The Innovative Ancient Weapon The Trabuco

Long before gundowder and the advent of cannons, the catapult and trabuco provided the massive damage needed to win a siege. The trabuco lobbed large iron balls used to destroy city walls.

What a Trabuco Does

The trabuco proved most popular in the Middle Ages. Also known as a trebuchet in English and French, this weapon of war helped capture whole cities by inflicting massive amounts of infrastructure damage quickly. Its ability to quickly destroy city walls made it a front line weapon to ready a city for infantry movement into its center.

The intricate design, invented by the Chinese in about 400 BC, could easily scale in size when built according to An army could erect a trabuco capable of operation by a single person or requiring between 15 and 45 individuals. This made them ideal for use in any size battle. Their design also lent itself to quick construction. An army could construct the weapon in 12 days.

How a Trabuco Works

The engineering mechanism of a trabuco resembles a sling. It features a locking spring that when released, launches the projectile forward. It could accommodate ammunition up to 140 kilograms in weight and accurately lobs its load 800 meters. As this animation shows, a trabuco could quickly launch its ammunition. Once empty, its spring returned it to re-load position, making continued assault efficient.

Creative Uses

While heavy iron balls proved the most popular projectiles, armies used other projectiles, as well. One well-known attack on Karlštejn in 1422 used a trabuco to launch dead men and feces into the city in an attempt to spread disease according to Armies used trabucos in the delivery of the earliest know biological weapons, hurling those who died from infectous diseases as projectiles inside enemy city walls.

The Demise of the Trabuco

According to, the Chinese innovated again, developing gunpowder and a new weapon took the place of both the trabuco and catapult, one which required less manpower to wreak destruction. The new weapon, the cannon, added a fiery explosion to its destruction of infrastructure. The last known battle to use a trabuco occurred in 1521 when Ferdinad Cortes attacked the Aztec capital, Tenochtitlán. He eventually lacked gunpowder in his New World conquests and used the trabuco instead.

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