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Chronology of Chinese Siege Warfare


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#1 Liang Jieming

Liang Jieming

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Posted 03 June 2005 - 02:05 AM

I'm building a Chronology of Chinese Siege Warfare - ca. 500 B.C. to A.D. 1911, a suppliment to my Chronology of Chinese History and Culture - ca. 7000 B.C. to A.D. 2005.

Hopefully I'll be finished with the basic outline and draft by the end of this year. I'm researching the start (ie. when they were invented or introduced into China), the evolution (eg. traction treb to counterweight treb etc.) as well as records of significant use of these weapons.

I'm trying for two sections, offensive and defensive but will for the moment only concentrate on projectile offensive weaponry (non-gunpowder). What I want to do is to increase the depth of what is available. Most text and whatelse you find out there only describe in broad details the types and uses of the weapons, merely skimming the surface of what is a huge body of knowledge in the fields of mechanics, engineering, strategy and tactics.

Also included will be the influences of Chinese siege weaponry to the surrounding cultures as well as the influences of siege weaponry from the surrounding cultures into Chinese culture and warfare.

I believe this is a vastly unexplored field of study though I've only just scratched the surface. Much still needs to be researched unlike Roman/European siege warfare which has probably been researched ad nauseum.

What eludes us tends to be obscure texts and references to what must have been an entire science on it's own in ancient chinese history.

Here's the temporary page until I get a permanent domain for it.

http://authors.histo...esesiegewarfare

Edited by Liang Jieming, 29 August 2005 - 01:39 AM.


#2 Liang Jieming

Liang Jieming

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Posted 17 June 2005 - 01:44 AM

A BRIEF HISTORY OF THE CATAPULT

By Liang Jieming
19th June 2005


Introduction

Of the world's great civilisations, only four saw the use of great siege catapults in their wars. These horrific weapons of war were the artillery of the day. The history of the catapult is both a colourful patchwork of different inventive sources as well as a combined effort of human ingenuity on a global scale. Chinese, Middle Eastern, Western and Hindu civilisations all fought against and amongst each other, employing every manner of siege engines from the lowly anti-personnel catapults to the huge medieval fortress smashers which have captured the popular imagination of today.

The word "Catapult" comes from the Greek words "kata" and "pultos" where "Kata" means downward and "Pultos" is a small circular shield. So put together, Katapultos probably means "shield crusher" or "shield piercer".

The word "Trebuchet" comes from the Old French word "Trabucher, meaning "to overturn" or "to fall-over", believed to be derived from the Latin "trabuc(h)us".

While the "Catapult" is generally used to mean anything that "catapults" a weight into the air and hence includes slings and rubberbands etc., the "Trebuchet" is used almost exclusively to mean the levered catapult as the lever swings or rather falls over to launch the projectile.

The First Catapults

Catapults have been in used by the various cultures throughout history. One very early reference to catapults comes to us from Part 2 of the Book of Chronicles (Chapter 26, verses 14 & 15) in the old testament of the Bible, during the reign of Uzziah of Judea in the late 9th century B.C. in the defence of Jerusalem.

"Uzziah provided for all the army the shields, spears, helmets, coats of mail, bows and stones for slinging. In Jerusalem he set up machines, invented by skilled workers, on the towers and the corners for shooting arrows and large stones. And his fame spread far, for he was marvelously helped until he became strong."

It is not immediately clear what form these "machines... for shooting arrows and large stones" were but from the distinction the passage makes between these machines and the "bows and stones for slinging" provided to the army, it does seem that they were siege engines of some sort.

We do however know that the forerunner of the giant catapults of the Medieval era, simple traction catapults based on the lever principle were already in use during the Warring States period in China in the 5th century B.C. Their description appears in the writings of Mozi, in a Mohist text under a section on Siege Warfare.

A story survives from about 500 B.C. in China. The counterbalanced bucket was common by then. ZiGong (520-456 B.C.) was wandering the south of the country when he chanced on an old man who wasn't using a counterbalanced bucket to raise water to water his fields. The elderly man refused to use it as he hauled a pail back and forth, watering his garden. He complained about the counterbalanced bucket. It was a cunning device, he said, and people who use cunning devices have cunning in their hearts. Maybe he had a point. The Chinese soon made this work-saver into a savage war machine.

Also appearing alongside the traction catapult in the Mozi, were detailed descriptions of siege crossbows. These are the first known references to siege crossbows or acruballistas in the Far East. We know that this technology was soon in widespread use, right up till the start of the Han dynasty where references to acruballistas all but disappear from Imperial records only to reappear again in the chaos of the Three Kingdoms Period.

