previous next


ARIES (κριός), the battering-ram, was used to shake, perforate, and batter down the walls of

Aries, Battering Ram. (From Column of Trajan.)

Aries, Battering Ram.

[p. 1.186]besieged cities. (Cic. Off. 1.1. 1, 35; Caes. Gal. 7.23; Verg. A. 2.492, 12.706; Liv. 21.12, 32.23; Isid. Orig. 8.11.) It consisted of a large beam, made of the trunk of a tree, especially of a fir or an ash. To one end was fastened a mass of bronze or iron (κεφαλή, ἐμβολή, προτομή), which resembled in its form the head of a ram. The upper figure in the preceding woodcut is taken from the bas-reliefs on the Column of Trajan at Rome. It shows the aries in its simplest state, and as it was borne and impelled by human hands, without other assistance. ( “Aries actus lacertis,” Lucan 1.384.) In an improved form, the ram was surrounded with iron bands, to which rings were attached for the purpose of suspending it by ropes or chains from a beam fixed transversely over it. (See the lower figure in the woodcut.) By this contrivance the soldiers were relieved from the necessity of supporting the weight of the ram, and they could with ease give it a rapid and forcible motion backwards and forwards. (Amm. Marc. 23.4.8; “suspenso fortior ictu,Lucan 3.490 .)

The use of this machine was further aided by placing the frame (κριοδόχη) in which it was suspended upon wheels, and also by constructing over it a wooden roof, so as to form a testudo (χελωνη κριοφόρος, Appian, Bell. Mithr. 73; testudo arietaria, Vitr. 10.19), which protected the besieging party from the defensive assaults of the besieged, while by an arrangement of stories the aries could be made to play on the walls of the besieged place or different heights. Josephus, who gives a description of the machine (B. J. 3.7.19), adds, that there was no tower so strong, no wall so thick, as to resist the force of this machine, if its blows were continued long enough. The beam of the aries was often of great length, e. g. 80, 100, or even 120 feet. The design of this was both to act across an intervening ditch, and to enable those who worked the machine to remain in a position of comparative security. A hundred men, or even a greater number, were sometimes employed to strike with the beam. The besieged party endeavoured to set the testudo on fire, or to break in its roof with stones. To protect it against these dangers, it was lined with ox-hides or with a thick coating of clay. In order to break the aries, stones and other heavy substances were dropped from a height, and also nooses and the lupus [LUPUS] employed to sever it. Procopius (Bell. Goth. 1.21) describes the machine in which the aries was placed, as a small house resting on four pillars, the sides covered with leather, and propelled on four wheels, containing inside not less than 50 men.

Aries with Testudo. (From the Arch of Septimius Severus.)

Both the aries and the testudo are represented on Assyrian monuments. There is, however, no reference even to the aries in Greek literature before the siege of Plataea (Thuc. 2.76, where, however, it has not gained its characteristic name, but is called ἐμβολή). We may dismiss the statement of Pliny (Plin. Nat. 7.202) that the wooden horse at the siege of Troy was an aries. Vitruvius (10.19) attributes the

Assyrian Aries and Testudo. (Layard's

invention of the simple ram to the Carthaginians at the siege of Gades; of the suspended ram to a Tyrian, Pephrasmenos, on the same occasion; of the testudo to Ceras of Chalcedon, but he too appears in Athenaeus as Geras the Carthaginian.

The aries first became an important military engine in the hands of the Macedonians, at the time of Philip and Alexander the Great. Vitruvius (l.c.), who gives copious extracts from the treatise of Diades on the subject, speaks of Polydus, a Thessalian, in the time of Philip, who greatly improved the machine, and his improvements were carried out still further by Diades and Chaereas, who served in the campaigns of Alexander the Great. The Romans learnt from the Greeks the art of building these machines, and appear to have employed them for the first time to any considerable extent in the siege of Syracuse in the second Punic war; on which occasion Censorinus employed two, one of which required 6000 legionaries to bring it up to the walls (App. de reb. Pun. 98). [HELEPOLIS]

The aries is so called, according to Vegetius (4.14), not because its head resembled a ram's head, but because it butted the wall like a ram fighting: so he derives the name of the testudo from the appearances and disappearances of the aries, which recalled the action of a tortoise in putting out and drawing back its head under its shell: the name, however, may be taken from the resemblance of the protection given by the testudo to that given to the tortoise by its shell. Vitruvius thinks that the point of resemblance was its slowness of motion when being moved up to the walls of a city. [p. 1.187](Rüstow, Griech. Kriegschriftsteller, pp. 205, 309; Becker-Marquardt, Röm. Alterth. 3.2, p. 472 foll.)

[J.H.F] [W.S]

hide References (10 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (10):
    • Caesar, Gallic War, 7.23
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 2.492
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 12.706
    • Lucan, Civil War, 1.384
    • Lucan, Civil War, 3.490
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 21, 12
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 32, 23
    • Thucydides, Histories, 2.76
    • Cicero, De Officiis, 1.1
    • Ammianus Marcellinus, Rerum Gestarum, 23.4.8
hide Display Preferences
Greek Display:
Arabic Display:
View by Default:
Browse Bar: