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The Crossbow    >   Chapter 53   >   Ancient Siege Engines   >   Effects in Warfare   > p.266

Table of Contents List of Illustrations Index Appendix

Ancient Siege Engines

from its resemblance to the musical instrument of that name ; whilst it was yet at a considerable distance, Archimedes discharged at it a stone of ten talents' weight and after that a second stone and then a third one, all of which striking it with an amazing noise and force completely shattered it.1

Marcellus in distress drew off his galleys as fast as possible and sent orders to his land forces to retire likewise. He then called a council of war, in which it was resolved to come close up to the walls of the city the next morning before daybreak, for they argued that the engines of Archimedes being very powerful and designed to act at a long distance, would discharge their projectiles high over their heads. But for this Archimedes had been prepared, for he had engines at his disposal which were constructed to shoot at all ranges. When therefore the Romans came close to the walls, undiscovered as they thought, they were assailed with showers of darts, besides huge pieces of rock which fell as it were perpendicularly upon their heads, for the engines played upon them from every quarter.

'This obliged the Romans to retire, and when they were some way from the town Archimedes used his larger machines upon them as they retreated, which made terrible havoc among them as well as greatly damaged their shipping. Marcellus, however, derided his engineers and said," Why do we not leave off contending with this geometrical Briareus, who sitting at ease and acting as if in jest has shamefully baffled our assaults, and in striking us with such a multitude of bolts at once exceeds even the hundred-handed giant of fable ? '

' At length the Romans were so terrified that if they saw but a rope or a beam projecting over the walls of Syracuse, they cried out that Archimedes was levelling some machine at them and turned their backs and fled.'

As Marcellus was unable to contend with the machines directed by Archimedes, and as his ships and army had suffered severely from the effects of these stone- and javelin-casting weapons, he changed his tactics and instead of besieging the town he blockaded it and finally took it by surprise.

Though at the time of the siege of Syracuse, Archimedes gained a reputation of divine rather than human knowledge in regard to the methods

and down by ropes and winches. As the machine was likened to a harp, it is probable it had a huge curved wooden arm fixed in an erect position and of the same shape as the modern crane used for loading vessels. If the arm of the sambuca had been straight like a mast, it could not have swung its load of men over a wall. Its further resemblance to a harp would be suggested by the ropes which were employed for lifting the platform to the summit of the arm, these doubtless being fixed from the top to the foot of the engine.

1 It is I consider impossible that Archimedes, however marvelous the power of his engines, was able to project a stone of ten Roman talents or nearly 600 Lbs. in weight, to a considerable distance ! Plutarch probably refers to the talent of Sicily, which weighed about 10 Lbs. A stone of ten Sicilian talents, or say 100 Lbs., could have been thrown by a catapult of great strength and size.

Though the trebuchet cast stones of from 200 Lbs. to 300 Lbs. and more this weapon was not invented till long after the time of Archimedes.


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Inspired by the great war machines and siege catapults of Leonardo da Vinci , this all Red Oak hardwood trebuchet features an open counterweight cabinet for range and trajectory adjustment. 

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