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Forum Index > Historical Arms Talk > The Ancient Romans Use of Their Field Artillery Reply to topic
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Kevin S.




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PostPosted: Sun 22 Apr, 2012 10:14 am    Post subject: The Ancient Romans Use of Their Field Artillery         Reply with quote

1. Did the Romans utilized Onagers/ Catapults for open field battles?

2. Did the Romans utilized Polybolos/repeating ballistas for open field battles?

3. Did the Romans utilized Scorpios for open field battles?

4. I have heard that there is standardized amount of 61 Scorpios per Roman Legion. Is this true?

I am always confused about these things and have heard multiple contradictory opinions.

Thank you
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M. Curk




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PostPosted: Sun 22 Apr, 2012 11:07 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I'm not 100% sure but I think that in De Bello Gallico Caesar writes about use of onagers and scorpions in open field battles against Gauls. If so i think that it is a quite a trustworthy source since Ceasar was a part of these fights. Not sure about other kinds of katapults but i don't think that there were actually 61 catapults per legion. As far as I know katapults and other siege equipment were rather built when the siege began but they might have transported some most accurate ones in the baggage train.
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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Sun 22 Apr, 2012 11:53 am    Post subject: Re: The Ancient Romans Use of Their Field Artillery         Reply with quote

Kevin Sanguanlosit wrote:
1. Did the Romans utilized Onagers/ Catapults for open field battles?


Strictly speaking, "catapults" would be the smaller anti-personnel arrow-shooters, in Latin catapulta/catapultae. So yes, those were meant for open field action. Onagers were later weapons, 4th century or so? (Don't know later stuff as well!) They had the single vertical arm with a sling, for throwing stones, and would be used for sieges. Ballistae were the larger 2-arm stone throwers, also siege machines.

Quote:
2. Did the Romans utilized Polybolos/repeating ballistas for open field battles?


Hoo, not sure. I think the concept was known, but they certainly were not common.

Quote:
3. Did the Romans utilized Scorpios for open field battles?

4. I have heard that there is standardized amount of 61 Scorpios per Roman Legion. Is this true?


Current wisdom is that there was one catapulta/scorpio (small bolt-shooter) per century in a legion, and a legion had 60 centuries except for those that (at some point) had a first cohort of only 5 double-strength centuries instead of 6 regular ones, hence 59 total for the legion. Never heard of 61! Current wisdom also holds that the catapults could be grouped in batteries and concentrate their fire on any particular part of the enemy force that the Roman commander wanted to hit. With a rate of fire of about 3 rounds per minute per machine, you can see that you'd be getting up to 3 incoming rounds *per second* at the target! At a range of 200 to 300 yards, out of decent bowshot. The problem is that we have almost no literary references to catapults operating in this fashion. We do know they were heavily used in sieges, both for attack and defence, and there is a famous story in Tacitus of a catapult giving Vespasian's troops a lot of trouble in the Battle of Cremona.

I'm not sure there is hard evidence for (or against) on-the-spot construction of Roman artillery. The mechanisms are complex and highly sophisticated, so I believe the assumption is that they were built by specialists in established shops, and carried with the army. Certainly the larger ones could be broken down into several components for transport--I've actually had the chance to help put one together! (Darned scary machine it was, too!) But the smaller ones can just be tossed in a cart, or even mounted in one (by the early 2nd century). Once you get into things like siege towers and the usual covered galleries and such used in sieges, yes, those would be built on site.

Like many subjects, there is a lot that we know, but a lot that we don't know as well as we'd like!

Vale,

Matthew
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William P




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PostPosted: Sun 22 Apr, 2012 10:12 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

now i know strategy games can be wildl y innacurate in their historical details but in rome total war barbarian invasion (focuses around the fall of western rome, the huns sarmations and sassanids etc

but essentially one roman unit was a scorion mounted on a chariot like carriage,
ii also think i remember one doco showing somethig from trajans column that looks like a scorpion mounted on a cart.

is there any evidence at all for such a practice maybe these carriages wernt small and mobile chariots but maybe larger wagons, but any evidence of ballistas being employed on battlefields to provide mobile artillery?

it sounds fanciful even to me but stranger things have happened...
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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Mon 23 Apr, 2012 5:52 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

The "carroballista" is what you're thinking of, a scorpion or catapult mounted on a 2-wheeled cart. A bit more convenient and mobile than just carrying a free-standing machine by cart, though it may have been more trouble to stick one quickly on the rampart of a marching camp if needed. Don't know!

There's no evidence that I've ever heard of any larger stone-throwers being mounted on wagons for actual use. "Field artillery" would be arrow-shooters, as a rule.

Matthew
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Lafayette C Curtis




PostPosted: Wed 25 Apr, 2012 12:44 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Alexander the Great reputedly used his field artillery to provide a covering barrage for a river crossing during his Scythian campaign. I don't remember the source, though, so I'll have to check first about whether it's from Arrian or whoever (I hope it's not just Frontinus, but even that's better than some unsourced modern guesswork as this might still prove to be).
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Lafayette C Curtis




PostPosted: Wed 25 Apr, 2012 1:31 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

It's in Arrian!

Quote:
When the skins had been prepared for the passage, and the army, fully equipped, had been posted near the river, the military engines, at the signal preconcerted, began to shoot at the Scythians riding along the riverís bank. Some of them were wounded by the missiles, and one was struck right through the wicker-shield and breastplat e and fell from his horse. The others, being alarmed at the discharge of missiles from so great a distance, and at the death of their champion, retreated a little from the bank.