Across to the other side of the Eurasian landmass, in Classical Greece we find that in 399 B.C. in preparation for war with Carthage, Dionysius of Syracuse gathered craftsmen from all over the Greek world to produce new or improved armaments for him. One result of these efforts was the Gastraphetes or "belly bow" powered by an especially large composite bow. This soon spawned a different principled catapult based on the power of torsion sinews, the earliest descriptions of which are found in Athens dating back to 330 B.C. from the Chalkothek on the Acropolis. Two distinct types of catapults emerged, the javelin shooting Euthytonon, and the stone throwing Palintonon.

An interesting multiple shot Ballista crops up in the 3rd century B.C. by Dionysius of Alexandria together with the Engineers working in Rhodes famous for their siege engines. There is no evidence that this machine ever went beyond the prototype stage probably due to its complexity and low power.

An account of yet another interesting catapult is found in a manuscript by Cicero who describes a steam powered concept catapult by Archimedes. This catapult was never built but Leonardo da Vinci produced drawings of this steam catapult, calling it the "Architronio" in honour of its inventor.

The Romans inherited the Greek torsion weapons of war. The Roman catapult artillery split into two distinct types, the Ballista or its smaller version, the Scopio and the Mangonel. These were not lever principled catapults but instead used the power of twisted or torsioned sinew, technology inherited from the Greeks. Building on this inherited technology, the Romans in the 1st century A.D. simplified and tilted the Greek Ballista on its side and built a one arm torsion catapult called the Mangonel, nicknamed Onager or "Kicking Donkey". This was aptly named due to the way the catapult jumped when fired though some have suggested that it could have been a codename to trick the enemies of Rome.

The name Mangonel is probably derived from the ancient Greek word "Mangonon" meaning "Engine of War". The Romans called it a Manganum which was changed by the pre-medieval French to Manganeau and subsequently by the English in about the 1300s to the term Mangonel that we know today. However, in Spain, they were commonly called almanganiqs or almajenechs from the Arabic term.

The Roman Ballista and the Mangonel were used well into the medieval era in Europe when they were superceded by first the eastern traction catapult, then the Persian counterweight trebuchet where they took root and helped hasten the end of the feudal era in Europe.

The Qin dynasty of the 3rd century B.C. China fielded wheeled versions of the early traction trebuchet. This possibly implies that wheeled versions might have been used at least in the later stage of the Warring States period too. Unfortunately other than the singular reference in the Mohist text, descriptions of early Chinese catapults are scarce and when available, rather vague on things like the form of the support frame, height, number of operators etc. References to siege crossbows and catapults seemingly vanish for the next few hundred years in the subsequent Han dynasty. This could possibly be a reflection of the times. The Han dynasty inherited a unified China from the Qin. Unlike the Warring States and the victorious Qin dynasty which emerged from that period, the Han no longer faced fortified cities and fortresses. Instead, Han dynasty warfare is characterised by the projection of Han power along its borders with large mobile armies of crossbow squads, cavalry and garrison troops very similar to the incursions of the early United States army into the wilderness frontier of western North America.

An intriguing reference appears in A.D. 240. Ma Jun, a military Engineer of the Three Kingdoms Period, somewhat dissatisfied with the single shot catapult, proposed a multiple shot catapult based on a flywheel/ferris-wheel type construction. This strange catapult through theoretically possible would probably have been practically unfeasible for its time, and probably never went beyond the trial stage.

References to the "Xuanfeng" or Whirlwind catapult first arose in the Age of Fragmentation. This simple catapult was the direct descendant of the Mohist catapults of the Spring & Autumn/Warring States periods. For the next thousand years, the Xuanfeng was the mainstay of the Chinese artillery, the super-weapon that aided the expansion of Chinese dynasties at the expense of their neighbours. However, sometime in the middle of the Tang dynasty, the need must have arose for larger scaled catapults as is evidenced in the sudden appearance of references and illustrations of the HuDunPao and the "4-footed" trebuchet in military manuals and writings. This was possibly a consequence of the increasing incidence and significance of enemy fortified cities in the north, from the open nomadic steppes to the mountainous Korean peninsula.

During the Tang dynasty's founding years, in its siege of the Sui capital in A.D. 617, 300 catapults were said to have been deployed by the Engineer-General Tian Maoguang. Then again in a Tang dynasty siege of Pyongyang in A.D. 668 during the last year of the campaign against Koguryo, it is written that XuanFeng catapults were used to bring the city to its knees.

