I was wondering if there's any evidence of such a contraption in the Middle Ages? I'm imagining this as a cousin to the catapult; instead of catapulting rocks on attackers, they simply drop rocks on them. My thought is that it's designed for when the attackers get too close to the fortification?

It would be more efficient b/c it allows for larger rocks that are not easily liftable.

  • 6
    Why would you need a "contraption"? Just have the defenders drop/throw the rocks and let gravity do the work.
    – Steve Bird
    Commented Aug 29, 2021 at 22:32
  • It would be more efficient b/c it allows for larger rocks that are not easily liftable. Commented Aug 29, 2021 at 22:38
  • So you're asking if winches and lifting devices existed in that era? Commented Aug 30, 2021 at 5:37
  • The primary contraption used for dropping rocks was of course peasants. You might be thinking of trebuchet. I'm not sure that "efficient" has anything to do with "larger rocks". please don't modify the question in comments; put everything you know in the question
    – MCW
    Commented Aug 30, 2021 at 10:32
  • Thank you for your question; please consider revising it to be more in line with our community expectations. Like other stacks, we expect questions to provide evidence of prior research. That helps us to understand the question, and avoids our repeating work you've already done. Our help center, and other stacks provide additional resources to assist with revisions. Please revise your question to document your preliminary research.
    – MCW
    Commented Aug 30, 2021 at 10:47

2 Answers 2


What you ask for sounds much like a machicolation. Boiling oil or water were more traditional than stones, but stones could be dropped as well. Within a gateway, this would be called a murder hole.

There are reports of artificial avalanches to defend hill forts, but those probably do not meet your definition of 'contraption' ... simply an unstable pile of rocks that could be rolled downwards.

Please note that your question sounds a little bit too basic for this board. People are supposed to check the literature to refine their question. If you weren't a first-time poster, I might have voted to close.

  • That makes sense, thank you. Commented Aug 30, 2021 at 13:30
  • Was "boiling oil" ever routinely used, though? There are other questions on Stack and citations elsewhere that suggest heated water and other substances were used much more frequently. Commented Aug 30, 2021 at 16:04
  • @jeffronicus Heated sand comes to mind. Just as effective, if not a good deal more (sand can be heated much hotter) and a lot cheaper.
    – Jos
    Commented Aug 31, 2021 at 7:40

Not really, for two reasons:

1- Gravity works fine

The idea is to defeat attackers when they are the most vulnerable. Which is when they try to storm the castle. Why set up complicated machinery if you can simply drop rocks, boiling water or oil from a murder hole?

2- The foundation couldn't handle it

A catapult has a severe impact on the place where they stand. The force used to hurl a rock has to go somewhere. That's the reason why an onager was called an onager: it kicked like a mule.

First of all, there was rarely enough room on a wall to place such a device. Second, supposing you would be able to place one on a turret or large enough space: the "back blast" (for lack of a better word) could destroy the place it stood.

If you placed it behind the wall on ground level, you would have severe problems aiming the thing. Indirect fire wasn't invented yet.

There were some cities and castles that could accommodate catapults on their ramparts, for example Constantinople. But they were the exception, not the rule.

  • 2
    2 is wrong or misleading, some catapults where placed on walls or towers (Castelnaud in France is an example of such a castle) . Possible the walls etc. where built heavier to accomodate the engines, also possible that you overestimate the reoil of a catapult.
    – mart
    Commented Aug 30, 2021 at 9:13

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