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Leonardo da Vinci’s War Machines and Inventions for War

Looking at Leonardo’s War Machines and inventions you would be forgiven for thinking that he was a blood thirsty maniac and possibly

Nikola Tesla's Turbine

Nikola Tesla’s Turbine

even the first James Bond Super villain. He had designs for a Catapult, a giant crossbow, a tank, a steam powered cannon and deviously designed horse powered carts and weapons.


leonardo da vinci's crossbow

leonardo da vinci’s crossbow

This could not be further from the truth –

Leonardo detested war and harming people and animals in general. He was actually one of the first vegetarians in history, he would often buy birds in the marketplace and set them free after studying their wing structures, he is also quoted as saying –

“As long as men massacre animals, they will kill each other.”

“The time will come when men such as I will look upon the murder of animals as they now look upon the murder of men.”

Unfortunately for Leonardo he often had to pander to the levels of his bloodthirsty and power hungry patrons in order to receive work (although Leonardo was famous even during his own lifetime, he was by no means a wealthy man, he also had several apprentices to feed and clothe later on in is life), this would sometimes mean using his outstanding intellect to design machines capable of inflicting damage upon many men .

During Leonardo’s lifetime Italy was comprised of several independent city states, each of whom was trying to overtake the others land and power. As a result, whichever state had a technological/military advantage over the other states was holding the trump card. Who could you turn to to invent some of the most destructive machines ever designed?  Leonardo da Vinci.

leonardo da vinci's machine gun

leonardo da vinci’s machine gun

One of his most fearsome and bloodthirsty patrons was Cesare Borgia. He employed Leonardo as his military architect and engineer for a couple of years during the early 1500s. Leonardo’s War Machines for Cesare Borgia would be both offensive and defensive, from the worlds first machine gun to huge drawbridges and impenetrable fortresses.

Other examples of Leonardo’s War machines include the scuba diving gear. He designed this in order to attack vessels from beneath the waters surface. He invented the double hulled ship to enable it to survive the exterior skin being pierced, the cluster bomb which could injure and kill many enemies at one time, the famous armored tank which was designed to drive straight into a battleground and destroy and strike fear into the enemy, the giant crossbow which could fire large projectiles several hundred yards ( each of which would explode on impact) , the armored battleship which if built would have been the most fearsome vessel on the sea at the time.

It is well known that Leonardo was unhappy designing such machines. In fact he purposely made some basic flaws in many of the machines in case any unscrupulous characters should come across his designs. These mistakes were too simple to be accidental – Leonardo designed the first self propelled machine and robot, some of his flaws included gear systems that would rotate the wrong way, too simple a mistake for a man with such a broad understanding of mechanics and mechanical systems.

A prime example of a war machine with a deliberate mistake built in can be found in the armored tank.

leonardo da vinci's tank invention

leonardo da vinci’s tank invention


This tank was designed to be powered by several men operating hand cranks. Several other men could then fire cannons from inside the tank. the flaw in the drawing shows two of the main shafts going to the wheels working against each other, this would mean the tank could not be propelled forward. In my opinion this is either a deliberate mistake, or simply something he simply overlooked(his mind was probably designing several other things at the same time.


You can look at a few of his Inventions for War here –

The Catapult

The Tank

The Crossbow