The Chinese developed a whole series of catapults. They ranged from the light "sniper" version "Xuanfeng (Whirlwind) catapults to medium range HuDun (Crouching Tiger) catapults to heavy "4-footed" catapults and open framed hinged counterweight trebuchets not unlike the European versions, which were capable of hurling a whole range of rather inventive projectiles. Anything from simple boulders, rocks, diseased animals, human heads, shrapnel clay balls, to exploding grenades would be thrown.

Chinese arcuballistas also grew in complexity from the simple single bow of the Warring States to multibow affairs. These employed multiple bows to scale up the power of the acruballista. No one is sure when the transition to multiple bows was made but by about the 5th century A.D., multibow acruballistas began to make an appearance though only coming into widespread use from the 8th to 11th centuries A.D. Known generically as Chuangzi Nu or "Little Bed Crossbows" for the bed-like frame used, two distinct forms can be discerned. They were the Shoushe Nu or "Hand Shot" double-bow Acruballista and the SanGong Chuangzi Nu or "Triple-bow Little Bed" Acruballista.

The Spread of Catapult Technology

The Chinese Xuanfeng, spread into the Middle East in and about the 6th century A.D. and may have been responsible in part for the sudden explosion of Islamic conquests outwards in a expanding circle for the next few centuries. In an excerpt from "Medieval Siege Weapons (2) - Byzantium, the Islamic World & India A.D. 476-1526 (New Vanguard 69)", David Nicolle talks about light Middle Eastern traction catapults and gives us a glimpse into the effectiveness of the light traction catapult as well as a very good description of how they would have been used and fired.

"Nicknames such as 'The Bride' and 'The Long Haired One' reflect the numerous pulling ropes attached to the other end of the beam. Accounts of a siege of Mecca during a civil war in 692 include a description of how such a manjaniq was used. Here the 'shooter' tucked up his long robes, picked up a rock, placed it in the sling and then ordered the team of rope-men to pull. Later information indicates that the 'shooter' did not release his hold on the sling immediately but judged his moment against the tension of the 'pullers'. As a result an experienced 'shooter' with a disciplined team of 'pullers' could achieve astonishing accuracy especially when, as we know from written and archaeological evidence, the missiles were shaped to a specific weight. Al-Baladhuri's account of the Arab siege of Daybul in what is now southern Pakistan in 712 describes how the Muslim commander, Muhammad Ibn al-Qasim, had a manjaniq called 'The Bride', which was operated by 500 men - probably an exaggeration. As al-Baladhuri wrote: 'There was at Daybul a lofty budd (temple or perhaps even a statue of the Buddha) surmounted by a long pole and on this pole was a red flag which unfurled over the city.' During the course of regular correspondence between Ibn al-Qasim and Hajjaj Ibn Yusuf, commander of Islamic forces in the east, Hajjaj advised that Ibn al-Qasim should:

Fix the manjaniq and shorten its foot and place it in the east (of the budd). You will then call the manjaniq-master and tell him to aim at the flag-staff… So he brought down the flag-staff and it was broken.

This remarkable shot so demoralised the garrison that the city soon fell. Numerous other mentions of the manjaniq in Islamic sources of the 7th-11th centuries show that the weapon was used against defenders on a wall, parapets, buildings inside a fortification and against ships attempting to break a blockade."

The first mention of traction catapults in Europe comes from Byzantium. In A.D. 587 the Avars, with the help of traction catapults, besieged and took the fortress of Appiareia in what is now northern Bulgaria. The Byzantine historian Theophylactus Simocatta wrote that the Avar learned about siege engines from a captured Byzantine soldier by the name of Bousas;

"Bousas taught the Avars to construct a certain siege machine, for they (the Avars) happened to be most ignorant of such machines, and he built the helepolis to hurl missiles. Soon thereafter the fortress was leveled, and Bousas collected judgment for their inhumanity, having taught the barbarians something frightful, the technology of besieging. Thence the enemy captured effortlessly a great many of the Roman cities by making use of this original device."

Bousas said that in exchange for his life, he constructed for the Avars a siege engine called a "Helepoleis" or "City Taker" (a heavy trestle-framed traction catapult).

We then find that ten years later, John the Archbishop of the Byzantine city of Thessaloniki in A.D. 597, describes the siege of Thessaloniki by Avaro-Slavic forces with fifty large traction trebuchets that hurled "great stones". In his account, he calls the big traction trebuchets "petroboles" or "rock throwers" and the smaller machines "lithoboles" or "stone throwers".

