There is a most interesting biblical account in II Chronicles 26:13-15 about the weaponry and military power of King Uzziah of the ancient kingdom of Judah. King Uzziah led a military and national resurgence of the kingdom of Judah which had its capital at Jerusalem. He reigned in the 8th century BC, and the Encyclopaedia Britannica (1943 Edition, Vol. 22, p. 920, see “Uzziah”) states that “the account of his military reorganization and successful campaigns in II Chronicles xxvi is probably not without historic basis.” If even a secular encyclopedic source grudgingly acknowledges that King Uzziah’s accomplishments could actually be true, then Jews and Christians who believe the authenticity of the Bible can have complete confidence in this account. Indeed, we will examine evidence the biblical accounts are quite true.

II Chronicles 26:12-14 record that King Uzziah established an elite officer corps or special forces detachment of 2,600 men and an army of 307,500 men who were equipped with all kinds of offensive weaponry and defensive body armor (“coats of mail” as the King James Version, Open Bible [1975] Edition translates “habergeons” in a marginal reference). In other words, King Uzziah’s army looked like any respectable and well-equipped medieval army and it also is described much like the warriors of Parthia that fought the Romans so often. Notice that the army also had a force of soldiers who had “slings to cast stones.” The concept of casting small stones led some exceptionally-gifted engineers to realize that if soldiers could cast small stones with destructive effect over a short distance, it would also be possible to cast large stones a long way with even greater destructive effect. II Chronicles 26:15 records that King Uzziah had “cunning men” who built  “engines…to be on the towers and upon the bulwarks, to shoot arrows and great stones withal,” and verse 9 records Uzziah built many fortified towers into the walls of Jerusalem. The New Jerusalem Bible has a minimalist rendering of this verse, stating that Uzziah’s “expertly contrived devices… [were] to shoot arrows and drop stones.” However, the Revised Standard Version agrees with the KJV in stating that King Uzziah’s “skillful men… made engines… to be on the towers, and the corners, to shoot arrows and great stones.” The Living Bible translates this to say “huge stones” were hurled by the “engines of war manufactured in Jerusalem.” If you check a concordance, you will see the word translated “great” in the phrase “great stones” is the Hebrew word “gadol” which does mean “great.” When you examine other biblical texts where this word was used, it does have a superlative aspect to it, so the clear consensus and literal translation of this verse is that very large rocks or stones were hurled from these war machines which King Uzziah’s engineers built into the walls and battlements of the city of Jerusalem.

How large were these great or large rocks which could be hurled from the walls of Jerusalem at a besieging army? We do not know, but this is clearly a reference to them being launched a great distance by some kind of stone-hurling device like a catapult or trebuchet (see first four links [1, 2, 3, 4] for various descriptions and depictions). Those who have seen the Lord of the Rings movies or the Kingdom of Heaven movie know what catapults, trebuchets or similar devices looked like. They are war machines made of timbers, ropes, possible cog-wheels or tension-storing ratchets of some kind, a bowl-like repository for a great stone to be set in place for hurling, etc. In the Lord of the Rings movies, the capital city of Gondor, Minis Tirith, is besieged by an army of orcs and other evil creatures equipped with devices which were catapults, trebuchets, etc. as well as siege towers which could approach a city’s walled defenses. However, the city of Minis Tirith also had trebuchets, catapults or giant slings of various sizes built into its layered defensive walls which could hurl large stones or objects at the attackers. Since the author of the Lord of the Rings series was J.R.R. Tolkien, a devoted Christian who knew the Bible very well, I personally think that the description of the trebuchets and/or catapults built into the royal city of Jerusalem’s defensive walls as described in II Chronicles 26:15 inspired Tolkien’s vision of the royal city of Minis Tirith, which, like King Uzziah’s Jerusalem, had catapults or trebuchets built into its defensive walls. Those who have seen the movie, Kingdom of Heaven, saw a movie depicting the siege of the city of Jerusalem in which Saladin’s Muslim army is besieging the Christian Crusader-held city of Jerusalem. The besieging Muslim army had siege towers that attack the walled defenses of Jerusalem as well as catapults or trebuchets to hurl “great stones” at Jerusalem’s defensive walls.  The Christian defenders not only had catapults or trebuchets of their own, but they had ballistas, war machines which shot very large arrows (or “bolts”) a considerable distance with terrific force. The movie depicts an ingenious use of the ballistas to defeat the siege engines of Saladin’s attacking army. King Uzziah of Judah had such weaponry as well according to the biblical narrative.

