Skip to main content
A siege tower with a medieval castle in the distance

6 of the most ingenious medieval siege weapons 


Siege warfare was hugely popular in medieval times. It became the preferred way to draw the enemy out of safe spaces and into battle. The most common practice of siege warfare was to lay siege and simply wait for the enemy to surrender or come out and fight. However, another core aspect of siege warfare was to launch continued attacks on enemy fortifications and force a way inside their stronghold. For this, armies needed reliable and effective siege weapons. Here is a closer look at six of the most inventive and effective medieval siege weapons used to great effect by armies across Europe.

1. Trebuchets

The trebuchet may look simple, and it is, but this did not stop it from being one of the most effective and popularly used siege weapons throughout the medieval period. The trebuchet pushed the traditional catapult out of use and was able to launch huge projectiles over large distances.

The original trebuchets were in use as early as the 4th century and were known as mangonel. Mangonels used power to swing the arm and launch the projectile. The kind of trebuchet you see in use in the medieval period was much more sophisticated. It used a counterweight system which allowed the arm to swing. The counterweight trebuchet used gravity and a hinge to swing the arm and launch the projectile into the enemy defences.

2. Byzantine flamethrowers

We often associate flamethrowers with more modern conflict, but a version of the weapon was seen much earlier. The basics of the well-known flamethrower were first seen in the Byzantine Empire, over 1200 years earlier, and popularised in the medieval period too. Medieval manuscripts exist depicting flamethrowers on naval vessels and used in combat. The evidence we do have suggests the historic flamethrower worked through blowing and sucking air from a valve filled with quicklime, the ancient equivalent of napalm. In the Middle Ages, flamethrowers were used to attack enemy vessels and may also be used by boats to attack defences on the coast.

3. Battering rams

Not the most sophisticated of weapons but something proven to work time and again, battering rams could successfully crash through and break down the defences of many fortified strongholds. The prime aim of a battery ram was to smash through fortifications and allow soldiers entry into enemy castles and settlements. A battering ram was simply a large heavy wooded log that was carried and controlled by several soldiers. They would work together to swing the ram into the defences and break through. The main problem with battering rams was that those operating one were extremely vulnerable and open to attack from arrows and other projectiles.

4. Bombards

Bombards, usually in the form of cannons or mortar, were known to be in use since the 12th century, especially in China, but they were not used in the medieval period until the early 14th century. In England, Edward III deployed iron-cast mortar cannons in battle against the French in the 14th century. Bombards were highly effective siege weapons as they were large calibre artillery weapons which could shoot large stone projectiles directly into the fortifications of the enemy.

5. Siege towers

A perfect tool for ensuring your soldiers can quickly and easily make their way over enemy defences, a siege tower was a wooden tower on wheels. It would be pushed up against castle walls, allowing soldiers to climb up within the tower and make their way onto the enemy ground. The robust structure meant the soldiers had a degree of protection from cannon fire and arrows. The size of the siege tower meant it was usually only brought out in the final stages of the siege when other attempts to break down the fortifications had failed. Some armies would build their siege towers at the battle location and the most sophisticated models could allow 100 soldiers or more to be mobilised.

6. Ribauldequins

Ribauldequins also known as organ guns were one of the earliest attempts at rapid-fire artillery design. Its appearance was a little like a church organ as it brought together many small calibre cannons laid side by side on a flat platform. The sheer number of barrels and mechanism that allows them to fire in quick succession proved a highly successful choice in siege battles. They were mainly in use in the 14th and 15th centuries and the largest designs were built upon horse-drawn wagons and could include over 140 guns.

Siege warfare could often lead to weeks, if not months, of stalemate and very little action at all. However, with the right weaponry and tactical approach sieges were very effective and could be the driving force behind a conquering army’s success.