In my fantasy universe, dwarves use a tactic that involves using a lot of catapults and ballistas mounted on carts that look like Polish/Cossack tabor or Hussite war wagon, which are parked behind the lines and shooting at enemy. What I am interested in, is if it's possible for such weapon systems to be effective in medieval field battle, because I know they were rarely used in that role. On the weapons performance: Ballistas launch 0.5 - 1 kg projectiles, in form of bolts and solid rocks or metal balls, for 400 meters, catapults are a bit harder to define, but let's say the range is about 200 meters and projectiles are rocks and weight is 5-10 kg. Assume fire rate to be 3 rpm for ballistas and 1 rpm for catapults. I am also thinking if it's viable to make canister shot for these weapons, what do you think? The Dwarven ballista looks like that. Tabor. Now imagine this with ballistas and teams of dwarves. Edit: sources for the pictures http://wattsunique.com/blog/orsova-ballista-project-progress-report-2/ https://myarmoury.com/feature_armies_poles.html

  • 1
    $\begingroup$ "against massed enemy troops?" Of course. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Apr 22 '18 at 22:17
  • $\begingroup$ Canister shot out of a catapult is reasonable, but not out of a ballista. $\endgroup$ – RonJohn Apr 22 '18 at 22:18
  • $\begingroup$ Please, link sources of your images, and make sure licenses are CC-compatible. $\endgroup$ – Mołot Apr 22 '18 at 22:22
  • $\begingroup$ Oh, all right, I am new here, sorry, I will put the links here. What does it mean with this compatibility? $\endgroup$ – Mranderson Apr 22 '18 at 22:28
  • $\begingroup$ If you look at the bottom of the page it says that all "user contributions licensed under Creative Commons BY-SA 3.0", which is a public copyright license. If you include images in a question or answer you must make sure that they are licensed under a compatible license; and, if they are licensed under some type of CC-BY license you need to give credit as required by the license. $\endgroup$ – AlexP Apr 22 '18 at 22:52

Yes. The origin of both weapons is as field weapons.

Here is this question from the Ancient History stack. https://history.stackexchange.com/questions/25744/are-there-any-examples-of-balistas-scorpions-or-other-catapult-like-weapons-be?utm_medium=organic&utm_source=google_rich_qa&utm_campaign=google_rich_qa

Wikipedia here describes the scorpio which was a small ballista or heavy stationary crossbow.

During the Roman Republic and early empire, sixty scorpions per legion was the standard, or one for every centuria. The scorpio had mainly two functions in a legion. In precision shooting, it was a weapon of marksmanship capable of cutting down any foe within a distance of 100 meters. During the siege of Avaricum in the war against the Gauls, Julius Caesar describes the terrifying precision of the scorpio.[2] In parabolic shooting, the range is greater, with distances up to 400 meters, and the firing rate is higher (3 to 4 shots per minute). With precision shooting the rate of fire was significantly less.

Scorpions were typically used in an artillery battery at the top of a hill or other high ground, the side of which was protected by the main body of the legion. In this case, there are sixty scorpions present which can fire up to 240 bolts per minute at the enemy army. The weight and speed of a bolt was sufficient to pierce enemy shields, usually also wounding the enemy so struck.

That sounds like a good field weapon. The Greek polybolos was a repeating ballista with a bolt magazine and chain drive. Sort of an ancient gatling gun.

Alexander used catapults / ballista in field battles and was himself wounded by what sounds like a ballista bolt that went through his shield and body armor.

An account of field weaponry of this sort used against cavalry:
from http://warfarehistorynetwork.com/daily/military-history/the-catapult-and-other-war-machines-of-ancient-greece/

In 329 bc swarms of Scythian horse archers opposed Alexander’s crossing of the wide, swift river Jaxartes (Syr-Darya, in Kazahkstan): “… the catapults, at the word of command, opened up on the Scythians who were riding along the edge of the water on the further side. Some of them were hit; one was pierced through both shield and breastplate and fell dead from his horse. The Scythians were taken completely aback by the long range of the catapults, and that, together with the loss of a good man, induced them to withdraw a short distance from the river ….”

One would think Greek fire thrown from a catapult would make for good shock and awe vs massed troops but my quick search did not turn up any references to the Byzantines making war like this. If anyone can find something, edit it in.

  • $\begingroup$ Greek Fire, or Sea Fire (pŷr thalássion) was normally projected from a siphon, in the same manner as a modern flamethrower. See: infogalactic.com/info/Greek_fire for details $\endgroup$ – Thucydides Apr 22 '18 at 23:00

The rate of fire for siege weapons is not high enough for attacking mass troops. A fast cavalry charge could overrun a bank of ballistas. English longbows could shoot down charging horses because a large group of English bowmen could send up a cloud of arrows fast enough and far enough to stop a charge.


  • $\begingroup$ As it is said in description of ballistas and catapults, they have long range and quite rate of fire, and also their own troops protect them. If need arises, they can make wagon fort like in Hussite Wars, so enemy will have to attack them on foot, still under ballista fire $\endgroup$ – Mranderson Apr 24 '18 at 22:22
  • $\begingroup$ After reading more about the wagons used in the Hussites war, they are impressive. The wagon forts acted as mobile castle walls and its effectivies in battle was decided by effectiveness of counterattack by the support troops of the wagon forts. The goal of the wagon forts was to amass enemy troops along the wall of wagon forts so a deadly counterattack was issued against the disorganized troops near the wagon wall. $\endgroup$ – user49647 Apr 25 '18 at 16:46
  • $\begingroup$ By placing siege weapons on wagons for offensive purposes to fight against massed troops, they will act more like tanks. The opposing army will just stay out of range until they are ready or set up their battle formations to absorb the shock from the wagon forts and organize a counterattack against them. $\endgroup$ – user49647 Apr 25 '18 at 16:47
  • $\begingroup$ @user49647 Saying they can stay our of range is assuming the army can retreat and that the carts move slower than an enemy army. The enemy army would be slowed by needing to protect themselves from cavalry and stay in formation while they move. $\endgroup$ – PStag Aug 21 '18 at 20:44

Your Answer

By clicking “Post Your Answer”, you agree to our terms of service, privacy policy and cookie policy

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.