The Catapult

The Catapult

Episode 22

If you are trying to break through a huge wall like the one around Jerusalem, what do you do? Throw big stones, of course, but to do that you need a big machine!

The Catapult (or Onager) was a Roman battle machine which used the power held in twisted rope to hurl rocks and missiles against enemy troops and city walls. The military catapult was invented by the Greeks and so the Romans made Greek workers build them. Made mainly of wood and manned by soldiers, the ropes were made of horse hair and the sinew (tendons) from large animals.

Its name comes from the Roman word for a wild ass that kicks and bucks when someone tries to ride it, just as this siege engine would buck due to the huge amount of energy which was released when it was fired - this is called "recoil". The catapult was usually placed on a padded platform because the recoil would crush anything underneath. The far end of the throwing arm had a hook with a sling in which the missile, often a rock, would be placed. A sling is much better at throwing a missile than a bucket or a spoon shape would be.

You can find more information about the catapult in the Usborne Time Travellers book, Rome and Romans.

Click the picture to see a larger version - you might want to save it or print it too!