Trabuco: The Medieval World’s Ultimate Siege Engine

Trabucos were large, primarily medieval-era siege engines capable of launching a diverse assortment of payloads a great distance. Large stones were used to breach enemy walls and fortifications, ceramic firebombs employed against infantry formations, and even the remains of diseased cows in certain recorded siege scenarios.

Trabucos and their variants were regularly employed around the globe, including by almost every major military force in Europe from their adoption by the Byzantines up until the invention of gunpowder. Their legacy continues to capture imaginations to this day.

First invented in China in the 4th century B.C.E., the earliest trabucos were based on the designs of old slingshots according to They slowly spread westward along with the nomadic Avar people, who were continuously displaced across the steppes of Central Asia until settling in what is today Hungary’s Pannonian basin. Adopted by the Byzantine Romans by the 6th century C.E., over the following centuries the technology would spread to other newly forming European polities.

There are several different types of trabuco, but unless otherwise specified, the term is generally recognized as referring to the classic counterweight model. In this layout, a heavy counterweight is put at the short end of a lever arm, perpendicular to the ground, that is allowed to swing upwards of 180° freely on an axle. A sling is attached at the long end of the arm, which could be loaded with an assortment of projectiles. Based on modern recreations on, it is estimated that most trabucos were capable of launching a 36-kilogram payload up to 300 meters.

Though the appearance of gunpowder spelled the end for widespread use of the trabuco, it continued to find sporadic use in the hands of creative, or often desperate commanders. One of the latest recorded uses of a trebuchet in combat comes from the 1521 Spanish siege of Tenochtitlan, when Hernán Cortés constructed one in order to conserve gunpowder reserves. Apocryphally, the stone flew straight up and landed on the trabuco, crushing it – putting a definitive cap on the weapon’s long history on


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