While many know Leonardo Da Vinci as the Italian painter of iconic artworks like the “Monalisa” and “The Last Supper,” he is also well-known as an inventor. Recognized as a man of many interests, his concepts and designs for contraptions and equipment were way ahead of his time. In this article, our focus is on one of Da Vinci’s famous sketch plans for building a giant crossbow. It reflects not only Da Vinci’s work as a modern engineer but also as a genius caught between the world of art and military conflict.
Crossbows are said to have been invented in China in as early as the 5th century, during the country’s tumultuous “Warring States” era. The weapon later became the most important armament in Europe during medieval times until fire arms and gunpowder became the most favored weapon in battlefields.
What Drove Da Vinci to Make Plans for a Giant Crossbow
During his lifetime as an artist and an inventor in Italy, Da Vinci moved in a world where cities were independent states led by wealthy aristocrats. As head of such states, they coveted ownership of neighboring lands as a means to have greater wealth and power.
One way they could wield advantage over other territories is by having greater military power, for which they commissioned talented engineers and artisans to build the most destructive war machines possible.
One such talent was Leonardo Da Vinci, who in 1486 was hired by an Italian prince named Ludovico Sforza, who had plans to expand his sovereignty in the Milan region. Although Da Vinci responded to the request by presenting a sketch of a giant crossbow, which at that time was called “ballista” by Italians, it remained just a plan.
.The Italian prince was largely interested. As Da Vinci had described it, the giant crossbow will have such great propulsion it will be able to launch larger objects that can cause destruction at the highest level. Yet, as many historians had discovered, Da Vinci was a man who valued life more than anything else. Academicians widely surmised he had intentionally sabotaged the sketch plans for the giant crossbow, by deliberately making basic calculation errors that any skilled mathematician is not likely to overlook.
Apparently, Da Vinci’s giant crossbow was not actually designed to cause the most damage but only to impress a great degree of intimidation. Word had spread that Da Vinci’s giant crossbow will propel huge balls of flames and giant boulders and not arrows. The mere though of battling against an enormous war machine was enough to sow fear and terror, it made Storza’s enemies think twice before challenging him in a battle.
Actually, Da Vinci’s giant crossbow worked, but only as a psychological weapon as it was never built at all; even as modern day engineers tried to do so.