was a general name for artillery among the ancients.
I. DESCRIPTIVE.--The two main classes of tormenta
are those which discharged their missiles (1) horizontally (εὐθύτονα
), or practically so; (2) at an angle
) with the ground. But these
are technical terms. The ordinary names of the engines, both in authors
) and in inscriptions
(C. I. A.
2.250; 471, 46; 733 B), were ὀξυβελεῖς
The former shot arrows, hence their name ὀξυβελεῖς,
cf. C. I. G.
2360, 25), and were called catapultae
by the Romans: the latter discharged stones
), and were
called in Latin ballistae.
The arrow discharged
from catapults is sometimes called catapulta
1.1, 28; Nonius, p. 552); and the stone
discharged from ballistae
3.2, 42). The terms catapultae
were probably obtained from the Sicilians;
and they are used by historians as the two chief classes of engines (Tac. Ann. 12.56
). It must, however, be remembered that catapulta
was also used as a generic term embracing both
classes (Caes. Civ. 2.9
; App. Bell. Mithr.
The structure of both the engines is in the main principles the same: both,
as the name tormentum
points out, deriving
their force from torsion, not from the elasticity of a bent body like a bow.
We shall first attempt to describe a εὐθύτονον
narrow sense), and afterwards set forth the points of difference between it
and a παλίντονον.
The two chief ancient
authorities who supply materials are Heron's Βελοποιϊκά,
and Philon's fourth book Περὶ βελοποιϊκῶν.
Both writers flourished about 250 B.C.
according to Rüstow and Küchly; about 100 B.C. according
to Graux (Rév. de Philol.,
N. S. 3.92).
also apparently called scorpio
in Caes. Gal.
; Bell. Afr.
29, 4; Vitr. 10.10
; Sall. ap. Non. p. 553: cf. Heron, § 3. This engine
consisted of three parts, which we may call the Frame (πλινθίον,
), the Pipe (σύριγξ
), and the Support (βάσις
). See Fig. 1.
) The Frame
consisted of two
strong horizontal beams, a, b,
into which four
other vertical beams were morticed, c, d
). The beams, a,
were called περίτρητα,
because into the top and
bottom of those beams in the centres of the two outside compartments, g,
were bored circular holes (τρήματα,
), into which were placed the strings
) which gave the force which projected the
missile. These strings seem to be called vincla
in Tac. Hist. 3.23
. The diameter of these
holes was 1/9 of the length of the arrow, and formed the standard
measurement according to which all the other parts of the engine were
proportioned. Into these holes were placed nuts, h
), sometimes wooden, sometimes
of metal, which were circular at the bottom so as to fit into the holes,
rectangular in the middle m,
and again circular at
the top, of the same diameter as the standard. The nuts were rectangular in
the middle partly to prevent them slipping down through the holes, partly
that when required they could be turned round by a wrench, and so the
strings tightened; hence this rectangular part got the name of τριβίς,
from its friction against the frame.
Fig. 1. Catapulta or Scorpio. (From Rüstow and
middle of the top of the nut ran an iron bar, n
), round which the strings of
the engine were stretched. The strings were generally prepared from the
sinews of animals, and hence these engines are called νευρότονοι
(C. I. A.
733 B), though sometimes
we hear of women's hair being used (App. Pun.
; Hero, § § 26 ff.; Philo, § 12).
The instrument (Fig. 2) used for stretching the strings was called ἐντόνιον,
and consisted of a large wooden frame
with a windlass (ὀνίσκος,
) at each end, two beams d d
and a centre compartment just the size of the frame of the
catapult. Into this centre compartment the frame, duly provided with its
nuts, was fixed and firmly wedged, k k k k.
of the string was fastened to one of the iron bars of the nut at n
(Fig. 1), drawn through the other nut and fastened
round one of the windlasses (suppose b
string was then stretched till it became 2 of its original diameter, and
fastened by a clamp (περιστομὶς
) to the bar
opposite to the one to which it had been originally fixed. Then it was
loosed from the windlass, drawn round the bar through the opposite nut, and
again strained by the windlass c,
another cramp, and so on passing from windlass to windlass till the whole
available hollow portion of the nuts was filled with layers (δόμοι
) of the string. The number of layers was
generally about 10. When that was completed, the end of the string was
fastened by a very strong clamp. Vitruvius says [p. 2.854]
that each string should be stretched till it gave the same note (10.18
(12), 2; cf. 1.1, 8. Compare Hero, § 28; Philo, § 17).