However, it is also possible that the Avars, due to their interactions with the Northern Wei of China, already know of traction catapults independently from Byzantium. David Nicolle in his book "Attila and the Nomad Hordes" published by Osprey states that the Byzantines copied new versions of "beam-sling mangonel siege machines" from the Avars who were driven from the northern frontiers of China only a few decades earier.

Due to a distinct lack of mention of traction catapults prior to this written account by Theophylactus, of the two scenarios, the diffusion of levered principle catapult technology is actually more probable to have been from the Avars to Byzantium than the other way around.

In the mixing pot of the Middle East, the Xuanfeng had joined a distinguished line-up of Middle Eastern Mangonels and Ballistas, adopted after the fall of the Roman empire via Byzantium. There, knowledge of Roman siege technology was kept alive throughout the European "Dark Ages" which except for a few notable exceptions, was an era dominated by strict religious fundamentalist dogma. The widespread reintroduction of these lost arts of making siege engines was to come only later when Christian Crusaders began marching into the Middle East to reclaim the "Holy Land" that was Jerusalem. Feverishly copying Islamic texts and ideas, the knowledge they brought back to Europe revitalised the European world, seeding the way for the blossoming of new ideas and innovation not just in the field of siegecraft.

Early painting/drawings of European catapults look uncannily similar to the Tang dynasty "XuanFeng" catapult as can been seen in a sketch in the "Chronicle of Petrus de Eboli ca. A.D. 1180". The earliest known depiction however, of a European traction catapult is a wall painting from the palace of Piandjikent, Transoxania. (Hermitage Museum, Leningrad) and is from the 7th-8th centuries A.D.

In the 11th century A.D. a new form of javelin firing catapult, the "torsioned" Springald emerged in the Middle East and in Byzantine. Known by the Arabs as the "qaws al-lawlab", we find that the Portuguese used just such as machine in A.D. 1184, killing Muwahid Caliph Abu Yaqub in defense of the town of Santarem. Its compact cart-like frame made it ideal as a defensive weapon on top of fortifications. A simplification of the Roman Ballista, the "torsioned" Springald spread into Iberia by the mid-13th century A.D when references to the "Ballista de torno" appear.

A separate and larger type of catapult, the single armed "tensioned" Springald also appears at about the same time. This catapult was probably an indigenous European invention, a retrograde and primitive form of catapult based on the flexure of a wooden plank to propel a javelin forward. We find few references to the "tensioned" Springald in continental Europe with most references to be found on the British Isles. Not much is know about this form of catapult but it seems to have been confined to a purely defensive role, firing through defensive slits on top of battlements much like that of the "torsioned" Springald.

These two forms of Springalds flourished briefly side by side with the increasingly powerful levered principled catapults, probably filling the function as a close ranged support weapon.

Strangely enough, despite the constant exchange of ideas and trade between the Japanese islands and that of mainland Asia, catapults never took root in Japanese warfare. Japanese warfare remained relatively small scaled and castles were breached more often than not via direct infantry assaults with scaling ladders and siege towers or from internal subterfuge than from the use of catapults. What we know of Japanese offensive siege weaponry seems to have been based on the Oyumi which was a large siege crossbow, possibly of indigenous design. However, no illustrations or complete descriptions of the Oyumi have survived and we can only guess at the type and form of this mysterious weapon. Japanese warfare remained low-leveled reminiscent of Chinese Warring States warfare of the 5th-3rd century B.C. until the introduction of cannon from both Spanish and Portuguese warships in the 16th century A.D.

In India, there is very little known about siege weaponry in Indian warfare though it would not be inconceivable to think that the fortresses and elephant armies of Indian dynasties employed some type of siege weapons in their wars. Much of what is available come from Muslim sources and are almost unanimous in their assertion that the Islamic invasions of the 8th centuries onwards saw the first introduction of catapults into the Indian subcontinent.

A source from the History of Pakistan states;

"Islam was first brought in by Arabs in early eight century. At that time, the religion itself was only about a century old. In 711 AD Mohammad Bin Qasam, a brilliant 19 year-old Arab general from Basra (Iraq) marched into Pakistan by way of Persia and Balochistan with the army of 60,000 men. He employed a method of warfare never before seen in the subcontinent - large carriage-drawn catapults capable of hurling heavy stones and missiles across the distances of about 200 yards. He marched all the way to Nerun (Hyderabad) where he engaged Raja Dahir, the local Hindu ruler and his massive army of 20,000 infantry and 5,000 cavalry. Mohammad Bin Qasim defeated Raja Dahir with contemptuous ease."

