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Mechanism for forcefully propelling stones, spears, or other projectiles, in use since ancient times. Nearly all catapults employed in ancient and medieval artillery operated by a sudden release of tension on wooden beams or twisted cords of horsehair, gut, sinew, or other fibres. An exception was the medieval trebuchet, powered by a counterweight. Modern mechanisms using steam, hydraulic pressure, tension, or other force to launch gliders, aircraft, or missiles are also called catapults.
This entry comes from Encyclopædia Britannica Concise. For the full entry on catapult, visit Britannica.com.