Siege Engines

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Siege Engines are common in fantasy works and alternate histories. Also appear in Historical Fiction. Often part of a literal Storming the Castle arc.

  • Catapults: Simple constructions designed to fling projectiles, which can be pretty much anything.
  • Ballistae: Basically a giant crossbow. Often lit on fire. Invented by the Greeks, but most extensively used by the Romans.
  • Trebuchets: A giant, usually non-portable sling catapult with a very long range. (Not Tree Buchets)
  • Siege towers: Large wheeled and armoured towers with ladders or stairs inside, designed to provide access over high walls.
  • Battering rams and screws: For knocking down or breaking through gates, and less commonly used on stronger points in the wall.
  • Vats of boiling oil or molten lead: For countering enemies climbing the walls.
  • Galleries: A portable roof to protect attackers undermining a a wall.
  • Mantlets: Large mobile shields.

... and many others

Historical accuracy varies and the Rule of Cool rules. Depending on the setting, cannons may also appear, making knocking down thinner walls in a realistic fashion an option (other siege weapons almost always rely on bypassing the wall or attacking those inside from range rather than knocking it down).

They accentuate the menace of an approaching army and their appearance in a siege is often closely followed by a crisis point for the defenders. Siege engines give great visuals. For example: the straining muscles of the attackers working their dire engine, the horrified defenders watching the incoming payload and then the explosive impact. Also expect Arrows on Fire, and if there are siege towers, expect them to catch fire and topple. See Catapult to Glory for when people are used as ammo.

Examples of Siege Engines include:


  • Asterix: The Romans once brought siege weapons against the Gauls. Since the Gauls were lacking magic potion at the time, it worked pretty well... for a while.

Fan Works


  • The 7th Voyage of Sinbad. Near the end Sinbad's sailors use a giant ballista to kill a dragon.
  • Monty Python and the Holy Grail
    • The French knights presumably used some kind of catapult to fling the cow and giant rabbit.
    • Several are seen amongst Arthur's army at the end of the movie, probably to be used against the Castle Argh.
  • In The Pink Panther Strikes Again, Inspector Clouseau is accidentally propelled up and through a castle window by a catapult.
  • The Messenger: The Story Of Joan Of Arc has a multiple arrow launcher.
  • The Two Towers: The assault on Helms Deep shows suicidal berserker sappers deploying explosives against the weakest point in the outer walls to devastating effect.
    • Earlier in that same battle, multiple siege ladders (including large ones with ballista winches) were used to attack the walls.
    • In The Return of The King, trebuchets are used to defend Minas Tirith's walls.
      • Catapults are used by Sauron's forces to weaken Osgiliath, and a huge ram was brought to bear against the gates of Minas Tirith.
  • The Court Jester had a small one used to launch the villains over the battlements.
  • Gladiator -- "On my signal, unleash hell."
  • It may have been the fact that they were too stupid to use other ammunition, but the Krug army from In The Name of the King: A Dungeon Siege Tale end up using catapults. First with flaming boulders, then with flaming Krug.
  • In Prince Caspian, the Telmarines utilize some sort of perpetual motion trebuchets. Needless to say, any one with any grasp whatsoever on physics will be irritated by these monstrosities.
    • Not really perpetual motion. The staff made a point in the commentary that they tried to make sure those trebuchets might actually work. Something was cranking the arms around, it's just not clear what is doing it, but watch closely and they aren't "perpetual motion".
  • Young Frankenstein. At one point the villagers use Inspector Kemp as an impromptu Battering Ram to knock open a door.
  • The 2010 Robin Hood movie had mantlets used during the siege on the French castle that King Richard is killed in, along with bags of oil that were set on fire to burn the gates down.


