

      For quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:

      For protecting them, by a mock Trial from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:

      For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:

      For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:

      For depriving us in many cases, of the benefit of Trial by Jury:

      For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences:

      For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies

      For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:

      For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.

      He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.

      He has plundered our seas, ravaged our coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.

      He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation, and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & Perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.

      He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.

      He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

      In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince, whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

      Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our British brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

      We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these united Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States, that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. — And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of Divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes, and our sacred Honor.

      New Hampshire:

      Josiah Bartlett, William Whipple, Matthew Thornton

      Massachusetts:

      John Hancock, Samuel Adams, John Adams, Robert Treat Paine, Elbr

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      Name 

      4 weeks ago

      this was a bunch of hogwash

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      Lucas Layton 

      5 weeks ago

      Thanks bro :)

    • profile image

      anonymous 

      4 months ago

      thx for nothing

    • profile image

      Nathan 

      5 months ago

      thanks it helped on my project i'm researching catapults for my renaissance fair for school

    • profile image

      Millie Phelps 

      5 months ago

      In paragraph 5, you put resitant, not resistant.

    • profile image

      Holden 

      5 months ago

      THANK YOU SOOOOOOOOOOOOOO MUCH!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    • profile image

      Yeulia 

      6 months ago

      LOVE THIS. Makeing catpult in class. THANK YOU!!!!!!!

      #GONNA WIN

    • profile image

      serenity 

      6 months ago

      This, is a very helpful text. Thank you to who ever wrote it. #Nailed it

    • profile image

      aidan 

      5 years ago

      im only in middle school and if you need to make a catapult got to www.stormthecastle.com

    • profile image

      momo8 

      7 years ago

      thnx for the info i have to do a booklet on catapults for dt so im going to use some of this for it

      thanks!!

    • profile image

      chloe_101 

      7 years ago

      any good pictures of a simple diagram?? or primary source???

    • profile image

      yalmanza 

      8 years ago

      how am i soppose to build a catapult i don't understand im in middle school

    • profile image

      Tyler 

      8 years ago

      this helped with my homework

    • profile image

      georgia 

      8 years ago

      How tall roughly was the average medieval catapult pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease??????????

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      gvozdenfamily@yahoo.com 

      9 years ago

      Why the catapult was known like "stomach kat" or something like that? I heard on History channal, but can`t find it on handwrighting. Please help?

    • profile image

      clayton 

      9 years ago

      thanks for the ancers and for the paragraphs

    • profile image

      alladin dykey 

      10 years ago

      good workies mcklerkiez!!! :)

    • profile image

      Wyatt Holmes 

      10 years ago

      I personally think that what you have done is a great idea im using your info to build my catapult for my science fair my science teacher says I might win!!!! thank you for all of your help. =]

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