The Trabuco: Seige Engine Of History

During the medieval period, the Trabuco was one of the major types of siege engine used to either break down the walls of castles and gates or to throw projectiles over them. The other major siege engine, the catapult, differs in design and does not rely on a counterweight to create the momentum and force needed to hurl projectiles as the Trabuco does. The Trabuco was a major piece of military equipment employed with regularity during the period throughout Europe and the Mediterranean but finds its origins in the Zhou dynasty in China’s 5th century BCE.

The main thrust of the Trabuco is achieved by transferring potential to kinetic energy through the use of a fulcrum. The weapon consists of a base of varying design and height that has two raised pieces or points that attach to the center of a pole along its Y-Axis. On one end of the pole there is a basket that holds the projectile and on the other end is the counterweight according to The height and mass of the counterweight will directly affect how large the projectile can be and how far it will travel.


The projectiles commonly used were made of stone, dirt, wood, shrapnel, and in some cases human and animal carrion. Once the counterweight is loosed, it will swing down and around the fulcrum rocketing the basket and projectile in the opposite direction with the projectile launching out of the basket toward its target.

The Trabuco finds its roots in ancient Chinese slingshot modification. A long piece of wood was used to increase the lever and give the projectile more kinetic energy. As the Chinese developed and improved upon the technology, knowledge of the Trabuco traveled westward coming into contact with the Mediterranean and Europe by way of the Persians and Byzantine Empire. There are historical documents placing it in both Christian and Muslim armies by the Twelfth century, though there is evidence that Viking raiders were using it as early as the siege of Angers in 873 CE according to By the fifteenth century use of the Trabuco began to dwindle and eventually die out with the advent of the gunpowder cannon.

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The Trabuco, A Siege Weapon Of Yesteryear

Among the many weapons created by mankind during the Middle Ages for siege warfare none was more powerful than the Trabuco, or Trebuchet as it was more commonly known as.

This war machine was inspired by the sling and would be used to send all sorts of projectiles flying for a variety of purposes with three different designs that showed the progress of technology advancement at their times of creation. The first two designs however were massively overshadowed by the third due to its efficiency. This model is known as the counterweight Trabuco and was the most preferred version of it as it no longer required people to act as the lever or counterweight for the launch. It was so preferred that the other two versions that preceded it were never used again in recorded history.


The first recorded instance of the Counterweight Trabuco dates back to Mardi ibn Ali al-Tarsusi in the 12th Century while he was taking on conquests at the behest of Saladin according to It also appeared in the same century under control of the Byzantine Empire. From there on the Trabuco would appear throughout the wars waged in Europe for several centuries to come. Perhaps the most famous Trabuco in history is the “Warwolf” created by the order of King Edward I of England for the Siege of Stirling Castle. Needing 30 wagons for disassembled transportation, standing at 300-400 feet when fully assembled, and having needed 5 master carpenters and 49 laborers to build within 3 months, this mammoth of a war machine’s appearance alone inspired those against it to surrender. Furthermore, the Warwolf was capable of launching objects up to 300 pounds/136 kg accurately and was able to level a castle wall with a single shot according to

Like with all inventions however, the Trabuco would eventually be replaced. With the emergence of gunpowder, cannons soon became the preferred siege weapon. The last recorded use of a Trabuco was the 1521 siege of the Aztec capital Tenochtitlán where the Trabuco fired only one shot that wound up landing upon it and destroying itself.