The improvements to castles changed the dynamics of warfare in medieval times. Stone castles with fortified walls, room for stores and supplies, raised walls and towers created quite an obstacle for attackers. To counteract the defenses of the castle, attackers used a variety of different weapons know as siege engines.
When attackers positioned themselves to lay siege to a fortified castle, they had to make use of the materials that could be found in the area where they were fighting as it was virtually impossible to transport large devises over great distances.
The battering ram was one of the most popular medieval siege engines, though it was effective only at close ranges. The concept behind the battering ram is simple – momentum coupled with mass. In other words, take a heavy ram and hurl it repeatedly at a stationary object with the goal being to break through the stationary object. Typically the soldiers would fell a large tree and remove the branches in such a way that the remaining ones served as handles or grips. A group of soldiers would lift the tree trunk and, after a running start, ram the trunk into the gate or door of a castle. Sometimes the tree trunk was affixed to a support system, positioned in front of a door and swung like a pendulum. The support system could be covered to shield and protect the soldiers from attack from above. The battering ram, while basic in function and design, remains a popular weapon today seeing use in military and police roles.
Siege towers were used to maneuver soldiers to the castle at a sufficient height to fight hand to hand on the castle walls. To accomplish this, the attackers would build towers on wheels that would be moved beside the castle walls. The attackers could climb the walls while being protected from attack.
One of the most effective siege engines was the trebuchet. This devise, a combination of the catapult and a sling shot was designed to hurl large projectiles, sometimes weighing more than a hundred pounds, at speeds over 100 miles per hour toward the castles. The design of the trebuchet allowed for deadly accuracy. Eventually, after continued bombardment, towers or walls could be brought down by use of this weapon.
The ballista was also a deadly weapon. This weapon was a crossbow for infantry troops that shot huge spears or large stone projectiles. A team of several soldiers would operate this weapon and could inflict terrible damage, though the operation of this weapon was slow.
In addition to these methods, sapping or mining was also an effective siege maneuver. Tunnels would be dug under castles to weaken the foundation with the goal being to cause the collapse of the castle walls.
As weapons were improved, so were the castles; however, the advent of gunpowder and its explosive force forever changed warfare and the effectiveness of the castle’s defensive nature.