Leonardo Da Vinci was the epitome of a Renaissance Man, not only for being a great artist but also for pioneering the concepts of several modern inventions. He was a scientist, an engineer, a mathematician, a philosopher, an architect and anatomist all rolled into one. Yet while some contemporary technologists found some of the italian genius’ concepts doable, most of Da Vinci’s plans for war machines often failed.
Why Da Vinci Was Into Designing Plans for War Machines
Aside from being an artist of high repute, Da Vinci was also famous for being a skilled tradesman who can design and build anything. In 1485, Prince Ludovico Sforza of Milan had hired Leonardo Da Vinci to build war machines, in anticipation of other rulers who wanted to forcibly annex Milan to their kingdoms.
It was during that time that Da Vinci came up with numerous plans to improve the most famous military weapon at the time, the ballista, or what we know of today as the crossbow. One such concept was to improve the shooting power of the ballista by turning the weapon into a “rapid fire crossbow.”Another planned innovation was that of a giant crossbow, a gigantic ballista that would have been big enough to launch cannon balls and fireballs as munitions.
However, Da Vinci’s war machines were never built at all. Historians and engineers later found out that except for the rapid fire crossbow, most of the Renaissance Man’s drawings and instructions for building a specific type of war machine, were destined to fail.
Da Vinci Wanted His War Machine Plans to Fail
Many of Da Vinci’s war machine plans contained errors in mathematical calculations that were mostly basic, which modern day scholars believe were intentional. That is considering Da Vinci’s mathematical skills in calculating the designs of his other concepts, such as the bicycle, the parachute, the helicopter and the use of solar power, which is just to name a few.
In 2013, a group of modern day engineers were able to build a working prototype of Da Vinci’s “rapid fire crossbow.” On the other hand, present-day engineers who attempted to build Da Vinci’s giant crossbow discovered errors that became apparent, only after the massive weapon was built.
The most notable error that Da Vinci made for a war machine, was that of the armored vehicle or what is called today as a tank. Scholars became convinced that the Italian genius’ errors were intentional, because as exemplified by the tank, the wheels of the contraption were designed to move backward instead of forward.
The belief that the errors discovered in Da Vinci’s diagrams were intentional, was also in keeping with the Renaissance Man’s personality and nature. Historians have found out that the Italian artist was a homosexual as he was not interested in having relationships with women. Yet he was a lover of animals and a vegetarian as well, as reflected in one of his many famous quotes.
”..from an early age I abjured the use of meat — the time will come when men will look upon the killing of animals in the same way as they look upon the murder of men.
While Da Vinci had no choice but to work for Prince Ludovico as a military engineer, he was also a pacifist who believed that sowing fear and terror would be enough to discourage his employer’s enemies from attacking. Perhaps, Da Vinci’s non-violent strategy had worked for a few years, but as history has it, King Louis XII’s Italian War in 1499 succeeded in taking away Prince Ludovico’s sovereignty over Milan .
As an aside, if reading this guest post has piqued your interest in crossbows, you can read more on crossbows here.