The above paragraph is intended to give readers a visual connection to the war machines described in II Chronicles 26:15 as being built and embedded into the walls of Jerusalem during the reign of King Uzziah over the kingdom of Judah. We tend to read over this reference in personal Bible study, but this verse has huge literal and implied significance. The war machines of King Uzziah are mentioned in the second link’s description of his reign. The third link has a very noteworthy observation about King Uzziah’s war machines. It states that ”By far, Uzziah’s most interesting contribution was his invention of siege engines, and specifically the first crossbow catapults and ballistae known to the ancient world…Most military historians…propose that the first use of siege engines was in 429 BC. The Bible suggests that these historians ought to revise their theories…” Indeed! Some of the ancient world’s major siege engines or war engines were invented and first deployed by the kingdoms of the tribes of Israel! King Uzziah reigned about three centuries prior to when most military historians think ballistae and rock-hurling war machines were invented. Even the third link’s writers have a minimalist interpretation of what the devices were that hurled “great stones” at an enemy army. They refer to King Uzziah’s devices as merely being”crossbow catapults.” I have reason to believe they were much more impressive than that. The third link includes a discussion of the historic confusion among scholars about when King Uzziah actually became king over Judah. Was it at the end of the 9th century BC or at the beginning of the 8th century BC? King Uzziah’s forebearer, King Solomon, reigned in Jerusalem circa 130-170 years prior to King Uzziah. King Solomon wrote that by his lifetime: “…that which is done is that which shall be done: and there is no new thing under the sun.” Solomon was described as being made by God to be the wisest man who ever lived (I Kings 3:12), and Solomon’s proverbs (Proverbs 8:12) stated that a quality of wisdom is the invention of ”witty inventions” (or “witty devices”). In my books on the history of the tribes of Israel from ancient times to our modern world, I note that secular writers have noticed that there was an explosion of new technologies in the Eastern Mediterranean Sea region “around 1000 BC.” This is the approximate time when King Solomon, the wisest man in history, began his reign. One military device which was invented at that time was the battering ram fitted to a naval warship (bireme, trireme, etc.). At that time King Solomon was closely allied to King Hiram of Tyre in the great maritime Phoenician alliance in which the sailors of Tyre and Sidon jointly crewed a naval war and trading fleet with King Solomon’s Israelite sailors (I Kings 5:1, 9:26-27). So the invention of the naval battering ram (depicted so well in the movie, Ben-Hur), occurred during the Phoenician navy’s dominance of the world’s seas while King Solomon ruled over the entire Phoenician alliance! Perhaps Solomon, the wisest man on earth, invented the battering ram for naval military usage. If naval military inventions came into use during King Solomon’s time, why not land-based military inventions as well?