There is however a reference which disputes this claim. King Ajátasattu (493 - 462 B.C.) of the Magadhan empire, in a battle ca. 478 B.C. against the republican states of the Lichchhavis used a type of catapult called the Mahaashilaakantaka. Jain texts describe its use together with a covered "tank" chariot which helped the King win his war. However, the type or form of this catapult are as yet undetermined or researched. Catapults in India suffer from a scarcity of information.

The Evolution of Catapults

The Ayyûbid Sultanate (A.D. 1169-1250), Kurds who rose to power in the area around Mosul are believed to have been the first to adapt the traction catapult and invent the hinged counterweight catapult, though hybrid weighted traction trebuchets were already in sporadic use throughout Europe and the Middle east by then. It was these hinged counterweight catapults from Islamic world that spread into Europe and into China. The Chinese name for hinged counterweight catapults translates loosely to something like "Muslim catapult" owing to the Muslim Engineers the Mongols brought with them to China on their campaigns.

Saladin in A.D. 1187 in his siege of Jerusalem against European Crusaders, saw the first pictorial documented use of hinged counterweight Catapults in history in al-Tarsusi's treatise written in A.D. 1199 in Alexandria for Saladin which even then, already alluded to the fact that these were not new inventions.

Tantalising accounts of intermediate fixed counterweight catapults however, had already appeared in and about the turn of the 12th century. Paul Chevedden writes in "The Invention of the Counterweight Trebuchet" that based on the nomenclature of period accounts, the possibility exists that Byzantine Engineers were already experimenting and building fixed counterweight catapults as early as the siege of Tyre by Frankish Crusaders in A.D. 1124. Earlier still is a possible "first" emergence of this technological advancement in Nicaea in A.D. 1097 when Emperor Alexios I was engaged in the development of large trebuchets, Helepoleis of several types;

"and most of them were not fashioned according to conventional designs for such machines but followed ideas which he had devised himself and which amazed everyone."

There is one more tantalising mention of a possible candidate for a counterweighted trebuchet in Europe in the 12th century A.D. but the descriptions remain controversial and obscure. The Danish historian Saxo writes that King Erik Emune used trebuchets at the siege of Haraldsborg near Roskilde in A.D. 1131. The Danes who at the time had little knowledge of siege warfare used Saxons to build and handle the engines. That it was a catapult is not in dispute. The controversy is in the range of the trebuchet mentioned. In Saxo's account, the range of the machine is given at 200m which is beyond the range of even the largest traction trebuchets though it could still only have been a weighted traction trebuchet instead of a true counterweighted trebuchet.

What we do know conclusively however, is that the first documented use of hinge counterweighted trebuchets in Song dynasty China was in A.D. 1273 during the Mongol siege of Xiangyang. The Song dynasty quickly adapted their existing traction catapults into similar hinged counterweight trebuchets but couldn't counter the new Mongol terror weapon from the middle east.

The 12th-13th century A.D. was a period of rapid catapult development in the Far East. The catalyst for this sudden surge in new catapult forms was the Mongol invasions and the incorporation of the relatively new technology of hinged counterweight trebuchets into the Mongol war machine. The desperate defenders of the Song dynasty were quick to learn the new techniques. Many new forms and hybrid forms emerged, adaptations of existing Song dynasty traction catapults to incorporate buckets and stone weighted bags by beleaguered Chinese Engineers. Despite the Song dynasty's rapid absorption of the new catapult ideas, it was too little too late. The Song dynasty crumbled not long after, a mere 6 years after the first introduction of the new terror hinged counterweight catapults into the battlefield at the siege of the twin cities of Xiangyang and Fangyang.

In A.D. 1232 however, an earlier story survives from the Jin Dynasty of a possible independent development of the counterweight catapult. The Jin commander Qiang Shen, in his defense of Luoyang from the Mongols,

"invented a trebuchet called the 'Arresting Trebuchet' (E Pao), which was used to prevent (the enemy) from overrunning (his position). Only a few men were needed to work it, yet (with this engine) great stones could be hurled more than 100 paces, and there was no target which it did not hit right in the middle."

Although the Mongol army eventually raised the siege, this inventive commander died in the following year, followed by the Jin Dynasty two years later, so apparently the design was not transmitted southward to the beleaguered Song dynasty.

