Controversy surrounds using the term 'mangonel' to describe a particular medieval war machine. There is no documentary support for portraying the 'mangonel' as a single-arm torsion catapult, as do many dictionaries and English/American works on medieval weapons. The convention seems to have grown from assumptions of 19th century writers who were very familiar with ancient Roman mechanical artillery, and easily conveyed the meaning of the word 'mangonel' found in early medieval sources to mean the Roman single-arm torsion catapult.
In Western documents, one of the earliest reports of a 'mangana' (Latin plural for 'mangonel') is in the poem by Abbon de Saint-Germain-des-Prés (850-923) describing the Viking siege of Paris in 885/6. However, the monk Abbon's description of the configuration of the particular engine is vague, allowing later scholars' interpretations to be based upon on their preconceived concepts of the 'mangonel'. Guillaume le Breton's report (c. 1200s) of a 'mangonellus Turcorum' also fails to provide a useful description of the weapon. The modern French translator of Guillaume, Waquet, references a French scholar on medieval weapons, Camille Enlart, who states that the mangonel was a throwing machine with a fixed, not suspended, counterweight hutch. From Enlart's work, it appears that this positon was influenced mostly by that of the 19th century French author, Viollet-le-Duc.
Guillaume le Breton's reference (ca. 1200s) to a 'Turkish' mangonel as being new to the crusaders supports the theory that this was one of the medieval rotating-beam engines introduced to western Europe by the eastern Muslims.
This makes medieval Muslim documents particularly important in the search to define the medieval 'mangonel'. One such work is a well illustrated, 1462 Arabic manuscript by Yusuf ibn Urunbugha al-Zaradkash called Kitab aniq fi al- manajaniq (An Elegant Book on Trebuchets). Western Arabists examining this work and that of other Muslim writers have not yet found an unchallenged resolution to the 'mangonel' question.
A leading scholar on Arabic and early medieval literature relating to the 'rotating-beam' artillery used in the Middle Ages is Dr. Paul Chevedden. He traces the expresion 'mangonel' to the Greek term manganikón, that came into the Arabic as manjaniq. The Muslims who are credited with further developing the 'rotating-beam' engines appear to have associated the term with the larger trestle-framed configuration of this machine. Dr. Chevedden is one who practices the convention of calling all rotating-beam machines 'trebuchets'. His works are included among the references given below, and provide valuable coverage for the English reading public on the topic.
Waquet, Henri, ed., trans. of Abbon's. Le siege de Paris par les Normands,
Poeme du IXe siecle, Paris, Les Belles Lettres, 1942.
Cahen, Claude, "Un traite d'armurerie compose pour Saladin," Bulletin d'etudes orientales, 12 (1947-1948), pp.103-63.
Chevedden, Paul E. et al., "The Trebuchet," Scientific American (July
1995), pp. 66-71.
Chevedden, Paul E. "The Artillery of King James I the Conqueror." Iberia and the Mediterranean World of the Middle Ages: Essays in Honor of Robert I. Burns, edited by P.E. Chevedden, D.J. Kagay, and P.G. Padilla, Leiden: E.J. Brill, 1996, pp.47-94.
Chevedden, Paul E, "The Hybrid Trebuchet: The Halfway Step to the Counterweight Trebuchet," On the Social Origins of Medieval Institutions: Essays in Honor of Joseph F. O'Callaghan, edited by Donald J. Kagay and Theresa M. Vann, Leiden: E. J. Brill, 1998, pp.179-222.
Enlart, Camille, Manuel d'archeologie francaise depuis les temps merovingiens jusqu'a la renaissance, 3 vols., Paris, A. Picard, 1902-1916, 2nd ed., 1932, vol. 2, part 2, pp.491-92.
Hill, Donald. "Trebuchets," Viator, Medieval and Renaissance Studies, vol.4, 1973, pp.99-114.
Viollet-le-Duc, E., Dictionnaire raisonné de l'architecture française du xie au xvie siècle, vol 5, Paris, Morel, 1875.
West European and/or Muslim medieval observers may have employed the term 'mangonel' for any war machine that hurled large projectiles. The term may have had limited meaning for only a few of the medieval observers, or the meaning changed over time and among different societies. The evidence suggests that it was used most prevalently to refer to rotating-beam engines -- whether to all, or only to a particular type is unresolved. Following the count-based judgment of M. Beffeyte, this presentation classifies the mangonel as a rotating-beam throwing machine with a fixed counterweight hutch.