Through these masses of string from the side turned towards the enemy the
thinner ends of two long pieces A, A
of nonelastic wood, which formed the arms (a)gkw=nes
) of the bow, were thrust, so that when the engine was not
being worked the thicker ends (πτέρνα
rested on the outer side of the μεσοστάται
against an iron-plated knob (ὑπόπτερνις
On the other side of the frame, the arms rested about at their centre or
two-thirds of the way from the point γ,
against a curve q
) in the παραστάται,
which latter had a bulge on the outer side, so
that they should not be wanting in strength. To the ends of the arms
was fixed a very strong string
), called apparently libramentum
in Tac. Hist.
, which was the string by which the arrow was shot (Hero,
) Now we come to the Pipe,
which projected backwards from the centre compartment of the frame. It
consisted of two parts: (1) the pipe proper (σύριγξ
in the narrow sense, canaliculus
) and (2) what we may call the projector (διώστρα
). The pipe proper was a long narrow
trough-like construction of wood, open at the end towards the enemy. At its
other end it had a windlass for stretching the string, worked by hand-spikes
). Running in the pipe, which
was dovetailed for about two-thirds of its length, and fitting into this
dovetail, was another smaller trough-like construction called the projector
), into which the arrow was
placed. The trough in the case of this διώστρα
was concave, and not angular. At
Fig. 3. Plan and section of the “Pipe.”
the end of the διώστρα
was a hook
), of which a horizontal and a vertical
section are given herewith (Fig. 3). It moved on an axle (λ λ
) working through a specially inserted frame,
). The hook, axle, and frame taken together appear to
have been called χελώνιον.
consisted of two horizontal prongs with vertical ends; and a hindmost part
) very much heavier than the fore
part; so much so that, in order to keep the fore part down, the hinder part
had to be prized up and supported by a handle, φ
), which revolved horizontally on a vertical
). On the hinder part of the projector was a ring,
through which one end of a strong
cord (ὅπλον, καταγωγὶς
) was fastened, the
other end being fixed to a windlass. (Hero, § § 5 ff.; cf.
Philo, § § 52 ff.)
Now, when the engine was to be used, the projector was pushed forwards till
the hook, prized up by the handle (σχαστηρία
), could catch the projecting string (τοξῖτις
). Resting against this string, and in
the trough of the projector, was placed the arrow. The projector was then
along with the string drawn back by means of the καταγωγὶς
and the windlasses as far as was required, and the
windlass made fast. so that the projector could not move. A. Müller
in Baumeister's Denkmäler,
p. 547, and Droysen,
p. 196, suppose that the pipe had a series
of teeth, so that the projector could be fixed at any given point, as we
shall see was the case in the γαστραφέτης
(see below, § 3). This. is probable enough à priori,
but we do not know the evidence for their
opinion, and there was not the same necessity for the teeth in the larger
engines as there was in the hand-strung γαστραφέτης.
When all was now ready for the shot, the handle was
pushed violently from under the heavy side of the hook, which must have been
very heavy indeed, for it appears. that this side fell down by its own
weight, and so released the string, which shot forward the arrow with great
velocity. This appears to be what Hero ( § 6) means by “they
let the hook loose by tearing away the handle” (ἀπέσχαζον τὴν χεῖρα σπαράξαντες τὴν
); other-wise we should suppose that the use of the
handle was only to prevent accidental discharge while the string was being
drawn back, and that, after it was loosed, as a general rule a blow of a
hammer on the hinder part of the hook or something of the kind would have
been necessary to release the string.
