The most recognized military device of ancient times and the source of continued fascination and popular appeal, the catapult represented a major shift in the conduct of warfare. The catapult with literally means a device to "hurl [an object] across" was originally sort of a crossbow invented at the beginning of the fourth century B.C in Syrakuse. Bows soon grew to great lengths, and in due course, a completely new and better power source was invented. Instead of compound bows made of stretched sinew and compressed horn, the energy used to launch an object was stored in twisted ropes made of animal sinews: the torsion catapult had arrived. Likely developed by engineers of Alexander the Great's father. Philip II, the torsion catapult quickly became the chief weapon of ancient arsenals and gave armies for the first time a robust weapon that could strike enemies at a distance with devastating effect, including shooting to and from ships, battering fortifications, and sending projectiles over walls. Catapults were built in all sizes, from hand-held versions to the massive multi-catapult helepolis "city taker", and they were used for centuries by the Romans across the length and breadth of the empire to seize territory, and defend it.
In The Catapult: A History, one of the foremost authorities on this device, Tracey Rihll, uses ancient literacy sources and the latest archaeological findings to tell the story of this first machine of war. Dispelling any notion that the catapult was precision engineered in the modern sense, the author explains how an ingenious formula gave ancient artisans the ability to build machines of different sizes for particular battlefield conditions or military tasks.
Also included are the details of the author's intriguing discovery that there were little personal catapults that were used like rifles. Although the catapult was displaced by the introduction of gunpowder and cannon, this device marks the beginning of mechanized warfare , the hallmark of modern fighting. Complete warfare, the hallmark of modern fighting. Complete with line drawings and photographs, The Catapult is a major contribution to the history of technology and conflict. Tracey Rihll is lecturer in Classics and Ancient History at the University of Wales, Swansea. She is an author of Greek Science and numerous articles on ancient technology and science.