  • The Return of the King Sauron's forces use catapults to attack Minas Tirith with shells that exploded in flames as well as the heads of those who had been killed in earlier fighting. Also of note is Grond, Hammer of the Underworld—the most Badass Battering Ram ever conceived. Minas Tirith retaliates [1] with massive trebuchets.
  • Kushiels Dart. The Skaldi build siege towers for use during the siege of Troyes-le-Mont.
  • Found in the Historical Fiction Romance of the Three Kingdoms written in 14th centaury about events in the 2nd and 3rd.
  • Battles between city-states of Gor regularly employ siege weapons.
  • High Citadel by Desmond Bagley. Passengers from a crashed aircraft build an improvised trebuchet from abandoned equipment in a mine, though in that case it's to fend off a seige (by communist guerillas trying to cross a bridge to attack them).
  • Mainly a forgotten art in Codex Alera, since when it comes to breaking down walls furycrafting is much more flexible, powerful, and does not require a gigantic supply train.So when the catapults are essentially reinvented in First Lord's Fury and are then loaded with the local equivalent of cluster bombs, allowing the equivalent of a village full of peasants to deliver the collective power of several High Lords... let's just say TV Tropes Made of Win Archive and leave it at that.
  • The bad guys in Mogworld have a trebuchet, although everyone keeps calling it a catapult.
  • The Grail Quest trilogy by Bernard Cornwell, set during the Hundred Years' War, features both traditional catapults and trebuchets as well as the earliest cannon that were just being adopted by the English at that point. His better known Sharpe series includes several attacks on fortresses with cannon, creating a breach to be stormed.
  • Gaunt's Ghosts: Along with more modern equipment such as tanks and artillery, the Chaos army in Necropolis use a variety of baroque siege weapons, such as massive mechanized siege ladders with flamethrowers and cluster grenade launchers, and enormous spike-wheeled vehicles designed to crawl up the city's shield wall. The enemy's fortress is a massive crawling thing with a gigantic Wave Motion Gun attached nicknamed "The Spike". In fact, the Imperials identify Heritor Asphodel as the enemy leader because of his notorious love for bizarrely overcomplicated siege equipment.
  • In the Inheritance Cycle, trebuchets are used for a battle in a plain. Considering that your average trebuchet can fire something like two shots per hour (if you're lucky), this isn't the wisest of choices.
  • Siege engines of all kinds are used in the Redwall books. In the original "Redwall" we get a battering ram and a siege tower, as well as a tunnelling attempt. That last is foiled by several gallons of lethally scalding-hot water being dumped down the tunnel. Ouch.
  • In the second A Song of Ice and Fire book, A Clash of Kings, three trebuchets are used in the defence of King's Landing against Stannis Baratheon.

Live Action TV

  • Masada featured a variety of Siege Engines—siege towers, onagers, and ballistae.
  • The History Channel built a replica of an Indian cannon designed to be mounted on an elephant and a primitive Chinese landmine. Surprisingly, both turned out to be disturbingly effective, though the operator would have been vulnerable to arrows. Flamethrowers are another weapon that may be Older Than They Think.

Table Top Games

  • Dungeons & Dragons
    • Advanced D&D included rules for the use of siege engines including the gallery, hoist, mantlet, rams, sows and ram catchers.
    • Basic D&D had a magical bench that could act as a Battering Ram to open doors.
    • Spelljammer used catapults and ballistae as standard artillery on magic spacecraft. Then there's jettison - an array of small catapults that can be used to hurl anti-personnel scattershot or quickly dump a small debris cloud. And Magitek like Accelerator (essentially telekinetic cannon) and "space missiles" - sort of a brander: wreck with furnace engine[2] slapped on it and aimed at some unlucky fortified settlement.
      • Also, there are gnomes, and when they make weapons, they make weird weapons - the only one non-gnomes use (if uncommonly) is "sweeper" - chain-shot ballista. Others are weirder, like "bolawhip" - mechanized ram made of six spinning wrecking balls (it doubles as a form of propulsion, if rather clumsy one).
  • Most factions can field various siege weapons in Warhammer Fantasy Battle. The Empire and dwarves are known for their cannons and ballistae, the Brettonians have trebuchets, Lizardmen have giant bows and magical superweapons mounted on dinosaurs, High Elves have repeater bolt throwers, and just about everyone else has some kind of catapult.
    • And then there are Skaven who play with warpstone and weaponize things Mad Scientist style, often at the same time, building giant hamster wheels that shoot lightning and whatnot.
  • The board game Gondor, set during the siege of Minas Tirith, features siege towers, catapults, the Battering Ram Grond, and vats of boiling oil.
  • Weapons & Warriors: Castle Siege was a kid's game marketed which involved miniature siege engines that launched marbles, with the attacking side having the goal of breaking down the walls and the defenders aiming to take out all of the siege engines. The siege equipment included cannons, a trebuchet, a catapult, and ballistae.
  • Crossbows and Catapults provides a wargame-lite version of siege warfare involving cannons and ballistae.
  • A wide variety of siege weapons appear in GURPS: Low-Tech along with rules for picking them up to use them as sidearms.