When King Uzziah was diligently reconstructing the military power of the kingdom of Judah and strengthening the defenses in the walls of Jerusalem, were his skilled men the very first inventors in known history who invented catapults, trebuchets, ballistae, etc. in the 8th century BC, or were they simply copying earlier designs and plans known to and accessible to them? After all, where did King Uzziah reign? The city of Jerusalem. Where were the catapults, trebuchets, ballistae of King Uzziah deployed? The city of Jerusalem. Who was the wisest man (inventor) who ever lived? King Solomon. Where did King Solomon reign at a time when his military power was so vast his kingdom was unassailable? The city of Jerusalem. Who was the ancestor of King Uzziah? King Solomon. In what city would all the records and plans of King Solomon’s inventions be stored? The city of Jerusalem. Could we be seeing a connection here? Could King Uzziah’s engineers have done research into the archives of King Solomon’s reign to find the design plans and descriptions of war machines which were known to have existed in Solomon’s time? It is an interesting thought. What we do know is that King Uzziah’s engineers got the ideas for these war machines from somewhere. King Solomon’s reign was recent enough in King Uzziah’s time that some members of his staff or kingdom could have recalled that their grandfathers told them that in King Solomon’s time there was weaponry that could hurl rocks and shoot arrows a long distance. Uzziah’s staff could have searched through the old archives of King Solomon’s reign and found descriptions of or instructions about how to build the war machines that were built and deployed in King Uzziah’s time. The Bible only gives us a few insights into what happened in the ancient kingdoms of Israel and Judah. We have the divinely inspired information from ancient times that God decided was worth preserving for our information. However, there was surely a massive collection of secular histories and annals that were written by the kings of Israel and Judah and their contemporary historians that never was recorded in the Bible. Before the fall of Judah, all the secular records of the previous kings of the United Kingdom of Israel and, after the division of the 12 tribes into two kingdoms, the kings of Judah, would have been saved in the vaults of Jerusalem for later kings and princes to read and examine.

When the Assyrians later invaded and conquered the northern Kingdom of Israel (the ten tribes), they also invaded the southern kingdom of Judah eight years later (II Kings 18:9-13). Besides the Israelite captives from the ten tribes which the Assyrians had taken earlier, they also took many captives from their invasion of the southern kingdom of Judah and relocated them to Mesopotamia. The Assyrian siege of the Judahite/Jewish city of Lachish is mentioned in II Kings 18:14-17, and it is famously recorded in bas-reliefs depicting that invasion of the Assyrians using siege engines against the city walls of Lachish (see fifth link). A further description of the Assyrian siege of Lachish is found in the writings of my Israeli Jewish friend, Yair Davidy, an author of books and a website concerning the history of the ten tribes of Israel (sixth link). The fifth link oddly asserts that the Assyrian artist who wrote the name for Lachish on certain Assyrian inscriptions actually meant to write the Assyrian name for Jerusalem. I reject that entirely. I think the ancient Assyrian scribes knew exactly what they were writing. The Assyrian records refer to King Hezekiah of Jerusalem being shut up “like a bird in its cage” during the Assyrian siege of Jerusalem. This terminology is important. While the Assyrians used siege engines and frontal attacks vs. the walls of Lachish, there is no record that they dared to attempt such a sustained frontal attack vs. Jerusalem. The Assyrians used starvation as their weapon to compel Hezekiah and Jerusalem to surrender.

I think this Assyrian strategy was caused by the fact that they knew it would be suicide for them to attack Jerusalem in a frontal attack because they would come within range of the catapults, trebuchets, ballistas, etc. that King Uzziah had built into the walls of Jerusalem to slaughter any army making a frontal attack vs. Jerusalem. The refusal of the warlike Assyrians to attempt a sustained frontal attack vs. Jerusalem as they did vs. Lachish strongly infers the war machines of King Uzziah were still embedded in the walls of Jerusalem and were still functional enough to deter any frontal attack. The Assyrians outnumbered Jerusalem’s defenders but they still were too afraid to attack Jerusalem in a frontal attack but rather relied on the starvation a siege would cause. This further indicates that Jerusalem was still defended by obviously formidable war machines in its battlements, parapets, towers, walls, etc. The Assyrians only approached Jerusalem under a flag of truce (Isaiah 36) and II Kings 19:32 records that the besieging Assyrian army never did get close enough to Jerusalem’s walls to “shoot an arrow” within Jerusalem or “cast a bank against it.” The Assyrians surely launched some attacks and shot arrows into the walls of Jerusalem, but they never had a major attack which allowed them to “cast a bank”‘ against Jerusalem’s walls. This is a scripture that is also easy to read over and not grasp its full meaning. It meant that the “banks” (inclined ramps) which the Assyrians built against the city of Lachish were not attempted by the Assyrians in their effort to take Jerusalem. This indicates that Jerusalem had defenses built into its walls that could destroy any Assyrian siege engines if they tried to take Jerusalem the way they did Lachish. This again strongly infers there were war machines in Jerusalem’s defense that deterred the Assyrians from attempting an attack with ramps and siege engines. King Hezekiah of Judah humbly entreated the Lord for deliverance which came when God sent an angel to execute the entire 185,000-man Assyrian army that was besieging Jerusalem (II Kings 19:35). The remaining Assyrians in the region of Judah made a hasty retreat to Assyria.

