AskDefine | Define catapults

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  1. Plural of catapult

Extensive Definition

A catapult is any one of a number of non-handheld mechanical devices used to throw a projectile a great distance without the aid of an explosive substance—particularly various types of ancient and medieval siege engines.
The name is the Latinized form of the Ancient Greek καταπέλτης - katapeltes, from κατά - kata (downwards, into, against) and πάλλω - pallo (to poise or sway a missile before it is thrown).
The catapult appears to have been invented in 399 BC in the city of Syracuse during the reign of the tyrant Dionysius I. Originally, "catapult" referred to a dart-thrower, while "ballista" referred to a stone-thrower, but the two terms swapped meaning sometime in the fourth century AD.


Greek and Roman catapults

In Europe, the first catapults appeared into Greek times around 400 BCE300 BCE. According to Greek inventor Archimedes the first types derived from by the earlier gastraphetes ("Belly-bow"), consisting in composite bow mounted transversely on a stock, much like the crossbow. A larger version of this was called an oxybeles and is the precursor to the ballista. Biton attributes creation of this catapult to one Zopyrus from Taranto, in southern Italy.
Early adopters of the catapult design were Dionysius of Syracuse (who called it katapeltikon) and Onomarchus of Phocis. Katapaltai are mentioned in the Siegecraft (Poliorkētika) treatise of Aeneas Tacticus, from around 350 BC. It is probable that standard torsion-powered catapults entered in common use in Greek world and Macedon only around 330 BC. Alexander the Great introduced the idea of using them to provide cover on the battlefield in addition to using them during sieges. Projectiles included both arrows and (later) stones. They began launching iron balls in the 5th century AD.
The Romans started to use catapults probably as arms for their wars against Syracuse, Macedon, Sparta and Aetolia (3rd–2nd century BC).

Medieval Catapults

In the Medieval times, when the trebuchet was introduced a relatively short time before the advent of gunpowder, the catapult became basically obsolete. Cannons soon replaced catapults as the standard siege weapon in Europe in the 14th century.
During this period, catapults and related siege machines were the first weapons used for biological warfare. The carcasses of diseased animals or even diseased humans, usually those who had perished from the Black Death, were loaded onto the catapult and then thrown over the castle's walls to infect those barricaded inside. More commonly, incendiary missiles were thrown.

Later Use

The last large-scale military use of catapults was during the trench warfare of World War I. During the early stages of the war, catapults were used to throw hand grenades across no man's land into enemy trenches. These were eventually replaced by small mortars.
Small catapults, referred to as traps are still widely used to launch Clay targets into the air in the sport of Clay pigeon shooting.
Until recently, in England, catapults were used by thrill-seekers as human catapults to experience being catapulted through the air. The practice has been discontinued due to fatalities, when the participants failed to land onto the safety net.



External links

catapults in Afrikaans: Katapult
catapults in Bulgarian: Катапулт
catapults in Czech: Katapult (stroj)
catapults in German: Katapult
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catapults in Esperanto: Katapulto (armilo)
catapults in French: Catapulte (arme)
catapults in Friulian: Catapulte
catapults in Italian: Catapulta
catapults in Hebrew: קטפולטה
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catapults in Japanese: カタパルト (投石機)
catapults in Norwegian: Katapult
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catapults in Romanian: Catapultă
catapults in Russian: Катапульта
catapults in Simple English: Catapult
catapults in Slovak: Katapult
catapults in Slovenian: Katapult (orožje)
catapults in Serbian: Катапулт
catapults in Finnish: Katapultti
catapults in Swedish: Katapult
catapults in Chinese: 投石车
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