No one has been able to find the first documented instance of when hinged counterweight trebuchets were first introduced into Europe but it is generally agreed that the earliest documented descriptions of hinged counterweight catapults in Europe was the siege of Dover Castle in England by the French under Prince Louis who landed a French Army at Thanet in support of the rebel barons against King John in A.D. 1216.

End of an Era

In China, the hinged counterweight trebuchet, despite its power didn't last as long as in Europe because of the early rise of gunpowder weapons. During the abovementioned siege of Xiangyang by the Mongols, the hinged counterweight trebuchet was already sharing the limelight with Song dynasty rockets and early versions of the gun. In Europe, the hinged counterweight had its heyday owing to the longer lag between the earlier introduction of the hinged counterweight to Europe and the later introduction of gunpowder based cannon to Europe compared to that of the far east.

However, even in Europe, the pole position of the Catapult couldn't last. The arrival of efficient gunpowder weapons herald the end of the catapult's dominance in the battlefield, bringing to a close an interesting chapter in the annals of human warfare. Large and cumbersome, the great siege catapults of yesteryear soon gave way to the technologically superior weapons of the gunpowder age.

Nevertheless, the image of the catapult persists even till today. The siege engine continues to seize the popular imagination and never fails to bring out a sense of awe and astonishment, appearing periodically in the mass media of the day, in films, in print and in catapult re-constructions by “Medieval” clubs of catapult enthusiasts the world over.

Copyright 2005 Leong Kit Meng
All rights Reserved

#3 ih8eurocentrix

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Posted 20 June 2005 - 06:53 PM

well researched well done

#4 Liang Jieming

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Posted 21 June 2005 - 04:14 AM

Thank you. It's a work-in-progress so I'm still adding info to the article.

#5 Liang Jieming

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Posted 08 July 2005 - 01:11 PM

Added a new portion on possible Byzantium counterweight trebuchets as early as th late 11th century based on the works of Paul Chevedden.

#6 Liang Jieming

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Posted 12 July 2005 - 02:18 AM

The 旋風 (xuán fēng) "Whirlwind" Traction Catapult

Posted Image

The Xuanfeng or "Whirlwind" is a basic traction catapult, and a direct descendant of the first Mohist traction catapults of the 5th century B.C. The throwing power in a Xuanfeng comes from a team of people pulling downwards on ropes tied to the short arm of the throwing arm. The power of this catapult is only limited by the number of pullers up to a maximum limit of space available below the lever arm. Like all traction catapults, it could fire projectiles with great variation in range simply by changing the number of pullers. It's high rate of fire was also an advantage in the Xuanfeng since the lowering of the throwing arm for firing was a simple matter of the pullers releasing their ropes.

This catapult was generally used like the sniper version of a rifle. It wasn't the power of the punch that mattered but the accuracy of the shot. The Xuanfeng, due to it's lack of power, wasn't deployed to knock down walls. Instead, it's main functions were to take out specific soft targets with it's ability to swivel 360 degrees. With a team of pullers and pulling downwards on ropes tied to the short arm of the throwing arm, a "shooter" would guid the catapult by pulling and aiming the catapult on the projectile side, adjusting the angles before release for optimum shot and accuracy. This resulted in incredible accuracy, and this "light" catapult was used to snipe at other catapults or enemy generals with its arsenal of porcelain/clay shrapnel balls and other inventive projectiles.

Unlike European catapults, the Chinese anchored their catapults by sinking the legs in a few feet or so into the ground, so many illustrations of the Xuanfeng are shown with a very small based. A typical Xuanfeng stood anywhere from twice a person's height to about 3 times a person's height. Because of it's small size, it was easy to transport when broken down into its various components, and to setup wherever it was required.

There are basically general 4 variants of the Xuanfeng.

1.
The basic Xuanfeng did not have a 4 leg base but instead only had 2 legs sunk into the ground for stability. These must have been very, very light catapults for throwing small rocks, "shrapnel" balls, gunpowder explosives, human heads etc.
2.
There were also Xuanfeng batteries which were made up of a whole row of Xuanfeng catapults all mounted in a row on a single simple base and like the basic variant, the whole mount was also made to swivel 360 degrees, allowing for a lot of flexibility in usage. The Xuanfeng batteries were probably used in battle to mass fire projectiles at the same time and in the same direction to create fire saturation over a given enemy position. This multiple catapult was also conceivably used to create a continuous rate of covering fire during a battle to keep the enemy from returning fire.
3.
The slightly heavier variant of the Xuanfeng was mounted on a more stable 4 leg base frame with lateral crossbracing. This heavy Xuanfeng still maintained it's 360 degree field of fire while allowing for the firing of slightly heavier projectiles.
4.
The Xuanfeng was also sometimes mounted on a mobile wheeled platform. These could be towed out anywhere they were needed with the actual catapult throw-arm and central post slotted in on-site when needed. The mounted Xuanfeng catapults tend to be medium sized catapults, overlapping in power and range with that of the medium range HuDunPao or "Crouching Tiger" Catapult. The development of catapults with such mobility which did away with the traditional sunken leg base might have been a consequence of increasingly accurate counter-battery fire.

