Was there a plan for how to propel the circular wooden tank design of Leonardo da Vinci's? It seems far too heavy to be powered Flintstones-style by the people inside, but it also seems too small for horses or oxen to fit within it.

In actual history the invention of the tank was tightly related to the development of the combustion engine, but it seems strange for Da Vinci to have designed a vehicle he had no idea how to move. Designing a glider that can't glide is one thing, (flight was a totally new idea and thus a tough nut to crack), but "it's too heavy" should have been a fairly glaring error for a vehicle designer.

Did Da Vinci have an idea for how his tank would move? Or was it an incomplete design for that very reason?

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    A quick Google search reveals that the British Army easily made it to work, by correcting a small deliberate design error by Da Vinci used as a form of Intellectual Property Rights protection. Dec 20, 2013 at 1:24
  • And how do you think he planned to move his airplanes, helicopters etc? :-)
    – Alex
    Dec 20, 2013 at 3:06
  • That's interesting about the British Army. But as far as what @Alex said, that's kind of what I'm wondering: did he design things that were too underpowered to work and then just say "oh well," or did he have some idea for a machine that could generate the necessary power-to-weight ratio? Or even a vague note like "needs to be less heavy" or something? Basically, I guess what I'm asking is, were these just thought experiments or were they attempts at practical designs?
    – Nerrolken
    Dec 20, 2013 at 17:40

1 Answer 1


There were quite a few much heavier constructions that have in fact been build and moved by manpower. Helepolis was probably the biggest one, estimated 160 tons, and it was build and moved and used as intended in the siege of Rhodes.

If the speed is not an issue one can move very heavy things with pure manpower. Archimedes famously used pulleys to move a ship single-handedly. And most modern drivers, who are much weaker than 15th century soldiers, are perfectly capable of pushing a 2-ton car that wouldn't start.

Leonardo's tank was a viable design IMO (apart from intentional trivial errors such as reverse direction of some screws). Since the tank didn't have to protect against 20th century artillery its armour could have been much lighter than in modern tanks. Since the goal was to get the crew to the destination through enemy fire at any speed rather than hurry their full throttle there was no expectation of high speed. A dozen or so man were perfectly capable of pushing a wheeled contraption under 20-ish tons.

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    The weels would get stuck in the mud, and the gears would shear off or get covered with stuff. So "Viable", I don't know. But +1 for the correct answer: The aim was to power it by hand, with cranks. Dec 22, 2013 at 7:31

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