) The Base
of the catapult, which is
described by Rüstow and Köchly, and of which they give
their principal illustration (op. cit.
consisted of two supports. Such were required only in the case of very heavy
engines, and were not much used, among other reasons because the limits of
elevation within which they could be discharged were very circumscribed;
they were confined to that allowed by the height of a pin which fixed the
frame to the foremost support, and this would not allow a change of
elevation of more than a few degrees. The ordinary catapult and that
principally described by the ancients had only one support, as, in the
subjoined illustration, taken from Baumeister, of a catapult built according
to the ancient authorities by the Heidelberger
The base consisted of a beam, q
), supported on four feet s,
by four stays, r.
top of this beam was a long circular pivot, u,
passed through two horizontal sides of a wooden frame, t, whose vertical
sides projected considerably beyond its upper horizontal side. Through the
vertical sides above the horizontal sides and parallel with them ran a round
iron bar on which the pipe rested; and while the whole upper part of the
engine could revolve horizontally on the pivot u,
could be lowered and elevated vertically by revolving on this bar. At. the
end of the pipe was a stay, v
), which could move up and down on the support
), which latter was attached by a ring to the main
The limits of change of elevation of such
an engine must have been at all events 8°.
of the arrow gave the technical name to
the size of the engine: so that catapults [p. 2.855]
classed as three-span (τρισπίθαμος
) = four-span, five-span
), three-ell (τρίπηχος
)=six span; that is, 27 inch, 36, 45,
54. This gave the diameter of the τρήματα
in the frame as about 3, 4, 5,
Fig. 4. Catapult. (Baumeister.)
6 inches. Let us call this diameter x; then we can fix the rest of the
measurements of the machine, e. g. height of the frame 5.5 x, depth 2 to 1.5
x, breadth 6.5 x, length of pipe 16 x, of ἀγκῶνες
7 x each, thickness of each of the νεῦρα
1/3 to 2/9 x; minimum breadth for working
13 x, height 18 x, depth 20 x. The weight of a τρισπίθαμος
was about 85 lbs., and its arrow about 1/2 lb.,
and it required two or three men to work it; the weight of a τρίπηχος
was about 5 1/4 cwt., its arrow over 4
lbs., and it required five men to work it. The three-span catapult of
Agesistratus shot 3 1/2 stadia = 2210 feet (Athen. de Mech.
p. 8 Wescher), but that was considered something very marvellous. At 1000
feet an arrow from a three-span catapult would be driven 2 inches into a
board (Rüstow and Köchly, Kriegsschriftst.
i. p. 330, note m): so that, on the whole, we may take the ordinary
effective range at about 1200 feet, the actual distance the arrow would
reach being somewhat over this (ib. 328, note h). The price of a two-ell
catapult they estimate at about 480 drachmas, about £20, reckoning
the drachma as a franc.
2. The Ballista
): cf. generally Hero, § 32; Philo,
§ 6.--The principle of this engine was precisely the same as that
of the catapult, the only essential differences being (1) that the hinder
part of the pipe rested on the ground to which the pipe itself was inclined
at an angle of 45°; (2) that the wooden arms (ἄγκωνες
) in the position of rest were not parallel with the
ground as in the case of the εὐθύτονα,
inclined at an angle of 30°, hence the term παλίντονον
( “strung at an angle” ). The frame
consisted of two smaller frames (ἑνατόνια,
), A A
and B B,
each of which held one of the sets of strings;
these frames were bound together by two strong beams (κανόνες
), a a
and b b:
indeed the whole engine was much larger and in
all its parts stronger than the catapults. It was used to discharge beams or
stones; accordingly it is the weight
of the stone
which gives the diameter of the τρήματα
this case. Along the pipe, C C,
which had no continuous
bottom, but had its sides (σκέλη
), c d,
bound together by pegs (διαπήγματα
), extending longwise were narrow bars of wood
), which formed the support
for the δίωστρα
to run on. Chiefly, as it
seems, on account of the
Fig. 5. Ballista. (A. Müller, in Baumeister.)
