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A trebuchet[1] (from the French trébuchet) is a siege engine that was employed in the Middle Ages. It is sometimes called a "counterweight trebuchet" or "counterpoise trebuchet" in order to distinguish it from an earlier weapon that has come to be called the "traction trebuchet", the original version with pulling men instead of a counterweight. Man-powered trebuchets appeared in the Greek world and China in about the 4th century BC.

The counterweight trebuchet appeared in both Christian and Muslim lands around the Mediterranean in the twelfth century. It could fling projectiles of up to three hundred and fifty pounds (140 kg) at high speeds into enemy fortifications. Occasionally, disease-infected corpses were flung into cities in an attempt to infect and terrorize the people under siege, a medieval form of biological warfare.

The trebuchet did not become obsolete until the 13th century, well after the introduction of gunpowder. Trebuchets were far more accurate than other medieval catapults.


Basic design

A trebuchet is a type of catapult that works by using the energy of a raised counterweight to throw the projectile. Initially, the sling, which has a pouch containing the projectile, is placed in a trough below the axle, which supports the beam. Upon releasing the trigger, the sling and the beam swing around toward the vertical position, where one end of the sling releases, opening the pouch and propelling the projectile towards the target. The efficiency of the transfer of the stored energy of the counterweight to the projectile can be quite high, even without, for example, restraining the path of the counterweight.[2]

Modern day enthusiasts have varied the original design, especially to control the path of the counterweight.[3]

Trebuchets versus torsion

The trebuchet is often confused with the earlier torsion siege engines. The main difference is that a torsion siege engine (examples of which include the onager and ballista) uses a twisted rope or twine to provide power, whereas a trebuchet uses a counterweight, usually much closer to the fulcrum than the payload for mechanical advantage, though this is not necessary. A trebuchet also has a sling holding the projectile (although the Roman onager often had a sling as well), and a means for releasing it at the right moment for maximum range. Both trebuchets and torsion siege engines are classified under the generic term "catapult", which includes any non-handheld mechanical device designed to hurl an object.

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