Mangonel Siege Weapon

The Mangonel Siege weapon was a type of catapult used in the medieval period in siege warfare. Heavy projectiles were thrown with the help of Mangonel in order to harass or harm the troops defending themselves inside the protective walls of a castle or medieval city.

The main aim was to destroy these walls and enter inside of the protected area. The projectiles thrown with the Mangonal Siege weapon had a lower trajectory with very high velocity. The main purpose of Mangonel siege weapon was to destroy a wall rather than throwing projectiles over it. The most common type of projectiles fired with the help of mangonel were rocks, heads of dead people in order to demoralise the besieged, dead animals that could spread disease or fiery pots of tar.

History of the Mangonel Siege Weapon

The history of Mangonel siege weapon goes back to the Roman Empire who used staff-sling equipment, whereas the Chinese invented the beam-sling mangonel in the 400BC. In Europe Mangonels were used for the first time in the 6th century AD by the Avar-Slav army. By the start of 9th century Mangonels had spread to different parts of the Europe and were used to defend Paris from Viking attacks. The Siege of Lisbon in the 12th century is a famous event in the History of the Mangonel siege weapon where it was operated by a team of 100 English crusaders in multiple shifts. They threw 5000 rocks in 10 hours with the help of two such machines. The word “mangonel” became common in Europe in the 13th century as previously it was called different names in different areas. For example, in Spain it was known as an almanganiq, derived from an Arabic word.

Mangonel Catapult Origins

The Roman Onager was an early Mangonel Catapults used by Roman Soldiers

Other Names for the Mangonel Siege Weapon

The word mangonel was derived from a Greek word “mágganon” that meant “Engine of War”. In Spain it was also known by the name of “almanganiq” or “almajenechs”. Another famous name of the Mangonel was the onager, which was used as a slang term and was derived from the Greek language where it meant “wild donkey”. The reason why the word “onager” got popularity was because the mangonel used to “kick” like a donkey when it was fired. Whereas catapult is a general English term that is used to indicate all such projectiles of different throwing machines.

How did a Mangonel Siege Weapon work?

The structure of mangonel siege weapon consisted of two large timber uprights that were joined by two ropes that had a beam passing through it. One end of mangonel beam had a spoon like structure that was used to hold the projectiles whereas the other end was tied. The spoon like side of the beam was pulled down with the help of the ropes, mostly by several men, loaded by the desired projectile and then released. The torsion of the ropes generated a lot of force that was enough to hurl the projectile a considerable distance. The ropes used were mostly made from horse hair or human hair as they provided the best tensile strength in a fibre. Most Mangonels were large and heavy and they also needed wheels to move them from one place to another.

When was the Mangonel Siege Weapon Invented?

It is believed that the Romans used staff-sling equipment long before anybody else but it was the Chinese who really invented the first beam-sling Mangonel Siege weapon between the 5th and 3rd centuries BC. They mounted a larger staff-sling on a wooden frame or on a fixed pole and gave it the capability to throw larger rocks. Later considerable development was made from the Mediterranean to the Middle East as the Mangonel design was changed and adopted according to the different needs of different areas, but the primary purpose remained the same which was to pressurize and ultimately control the opponents during sieges by destroying walls.

Mangonel Siege Weapon

Mangonel Siege Weapons outside castle grounds used to attack medieval castle walls

What was a Mangonel Siege Weapon used for?

The Mangonel Siege weapon was mainly used in the siege warfare during medieval times in order to capture a castle or a town that was surrounded by a medieval attacking army. Most Castles and towns had walls and to enter them was not an easy task, hence the Mangonel siege weapons were used to damage the walls and to create panic among the defending troops and residents. During long sieges Mangonels were also used to throw certain items that spread disease and dead body parts were also thrown to frighten people.

Missiles thrown from the Mangonel

Wide varieties of missiles were thrown from a Mangonel, depending upon the purpose. The most common type were huge rocks for damaging walls of a castle or a city. Body parts of dead animals and people that were partly decomposed were also used as projectiles to spread disease. These projectiles included human heads as well to demoralise the besieged forces. Burning objects like fire pots, heated sand and heated containers that had flammable materials and gave a fireball effect were also used as projectiles. The overall purpose of these missiles was to have maximum results in shortest possible duration.

Mangonel Catapult Weapon

This painting depicts a magonel catapult being used to attack a medieval castle

Mangonel and Medieval Warfare

Mangonels were integral part of Medieval warfare, especially siege warfare. Cities and castles were protected by building huge walls all around them and for the attacking armies, it was not possible to enter these without using any specialised equipment. Armies used to surround them and cut the food and water supplies. The besieged forces and people were then demoralised by throwing dead animals and body parts of people using the mangonel siege weapons. As people already had poor hygienic conditions coupled with limited supplies of food, the diseases used to spread rapidly. In order to break through the walls of castles or cities, large rocks were thrown as missiles through mangonels that damaged them and spread fear among the people living inside.

Mangonel Summary

The Mangonel siege weapon, a medieval form of the present day catapult, was used in siege warfare. These mainly had a long timber arm whose one end had a spoon or bowl shaped bucket that was used to hold and throw projectiles. Specialised ropes made from human or horse hair provided the spring effect. Mangonels siege weapons were used to destroy walls by throwing rocks as projectiles and to demoralise the besieged people and forces inside by throwing diseased material like semi rotten bodies of dead animals and people.

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