Catapult Vs. Ballista: Discover Astonishing Differences

Key Point: Catapults use tension for versatile short-range launches against fortifications, while ballista, employs torsion, and is designed for precise, long-range shots with large arrows or bolts.

In this article, we will cover the topic of catapult vs. ballista. You will see the 6 main differences that make these siege weapons different. So, by the time you finish this article, you will know everything there is to know about the difference between these two siege weapons.

As always, let’s start with the main takeaway, by answering the following question. What is the difference between a catapult and a ballista?

Catapults are different from Ballista in 6 key ways:

  1. Design
  2. Projectiles
  3. Range
  4. Accuracy
  5. Purpose
  6. Historical use

The table below illustrates catapult vs. ballista differences in a more clear format.

DesignUses a lever and tension systemUses twisted ropes or sinew for tension
ProjectilesLaunches larger, heavier projectilesLaunches smaller, more streamlined projectiles
RangeShorter range than a ballistaLonger range than a catapult
AccuracyLess accurate than a ballistaMore accurate than a catapult
PurposeUsed for siege warfare to breach walls or destroy fortificationsUsed for anti-personnel and anti-cavalry purposes
Historical UseDeveloped by ancient Greeks and RomansDeveloped by the ancient Greeks and used extensively by the Romans
Catapult vs. Ballista – The table showing the differences between the two

You can see the main differences between a catapult and a ballista in the table above. Now, that you saw the preview it’s time we go into detail. Starting with …

Catapult Vs. Ballista – The Design Difference

The design of a catapult and a ballista is one of the key differences between the two siege weapons.

A catapult is a type of siege engine that uses a lever and tension system to launch projectiles at enemy targets. The lever arm is typically made of wood and is hinged at one end, while the other end is equipped with a sling or bucket to hold the projectile. The lever arm is then pulled back using a tension system such as twisted ropes, springs, or counterweights, which stores energy in the system. When the tension is released, the lever arm rapidly swings forward and the projectile is launched toward the target.

Meanwhile, a ballista uses twisted ropes or sinew to create tension and launch projectiles. It consists of a horizontal frame mounted on a base and a pair of upright arms, which are connected by a central torsion system made of twisted rope or sinew.

This 93-second video demonstrates as an example how versatile the Greek Ballista was. Check it out.

A guy firing a Greek Ballista

The arms are then pulled back to create tension in the system, and when released, the torsion system rapidly unwinds and the arms are driven forward, launching the projectile.

The main difference in design between a catapult and a ballista is the type of tension system used to launch the projectile. The catapult uses a lever arm to store and release energy, while the ballista uses a torsion system. The torsion system of a ballista can generate much greater force and speed than a catapult, resulting in smaller, more streamlined projectiles that can travel at higher velocities and longer distances.

Speaking of projectiles …

Their Projectiles

One of the main differences between a catapult and a ballista is the size and type of projectiles they launch. Catapults typically launch larger and heavier projectiles, such as rocks, stones, and other debris. This is because the design of a catapult, which uses a lever arm to launch projectiles, requires a lot of force to move the arm and launch the projectile. As a result, catapults were often used to breach walls or destroy fortifications during siege warfare.

In contrast, ballistas launch smaller and more streamlined projectiles. Such as javelins or bolts, at higher velocities and longer distances. This is because the torsion system used by a ballista generates more force and speed than a catapult, allowing for the launch of smaller, more aerodynamic projectiles. Ballistas were used to fire: javelins, darts, bolts, and even stones.

As you will see these aerodynamic projectiles came in handy given the purpose for which the ballista was used. This leads us perfectly to…

Catapult Vs. Ballista – Range And Accuracy

As mentioned earlier, one of the main differences between a catapult and a ballista is the size and type of projectiles they launch. Catapults launch larger and heavier projectiles. Meanwhile, ballistas launch smaller and more aerodynamic projectiles. This difference in projectile size and shape has a significant impact on the range and accuracy of each weapon.

Catapults were generally able to launch their ammunition over longer distances. However, because of the size and weight of the projectiles, the accuracy of the shots was often limited. Here is why. The use of a lever arm to launch the projectile meant that the angle of the shot could not be adjusted easily, which further limited the accuracy of the shots.

Ballistas, on the other hand, were generally able to fire smaller and more aerodynamic projectiles over shorter distances, but with much greater accuracy. Here is why.

The torsion system used by a ballista allowed for greater force and speed. This resulted in a flatter trajectory and more accurate targeting. Also, the smaller size of the projectiles made it easier to adjust the angle of the shot and aim more precisely.

The smaller and more aerodynamic projectiles fired by a ballista generally had greater accuracy and range than those of a catapult. As you will see, the catapult did not have to be that accurate.

Key Takeaway: The reason why a ballista is more accurate than a catapult can be boiled down to the shape of the projectile and the design of the ballista.

On to the next segment. Here we get to see how the advantages of these weapons were put to use on the battlefield throughout history.

Their Purpose And Historical Use

If you take into account all the differences regarding, range, accuracy, projectiles, and design you come to one conclusion. They weren’t used for the same purpose. That is true.

Catapults were used primarily to attack fortifications and strongholds. So accuracy wasn’t that important. Throwing large stones in the general vicinity of the target was. And Ballistas on the other hand … well they were primarily used to attack enemy formations at a distance. Hence why ballista had to be more accurate. And the design of the weapon was shaped by its intended use/purpose.

Same as with the catapult.

Interesting Point: Ballistas were even used on ships as a long-distance weapon.

But what about their origins?

Where Do They Originate From?

Well, it all started with the Ancient Greeks. The earliest records of both ballista and catapults come to us from ancient Greece. It’s a safe assumption that they are the originators of the concept.

Then came the Romans, they stole the idea. Like they did a lot of times. And actually improved upon it. And from them, we get the design of the ballista and catapult that we could recognize today. It’s a pattern when it comes to Ancient Romans, they invaded a place. Saw some cool technology, copied it, and improved upon it.

In Conclusion

Thank you for taking the time to read this article. I hope you learned a thing or two. I suggest this article on the difference between a catapult and a trebuchet if you want to continue learning about the history of siege weapons.

Take care!

Source: The Medieval Fortress: Castles, Forts, And Walled Cities Of The Middle Ages