How Does a Trebuchet Work?


Quick Answer

According to PBS's NOVA program, a trebuchet uses a counterweight attached to a long swinging arm on a pivot to hurl missiles over great distances. The operator raises the counterweight and connects the payload to the other end, so when the counterweight falls, it propels the throwing arm upwards in a rapid arc. The arm releases the missile at the proper moment, allowing it to fly free towards the target.

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Full Answer

The key to a trebuchet's power is the use of the throwing arm as a lever. By keeping the arm's pivot point close to the counterweight, the builder can magnify the power and speed delivered to the payload at the end of the long throwing arm. This allows a trebuchet to fire missiles much heavier than those used in earlier catapult designs, and to imbue those projectiles with much greater force. These weapons were only used to attack castles and fortifications, and armies would often build them from available materials outside of their invasion targets rather than creating them beforehand and moving them from place to place along with the rest of their forces due to the immense size of the siege weapons. Large rocks were common projectiles, but armies could also fire corpses and carcasses to spread disease among castle defenders.

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