Ballista Siege Weapon

The Ballista also known as the bolt thrower was an important medieval siege weapon that was used to fire bolts or stones for long distances.

Ballista Siege Weapon

Ballista Siege Weapon outside medieval castle

This was among those medieval siege weapons that were used in attack and siege of medieval castles. A quite sophisticated mechanism was used to operate the medieval ballista and it could be built in various sizes depending on the need.


Ballista Siege Weapon History

The history of Ballista can be traced back to ancient Greek when it was built for Dionysius of Syracuse in 4th century BC. The Greeks made it using two weapons called oxybeles and gastraphetes.

Its shape, however, was relatively primitive compared to the medieval siege weapon. The use of Ballista is also found in ancient Rome where it was extensively used during battles. Subsequently it became an important medieval siege weapon.

Ballista Siege Weapon

Ballista Siege Weapon used in ancient times

Definition of Ballista Siege Weapon

The word Ballista is derived from the Greek word “Ballistes” which meant “to throw”. This was because of its purpose which was to throw large stones or missiles while attacking a fortification or a castle. During the early medieval times in England, ballista was also known as Ingenium which in Latin means “ingenious device”.

A Medieval Castle Being Defended Under Siege

Ballista Siege Weapon Purpose

Ballista was a very effective medieval siege weapon and was primary used by the attacking army to throw large stones in order to damage the castle walls. However, it could also be used by the defending armies to throw various missiles on the attaching armies and kill the people.  Defenders had an added advantage because they could place the ballista on the top of the castle walls and thus have better range. The attackers usually mounted it on a wagon for easier mobility.

Conwy Castle Walls Conwy

Medieval Castle Walls

Ballista Siege Weapon Design and Parts

The design of a medieval ballista was quite sophisticated with a variety of parts acting in conjunction. For instance, it had two torsion springs which were mounted in a frame and each connected with a throwing arm. The throwing arms were connected with a rope that adjusted them into the firing position. A winch was used to pull the bowstrings back. Thus for its time the ballista was a quite sophisticated medieval siege weapon.

Building a Ballista Siege Weapon

The construction of ballista as a medieval siege weapon mainly made use of wood, human hair or animal sinew, and springs. Wood was used to build the main body and the two arms of the ballista while human hair or animal sinew was used to make the ropes.

A Trebuchet Catapult Siege Attack on a Castle

The Springald Ballista – Medieval Catapults

One of the most important types of ballista, which was a supremely important medieval siege weapon, was called a springald. It was similar to a large crossbow and consisted of vertical springboard which was fixed to a timber frame at its lower end. The springboard served the function of a lever and the device was strong enough to launch missiles across hundreds of yards.

Ballista Siege Weapon Summary

Ballista was a commonly used medieval siege weapon, although its use is also found among ancient Greeks and Romans. Compared to other medieval siege weapons, Ballista was a relatively sophisticated weapon and was used to throw large missiles across hundreds of yards. It could be used by invading as well as defending armies to injure the soldiers.

  • The ballista had a sophisticated mechanism which had mounted torsion springs, a frame and a throwing arm
  • The ballista also used a wince mechanism to pull back its bowstrings
  • The ballista was usually made of strong wood, springs, hair and sinew were also used to make the ballista
  • The springald was one of the best ballista weapons invented and could launch multiple missiles at once
  • The springald ballista was very effective in was used by attacking as well as defending soldiers

knight defending castle

  • A ballista siege weapon could hurl large rocks and other objects huge distances
  • The ballista siege weapons origins can be traced all the way back to ancient Greece in the fourth century BC
  • The ballista siege weapon was very sophisticated compare to other siege weapons such as battering ram
  • The origins of the name ballista comes from the Greek word “Ballistes” which means to throw
  • The ballista also had Latin name called “ingenium” that simply meant ingenious device

We hope you enjoyed the information in this article on the history of the ballista weapon how it was used and what they ballista was used for, you can find other articles on this website on similar siege weapons to the ballista by following the links at the bottom of this ballista siege weapon page.