Catapults were siege engines used in ancient and medieval times. Typical catapults hurled large stones of up to 500 pounds more than 300 feet. The Greek scientist and mathematician Archimedes is credited with inventing the first catapult, along with other siege engines, in an effort to help King Hiero defend Syracuse from an invading Roman army under Marcellus in 214 B.C.

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Many of Archimedes' inventions were initially designed to test and prove his theories of mathematics, geometry and mechanics and later applied to practical purposes such as defending the city. Archimedes' catapults and other weapons kept the Roman army besieging Syracuse at bay for two years. Archimedes was reputedly working on additional inventions or mathematical calculations when he was killed by one of the Roman soldiers who finally sacked the city in 212 B.C.