Balance Throwing, Siege Machines of the Middle Ages

This page contains images of reconstructed rotating-beam throwing engines that were unique to the Middle Ages. No original machines remain. The machines on this page were constructed by ARMEDIEVAL and are located at French châteaux. For several years ARMEDIEVAL has been constructing these machines as closely as possible to the original medieval specifications and as safe operation permits. ARMEDIEVAL siege engines now conduct firing demonstrations in Scotland and other locations in Europe, as well as at many locations in France other than those identified on this page.


Man-powered (traction), balance type, stone-throwing machine (Pierriere). The bricole could fire 3 to 4 shots per minute. Projectiles weighing 5 to 10 Kg could be thrown a distance of 50 meters.

This reconstruction is located at château de Saint-Brisson (Centre-Val de Loire, France). During the summer, there are scheduled firing demonstrations of the various reconstructed medieval war machines at the château (original date from the twelfth century), which is also a museum.

Couillard or Biffa
Counterweight (gravity-powered) balance engine with two hutches for the weights. The two smaller hutches permited easier transport and assembly. This engine is also at château de Saint-Brisson. While many will call this a 'trebuchet', one of the leading authroities and builder this machine, M. Renaud Beffeyete, labels it as shown here.

The two initial images shown here were photographed on location by the webpage author in 1995.
Traction (counterweight assisted) balance engine
constructed by ARMEDIEVAL
at Larressingle, 'Cité des machines du Moyen-Age', Gers, France.
Photo by Patrick Maurisson.
The pullers' ropes are attached to the small weight at the butt end of the rotating throwing arm. This addition of weight developed between the time the initial pure-traction machines were introduced to the eastern Mediterranean societies by the sixth century CE and the robust full counterweight trebuchet emerged during the the twelfth century. Such 'hybrid' systems continued in use along with the pure counterweight engines throughout the Middle Ages.
Mangonel (fixed-hutch counterweight balance engine)
constructed by ARMEDIEVAL
at Château de Gilles de Rais, TIFFAUGES, Vendée, France.
Image from Artaud Frères imprint.
Range and power were enhanced by increasing the weight at the butt end of the rotating arm. This was accomplished by filling large continers, or hutches, with dirt or stones (some reports of using lead). Initially these hutches were fixed in position in line with the axis of the arm. The added weight required design and construction of sturdy trestle frames. The massive weights replaced the need for rope-pullers, but demanded mechanical mechanisms for lowering the the throwing end of the arm to allow loading its sling. One such mechanism was the 'squirrel-cage' device shown here. It was used for many heavy-lifting tasks in the Middle Ages.
The fixed-hutch engine lurched when fired. This was dangerous to the nearby operating crews and was destructive to the engine, itself. Medieval military engineers experimented with suspended, swinging hutches that minimized the reactive jolts. The stability also allowed sustained firing upon the same target.

The counterweight trebuchet (trébuchet contrepoids), balance type, throwing machine with suspended swinging hutch, was the most powerful of the medieval war machines. The reconstructed trebuchet shown here was made by M. Renaud Beffeyte and can throw about a hundred pounds over a distance of 200 meters.

This reconstruction was photographed by the webpage author in 1998, at château Castelnaud (Dordogne, France). The château is also an exceptionally fine museum of medieval military items.
Note the Bricole (Pierriere), at a distance, on the walls of the fortress.

While many use the term 'trebuchet' to denote all balance-type war engines, this page follows the convention of the modern-day, master builder of these machines, M. Renaud Beffeyte. This convention associates trebuchets with those engines that have a single suspended hutch for the counterweight, as shown to the left. Image is from M. Beffeyte's Les Machines de Siege au Moyen Âge (April 1994).

The last two medieval trebuchets known to have survived from the medieval era were destroyed in an 1830 fire in Arras.

Smaller-scale machines are inspected and armed during 1998 visit to the atelier of ARMEDIEVAL at Castelmoron-sur-Lot, France.

On the left, a single suspended hutch 'trebuchet'. On the right, a 'couillard' with two suspended hutches.

M. Renaud Beffeyte is constructor and holder of copyright of all the siege machines pictured in this webpage. He may be contacted for his publications and on other matters at:
Route de Fongrave
47260 Castelmoron
fax: (33)

M. Beffeyte, along with M. Jacques Miquel and the owner of château de Castelnaud began in 1985 to research and to construct operative medieval war machines (engines). Their work continues to add such machines (including the trébuchet, mangonneau, onagre [catapulte], baliste and arbalète à tour [large, crew-operated crossbows], battering rams, mobile towers, etc.) to the inventories of fortress châteaux museums in France.

Details of their projects and many other images of reconstructions, including gunpowder weapons, can be examined at the ARMEDIEVAL webpage

A comprehensive review of the type of machines shown in this page is presented at
late medieval non-gunpowder artillery.

Fifteenth-century illustration of a couillard throwing a prisoner back over the walls of a besieged fortress. Balance war machines (les engins à balancier) were used along with the early gunpowder artillery, as the latter slowly gained effectivness during the late fifteenth century. For the major armies, guns replaced the non-gunpowder war engines as the dominant siege artillery by the end of the century. A review of medieval gunpowder artillery is at
Gunpowder Weapons of the Late Fifteenth Century.

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This page was created in January 1997 and was last updated 3 May 2000. Comments can be sent to the Société de l'Oriflamme.