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Cataracta

καταρράκτης or βολίς).


1.

A portcullis; so called because it fell with great force and a loud noise.

According to Vegetius, it was an additional defence, suspended by iron rings and ropes before the gates of a city, in such a manner that when the enemy had come up to the gates the portcullis might be let down so as to shut them in, and to enable the besieged to assail them from above. In the accompanying plan of the principal entrance to

Plan of Gate at Pompeii.

Pompeii, there are two sideways for foot-passengers, and a road between them, fourteen feet wide, for carriages. The gates were placed at A A, turning on pivots (see Cardo), as is proved by the holes in the pavement, which still remain. This end of the road was nearest to the town; in the opposite direction, the road led into the country. The portcullis was at B B, and was made to slide in grooves cut in the walls. The sideways, secured with smaller gates, were roofed in, whereas the portion of the main road between the gates (A A) and the portcullis (B B) was open to the sky. When, therefore, an attack was made, the assailants were either excluded by the portcullis, or, if they forced their way into the barbican, and attempted to break down the gates, the citizens, surrounding and attacking them from above, had the greatest possible facilities for impeding and destroying them. Vegetius speaks of the cataracta as an ancient contrivance; and it appears to have been employed by the Jews at Jerusalem as early as the time of David. (See Jer. xxix.)


2.

A boarding bridge like the corvus of Duilius, so called because it descended like a portcullis. See Corvus.


3.

A sluice, or perhaps a weir with sluices or hatches in it, for regulating the height of water in a running stream. See Plin. Epist. x. 69.

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