1. A portcullis, so called because it fell with great force and a loud noise.
This contrivance for guarding against the surprise of a fortified town was
in use in Italy in very early times (Dionys. A.
); and the Romans had no occasion to borrow the thing
itself, as they borrowed its name in classical Latin, from the Greeks.
Vegetius (de Re Mil.
4.4) speaks of the cataracta as an
invention of great antiquity; and something like it is found in very
primitive buildings, such as the lake-dwellings of the Paeonians
Plan of a gate at Pompeii.
or perhaps κατεπακτὴ πύλη,
, with Stein‘s note). As early
probably as the 4th century B.C. the simple portcullis had been improved in
order to obviate the placing by the enemy of an obstruction in the line of
its groove (Aen. Tact. Poliorc.
39); the ropes by which it
was raised or lowered were called [p. 1.385]ἀνσσπαστήρια
(App. BC 4.78
) says that it was hung outside the
regular gate: and this statement is confirmed by a narrative in Livy (27.28
) as well as by existing remains. In the
above plan of the principal entrance to Pompeii, now called the Porta
d'Ercolano, 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 [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. (Liv., App., Veget.,
2. A boarding bridge, something like the corvus
of Duilius [CORVUS
], so called
because it descended like a portcullis (App. BC
3. A sluice, or perhaps rather a weir with hatches or sluices in it for
regulating the height of water in a running stream (Plin. Ep. 10.69
; Rutil. Numat. de Reditu suo,
1.481, “Tum cataractarum
claustris excluditur humor;” cf. Amm. Marc.
; 3, 10
; 6, 2
: Heliod. Aeth.