Date of Award

5-2019

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Departmental Honors

Department

History

First Advisor

Susan Cogan

Second Advisor

Julia Gossard

Third Advisor

Rebecca Andersen

Abstract

The counterweight trebuchet was the heavy artillery of the Middle Ages, using gravity to hurl projectiles and destroy fortifications. In use from the mid-12th century until the mid-15th century, trebuchets became huge machines. Some were more than 60 feet tall and threw stones weighing more than 300lbs farther than 300 yards. These weapons changed the landscape of Europe until being replaced by later gunpowder cannons.

It is unclear how trebuchets were conceived or constructed. While replica historical machines have been made in modern times, the methods of building and assembling trebuchets have not been widely published. Learning how these machines were built can tell us about the logistical difficulties of sieges and the sophistication of medieval engineering and technology.

Although technical details are scarce, there are several extant drawings that are useful, like those from the Bellifortis, Elegant Book of Trebuchets, and the Anonymous of the Hussite Wars. Building techniques are also seen in the timber joinery of surviving buildings. The information gleaned from these sources can be used in conjunction with methods of traditional woodworking and experimental history to reproduce a machine.

Here, I argue that a master engineer would design an engine with geometry and experience, and that something so large can be assembled with traditional hoisting equipment that dates back to ancient times. My research examined these methods firsthand by building a half-scale trebuchet (33 feet tall). This project highlights the technological expertise of the highlate medieval period and shows that craftsmen of the Middle Ages knew how to use simple machines to accomplish the complex task of assembling a large trebuchet.

Included in

History Commons

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