A 'stylised' traction trebuchet and crew redrawn from a miniature and published in the 19th century.
Historic Traction Trebuchet Illustrations
Part 1

This is one of a series of pages of Medieval and Renaissance illustrations of traction trebuchets. To avoid problems with historical interpretation (& copyright!) as much as possible, I have chosen to use pictures which seem to be plausibly contemporary with the devices being illustrated. Where ever possible the original source is cited. I have also tried to avoid what seem to be obvious fantasy pieces. .

No. 1 - The Siege of Carcassonne

This detail of carved wall is from the Carcassonne Cathedral and dates from the early 13th Century.
It is believed to represent the siege of Carcassonne by Simon de Montfort's Crusaders in 1209.
Simon was killed during another siege during the crusade against the Cathars and it is usually said that he died from a blow to the head from a traction trebuchet stone cast by the townswomen of Toulouse in 1218.

This illustration shows a machine with twin upright beams.
The end of the beam holding the pull ropes has the common triangular spreader.
The ropes join this beam via eye-bolts, although details are not entirely clear in this picture.
The bracing timbers supporting the uprights can be seen.
The crew member loading or holding the sling can be seen near the end of the beam.
The details are worn down, but these figures don't look altogether feminine here...

No. 2 - Chronicle of Petrus de Eboli

This picture shows a busy siege scene, involving soldiers with recurved bows and crossbows ... and two traction trebuchets in action
- one attacking, one defending.   (Chronicle of Petrus de Eboli .. c.1180)

Both machines are of single post construction: the axle is supported between two uprights, but these are joined and mounted on top of a single pole (which is solidly braced).
Presumably, this arrangement could allow the trebuchet to be rotated and so facilitate aiming.

Here is another view of the scene, this time a close up of the attackers and their machine.
The shape of the axle is clear here - thickest in the middle and tapered in a curve to the end bearing surfaces.
Also clear is the typical European trebuchet's arrangement of the two sling cords that hold the pouch.. one fixed to the beam a little way from the end, the other hanging by a loop over a hook (even if this hook is a bit over-exuberantly curved and unlikely to ever release the cord loop).

Many illustrations, like this one, show a loader holding the sling - even during the actual launch. It has been suggested that this would give more power by "twanging" the beam, and this illustration shows a bent beam.
Grey Co's experiments also suggest that it helps synchronise the pullers' efforts.

W.T.S. Tarver's experiments at the University of Toronto in 1991 found that this practice did improve the machine's performance. His team also demonstrated the way the slingman could alter the stone's flight by holding the sling pouch at different starting angles in accordance with Arab writings.

No. 2a - Chronicle of Petrus de Eboli
(simpler traction trebuchets)

Also from the Chronicle of Petrus de Eboli, this scene shows two traction trebuchets similar in construction to the single-upright machines shown in No.2 above, but lacking the triangular "spreaders" for the pulling ropes.
This certainly reduces the number of ropes that can be attached (and thus the size of the pulling crew).
Here they are drawn with what looks like long single ropes, rather than the eight ropes shown in No.2

The artist has them being contemplated by "Saracens".

No. 3 - Hasan al-Rammah

Traction Trebuchet from Hasan al-Rammah c.1285

This drawing shows something very unusual - a traction trebuchet apparently fitted with a launch trough and using the tucked-under starting position for the sling normally only seen on counter-weight machines.
Such a "halfway" machine's existence makes sense, but is not seen elsewhere.

The geometry of the machine in this drawing is also interesting... the beam appears to be suspended below the apex of an A-frame. This is probably workable as a traction trebuchet.
However, the sling cords are shown passing on the opposite side of the frame - giving it a look more in keeping with decorative geometric knotwork than a technical drawing of a weapon.
The "ring" at the top of the frame is another mystery.

Finally, the projectile is certainly not a smooth round stone. It appears to have a neck - like a pot - and is drawn covered with "spikes". A first guess would be that it's an incendiary "bomb", perhaps containing inflammable liquid such as Greek Fire or Naft. The spikes may be real, or may simply represent flames.



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Russell Miners
This page was last edited Jan 2000