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
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