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Siege Engines

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Not your average party tank.

A man can only swing a sword as hard as man can. A goblin behind a machine can pulverize a fortress.
Senior Sapper Pickler, A Practical Guide To Evil

Siege engines are war machines of various sorts used by attacking armies to help them win a siege, whether by destroying enemy fortifications, helping to bypass them, or attacking enemy forces through or over the walls. They’ve been fairly common in Real Life from ancient times until the end of fortresses as major military factors, and are as a result very well represented in fantasy works, alternate history and Historical Fiction. Often used during The Siege or when Storming the Castle.

Defending armies may use siege engines as well, usually to repel enemy attempts to breach or scale the walls or attack the enemy without having to leave the safety of their fortifications.

Siege engines can come in various types for various tasks, with the more common variations including:

  • Catapults: Simple constructions designed to fling projectiles, which can be pretty much anything.
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  • Ballistae: Have the appearance of a giant crossbow but use torsion rather than tension energy to power their missiles. 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. They operate by dropping a counterweight, causing the sling to shoot up with great force. (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 wall.
  • Mantlets: Large mobile shields.
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  • ... and many other variations.

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 potential for great visuals, such as the straining muscles of the attackers working their dire engine, or the horrified defenders watching an 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. See also Anti-Structure, which is about weapons that are effective against structures. And if someone wields a ballista as a handheld weapon, it may overlap with Great Bow.


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  • An ad for Kit Kat features a pair of Medieval Morons attempting to assemble a catapult from a set of IKEA-style instructions with no words.

    Anime and Manga 
  • Berserk features relatively little in the way of siege engines (Griffith and the Band of the Hawk specialize in high-speed cavalry strikes), but early on we see massive cannons.


  • Whenever the Romans pull them out in Asterix the village is going to be thrashed... Immediately followed by the Romans themselves-hence why they usually do it only when they believe the Gauls are without their magic potion that makes them invincible, with the one exception being Brutus' men who didn't know what would happen.
  • Hägar the Horrible and his horde make frequent use of rams and catapults. In one strip he fills in for the catapult while his men assemble it, until his arms get tired. And on occasion the French or English follow them home, in which case Helga's cooking makes an apt substitute for boiling oil.


  • 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 Lord of the Rings:
    • In The Two Towers, the assault on Helm's 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, and catapults are used by Sauron's forces to weaken Osgiliath, and a huge ram was brought to bear against the gates of Minas Tirith, in addition to siege towers pushed by trolls and full of angry orcs.
  • The Court Jester had a small one used to launch the villains over the battlements.
  • 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 version of Robin Hood 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.
  • Robin Hood: Prince of Thieves had Robin and Azeem being launched over the castle walls by a catapult (landing safely on a pile of hay). The unlikelyhood of this working is lampshaded.
    Will Scarlett: Fuck me, he cleared it!
  • The Prince of Thieves example received a Shout-Out in the form of a throwaway gag in Robin Hood: Men in Tights, with the Sherrif of Nottingham demonstrating the Stealth Catapult.
  • 55 Days at Peking (1963). The defenders at the Peking legation watch in horror as a huge siege tower is hauled out of the darkness by hundreds of Chinese soldiers. Then it starts shooting rockets at them.


