Nursery Rhymes

Ballista

Middle Ages - Lords and Ladies

Description and Ballista Design
One of the siege weapons used during the Middle Ages include the Ballista. The Ballista was an invaluable Medieval siege attack weapon. The Ballista design was similar to a giant crossbow and worked by using tension. The Ballista was designed to aim huge wooden, iron clad, darts or arrows which were powered by twisted skeins of rope, hair, or sinew - the ballista design was based on a huge dart-throwing machine.

The Ballista loosed heavy bolts, darts and spears along a flat trajectory. The force of the missiles launched from the Ballista was designed to have great penetration and were capable of skewering several of the enemy at one time!

Definition and Origin of the Ballista
The word 'Ballista' is derived from the Greek word 'Ballistes' meaning to throw. In England siege weapons, including the Ballista, was also known as the Ingenium from the Latin word ingenium meaning ingenious device! Plural - ballistae.

Building and Design of the Ballista
The Ballista was a highly accurate siege engine requiring expert building and design skills. The Ballista was similar to a giant crossbow and worked by using tension.

  • The two arms of a Ballista were made of wood
  • Ropes were attached to each arm were the springs of the Ballista
  • The ropes were made of twisted strands of human hair or animal sinew
  • When the bow-arms of the Ballista were pulled back, they twisted the ropes
  • The bowstring was pulled back by a winch

Although the design and building of the Ballista was highly accurate its range was less than that of the massive Trebuchet. The missiles launched by the Ballista were much lighter than the heavy trebuchet stones and could not gain the high momentum of the heavier missiles.

Siege Weapons
Middle Ages Index

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