During the Dark Ages, mankind lost all kinds of knowledge and technologies that more ancient civilizations had developed and used. The use of military catapults, trebuchets, ballistas, etc. resurfaced apparently around the 11th century AD during the time of the Crusader wars against the Muslim armies with the purpose of recapturing Jerusalem or as much of the Holy Land as they could. What led to the rediscovery and redevelopment of the catapults, trebuchets, ballistas, etc. in that time? Here is my theory. The knowledge of siege engines and ballistae (the Latin plural form) existed in the times of the Roman Empire and those records were surely preserved by the Roman Catholic Church in Latin documents. They also had the Bible in Latin. The Roman Catholic Church was really the great unifying force to get all the usually-warring kings, dukes, baronies, etc. of Europe to unite to fight the Muslims. Indeed, the Christian vs. Muslim wars went on for many centuries and sometimes it was the Muslims who invaded Europe to try and conquer it. One Islamic invasion in 1683 imposed a siege on the city of Vienna which was repulsed when a massive Christian European cavalry force of Austro-Germans and Poles under the leadership of the king of Poland arrived to crush the Muslim army. During these Crusader-Muslim wars, the European armies needed better weaponry to take fortified cities. I wouldn’t be surprised if an all-out search in all Latin documents for better weaponry found the account in II Kings 26 about King Uzziah’s catapults, trebuchets, ballistae, etc. and the European engineers of that time began to rebuild such devices. So perhaps the biblical account of Uzziah’s war engines may have helped stimulate the reinvention of these weapons circa 1100 AD. Roman artwork on their monumental works also depicted Roman war machines so the medieval engineers had some pictorial guidance to work with as well.

In conclusion, it is evident that King Uzziah’s engineers built catapults and ballistas and perhaps even full-size trebuchets and embedded them into the walled defenses of the city of Jerusalem in the 8th century BC. We cannot know the exact size and construction of Uzziah’s war machines, and there are a variety of catapult sizes. The fourth link below gives detailed descriptions and even pictorial renderings of the sizes and types of various catapults in ancient times (the trebuchet is just a big catapult). Visualize how frightening it would have been for an attacking army to see ballistas and catapults of various designs and sizes built into Jerusalem’s walls to destroy the siege engines of an invader before they could even get close to Jerusalem’s walls. The fact that the invading Assyrian army invading Judah opted to “cast a bank” vs. the walls of Lachish and use siege engines to attack its walls, but didn’t dare use the same strategy vs. Jerusalem very powerfully indicates Jerusalem was defended with war machines that scared even the warlike Assyrians to opt for a starvation siege instead of a sustained frontal attack vs. Jerusalem. The Bible doesn’t give us a detailed account of this Assyrian invasion. It is possible the Assyrians tried to attack Jerusalem in a sustained frontal attack and were driven back with such heavy casualties that they opted for a starvation siege. That strategy would have succeeded if God had not sent an angel to annihilate the besieging Assyrian army. This entire account serves to affirm the accuracy of the biblical narratives and records that it was the Israelites who first invented the catapults and ballistas of the ancient world. King Uzziah deployed them in Jerusalem’s walls in the 8th century BC, but it may have been the wise inventor, King Solomon, an earlier King of Israel and a forbearer of King Uzziah who actually first invented these war machines. If you haven’t seen the Lord of the Rings movies or the Kingdom of Heaven movie, I urge you to view these movies and see for yourself the use of catapults, trebuchets and ballistas in action both to attack a walled city and to defend it.