  • The Lord of the Rings: 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 — named after Morgoth's warhammer Grond, Hammer of the Underworld — the most badass Battering Ram ever conceived, with a head shaped like a wolf's and enchanted with "spells of ruin", drawn by great beasts and swung by trolls, which was used to break the gate of Minas Tirith.
  • Kushiel's Legacy: In Kushiel's 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.
  • In High Citadel by Desmond Bagley, passengers from a crashed aircraft build an improvised trebuchet from abandoned equipment in a mine, in this case to fend off communist guerillas who are trying to repair the bridge across a ravine in order 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 Made of Win and leave it at that.
  • The bad guys in Mogworld have a trebuchet, although everyone keeps calling it a catapult.
  • The GrailQuest 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, which he refers to as "woe engines".
  • 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.
  • A Song of Ice and Fire:
    • In the second book, A Clash of Kings, three huge trebuchets are used in the defense of King's Landing against Stannis Baratheon. They're also used to hurl traitors in a gruesome form of execution. Scorpions and spitfires are mentioned, implied to be ballistae and catapults respectively.
    • When the forces of Daenerys Targaryen are besieging the city of Meereen in A Storm of Swords, they lack trees to make siege weapons thanks to a scorched earth policy of the defenders, so they break up the only ships they have to make a 'turtle' covered in horse hides (against burning oil) protecting the battering rams (made from the masts) they use to break down the gates.
    • Many descriptions of the Wall mention old, derelict catapults and trebuchets stuck into the ice on top of it.
  • Siege weapons come into play heavily in The Sapphire Rose, during the Battle of the Basillica of Chyrellos. They are mentioned and utilized throughout the series however, notably by the Arcian armies, which are often commented on as specializing in siege warfare. Unlike the Thalasians.
  • Discworld:
    • The Piecemaker was originally a cart-mounted ballista intended for knocking down city walls, before Sergeant Detritus realised it was the perfect size for a troll to wield as a hand weapon. At first it fired a six-foot-long steel arrow, but is now modified to fire a huge amount of arrows in the general direction it's pointed at (and by general direction we mean standing directly behind Detritus is the only safe location... most of the time). The enormous forces the arrows are exposed to mean that after being fired they promptly turn into an expanding cloud of flaming shrapnel of incredible destructive power, to the point that Detritus isn't actually allowed to fire it at people — generally, the Piecemaker gets employed when the Watch needs a gate or a wall to not be there anymore.
    • In Night Watch, Big Mary is an ox-powered wall with grappling hooks, designed for pulling down barricades.
  • In David Drake's Ranks of Bronze a Roman legion abducted by unscrupulous alien merchants are once made to siege a fort held by aliens who have invented Greek Fire and pour it down murder holes. To get in they invent a gallery and a flamethrower made from a 150-foot log and a giant bellows, which they lean against the top of the tower with the enemy's Greek fire and shoot their own Greek fire up at them.
  • In A Practical Guide To Evil, the Praesi Legions' sapper corps often build ballistae or small catapults when they have a large battle ahead. It's a mark of how advanced the modern Legions are that they construct their own siege engines from their own blueprints, while almost everyone else buys theirs from the Kingdom Under.

     Live-Action TV 

  • Masada featured a variety of Siege Engines — siege tower (with a Battering Ram at the top), 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.
  • Game of Thrones. In the Battle of the Blackwater ballistae and an improvised mantlet are seen, the latter made by turning a boat upside down; the boat has already been fitted with wooden supports to hold it above the ground so as to protect those manning the battering ram.
  • Catapults are a Running Gag on Kaamelott: Leodagan holds them to be the ultimate weapon in defense and offense and is forever trying to convince Arthur to buy more while remaining blind to their Awesome, but Impractical nature. He once had one built in the castle courtyard without thinking of how to get it out (he wanted to bust down the castle wall), and as a result it can't even fire since the castle is in the way, and in a later episode built a second one that could fit through the gate and fire from inside... if it weren't for the first catapult that's still in the way.

