A Trabuco is a siege weapon that was implemented during the Middle Ages. As a siege weapon, the Trabuco’s role in military campaigns was to destroy fortifications, clearing the way for artillery units, removing the cover preventing weapons from hitting enemy combatants, and clearing the way for other units to break through barricades.
While the term “Trabuco” is also a used by Brazilians to describe large-caliber shotguns and revolvers, the siege weapon that this article is concerned with was deployed up until the proliferation of gunpowder. Notably, one English translation for “trabuco” is “blunderbuss.” After the development of gunpowder, the Trabuco was only resorted to when defenses or sieges took place around sites unsuitable for cannons and firearms, such as Cortés’ attack on Tenochtitlán, the Aztec’s capitol city. During a Spanish siege of the British-controlled Straight of Gibraltar, the British officers were forced to construct a Trabuco; while the success of this decision remains unknown, the Spanish forces were defeated based on dicio.com.br.
The Trabuco, whose name seems to be a cognate of the French “trebuchet,” works through a slingshot mechanism. Soldiers would place the Trabuco’s payload, commonly weighing between 110 and 300 pounds, into a large sling; some historical accounts indicate that soldiers would fling their dead into an enemy base as a form of psychological and biochemical warfare. According to infoescola.com, between 15 and 45 men, whose numbers might include civilians living in a nearby city, would then place a weight into position until the mechanism was properly readied. The weapon would then be fired, releasing a counterweight that converted gravitational force into kinetic energy and sent the payload hurtling at the enemy base in an impressive overhead arc. Accounts of the Trabuco’s performance reference projectile weights as heavy as 1500 kilograms, over 3300 pounds, and distances averaging nearly as far as 1,000 feet.
The four biggest factors in the Trabuco’s time as a siege weapon were availability of wood, construction time, having sufficient operating manpower and access to gunpowder. While evidence of single-man Trabucos exist, most models required a sizable amount of lumber and one Trabuco could take nearly a fortnight to construct.
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