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Castles & knights


A mangonel about to be firedA mangonel about to be fired The mangonel was a type of catapult, used for smashing the walls of a castle during a siege. It consisted of an arm and bucket mounted on a wooden frame. The power was provided by a tightly-wound rope. The mangonel was smaller and easier to move into position than a trebuchet—which was introduced into siege warfare later—but it had a poorer accuracy. The mangonel hurled missiles on a lower trajectory but with a greater force than the trebuchet, so it was more suitable for destroying walls, rather than hurling missiles over them. 

A mangonel prepared (left) and fired (right)A mangonel prepared (left) and fired (right)

How it worked

Only two men were needed to operate a mangonel. One winched the arm back, twisting the rope, while another locked the arm into position and loaded a missile into the cup. When released, the twisted rope sprang back, thrusting the arm forwards. It slammed into a padded beam, sending the missile onwards with force. Rocks and fire pots (vessels filled with flammable materials that created a fireball on impact) were the most commonly used missiles. The mangonel was particularly effective for smashing walls, but could also be used in battle to harass enemy troops.
A missile smashes into the castle walls.A missile smashes into the castle walls.

From the 1st century BC, the Romans used a type of siege catapult called an onager, which was very similar to a mangonel. It was so called because of the kicking action of the machine, thought to be similar to that of the wild ass, or onager.

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