Trabuco: The Artillery Of Ancient Warfare

Spears, bows, arrows – – modern man imagines these are the only weapons the ancients used in warfare. This idea is far from the truth! The fact is ancient man developed large and sophisticated machines to use in warfare. A good example of that is the trabuco.

The History of the Trabuco

Early in the history of warfare according to, soldiers realized they needed a way to breach the walls besieged cities. The first crude method was the use of a large log carried by several soldiers to batter down the wooden gates of the walled city. This proved a dangerous tactic. Soldiers manning the battering ram risked injury or death by projectiles shot from the gates protecting towers. Armies needed a way to attack those city walls from a safer distance. Ancient Chinese soldiers found an answer to this in the form of the trabuco (also known as the trebuchet).

The trabuco consisted of a large lever mounted upon a timber frame. The lever pivoted on an axle high off the ground. At the lever’s long end hung a large leather pouch that could be filled with stones, metal projectiles or fiery bombs. At the lever’s short end, a heavy counterweight was attached. This counterweight was winched to a great height by a group of men. When released the weight would activate the lever and throw the projectile against the city walls. The Chinese originated the trabuco’s use around 300 B.C. Those first versions were powered by a team of soldiers who pulled on ropes attached to the shorter end of the lever. The Avars imported the trabuco to the west around 500 A.D. The Crusaders later improved the trabuco by replacing the rope power with the heavy counterweight. European armies used trabucos widely until the invention of cannons.

The Power of the Trabuco

Trabucos towered to a height of 30 meters. Built mainly of wood, some trabucos could launch a 1500 kg stone. Normally, they shot stone that weighed from 50-100 kg as far as 300 meters. Modern engineers have built trabucos that have proven these historical records. The largest is at Warwick Castle, England on It can throw a 36 kg weight up to 300 meters. In 2013 a trabuco constructed for the pumpkin throwing contest in Sussex County, Delaware threw a pumpkin weighing approximately ten pounds almost 865 meters.

According to, The Chinese military strategist Sun Tzu warned generals in 400 B.C. that “…the worst policy of all is to besiege walled cities.” The invention of the great ancient war machine of the trabuco changed all that.

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