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TESTU´DO (χελώνη), a tortoise, was the name given to several other objects.

1. To the Lyra, because it was sometimes made of a tortoise-shell. [LYRA]

2. To an arched or vaulted roof (Verg. A. 1.505; Cic. Brutt. 22, 87). Thus, for instance, in a Roman house, when the Cavum Aedium was roofed all over and had no opening or compluvium in the centre, the Cavum Aedium was called Testudo (Varr. L. L. 5.161, ed. Müller). [DOMUS Vol. I. pp. 670, 685.]

3. In military affairs testudo (χελώνη) is used as a generic term for all kinds of movable roofs used to protect men or engines. The first mention of a χελώνη is in Xen. Hell. 3.1, 7. There were different kinds of such shed-like constructions, all of which were made of wood and mounted on wheels.

a) χελώνη κριοφόρος (testudo arietaria, Vitr. 10.19 (13), 7) was a shed-like protection for the battering-ram; see ARIES

b) χελώνη διορυκτρίς (Apollod. 138, Wescher) or ὀρυκτρίς (Anonym. ap. Wescher, p. 214), used for protecting soldiers when they were undermining a wall. Its front was quite perpendicular, so that it could be run up close to the wall; and the line of the roof formed by the two sides,

χελώνη διορυκτρίς.

which sides themselves sloped down to the ground, extended backwards as in the accompanying cut (taken from Marquardt, Staatsverwalt. ii.2 529; cf. in some measure Wescher, Poliorcétique des Grecs, fig. lvii.). This is the way Vitr. 10.21 (15), 1, and Athen. de Mech. 19 Wescher, are to be reconciled; for the figure given by Muller in Baumeister (fig. 577, [p. 2.808]vol. i. p. 540) does not agree with Vitruvius, l.c.

c) χελώνη χωστρὶς (Diod. 2.27; “testudo quae ad congestionem fossarum paratur,” Vitr. 10.20 (14), who elaborately describes it after Philo the Athenian, giving numerous measurements) was used when the ground in front of the walls of a besieged town had to be altered in any way to further the siege, e. g. ditches to be filled, acclivities levelled, &c. Its distinctive feature was that it had on the front next the enemy a sloping roof, as in the subjoined cut.

χελώνη χωστρίς.

The size of this testudo, as that of other testudines, of course varied. That described by Philo appears to have been about 39 by 35 feet (Droysen, Griech. Kriegsalt. p. 227). All the testudines were as a general rule covered with a double layer of fresh hides, which were stuffed with sea-weed or chaff steeped in vinegar, or other non-inflammable substances (Vitruv. l.c.). These coverings were called centones, and sacks of this nature were also used for extinguishing fires (Dig. 33, 7, 12) and for receiving the blows of missiles discharged from engines (Caes. Bell. Civ. ii, 9).

d) χελώνη ἀρετή (Athen. de Mech. 38 Wescher), probably like (b), except that its roof appears to have been arched, not pointed. It seems to have been specially adapted to withstand great weights when hurled down on the besiegers (Apollod. p. 138 fin. Wesch.).

For further details on these testudines, see Vitruvius, l.c.; Apollodorus, pp. 140 ff., 154 ff., Wescher; and Droysen, Griech, Kriegsalt. pp. 287 ff.

4. The name of Testudo was also applied to the covering made by a close body of soldiers: the soldiers of the outside rank placing their long semi-cylindrical shaped shields (clipei, ἀσπίδες) in front, and the others placing their flat shields (scuta, θυρεοὶ) over their heads to secure themselves against the darts of the enemy. The shields fitted so closely together as to present one unbroken surface without any insterstices between them, and were also so firm that men could walk upon them, and even horses and chariots be driven over them (D. C. 49.30). A testudo was formed (testudinem facere) either in battle to ward off the arrows and other missiles of the enemy (cf. Liv. 10.29, 6, 12; and phalange facta in Caes. Bell. Gall. 1.24), or, which was more frequently the case, to form a protection to the soldiers when they advanced to the walls or gates of a town for the purpose of attacking them (Dio Cass. l.c.; Liv. 10.43; 31.39, 14; 34.39, 6;--Caes. Gal. 2.6; Sal. Jug. 94; Tac. Ann. 13.39; Hist. 3.27, 31. See cut annexed, taken from the Antonine Column).

Testudo of shields.

Sometimes the shields were disposed in such a way as to make the testudo slope. The soldiers in the first line stood upright, those in the second stooped a little, and each line successively was a little lower than the preceding down to the last, where the soldiers rested on one knee. Such a disposition of the shields was called Fastigata testudo, on account of their sloping like the roof of a building, κεραμωτῷ καταρρύτῳ παραπλήσιον (Plb. 28.12). The advantages of this plan were obvious: the stones and missiles thrown upon: the shields rolled off them like water from a roof; besides which, other soldiers frequently advanced upon them to attack the enemy upon the walls. The Romans were accustomed to form this kind of testudo, as an exercise, in the games of the Circus (Liv. 44.9; Plb. 28.12).

[W.S] [L.C.P]

hide References (16 total)
  • Cross-references from this page (16):
    • Xenophon, Hellenica, 3.1
    • Polybius, Histories, 28.12
    • Caesar, Gallic War, 2.6
    • Vergil, Aeneid, 1.505
    • Tacitus, Annales, 13.39
    • Sallust, Bellum Iugurthinum, 94
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 34, 39
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 34, 6
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 10, 12
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 10, 29
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 10, 43
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 10, 6
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 31, 14
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 31, 39
    • Livy, The History of Rome, Book 44, 9
    • Diodorus, Historical Library, 2.27
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