Trabuco – A History Of The Ancient War Machine

The Trabuco is a projectile siege engine and is one of the earliest weapons of war constructed by mankind. It is also known as the Trebuchet. According to most historians it was first developed in ancient China and used by the Mohists around the 4th century BC. It made its way to Europe by the 4th century AD. Byzantium adopted the Trabuco as early as 587 AD. The Persians were using the weapon by the 6th century, with the Franks and Saxons employing them by the 8th century AD.

The Trabuco was used by invading armies who were laying siege to a walled city. The device would hurl projectiles at the city’s walls and defenses. The historical record indicates that the weapon was so effective and well known that some opponents would open the city gates and surrender at the mere appearance of the weapon. Projectiles used by the siege weapon were varied. These included rocks, logs, incendiaries, and other debris. Smooth surfaced projectiles such as a rounded boulder could reach distances of over 130 meters according to Early historical reports claim that even human and animal corpses were used as projectiles. When on target, these types of biological projectiles were particularly effective at contaminating a city’s water resources or even spreading disease among the besieged inhabitants.


The Trabuco operates by using the mechanical advantage of a lever deployed to launch a projectile. Thus the machine converts latent energy into kinetic energy launching the projectile. The missile’s velocity and range is dependent on its weight and shape.

The Trabuco was made of wood and quite large, some reaching a height of 30 meters. They were usually immobile and had to be constructed from local resources. Early versions of the machine required a significant amount of manpower to build, transport, and operate. When gunpowder and the cannon were introduced to siege warfare, the use of the weapon declined. One of the last recorded reports of its use in military history was at the siege of the Aztec capital Tenochtitlan by the Spanish in 1521 according to

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