ladder-like appearance the διαπήγματα
presented, the pipe in this engine was called
The string (τοξῖτις
) extending from the ends of the ἀγκῶνες
was twisted like a rope, and had at its
centre a ring (not represented in the plate) which was caught by the
It would be tedious to give in detail all the various measurements of the
parts of a ballista suffice to say, that the diameter x of the τρήματα
in dactyls (1 dactyl = about 3/4 inch)
was estimated by the formula x = 11/10 3√100 w, where w is the
weight of the missile in minae (1 mina = about 1 1/2 lb.); that the length
of the arms was 6 x each, of the τοξῖτις
12.6 x, of the κλίμαξ
16 x; and that the
space required for the engine was at least 20 x in depth, 13 x in breadth,
and 17 x in height. The size of the engine varied according as the missile
was 10, 15, 20, 30, 50, 60 minae: the latter (= 1 talent) was the heaviest
missile that was ordinarily used: engines larger than this, as that of
Demetrius (Diod. 20.48
) or of Archimedes
208 c), which threw three talents, were
quite exceptions and of little practical use. The average range was probably
about 400 yards or a little more, but a large 60 minae ballista appears to
have been barely able to throw 220 yards (Droysen, op.
p. 204). The price of a 10 minae ballista Rüstow and
Köchly reckon at 4000 drachmas = £160. That the ballistae
cannot have been much used in the field may be proved from their weight; so
that they always appear in considerably less numbers than the [p. 2.856]
catapults. At New Carthage we read that Scipio had
120 large catapults and 23 large ballistae (Liv.
)--numbers which probably in
themselves are very much exaggerated: at Jerusalem the Jews had 300
catapults and 40 ballistae (B. J.
5.9, 2). Examples of the
working of ballistae are given in Bell. Hisp.
13, 8, and
Joseph. B. J.
3.7, 23; it appears that very considerable
precision of aim could be acquired by the scorpiones (Bell.
29, 4; Caes. Gal. 7.25
Philo ( § § 17 ff.) mentions a great many points in which
these tormenta were difficult to work and liable to break down. The frame
was often broken in stretching the strings,--itself no easy task, taking
considerably over an hour, and requiring the ἐντόνιον,
which was not always at hand: the bars round
which the strings were fastened used to cut the strings: the tension of the
strings used to get loosened and could only be conveniently tightened by
screwing the nuts round horizontally with a wrench--a very temporary help,
as the elasticity of the strings soon got exhausted thereby; and so on.
Philo invented a means of tightening the strings by a frame which could be
narrowed by means of wedges; but it does not appear to have been much used.
Ctesibius (Phil. § 14) replaced the strings by metal wires
); and also we are told
that as one of his improvements he used compressed air (ἀερότονον
), but there is no clear account of
the exact nature of this latter device. The description of the so-called
in Amm. Marc. xxiii 4, 1, if it
can be explained at all and is not pure “bombastische
Confusion,” as Rüstow and Köchly
1.414) call it, is certainly not
of such a nature as to lead to any essential alteration of the description
given above from such capable writers as Hero and Philo.
3. The γαστραφέτης
“stomach-bow” (cf. Hero, § § 3 ff.; Bito, p.
61 Wescher) derived
its name because it had to be pressed against the stomach and the
ground or a wall, when it was being strung. The accompanying cut gives an
idea of it. It was not strictly a tormentum, as its force was got from the
elasticity of a bow: it was in fact a cross-bow, with a διώστρα
virtually like that of the catapult. The
novel feature of it was that the sides of the σύριγξ
had a series of teeth, into which two little prongs
) on each side fitted, so
as to hold the δίωστρα
at just the point
required, and to do so with as little loss of time as possible. It was
probably the same as the arcuballista
(2.15, 4.22). Droysen (l.c.
) says it was called
The so-called βαλίστρα
mentioned by Procopius (Bell.
1.21) was a bow, or most probably from the description a
species of γαστραφέτης
: and similar in
principle, but on a very large scale and worked by windlasses, was the ballista fulminalis
of the treatise De rebus bellicis,
8, 10, attached to the Notitia
(cf. Marquardt, op.
524, note 2; and Rüstow and Köchly,
p. 410). The “four-wheeled
cf. p. 418) is said to
have shot its arrows “not by strings but by rigid bars”
(non funibus sed radis
“riddle,” as Rüstow and Köchly call it,
still awaits solution.
