A 'stylised' traction trebuchet and crew redrawn from a miniature and published in the 19th century.
Historic Traction Trebuchet Illustrations
Part 2

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. 4 - Maciejowsky Bible (I)

This painting is one of two siege scenes showing a traction trebuchet in the Maciejowsky Bible (c.1240)

The drawing is much used in books on siegecraft, and has also been interpreted as a weight-powered machine whose counterweight is in the form of rocks (out of sight) hanging on the ends of the ropes.
While this is certainly possible (cf the odd Counterweight Illustration No.19), the simple traction trebuchet interpretation is the one Occam's Razor favours - and everything in the picture is consistent with it.
(The style of illustration in the Maciejowsky Bible uses the technique of representing extra troops etc by showing their weapons appearing above the heads of the forground figures. The lack of pulling crew here can be seen to be no harder to accept than the numerous "unmanned" cleavers and spears in other scenes.)

Note the rope attachment on this machine's beam end. The rope to ring to eye-bolt connection means that the repeated rubbing movements are taken as a metal-to-metal contact. Grey Co experience has found that this is very useful and protects the pull ropes, which otherwise wear through quickly.
The artist has made a particular point of showing the crew member hanging on to the sling, the provision of a rope handle to do so - and has drawn attention to his having been lifted off the ground (shown some distance beneath him) by the trebuchet.
Of course, if we wanted to be difficult we could consider this to be someone loading a counterweight trebuchet, hauling the beam down by a sling cord... except that here the sling cords are already hooked onto the release prong and the projectile is loaded.

 
No. 5 - Maciejowsky Bible (II)

Here is another siege scene from the Maciejowsky Bible (c.1240) - and one that is little seen in siegecraft-related books.

The same features as in Illustration No.4 can be seen here.
Here, two crewmen are having a discussion at the end of the throwing arm of the trebuchet's beam. One man handles the sling which is loaded with a stone, while the second man points to the beam. Note that, unlike the heavily armoured soldiers in the battle, the siege engineers are in evryday clothes.
Once again the hold-down rope on the pouch of the sling can be seen.

Both Illustration 4 and Illustration 5 show the machines in unusual perspective. The fanning-out beams at the pulling end of the main beam appear to be arranged vertically. This is a very interesting and difficult point since a traction trebuchet can (and possibly did) work in either a vertical or horizontal arrangement of rope attachments.
To get a hint as to how the machine is supposed to be in this case we can look to other features of the illustraions. In this and other drawings in the Maciejowsky bible crossbows are shown rotated in the same way. Since crossbows are not likely to have been used turned sideways (the quarrel or bolt would fall out for a start), the conclusion is that the artist or artists are drawing things rotated to show how they work. For the trebuchet, it implies that the rope-holding triangles are actually forming a horizontal fan.

 
No. 6 - Hsuan Feng (Whirlwind)

 
Here we have a Hsuan Feng (Whirlwind) trebuchet from China (c.1044).

It is another single pole machine like the one shown in Illustration No.2. This one is fitted with the familiar sling, a loop visible on the end of the free sling cord.

Note the huge number of pull-ropes. The implication is that a crew-member goes onto the end of each one.
In middle-eastern poetic descriptions this bundle of trebuchet pull-ropes is referred to in terms that involve images such as "witches hair". This drawing shows it well.

Why Chinese trebuchets in this collection of otherwise European medieval weapons? The evidence is that the traction trebuchet was invented in the far east and made its way westwards across the Eurasian continent to finally reach Europe. Whenever this happened, the traction trebuchet was in the Middle East by the 6th Century.

 
No. 7 - A battery of Hsuan Feng (c.1044)


This machine seems designed to allow multiple trebuchets to be aimed as a single unit. With so many pull-ropes per trebuchet and five trebuchets mounted side-by-side, it must have been crowded around the base of the weapon, if this was actually ever used.

The sling design on this machine (and Illustration No.8 & Illustration No.9) is radically different from that of Illustration No.6 and the European designs. The free end of the sling is held by two separate ropes which look like they each have their own attachment prongs on the beam-end.
Although the drawings in Illustration 8 & Illustration No.10 could be interpreted as showing a "Maciejowsky-style" hold-down rope, this drawing is clearly of twin support ropes.

What purpose would this double arrangement of free sling cords serve? Grey Co experiments have shown that large and bulky sling pouches necessary to hold large or loose bundles of projectiles tend to develop a pocket in the free end which fouls the projectiles as they leave during launch. Possibly the double release created a much more open sling - and while the sling was closed it would hold its load between three suspension points.
Note the "crescent moon" object on each beam's end. This could well be a double release prong - one sling cord loop for each "horn" of the crescent.

 
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Russell Miners
This page was last edited Jan 2000