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Tower Design and the Influence of Mechanical Artillery in the Thirteenth Century

Tower Design and the Influence of Mechanical Artillery in the Thirteenth Century

Paper by Michael S. Fulton

Given at The Archaeology of the Latin East: A Conference in Honour of Professor Denys Pringle, held at Cardiff University in 2016

Around the start of the thirteenth century, examples of larger and stronger castles appear across Western Europe and the Middle East. A common feature found at many of these strongholds, at least those constructed by the Franks and Ayyubids in Greater Syria, is the use of much larger towers than had previously been built. In an attempt to explain the relatively sudden appearance of these great towers, some scholars have suggested that they were constructed as a response to the development of much more powerful mechanical artillery.

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According to many of such theories, it was not just to resist the incoming blows of new, larger counterweight trebuchets that inspired the design of these towers, but also a desire to employ the greatest offensive engines in a defensive capacity, elevating them on top of towers so as to outrange any comparable attacking machines. While a few of the towers built in the Levant may have been capable of supporting such engines by the late thirteenth century, few appear to have been built to fulfil this purpose, let alone any of those built around the start of the century.

With this in mind, there is plenty of evidence to suggest that lighter traction trebuchets were employed on the tops of certain towers in a defensive role. Placing such small engines, capable of rapid shooting rates, in these commanding positions had obvious benefits. By comparison, if defenders wished to erect much larger and heavier counterweight trebuchets for use in defence, it would have been more sensible to erect them on the ground behind a defensive curtain wall. Perhaps unsurprisingly, this is precisely where they are shown in most illustrations.

Michael S Fulton is a historian and archaeologist of the crusade period. He is a History Instructor at Langara College and the author of Siege Warfare during the Crusades. To learn more about Michael, please visit his Academia.edu page.

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Top Image: Crac des Chevaliers – photo by Gianfranco Gazzetti / GAR

 

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