15 Da Vinci War Machines

Author avatar Danny Ashton

The Great Leonardo Da Vinci is known the world over for his infamous paintings such as the Mona Lisa and The Last Supper. But he was no one trick pony. He was also the inventor of some of the greatest war machines ever conceived. Here’s a look at some of his finest examples.

1. Leonardo Da Vinci’s Terminator

Leonardo Da Vinci’s mechanical knight was not discovered until 1957, when Carlo Pedretti discovered it, hidden amongst Da Vinci’s countless designs. The mechanical knight, first sketched by DaVinci in 1495, was not reconstructed until 1996 when Mark Rosheim published an independent study of the robot, followed by a joint enterprise with the Florence Institute and Museum of the History of Science.

Image source: Wikipedia

2. Machine Gun

The multi-barrelled machine gun was a weapon with remarkable firepower. Da Vinci sketched this rolling artillery battery around 1480 while in Florence. A hand crank adjusts elevation, and reloading is a major challenge – especially when under fire .

Image source: Leonardo3

3. Cluster Bomb

To make the bombard, or cannon, a weapon already known at the time, even more deadly, Da Vinci also designed large projectiles, composed of round shells fitted around iron spacers and stitched inside a pliable casing. Once fired, this invention exploded into many fragments that had greater range and impact than a single cannon-ball.

Image source: Leonardo3

4. Scythed chariots

This is one of Leonardo’s most beautiful manuscripts. His sketches reveal horse drawn carriages covered with sharp, swirling blades that moved in the thick of battle slashing through everything in their wake. The rotating blades were specifically designed to sever the limbs from its victims. In one of his drawings, Da Vinci illustrated the carnage in such gruesome detail that his notation indicated that his contraption probably would wreak as much havoc on friends as on foes.

Image source: Leonardo3

5. Barrage Cannon

This drawing is on the first page of the Codex Atlanticus. The drawing itself is very complete and quite fascinating, illustrating the plan of a bombard with sixteen radial cannons. The most interesting aspect of the project is the centre of the bombard itself, housing a pair of mechanical paddles and gear wheels, providing only a partial glimpse of the possibilities of massive weapon.

Image source: Codex-Atlanticus

6. Tank

This is perhaps one of the most famous of Da Vinci’s projects. His idea of reaping panic and destruction among enemy troops was envisioned in this tortoise-shaped vehicle, reinforced with metal plates, and ringed with cannons. In a job application to the Duke of Milan, Da Vinci boasted “I can make armoured cars, safe and unassailable, which will enter the close ranks of the enemy with their artillery, and no company of soldiers is so great that they will not break through them. And behind these the infantry will be able to follow quite unharmed and without any opposition.” 

Image source: Leonardo3

7. Wall Defense

Leonardo designed complex and ingenious methods of defence. Here, when the walls are under attack, the soldiers hidden behind the battlements could quickly and easily ward-off enemies and their single movement by using a system of levers. As the enemy used ladders in an attempt to breach the walls, the levers were engaged to move the rails built into the walls that the ladders were leaning on, causing them to become unstable and eventually fall.

Image source: flickr/Magda Tarasiewicz

Image source: lib-art

8. Catapult

The basic design of the catapult had been in use for hundreds of years before Da Vinci embarked upon improving it. He actually came up with several different models. This particular design uses a double leaf spring to produce an enormous amount of energy in order to propel stone projectiles or incendiary materials over great distances. Loading of the two large leaf springs was accomplished using a hand crank on the side of the catapult.

Image source: Hucbald

9. Fortress

Leonardo designed this fortress with the idea of rendering it safe from the attack. The elaborate shape is innovative and presumably could have been an effective defence against the impact of deadly artillery projectiles.The Da Vinci fortress could be considered by many as very modern in its design with its circular towers and the slightly inclined exterior walls designed to absorb attacks from firearms.

Image source: Universal Leonardo

10. Dismountable cannon

Cannons were very heavy and the carriages used to transport them were often unwieldy. Leonardo designed a structure that could be easily dismantled and transported, thus permitting the cannon to be easily moved about.

Image source: pinterest

11. Springald

The Springald, a device that throws large bolts or stones, resembles a contemporary crossbow with inward swinging arms. Examples of springalds were drawn by Leonardo da Vinci during a period when he was also drawing powder-propelled weapons. Though several reconstructed examples can be found, there are no known archaeological finds of these machines.

Image source: Leonardo’s Catapults

12. Da Vinci’s Helicopter

Leonardo Da Vinci is credited with having first conceived the idea of a machine for vertical flight. His sketch of the airscrew dated 1493, was not discovered until the 19th century. It consisted of a platform mounted by a helical screw driven by a rudimentary system, not unlike that of rubber band-powered model aircraft. Da Vinci’s notes state “if this instrument in the form of a screw were well made of linen, the pores of which had been stopped with starch, it should, upon being turned sharply, rise into the air in a spiral”.

Image source: Wikipedia

13. Armoured vessel

This 3D rendering is based on the drawing depicting Da Vinci’s armoured vessel shows a light vessel fitted with a prow protected by metal and used to ram enemy ships. Also featured is a  rotating covering shield, which opens during the boarding phase of the attack. The covering shield provided protection against enemy ships and allowed the vessel to approach the enemy without the cannon being observed.

Image source: Universal Leonardo

14. Giant crossbow

The crossbow is so big that the six wheels are set at a slight angle in order to increase its stability. This gigantic Da Vinci crossbow launches heavy balls, rather than arrows. The bow is made with flexible wooden pieces bound together by cords and held in place by pivoting pins. It has a span of approximately thirteen meters and it is stretched by a complex screw mechanism.

Image source: Universal Leonardo

15. Da Vinci Siege Weapon

The model proposed by Leonardo represents a machine designed for attacking defensive walls, consisting of a mobile structure with an armoured bridge that rests on the walls of an enemy fortress, while the troops penetrate the city or castle. In addition to new machines, Da Vinci proposes classical systems for use in assaulting enemy city walls.

Image source: Wikimedia Commons

Some of these ideas may seem dated now, but when Da Vinci first conceived them they were revolutionary. With these sketches he progressed the way we look at warfare both on the attack and defence. A true pioneer in both renaissance painting and war machines.

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