When firing projectiles, the design of the Xuanfeng was such that the throwing arm impacted against the frame of the central post at the point of release. This results in a "early" release short of the vertical as well as a slight whipping effect on the bundled bamboo which was the common material used to make the throw arms. Releasing projectiles short of the vertical creates a high trajectory for the projectile, maximising the range achievable which can be seen mirrored in the typical types of projectiles used by this catapult. By the time of the Song dynasty in the 10th to 13th centuries, the Xuanfeng's were firing explosive grenades as well as molten cast-iron pots which created large area damage to troops and equipment alike, on top of the usual stones, shrapnel balls, human heads and diseased meat the earlier dynasties employed.

The heyday of the Xuanfeng must arguably be said to have been during the Tang dynasty. Accounts of the success of this catapult is recounted in various Tang dynasty siege accounts. During the Tang dynasty's founding years, in its siege of the Sui capital in A.D. 617, 300 catapults were said to have been deployed by the Engineer-General Tian Maoguang. Then again in a Tang dynasty siege of Pyongyang in A.D. 668 during the last year of the campaign against Koguryo, it is written again that "XuanFeng" catapults were used to bring the city to its knees. Bombardment of such a massive scale would have been devastating to a beleaguered city. However, the Xuanfeng by the time of the Song dynasty was already becoming obsolete. The rise of both, massive Mongol hinged counterweighted trebuchets and early Song dynasty gunpowder weapons sealed the fate of this "little" catapult.

The wealth of illustrations and persistence of the Xuanfeng in over 1000 years of Chinese records is a testament to the simplicity and effectiveness of this light catapult.

Copyright 2005 Leong Kit Meng All rights Reserved

Edited by Liang Jieming, 25 July 2005 - 09:21 PM.


#7 Yun

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Posted 12 July 2005 - 02:24 AM

The rise of both, massive Mongol hinged counterweighted trebuchets and early Song dynasty cannons sealed the fate of this "little" catapult.


I think there is no evidence yet for the use of cannons in the early Song. But great article in every other respect!
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#8 Liang Jieming

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Posted 12 July 2005 - 02:48 AM

I think there is no evidence yet for the use of cannons in the early Song. But great article in every other respect!

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Thanks Yun. Amended it to "gunpowder weapons" instead of cannon.

#9 Liang Jieming

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Posted 17 July 2005 - 05:44 AM

Ok, added in new sections on al-Tarsusi's treatise, more development background for Chinese catapults, the derivation of the term Mangonel, catapults in Japanese warfare, additional info on the Avar and Byzantine era introduction of the traction catapult into Europe and an introduction to the "A Brief History of the Catapult".

Edited by Liang Jieming, 17 July 2005 - 05:58 AM.


#10 Liang Jieming

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Posted 19 July 2005 - 03:22 AM

Did a complete overhaul of the pages I had and arranged them a little more systematically. Added sections based on my model reconstructions and a few new write-ups.

Here's the temporary page until I get a permanent domain for it.

http://authors.histo...esesiegewarfare

Edited by Liang Jieming, 29 August 2005 - 01:40 AM.


#11 TwinkieDP

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Posted 22 July 2005 - 09:12 AM

A question for Liang JieMing,
About the Traction Catapults, you say the power for that comes from a team of operators pulling downward on the short arm of the catapult. I don't know much about seige weapons, but it seems unlikely that a team pulling on ropes could generate the power to rotate the arm quick enough throw the stone. Please clarify....

Also, in your articles, you made no mention of Roman torsion catapults. Where these developed independently in Europe? Why was that technology never transferred? Which type is better (more power), the torsion type catapults such as Mangonels Roman Onager or Bow Powered Mangonels? Based only on visual observation it appears that torsion powered or bow powered siege weapons require more effort to construct.

Posted ImageLarge Trebuchet
Posted Image Onager
Posted Image Bow Powered Mangonel
All Images taken from www.mangonel.com

Edited by TwinkieDP, 22 July 2005 - 09:54 AM.