Video Games

  • Siege weapons are stock units in medieval and fantasy strategy games, usually designed for use against buildings and massed troops. Typically slow moving, and require infantry to protect them. The fancier ones may be Awesome but Impractical.
  • Age of Empires started with catapults and ballistas, and heavy naval units had them mounted as well. The sequel makes the catapults scatter weapons with more splash damage, and adds battering rams, trebuchets and eventually cannons.
  • Patapon and Patapon 2 both feature levels with catapults,both in your enemy's and your own side. Seige engines become a new patapon class of their own in Patapon 3.
  • Certain units serve as siege engines in StarCraft, but the most iconic is the aptly-named Siege Tank. Unlike most video game siege units which tend to be considered not worth the trouble, the Siege Tank often forms the core of Terran strategies, save for dedicated infantry users or more unconventional tactics.
  • World of Warcraft allows the players to use siege weapons in specific PvE raids, PvP battlegrounds, periodic battle zones and quests. Most of these are of Steampunk or otherwise fantastic design, such as catapults made of bone which lob barrels of toxins, wooden self-propelled pneumatic trebuchets which hurl burning boulders ('demolishers'), massive Magitek ballistae which toss spinning glaives and what amounts to all-terrain steam locomotives with cannons and battering rams. In all cases, their efficiency against enemy players is dismal, making them largely a tool to destroy mission specific objectives.
  • The Witcher 2 opens with a siege, complete with ballistae and a truly enormous siege tower.
  • Kingdoms of Camelot has a wide array of these. Offensive one are Ballista,Battering Rams and Catapults (though catapults requite a level 10 barracks and Alchemy Lab for lvl 10 researches and thus two purchased or won Divine Inspirations to access, which has lead to some complaints of players who choose not to spend being at a disadvantage, especially since acquiring a level 12 Rally Point and using the Aura of Conquest item can permit a player to send a 200k Catapult 'death wave' at another player. That said, each additional city acquired does give a free Divine Inspiration and they can be won in contests, so it's not impossible to play for free and still get catapults.) Defenses include Trebuchets and Wall Mounted Crossbows.

Web Comics

  • Order of the Stick has them, notably with Redcloak throwing titanium elementals (and after his victory, about to fling a bunch of humans).
  • Erfworld, the Battle for Gobwin Knob: the titular battle included siege towers pushed by 20m tall Cloth Golems and Wiener Rammers: living battering rams in the shape of elongated wiener dogs with rams horns. Upon striking the gates of Gobwin's Knob they invoke "YTMND!": they are drawing their striking power from the "You're The Man Now, Dog" meme.
    • Parson correctly sees the siege weapons as Ansom's army's weak point, and uses skirmishers to selectively attack the siege, withdrawing from combat with anything else. In this way, he destroys so much siege that Ansom is forced to wait another day for reinforcements.
  • The Inexplicable Adventures of Bob: Seeing snow for the first time, Molly runs out to play in it, and builds a steam-powered snow ballista. That transforms.

Molly: "Snow is awesome!"

Western Animation

  • The Adventures of Gulliver (1968). Miniature Vikings use ship-mounted catapults to attack the city of Lilliput.
  • Galaxy Trio. Normal size Vikings use ship-mounted catapults to attack a small village.
  • Jonny Quest episode Monster in the Monastery. Catapults flinging flaming missiles are used to attack a small town.
  • In the Bugs Bunny short Knighty Knight Bugs, the Black Knight (Yosemite Sam) uses a catapult to try to launch himself into a castle window.
  • Avatar: The Last Airbender - The Fire Nation army devises an enormous mechanised drill as a way of breaching the walls of Ba Sing Se.
  1. in the movie version
  2. these things don't need an operator, but they consume magical items and as such are too expensive for regular use, especially when there are other power sources