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
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
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