A Trebuchet from The Romance of Alexander (circa 1330).
Historic Trebuchet Illustrations
Part 4

This is one of a series of pages of Medieval and Renaissance illustrations of trebuchets. To avoid problems with historical interpretation (& copyright!) as much as possible, I have chosen to use pictures which seem to be plausibly contemporary with the devices being illustrated. I have also tried to avoid what seem to be obvious fantasy pieces. .

No. 13 - Roman de Godefrey de Bouillon

Well, at first glance this 14th Century trebuchet doesn't look much of a drawing - the artist seeming to be "representing" a trebuchet rather than accurately recording one - but there are still some details of interest.

The crewman is seen with one of the sling cords in his hand, apparently about to hook it on the end of the beam.

The lays of the rope sling cords are clearly and carefully shown, making the plain cloth-like appearance of the pouch itself more significant. (Of course, the pouch could be supposed to be any other suitable smooth material, such as leather.)

Although artistic composition may partly demand it, it's interesting that here again the trebuchet is drawn close to the walls (and in range of the defenders). Does the crewman have a worried expression drawn on his face.?

Just to bring these thoughts back to earth, note that this drawing has the usual Medieval perspective - important people are as tall as city walls and action gets telescoped (The trebuchet is about to fire, while at the same time a stone crashes down onto a gate tower... and of course if you decided to accept this drawing literally then the entire scene would fit into a modest living room.)

No. 14 - "Unidentified picture.. "

An Unidentified picture.. (help wanted here)
This picture has a number of interesting features, so it seemed a shame not to include it. I have seen the drawing in only one "coffeetable" book, which unfortunately simply credited it to a commercial picture library.
I'll give more info regarding its identity as soon as I can find it..
(The style of the armour worn by one of the men at the sling pouch is consistent with a late-14th century date.)

As with so many pictures it shows the weight bucket, the winding gear and the long sling clearly.
Note also the rope passing over the beam and anchored to the frame. Is this part of the winch gear (perhaps inaccurately drawn), a very crude trigger mechanism (knock the rope loop off the peg to fire) or a kind of "safety catch"? (With Grey Co's experiments we tie the trigger to the beam while we are loading the sling to reduce the risk of an accidental release causing injury.)

The strong joinery used in trebuchet frames is hinted at here, as it is in Illustration No. 4.

This drawing also clearly shows the sling release prong on the end of the beam - here obviously a separate component.

I have no idea what the object on the weight end of the beam is. It appears to be held on with rope. I can only guess that it is an additional weight. If so it would make this machine unusual in having both freely swinging ballast in the bucket and rigidly attached weight on the beam.

A picture of a Middle Eastern machine shown in Illustration No.21 also seems to have this apparent dual-weight system.
(This might do strange things to the way that the weight bucket swung. Since the mass of the beam vs that of the hanging bucket will effect the momentum of the beam and hence the position in which the beam "stalls" - decellerates or even comes to a brief pause as the bucket's fall hits bottom- it would also effect the timing and angle of the sling release. ie it could be a form of tuning for adjusting range.)

No. 15 - "The Power of Love"

A beautiful (if slightly odd to a modern viewer) allegorical scene of Love and a trebuchet...

Here a section of a side panel of a casket (a valuables box, not a coffin!) has been intricately carved with scenes of love as a siege, the men storming the women's castle, although not without difficulty.

I won't go any further into the symbolism of this except to point out that they are throwing flowers at one another. In the case of the men's trebuchet it is a basket of flowers - an entirely sweeter version of the ugly basket of heads seen being thrown in Illustration No.7

Although the decoration on the ladder standing up by itself against the wall is disconcertingly rope-like, it's worth noting the way the trebuchet sling is carved as if woven from cords.

(Illustration 15 by courtesy of The University of Illinois)

No. 16 - Renatus

A drawing by Renatus of a fixed-weight trebuchet from the early 16th Century. (This work is dated 1529)

This drawing shows the uprights of the frame rising vertically and then angling steeply at the top. Certainly many other drawings show or appear to show inward-sloping uprights (such as Illustration No.4), but this picture shows this inward slope achieved by some weak and unsupported joints. This structure might well be practical using welded tube steel - but timber??

Other than this quibble and the lack of side bracing timbers, the drawing shows all the features listed in earlier illustrations: the launch trough, the fore-and-aft bracing of the uprights, the winch gear worked by wheels with hand-holds, and a sling with cords shown attached to the beam at one end and a loop on a release prong on the other.

Another feature of this drawing is the practical detail of the counterweight, here a blob (possibly of earth) held in place on the end of the beam with cloth and rope.


NOTE: Although trebuchets were reported to have been used into what we might think of as Renaissance times (such as the siege of Burgos in 1475/76 , where both bombards and trebuchets were used ... or Cortez's campaign against the Aztecs in 1517) many of the siege engine drawings available are from even later military treatises.

Some of the drawings that accompany those of the trebuchets (such as this drawing to the right)seem fanciful-looking enough to sound a note of caution. ("De re militaria", Valturio, 1472)



Previous Next
Main Page


Russell Miners
This page was last edited Jan 2000