4. The onager
(cf. Amm. Marc. xxiii, 4, 4, who calls
).--This appears to have been a Roman
construction, and we only hear of it in post-Constantinian times. It may be
described as a horizontal one-armed ballista, which shot small stones. The
name is said to have been
Fig. 7. Onager. (Marquardt.)
derived from the fact that the wild ass in its flight dashed back
stones with its hoofs on its pursuers. The strings which supplied the force
were stretched horizontally, and the arm (ἀγκὼν
) inserted vertically into them. When the engine was used,
this arm, by a string attached to a point near the top, was pulled down by a
windlass till it was horizontal, and then secured by a hook, the missiles
being hung in a bag at the extremity. Then the hook was struck away with a
hammer and the missiles discharged. The arm struck against a bag full of
some soft substance attached to the front part of the machine, reaching
about 2/3 of the way up the arm. This would have been a rather hard
instrument to aim with, if it were not that it threw a number of stones.
II. HISTORICAL.--Pliny (Plin. Nat. 7.56
) attributes the invention of catapults to the
Syrophoenicians; but there is no corroboration of this statement. The
passage in 2 Chronicles 26.14, 15, where it is said that Uzziah prepared
“slings to cast stones,” probably dates from not earlier
than the fourth century. In the Hellenic world tormenta
first appear in the great preparations made by Dionysius
against Carthage in 399 B.C. (Diod. 14.42
), and in the next year they were used in
the siege of Motye (ib. 50). It was from Sicily that they came into Greece
proper (Plut. Apophtheg.
219=2.191). The first mention of
them there is in a list of articles contained in the
Chalcothêcê in Athens (C. I. A.
37), of date between 356 and 348. In 340 we read that the Perinthians
borrowed artillery from the Byzantines (Diod.
), and the siege of Byzantium in the same year by Philip of
Macedon is the first [p. 2.857]
occasion we hear of the use
of artillery in Greece in any extensive form. Athenaeus, the writer on
artillery (p. 10, Wescher), notices the reign of Dionysius in Sicily and the
siege of Byzantium as marking epochs in the use of siege-engines, Polyeidus
of Thessaly being one of the most celebrated engineers (cf. Grote, 11.262).
On this occasion we hear only of καταπάλται
); the first
mention of λιθοβόλοι
appears to be at the
siege of Halicarnassus by Alexander in 334 (Arrian, 1.22, 2).
During the period of the Diadochi artillery reached its highest perfection
among the ancients. The engines are repeatedly mentioned (Diod. 18.12
;--C. I. A.
129 ff.; 808 d,
53 ff.;--Plb. 4.56
); and artillery
) became a regular
part of the military training of the ephebi (C. I. G.
25). The Romans did not make any decided improvement or invention in
military engines till late in the Empire. Caesar was quite inferior to the
Massiliotes in artillery (Bell. Civ.
2.2, 5), and after the
battle of Pharsalia had to get engines from Greece and Asia to besiege
Alexandria (Bell. Alex.
1, 1). It was in siege-work, both
attack and defence, but particularly defence, that these engines were
employed (Liv. 26.6
). They were altogether too heavy and cumbersome to be used very
extensively in the field; if they were used in the field, it was only for
the attack or defence of some strong position (Caes. Gal. 2.8
3.56, 1; B. Afr.
31, 6), or
protecting some movement such as crossing a river (cf. Arrian, 1.7, 8; 4.4,
4). During the Roman Empire each legion (Tac.
; D. C. 65.4
), and perhaps
each praetorian cohort (Tac. Ann. 12.56
had its own engines; and in the time of Vegetius (l.c.
) each century of the legion had a carroballista,
a large engine drawn by mules and requiring
eleven men to work it, and each cohort an onager.
Into all the minutiae of the construction of these engines it would be
impossible here to enter. For them readers must be referred to
Rüstow and Köchly, Geschichte des griechischen
1852, pp. 378-405; to their edition of the
1853, vol. i.,
containing Hero's and Philo's Βελοποιϊκά,
pp. 187-346, and Vitruvius, x. chaps. 15-18 (10-12), with a valuable
translation and notes; to Wescher's Poliorcétique des
1867, for Athenaeus and Bito (pp. 1-68); to A.
Müller's article on Festungskrieg und
in Baumeister's Denkmäler,
1.525 ff.; and to Droysen's Die griechischen
chap. ix. pp. 187-204.