In our house we have weird discussions, does that happen in your house? One day my husband and I started talking about technology that changed the world. We came up with the usual ones, and then we started to get into military technology and how the catapult changed history. This may actually have started with a field trip we went on and then changed into a history lesson…
Catapults are a simple machine, essentially you’re using a lever under tension to throw a large object you could not throw that far on your own.
They were invented by the Assyrians as a very effective siege weapon and helped the Assyrians create the first large empire.
This started as an independent lesson for the kids as I went to a hangout on air with some homeschooling friends (probably the iHN hangouts, love those, today’s is on homeschooling year round at 1:00 central).
Batman went at it and rounded up all the supplies he could find to build his catapult, but it doesn’t actually work….. But, it’s a pretty impressive bit of engineering.
Superman took a different track and illustrated what happens when you have multiple siege engines, a catapult and a battering ram. Which leads into the next section.
How the catapult changed history
One of the primary drivers of our technological advancement is war, sad to say, but it is. In this case the need to get into a walled city quickly and economically.
Previously prevailing wisdom said build a large wall, make sure you have a water supply, and a large stockpile of food and you’ll outlast the other army.
That was pretty much the plan, how long can we last? Sieges could last from weeks to years in a large enough city. At the end both sides are devastated, the conquered city has been destroyed by disease and starvation, and neither side gets what they want.
Enter the catapult, and how the catapult changed history. If you have a good strong catapult you can potentially cut that time in half or less.
Catapults when used correctly have two advantages: 1. They destroy the walls, and 2. They destroy morale. Both of these lead to the opposing army surrendering more quickly. Shortening the time your army spends at war (a costly affair) and increasing the value of the city you’ve captured (more slaves).
Difficulties with firing a catapult
While the kids started out super excited about this activity, as the activity progressed their patience waned. It was hard to hit the city walls. Our catapult did not have the strength to penetrate the walls. And this could happen, if you make the walls thick enough or of the right material then those walls won’t break.
We also didn’t know the physics of working the catapults, so our shots often fell far short OR went flying over the wall. If we were fighting a real city, that would not be a problem, it would actually be helpful because the flying stones would help with sapping morale, but for our activity, it was discouraging.
Sometimes I am amazed at how many lessons you can get out of one activity. When I started I wasn’t thinking I was going to get a science, character, and a math lesson out of this activity, but we did.