Before There Were Guns: Shoot A Trabuco

The trabuco is a medieval weapon, similar to a catapult, and was used to launch projectiles at besieged enemies. Projectiles would damage walls or other structures, in addition to frightening the enemy so that they might surrender. The invention of the trabuco is believed to have occurred in China in the Middle Ages. Europeans adopted the trabuco during the Crusades, and this weapon was effective in siege situations. The original trabucos were mounted on wheels, so they could be transported to the specific building, fortress or wall that they would be attacking.

Much of the effectiveness of the trabuco lies in its relative simplicity. The mechanism of the trabuco is less complex than that involved in catapults and other similar projectile weapons of the Middle Ages. A relatively simple mechanism also meant that the trabuco was relatively easy to repair and maintain — this was important for a weapon that was transported over long distances. The trabuco was also built strong, and therefore was able to launch heavier projectiles than other similar weapons that had come before.

Early trabucos worked by people pulling on one end of the arm that launched the projectile. Some of the earlier trabucos developed in China used over 200 people working in a team to pull on the arm. There are reports that such trabucos could launch a stone weighing 140 pounds some 80 meters according to These early trabucos were not very flexible or portable, however, as coordinating the large teams of people needed to operate the machine was quite a task. There were dozens of ropes attached to the arm of this early trabuco, and it had to be coordinated so that each was pulled with similar force for successive shots.

From China, the trabuco traveled to the Middle East, moving along the Silk Road with Arab traders according to This version of the trabuco had an additional weight on the arm, and was able to shoot projectiles weighing up to 400 pounds. The city of Damietta, in Egypt, was besieged by this type of trabuco, and its walls were damaged by the projectiles. Europeans took the trabuco home from the Crusades, and made further modifications to its design. Thirteenth-century trabucos were capable of launching projectiles weighing more than a ton, and at significant distance. For three centuries on, trabucos were major weapons of war, and capable of terrifying attacks. In addition to stones, trabucos were sometimes used to launch livestock, human prisoners, body parts and implements such as barrels at the enemy. This could add a psychological element to the siege or warfare, or provide ammunition in situations where there were no large stones available as projectiles. However, when gunpowder and firearms were developed in the sixteenth century, projectile-launching weapons such as the trabuco quickly became obsolete, replaced by firepower.

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