Leonardo da Vinci ( 1452-1519)
The Renaissance engineer-artist Leonardo da Vinci lived in an age rife with political plotting and plunder. In this enivironment, da Vinci designed many innovative war machines. In a letter requesting employment to Ludovico Sforza, Duke of Milan, da Vinci lists as one of his many desirable abilities the knowledge to design an armored vehicle:
“ I will build covered chariots, safe and unattackable, that when entering into the ranks of the enemy with their artillery, no matter how great a multitude of soldiers there might be, they will be unable to break. and behind these, infantry will be able to follow without any impediment."
A Closet Pacifist…?
Called war “a beastly madness”
“Animals will be seen on earth who will always be fighting against each other with the greatest loss and frequent deaths on each side. And there will be no end to their malice; by their strong limbs we shall see a great portion of the tress of the vast forests laid low throughout the universe; and when they are filled with food the satisfaction of their desires will be to deal death and grief and labour and fears and flight to every living thing; and from their immediate pride they will desire to rise towards heaven, but the excessive weight of their limbs will keep them down. Nothing will remain on earth, or under the earth, or the waters, which will not be persecuted, disturbed and spoiled, and those of one country removed to another. And their bodies will become the tomb and means of transit of all the living beings they have killed.
O Earth, why dost thou not open up and engulf them in the fissures of thy vast abyss and caverns, and no longer display in the sight of heaven so cruel and horrible a monster?”
(Leonardo, in the profetie, as translated by A. Richard Turner)
Leonardo and Warfare Technology
The world of Leonardo do Vinci was a violent one. The new use of effective artillery made war more destructive and eventually changed the way war was waged. As the ducal servant of Ludovico Sforza, ruler of Milan, war was part of the business of life. The exact state of Leonardo’s involvement in warfare technology though, is unknown. He designed many different weapon systems, but there is no evidence of any of them being built. We don’t even know if they were drawn with the intention of being built. Some seem to be fanciful and impractical, like this tank for instance. Were the majority of his weaponry sketches an imaginative outlet for him and his patron? Was he merely an “idea man”, meant to throw out whatever creative and innovative concepts he could think of, which were then handed over to the actual engineers? Was he a pacifist? Was he merely interested in the mechanical aspects of warfare technology as machinery? Were some of his drawing just a catalogue of things he’d seen?
Leonardo did make practical proposals in the defensive aspects of warfare however. Artillery turned war to siege warfare. Leonardo drew up effective plans for defensive fortifications. His circular plan for Piombino, though never implemented, was rather ingenious.
Some of his warfare designs
• Armoured car
• Cannon with adjustable elevating arc
• Three-barrelled cannon
• Ogival projectiles
• Hull rammer
• Automatic hull rammer
• Giant cross-bow
• Multiple cross-bow
• Ballista for hurling stones
• Scythed chariot
• Firearm with an elevating gear adjustable by means of a peg blocking system
• Firearm with screw elevating gear
• Machine for storming walls
• Hoist for lifting cannons
• Eight-barrelled organ
• Ladder for besieging walls
• Automatic igniting device
• Split-trail gun carriage
• Breech-loading naval cannon
• Chain for automatic igniting device
• 33-barrelled organ