     Tabletop 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.
    • 3.5 had (among other things) Heroes of Battle, which had magical siege weapons and artillery, such as ballista that fire lightning bolts!
  • Games Workshop games:
    • Most factions can field various siege weapons in Warhammer. 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.
    • Warhammer 40,000:
      • With the strength and agility to climb sheer walls, and short ranged weaponry powerful enough to melt through even the thickest fortress wall, the daemon engines known as Maulerfiends make excellent siege weapons, capable of silencing any stronghold should they make it too their walls.
      • The Epic scale Death Dealer daemon engine of Khorne is a mobile siege tower with a mechanical torso fitted to the front. The daemon engine is designed to disgorge hordes of fanatical warriors straight onto a fortresses walls while the daemon's robotic body uses it's deadly close combat weapons to slaughter the defenders.
      • Early editions of the Epic scale version of the game had the Corvus Assault Pod. A specially designed arm mount, the Corvus allowed a Warlord Titan to transport a detachment of Space Marine Terminators and deploy them directly into the upper floors of enemy held buildings and defensive walls, turning the Titan into a massive, walking siege tower.
  • 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.
  • In 'Kings of War'' most factions have bolt throwers as their siege weapons. The Dwarfs and the Abyssal Dwarfs are the only ones with cannons as siege weapons.
  • Legend of the Five Rings includes rules for siege engines in its Emerald Empire supplement. With the notable exception of the Crab Clan's Kaiu siegemasters, they are uniformly terrible, as Rokugan looks upon them with a combination of incomprehension and derision. This explains why The Siege is the primary way to deal with fortresses despite its innumerable drawbacks.

  • 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.
  • Star Wars: Galactic Battlegrounds which is Age of Empires in Star Wars. It features siege units available to all factions, pummlers which are energy battering rams, artillery, and anti air mobile. Then the cannon which an enormous siege cannon which is the equivalent of the trebuchets of Age of Empires.
  • Patapon and Patapon 2 both feature levels with catapults, both in your enemy's and your own side. Siege engines become a new patapon class of their own in Patapon 3.
  • Warcraft III: Every race has their own siege weapon: Orcs have Catapults, Night Elves have Balistae, the Alliance have dwarven mortars and steam tanks (functionally a battering ram), and the Undead have a Meat Wagon which catapults corpses, spreading disease.
    • In the expansion, the catapults and ballistae were replaced by Demolishers and Glaive Throwers respectively, while the steam tank got renamed to Siege Engine and now has the ability to fire at multiple air units simultaneously.
  • 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. Albeit frequently for defense rather than sieges, as its splash damage when in immobile siege mode is very effective against infantry charges.
  • 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 Steam Punk 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. (Although the specific machine depicted on the trope page verged upon Game-Breaker status in a particular battleground for awhile before it was unable to catch up with increase in player levels)
    • Many other siege weapons are present as stationary scenery objects. These range from realistic cannons and catapults to Military Mashup Machines such as a gigantic sling that shoots sawblades and a stone castle tower on tank treads.
    • Garrosh's push to militarize the Horde led to the creation of the Siege Juggernaut, a scorpion-shaped siege engine with drills, lasers, missiles, and mines, and Iron Stars, exploding motorized mines that also crush anything they run over. When he fled to an alternate Draenor he took plans for the Iron Stars and other siege weapons with him. The Iron Horde went on to add flamethrowers, two types of cannons, and a screw to the siege weapons seen in-game.
  • The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings opens with a siege, complete with ballistae and a truly enormous siege tower that Geralt calls "ridiculous".
  • 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.
  • Present in the Total War games, specifically the Shogun, Rome, and Medieval series. In Rome and Medieval, catapults and ballistae are usually built in cities and travel with the army, while siege towers, battering rams, and ladders are built on-site and disappear after the battle. Medieval also introduces cannons in the later stage, which can bring down walls with a few well-placed shots. Unlike most games, where siege engines appear to move on their own, all siege engines here have to be pushed by a sufficient number of people. Empire and Napoleon have cannons, howitzers, mortars, and rockets as siege engines.
