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The Crossbow    >   Chapter 53   >   Ancient Siege Engines   >   Effects in Warfare   > p.265

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Chapter LIII

The Effects of Ancient Siege Engines in Warfare

Plutarch in his life of Marcellus the Roman General, gives a graphic account of Archimedes and the engines this famous mathematician employed in the defence of Syracuse.

It appears that Archimedes showed his relative Hiero II, King of Syracuse, some wonderful examples of the way in which immense weights could be moved by a combination of levers.

Hiero being greatly impressed by these experiments, entreated Archimedes temporarily to employ his genius in designing articles of practical use, with the result that the scientist constructed for the King all manner of engines suitable for siege warfare.

Though Hiero did not require the machines, his reign being a peaceful one, they proved of great value shortly after his death when Syracuse was besieged by the Romans under Marcellus, 214-212 B.C.

On this occasion Archimedes directed the working of the engines he had made some years previously for Hiero.

Plutarch writes : ' And in truth all the rest of the Syracusans were no more than the body in the batteries of Archimedes, whilst he was the informing soul. All other weapons lay idle and unemployed, his were the only offensive and defensive arms of the city.'

When the Romans appeared before Syracuse its citizens were filled with terror, for they imagined they could not possibly defend themselves against so numerous and fierce an enemy.

But, Plutarch tells us, ' Archimedes soon began to play his engines upon the Romans and their ships, and shot against them stones of such an enormous size and with so incredible a noise and velocity that nothing could stand before them. The stones overturned and crushed whatever came in their way and spread terrible disorder through the Roman ranks. As for the machine which Marcellus brought upon several galleys fastened together, called sambuca. l

1 Sambuca. A stringed instrument with cords of different lengths like a harp. The machine which Marcellus brought to Syracuse was designed to lift his soldiers - in small parties at a time and in quick succession - over the battlements of the town, so that when their numbers inside it were sufficient they might open its gates to the besiegers. The soldiers were intended to be hoisted on a platform, worked up


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