4 Most Common Catapults Used In Medieval Times

Key Point: In medieval times most commonly used catapults were: Mangonel, Onager, Ballista, and Springald.

In this article, you will see the most common catapults used in medieval times. These 4 types of catapults were most commonly used before gunpowder came into existence. And you will see them all here.

So, what were the most common catapults used in medieval times?

The 4 most common medieval catapults were:

  1. Mangonel
  2. Onager
  3. Ballista
  4. Springald

There is one more, that I did not include in the list, because it is controversial. You will see why in a moment. Now, let’s take a look at each of these catapults one by one.

The Mangonel

A mangonel was a catapult that was used for besieging castles and forts in medieval times. It was invented during the Middle Ages and was a common sight in battles and sieges throughout Europe and the Middle East. It is debated where the mangonel originated from with some sources claiming it originated in China in the B.C. era.

How The Mangonel Works

Here is the 2:44 video showing how the Mangonel works.

How The Mangonel Works

In short. This is how the Mangonel works.

The mangonel works on the principle of torsion. It consists of a large wooden frame that is anchored to the ground and has a long arm that is hinged at the base. A rope is wound tightly around the arm, creating torsion. The throwing arm is then loaded with a projectile, usually a large rock or a bundle of arrows. When the arm is released, the torsion in the rope causes the arm to rapidly swing forward, launching the projectile towards the target.

Examples Where Mangonel Was Used

One of the most famous uses of the Mangonel was during the Siege of Lisbon in 1147 when the Christian armies used a large number of these machines to break through the walls of the city. Another example is the Siege of Acre in 1189, where the Muslim defenders used mangonels to launch fireballs at the attacking Christian armies.

Its Advantages And Disadvantages

While the mangonel was an effective weapon, it had several disadvantages. It was difficult to aim accurately and required a team of trained personnel to operate. Additionally, the rope used to create torsion was prone to breaking, which could cause the arm to swing back and injure the operators.

However, its advantages were: It could be built relatively quickly and easily using simple materials, making it an accessible weapon for a wide range of armies.

Are You Curious? You can see the 7 disadvantages of the infamous Battering Ram. By clicking here another tab will open up with the article, which you can visit and learn from after finishing this one.

Now on to the next piece of siege warfare history the …


The Onager was a type of catapult that used twisted ropes or animal sinew to generate torsion. The torsion was then used to power the throwing arm of the catapult, which would hurl large stones, heavy arrows, or other projectiles at the enemy.

When Was The Onager Invented?

The exact origin of the Onager is unknown, but it is believed to have been developed by the ancient Greeks and was later adopted and refined by the Romans. It was likely first used in warfare in the 3rd century BC during the Siege of Rhodes. Let’s take a look at how it worked.

How Does The Onager Work?

The Onager works by twisting bundles of ropes or sinews together, creating torsion that is stored in the ropes. When the ropes are released, the stored energy causes the throwing arm of the catapult to rotate rapidly, which flings the projectile toward the target. The Onager was typically operated by a group of soldiers who would pull back on the ropes to generate the torsion and then release them when the weapon was ready to fire.

Examples Of a Siege Where It Was Used

The Onager was used in many notable sieges throughout history. During the Siege of Acre in 1189, Richard the Lionheart used Onagers to bombard the city walls and break through the defenses.

On to the next weapon, which is …

The Ballista

The Ballista was a popular medieval weapon that was predominantly used against enemy personnel. It was a large crossbow-like weapon capable of firing bolt or spear-like objects at great distances.

The origins of the Ballista can be traced all the way back to the ancient Greeks who used a similar-looking contraption. Now the Romans stole the idea and ran with it. They used it to great effect in their battles and sieges.

How It Worked

The Ballista worked by using a powerful torsion spring to create a tremendous amount of force. The spring was wound up by turning a large winch or crank and then locked into place. When the trigger was pulled, the spring was released, which caused the bow arms to rapidly move forward, firing the bolt at incredible speed.

But is there any disadvantage to the Ballista, or is it “sunshine and rainbows”? Well, Ballista has a few drawbacks.

Disadvantages Of The Ballista

Its disadvantage comes from the very thing that gave the Ballista its power. Its size. It was bulky and heavy. Meaning, it was not very mobile on the battlefield. It was hard to move it. So, it was most often used in stationary battles or sieges where the movement was not as big of an issue. Now, for the last type of catapult most often used in medieval ages and

This one is the …


The Springlad was a smaller version of the Ballista.

Here Is How It Worked

The Springald worked by using a tension spring to create force. The spring was typically made from twisted rope, sinew, or animal gut, and was wound up by using a winch or lever. When the trigger was pulled, the spring was released, which caused the arms to move forward and launch the projectile.

One of the advantages of the Springald was its small size, which made it more mobile and easier to transport than larger siege engines like the Ballista. It was also more accurate than other types of siege engines and was particularly effective against enemy troops and wooden fortifications.

Its Advantages And Disadvantages

The Springald had some drawbacks. Most notably its smaller size, which meant that it could not launch as heavy or large projectiles as the Ballista. It also had a shorter range.

Important Note: A lot of people like to include the “trebuchet” in the list of the most common catapults used in the medieval ages. That is false. The Trebuchet does fall under the category of a “siege weapon” but it does not fall under the classification of a “catapult” (see the difference between the two here). Feel free to disagree with me. But it’s the truth. Trebuchet was used in medieval times, but it is not a catapult hence why I did not include it here.

In Conclusion

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope you learned a thing or two. And I will see you at the next one. Might I suggest taking a look at this article where I compare the workings of a siege tower to the battering ram.

Take care!

Source: Ancient and Medieval Siege Weapons: A Fully Illustrated Guide To Siege Weapons And Tactics