How to make a catapult from pegs, lolly sticks and elastic bands
Reconstruction of a medieval trebuchet at Warwick Castle, England.
The word catapult comes from the Greek words for 'downwards' and 'to toss or to hurl'.
Catapults are thought to have been invented by the ancient Greeks possibly as long ago as 300-400 BCE. Early catapults were basic arrow-firing mechanisms, similar to hand-held crossbows. As they developed they became more complicated with winched pull-back systems and torsion springs.
The main use of catapults was on the battlefield. The general, Onomarchus, and the commander Alexander the Great are some of the first Greeks recorded as having used catapults in battle. The use of catapults became increasingly common and even Greek children were taught how to use them.
The Romans also used catapults in wars. Their early machines were very similar to large crossbows. Later they used ballista catapults on their warships.
In the medieval period catapults were often used as 'siege weapons'. These catapults were large and often on wheels so they could be moved around and positioned in the best place to hit a target. They were used to try to breach the walls of castles and cities.
There were various designs of catapult, during the medieval period, including the mangonel. The mangonel was used to throw heavy objects - or sometimes unpleasant items such as animal dung! - from a cup-shaped holder on the end of its arm. (The model we made today is similar in design to a mangonel.) The trebuchet is also another well-known medieval weapon.
Catapults were even used to throw hand grenades during the early stages of World War I.
Nowadays catapults are less likely to be used in wars and more likely to be used in recreation. People who enjoy fishing sometimes use hand-held catapults to send their fish bait far away from the bank.