When, therefore the Romans assaulted them by sea and land, the Syracusans were stricken dumb with terror; they thought that nothing could withstand so furious an onset by such forces. But Archimedes began to ply his engines, and shot against the land forces of the assailants all sorts of missiles and immense masses of stones, which came down with incredible din and speed; nothing whatever could ward off their weight, but they knocked down in heaps those who stood in their way, and threw their ranks into confusion.
At the same time huge beams were suddenly projected over the ships from the walls, which sank some of them with great weights plunging down from on high; others were seized at the prow by iron claws, or beaks like the beaks of cranes, drawn straight up into the air, and then plunged stern foremost into the depths, or were turned round and round by means of enginery within the city, and dashed upon the steep cliffs that jutted out beneath the wall of the city, with great destruction of the fighting men on board, who perished in the wrecks.
Frequently, too, a ship would be lifted out of the water into mid-air, whirled hither and thither as it hung there, a dreadful spectacle, until its crew had been thrown out and hurled in all directions, when it would fall empty upon the walls, or slip away from the clutch that had held it. As for the engine which Marcellus was bringing up on the bridge of ships, and which was called
‘sambuca’ from some resemblance it had to the musical instrument of that name,1
while it was still some distance off in its approach to the wall, a stone of ten talents' weight2
was discharged at it, then a second and a third; some of these, falling upon it with great din and surge of wave, crushed the foundation of the engine, shattered its frame-work, and dislodged it from the platform, so that Marcellus, in perplexity, ordered his ships to sail back as fast as they could, and his land forces to retire.
Then, in a council of war, it was decided to come up under the walls while it was still night, if they could; for the ropes which Archimedes used in his engines, since they imparted great impetus to the missiles cast, would, they thought, send them flying over their heads, but would be ineffective at close quarters, where there was no space for the cast. Archimedes, however, as it seemed, had long before prepared for such an emergency engines with a range adapted to any interval and missiles of short flight, and through many small and contiguous openings in the wall short-range engines called scorpions could be brought to bear on objects close at hand without being seen by the enemy.