    • Artillery units normally have very limited ammo. However, Empire and Napoleon gave them (and ships) unlimited ammo. Total War: Shogun 2 goes back to limited ammo with siege engines no longer being mobile. The "Fall of the Samurai" expansion allows nearby ships to be used as siege platforms, shelling the target area with offscreen barrages.
    • Medieval II: Total War also has elephant-mounted artillery for certain factions.
    • Total War: Warhammer gives each race unique aesthetics to their siege weapons, in addition to whatever artillery and monstrous creatures they can field as part of their normal roster. Vampire Count siege towers, for example, look like massive pillars made of bones, while Dwarfs construct hollow statues of their warriors for besieging.
  • The closely related Dynasty Warriors, Samurai Warriors, Warriors Orochi, and Bladestorm The Hundred Years War series feature a variety of siege engines on stages focused on taking a fortress. They range from rams to siege towers to cannon.
  • Many Fire Emblem games have ballistae, either as their own (usually enemy exclusive) unit or a special weapon that can be used by archers and snipers. Their utility is somewhat limited due to their iffy damage and poor accuracy, but they can make life hell for flying units. The Tellius games also had catapults, which dealt undodgeable Area of Effect damage in exchange for being even weaker and losing their effectiveness against fliers.
  • Besiege takes this to its logical conclusion. Every level gives you a specific mission, from destroying a castle to slaughtering an army to traversing a dangerous pass. You are given near-unlimited freedom with which to build a siege engine capable of carrying out that mission. All usual tropes apply.
  • Stronghold Kingdoms:
    • For the attackers, Catapults are the best unit for tearing down walls quickly, launching a barrage of rocks at anything in front of them.
    • For defenders, Ballistae deal massive damage at whatever they hit, often leading to a one-hit kill.
  • In Command & Conquer: Generals each faction has two or more units filling these role, usually long ranged artillery capable of fire outside the range of turrets. The USA has its Tomahawk launcher and Microwave tank. China has the Inferno cannon, and nuke cannon. GLA has the Scud launcher, Rockey buggy, and Bomb truck.
  • Some stages in Dragon's Crown have Ballistae that the characters could use. They are powerful but are cumbersome to move and aim, making them impractical to use unless fighting large targets like the Red Dragon. The end of the Bilbaron Subterranean Fortress's B Route also has a Siege Cannon that the player could use to deal heavy damage to the Gargoyle Gate.
  • In Diablo III Act III takes place in Bastion's Keep which was equipped with a large number of catapults and siege towers. Three catapults need to be levered into position to fire on the attacking demons while siege towers are only used as makeshift bridges within the Keep.
    • The demons have their own living demonic variants of siege engines. Demonic Hellbearers are the equivalent of siege towers, being massive worms which cling to the top of the battlements and spew out an endless stream of demons. Demonic Tremors are sappers and battering rams, capable of tearing through walls with ease.
  • Absolutely essential to taking cities in Civilization. Melee units can attack cities, but will take massive damage doing it, so unless you intend to try a very expensive Zerg Rush (or happen to have very advanced units relative to your opponent) you're going to want some catapults, trebuchets, or cannon to soften that city up. Certain Civs well known for their historical siege capabilities get unique siege units (Battering Rams for the Huns, Siege Towers for the Assyrians, and Ballistae for the Romans).


  • The Order of the Stick has them, notably with Redcloak throwing titanium elementals with catapults (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 engines, withdrawing from combat with anything else. In this way, he destroys so many siege engines that Ansom is forced to wait another day for reinforcements.
    • Siege towers are kind of weird in this setting, since their purpose is to wheel up troops who hack away at the actual wall with picks and spades until it collapses (rather than simply surmount it), with the relative strength of a wall being determined by the number of units stationed atop it. This is par for the course of the RPG-Mechanics Verse setting.
  • 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!"
  • In The Senkari ballista bolts go through armour and kill a dragon.

     Western Animation 

  • The Adventures of Gulliver (1968). Miniature Vikings use ship-mounted catapults to attack the city of Lilliput.
  • Galaxy Trio. Normal-sized 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. Their ships also employ trebuchets to launch flaming projectiles from, which they use as their standard attack. The live action adaptation, for all of its faults, does have a somewhat creative new weapon: giant siege cannons that the Fire Nation troops bend through amplifying their fire blasts in order to melt huge holes in the wall of ice protecting the Northern Water Tribe.

    Real Life 


Example of: