Trabucos, also called trebuchets, were a fearsome weapon employed long before the invention of gunpowder-filled artillery. Akin to the more familiar catapult, trabucos and the like, may be historically linked to the period of the Middle Ages, however, this war machine dates back much further, 400 B.C China, in fact.
The basic construction of trabuco consisted of a wooden scaffolding-like framework holding a lever and string with a leather pouch or sling to hold the object of propulsion. The sling was lifted with force to hurl large stones a distance. While available rubble may have been common ammunition, history reveals the use of other objects, such as dead bodies and body parts; heads were a favorite for their terrorizing value.
Photos of replicas and drawings, featured on Google images and Wikipedia, depict an impressive piece of architecture. At 60 feet in height, this dizzily intimidating structure must have been a serious instrument of destruction. Images show some to be stationary, others were mobile with wheels. Based on the dimensions and capabilities, the victims of this awesome device were surely cowered by it, survival in doubt.
Originally, called a traction Trabuco, it was operated by many men pulling on attached ropes, applying their weight to create the force needed to propel an object towards the enemy. Eventually, trabuco was adopted by the French during the Dark Ages, 500 A.D.. Encountering some technical limitations, they improved on the original model replacing manpower with a counterweight system, creating what is called a balancing Trabuco. In doing so, this ancient weapon became more powerful, increasing weight capacity, range, and precision. The sling was capable of accommodating a 140 pound payload, or object of propulsion, sending it soaring up to 800 meters according to infoescola.com. It penetrated castle walls and enemy fortresses, their destruction coming within days. The device surpassed any other weapon of its time.
Later, during the 13th century, the Arabs perfected the Trabuco even further by increasing the counter weight, which resulted in the ability to cast up to 400 pounds, thereby increasing the potential devastation. Europe used this agent of destruction, occasionally including disease-bearing payloads, until explosive artillery rounds were adopted.