Posted Image

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#12 Liang Jieming

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Posted 22 July 2005 - 11:17 AM

Traction catapults were powered by teams of pullers. They were very efficient machines and theoretically could reach the breaking limit of the throw arm. But the drawback to the traction catapult is the logistics of fitting large numbers of people underneath the catapult and coordinating the pulling at the exact same moment.

The Persians solved this problem by introducing the counterweight to the catapult. This did away with the group of people pulling and the power of the catapult was only limited to the weight you can hang at the end of the throw arm. The draw back to the counterweight (or the next evolution in catapults, the hinged counterweight catapult) was that reloading became very slow because you needed to pull the arm back down against the weight of the counterweight to reload. The rate of fire was very, very poor but each shot was very, very powerful. There is one European account, that talks about a siege during the Crusades where the catapult they used was only capable of firing 3-4 shots a day due to the slow reload.

It is possible for a group of pullers to rotate a catapult's arms faster than that of a counterweight. The acceleration of an object in free fall (and the counterweight was hardly in free fall due to friction in the axle) is 9.81 metres per second squared. People are certainly capable of pulling with much greater accelerations than that. It's all a matter of placing enough people pulling underneath the catapult.

The picture you have above is not a traction catapult, but a hinged counterweight catapult. This was the granddaddy of catapults, the largest and most powerful history has ever seen.

Torsion catapults only arose first in Greece in the 4th century B.C. These early catapults were rock or javelin ballistas which were adopted by the Romans. The Romans simplified the ballista and invented the mangonel or onager. These torsion weapons were fairly complex machines but inferior to the much simplier lever principled catapults in terms of maximum theoretical range and power. The typical ranges for a Roman ballista was only about 200-400m while a far eastern multiple bow acruballista reached ranges of 300-600 effective ranges. The Mangonel was even worse, with ranges not much beyond the 50-150m while the hinged counterweighted catapult could reach ranges of 300-400m and with much heavier projectiles.

The far east never developed torsion based catapults. Instead, Roman torsion catapults were gradually replaced by the eastern lever principled catapults although some versions of the torsion catapult such as the springald survived into the middle ages as short range defensive weapons. The sinew (and later hair) used in the making of torsioned catapults were it's greatest limitation. The degraded very quickly with age and if left tensioned for long periods, would creep and slowly lengthen, hencing losing it's spring, needing to be tightened again and again. They were also unusable when wet which was why Europeans hardly used catapults on their ships, at least in great numbers.

Bow powered catapults are rare in history. The only persistent references come from Greek or Japanese sources. the Greeks and possibly the Romans did employ bow powered catapults but the torsioned catapults were so much more efficient and easier to construct. In Japan, there are theoretical reconstructions of possible bow powered catapults based on the Japanese Oyumi siege crossbow but no illustrations or complete descriptions have survived to the present day and whatever picture you find today are all reconstructions based in large part on guesswork. Again, bows have an inherent weakness in the bow string. Like the torsioned sinew or hair, it can creep and degrade rapidly is not cared for. Even archers only string their bows just prior to a battle. A bow kept stung constantly is useless after awhile.

Levered principle catapult didn't suffer from these drawbacks. They were simple to construct, operate and very efficient.

Edited by Liang Jieming, 22 July 2005 - 11:32 AM.


#13 naruwan

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Posted 22 July 2005 - 01:27 PM

Great site, great posts and AWESOME MODELS!!!

Did you build all that yourself?

You should pit the machines against one another and try to bring down a wall.
mudanin kata mudanin kata. kata siki-a kata siki-a. muhaiv ludun muhaiv ludun. kanta sipal tas-tas kanta sipal tas-tas. kanta sipal tunuh kanta sipal tunuh. sikavilun vini daingaz sikavilun vini daingaz.

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#14 Liang Jieming

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Posted 24 July 2005 - 11:09 AM

Great site, great posts and AWESOME MODELS!!!

Did you build all that yourself?

You should pit the machines against one another and try to bring down a wall.

View Post

Hi Naruwan, thanks for the encouragement. :) Yes, all the models on the site are mine. The next one is the English (tension) springald. ;)

#15 Liang Jieming

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Posted 24 July 2005 - 12:13 PM

Hey guys, I'm pretty excited with this latest update to the article. It's the earliest reference to catapults I've ever come across, and I'm quite surprised that no one's ever mentioned it before, with Syracuse or Mozi being the main contenders for the "first". I've rewritten the first parts to include this obscure passage from Part 2 of the Book of Chronicles of the Old Testament of the Bible during the reign of King Uzziah.




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