Medieval Siege Weapons Essay, Research Paper
Medieval Siege Weapons
Essay submitted by Will
This is a brief paragraph or two on each of the major siege weapons. For the not just
the besiegers but also the defenders. Please note most of these weapons were not
used alone and often had many different versions of the same weapon.
At age seven a son of a noble family was sent to a nobleman or lord, often who was a
relative. Here he was a page and taught how to ride a horse, and his manners. At the
age of fourteen he was apprenticed to a knight. As the squire to the knight he would
take care of his horse, help him put the knights armor on and keep it clean. In turn he
was taught how to use a bow, carve meat, and other knightly skills. The squire would
have to go into battle with the knight to help him when he was wounded or unhorsed.
If the squire was successful he would be knighted at the age of 21. When there wasn’t
a war going on knight would have to practice, practice, and practice some more. They
would wrestle, fight with blunt swords, do acrobatics, and also do sports like javelin
and putting which is throwing a heavy stone as far as you can.
Experienced knights would participate in tournaments held by the king. The winner
would usually just get bragging rights and sometimes a sum of money. The most
common event was jousting. Jousting is a sport where to fully armored knights ride at
each other on horses while aiming a long wooden lance at the each other. With speeds
reaching 60 miles per hour sometimes there could be fatal accidents. If the person was
knocked off the other was victorious.
The catapult, was invented by the Romans, and plays a large role in the siege of any
castle. Besiegers could fire 100-200 pound stones up to 1,000 feet. The catapult was
used to destroy buildings and walls inside and outside of the castle walls, it could also
destroy an enemies moral by throwing severed heads of comrades, they could spread
disease by throwing shit and dead animals in, and they could destroy wooden building
by throwing bundles of fire in.
Earlier models just used a large weight on one end of a pivoting arm. The arm was
pulled back the missile was placed and then let go. The weight went down the arm
went up and good-bye missile. Another later model gained its power from a tightly
wound skein of rope, hair, and skin. the skeins were twisted incredibly tight and then
had a wooden arm up to sixty feet long placed in between them. The arm was pulled
back using pulleys and rope the missile was placed in the wood cup and then the arm
was released. The arm sprang to a 90 degree angle where it was stopped by a large
padded piece of wood. The arm was then brought back down again and fired again.
The crossbow is an incredibly powerful weapon in the arsenal of any army. A well aimed
shot could kill a person even if they were wearing armor! It did however take a long
time to reload this made it and ideal weapon for defenders of a castle. While reloading
defenders could hide behind battlements where they wouldn’t get shot. Sometimes a
crossbowmen would have an assistant to reload while they were aiming another
crossbow. Besiegers after a while built small movable shields where bowmen could
The crossbow gained its power from a tight cord was pulled back over a small bump,
the bolt was then placed in a little crevice and when the trigger was pulled the bolt
would go flying. The bolt was a small foot long arrow with a four sided iron tip.
When reloading the crossbow you would have to put your foot in the stirrup and pull
back the cord some crossbows were too taught so a windlass and pulley were needed.
The ballista was like a much larger version of the crossbow used by besiegers. The
ballista used by the ancient Greeks was and anti-personnel weapon. It was placed
outside the city doors to discourage sorties, when defenders rush out for a
Sometimes if other methods had failed an attacker would have to build large siege
towers. Siege towers were wooden structures on wheels that were just taller than the
castle wall itself. The tower had a large drawbridge type thing that lowered at wall
level. When the drawbridge was lowered attackers rushed in. The tower had arrow slits
so attacking archers could pick off defenders. The tower ran the risk of being burned
from fire arrows so besiegers placed animal hides on the side to deflect arrows. If a
castle had a ditch surrounding it the ditch had to be blocked with wood and dirt then
rolled up next to the wall. Sometimes if a castle had a body of water surrounding it
siege towers had to be placed on boats then ferried across. If siege towers were not
available scaling ladders had to be used scaling ladders however could be throne off
and rocks and boiling water could be tossed at men on them.
A ram was used to actually break down a wall or door. A ram was usually one or more
trees that had a metal tip on the end was either held by people or swung on chains
while inside a small penthouse. The ram could break down the wall and when it did
besiegers stormed in. This was dangerous work for the people since stones and arrows
were flying down onto them. They then built wooden penthouses to deflect those and
keep them safe. Defenders would toss mattresses to cushion the blows.
Machicolations were pieces of the castle that jutted out from the top of walls that
aloud defenders to throw rocks, boiling water, and other offensive substances down on
the people below. Versions of machicolations have been incorporated into castles all
over Europe. One in most usually found in the gate house are “murder holes” they are
little holes in the ceiling where defenders throw all sorts of things down on attackers.
Tunneling was one of the techniques used by besiegers only if they planned for a long
and hard battle. They didn’t use it very much because of expense. When they would do
it they dug under one of the towers and set up shoring. When they had dug far enough
under they put twigs and flammable substances then burn it all. If it worked properly
the tunnel would cave in and the tower would crumble to pieces. Defenders to counter
act this would either put out large puddles of water so that any tunneling would create
ripples then they could counter dig and have an underground fight, or they could just
have a moat which would make digging hard and dangerous.