I know it's not Roman, but it nevertheless provides an interesting example from the pre-Roman era when the use of artillery in field battles was quite uncommon.
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William P




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PostPosted: Wed 25 Apr, 2012 11:06 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Matthew Amt wrote:
The "carroballista" is what you're thinking of, a scorpion or catapult mounted on a 2-wheeled cart. A bit more convenient and mobile than just carrying a free-standing machine by cart, though it may have been more trouble to stick one quickly on the rampart of a marching camp if needed. Don't know!

There's no evidence that I've ever heard of any larger stone-throwers being mounted on wagons for actual use. "Field artillery" would be arrow-shooters, as a rule.

Matthew


speaking of arrow shooters.
i was thinking of the mythbusters attempt to recreate the repeating oxybeles designed by dionysis from pre roman greece

would that have been in reality a shooter of ballista darts, or typical archers arrows? (i think the mythbusters shot arrows since they didnt need a really strong bow to shoot the ballista missiles,and arrows are cheaper anyways.)
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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Thu 26 Apr, 2012 7:38 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I would assume they'd be heavier bolts. Arrows would likely snap under the stress of such a heavy bow. And careful--375 BC is hardly "pre-Roman"! Though of course it is pre-Imperial Roman.

Matthew
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Leo Todeschini




PostPosted: Thu 26 Apr, 2012 10:54 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I have often wondered about the repeating bows.

I saw a possible recreation of one years ago in a TV Doc, but I can't get over the following intrinsic principle.

If you take say 30 seconds to span a bow using a winch or whatever you are putting putting 30 seconds worth of energy into the system. If you have a repeater and say take a shot every 3 seconds then you only have time to put 3 seconds of energy into the system and so 1/10th of the energy (not allowing for losses)

Net result the repeater would shoot like a wet tea bag.

Correct? It just seems like a non starter to me.


Tod

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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Thu 26 Apr, 2012 12:15 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Leo Todeschini wrote:
I have often wondered about the repeating bows.

I saw a possible recreation of one years ago in a TV Doc, but I can't get over the following intrinsic principle.

If you take say 30 seconds to span a bow using a winch or whatever you are putting putting 30 seconds worth of energy into the system. If you have a repeater and say take a shot every 3 seconds then you only have time to put 3 seconds of energy into the system and so 1/10th of the energy (not allowing for losses)

Net result the repeater would shoot like a wet tea bag.

Correct? It just seems like a non starter to me.


Tod


I'm not following your reasoning. The repeating machine was just as powerful as a regular catapulta, same springs and arms (basically), it "simply" has added mechanisms to allow it to be cranked back more quickly and the bolt dropped into place automatically. The time needed to wind the machine has no influence on the strength of the springs.

I don't recall what rate of fire they got with the reconstruction (I probably saw the same show you did!), but my guess is that it could be double that of a regular machine, since you don't have to move the slider forward after each shot to engage the cord. That and cranking it back are most of the reloading time. Hmmm...

It seems to me that a repeater would be more useful in a fixed position on a fortification (or ship?). You would only need one man to operate it, rather than a crew of 3 or 4 for a regular catapult on the battlefield. It's true that one man can operate a catapult, but if he needs to move the machine suddenly, as could happen in battle, he's in trouble.

Matthew
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Leo Todeschini




PostPosted: Thu 26 Apr, 2012 2:34 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Matthew Amt wrote
Quote:
I'm not following your reasoning. The repeating machine was just as powerful as a regular catapulta, same springs and arms (basically), it "simply" has added mechanisms to allow it to be cranked back more quickly and the bolt dropped into place automatically. The time needed to wind the machine has no influence on the strength of the springs


To expand my reasoning, the power source for the machine is ultimately the (say) 2 men loading it. They can apply a maximun amount of power per second during the loading process. If the loading process is shorter then the amount of energy that can be input is lower regardless of the gearing. If the input energy is lower, the output energy is lower.

So if you can only put in (say) 1/10th of the energy then the draw weight must be drastically reduced to enable you to shoot repeatedly.

That is how I see it, but am I missing a trick about these machines?
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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Thu 26 Apr, 2012 8:24 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hmm, if you say so. I'm not a physics person by any means! But I *think* what matters is how quickly and how far the arms move when the weapon is fired. Winding it more quickly or more slowly shouldn't affect the stored energy.

These machines all used winches of various sorts, with ratchets and pawls. In some cases there was a hub or wheel with sockets for a removable lever, so the lever would be moved to a different hole for each pull. On others, it's possible that the wheel had a number of spokes or fixed levers, allowing a much faster winding with no loss of leverage. I believe some used a system of two levers which were moved back and forth alternately (like a Nordic Track!), also a pretty fast and efficient method. It should be safe to assume that all of these systems allowed one or two men to utilise the mechanical advantage to cock the machine--why should it matter how quickly they did it?

Also, on the regular single-shot weapons, the arrow sat in a groove on a movable wooden slider. It remained in place when the arrow was shot, then was slid forward manually to engage the cord, and winched back to cock the machine. This meant disengaging the pawl, pushing the slider forward, and making sure the cord was secured by the trigger mechanism for every shot. Time-consuming!

On the repeater, this was all dispensed with, by means of a chain-driven mechanism which was simply continuously cranked in order to shoot, wind, load, shoot, wind, load, shoot, etc. Nothing had to be touched except the crank. But that mechanism exerted the same mechanical advantage of the single-shot cranking systems, so there did not have to be any loss of power.

Does that help? Vale,

Matthew
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Leo Todeschini




PostPosted: Thu 26 Apr, 2012 9:15 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Matthew Amt wrote
Quote:
Hmm, if you say so. I'm not a physics person by any means! But I *think* what matters is how quickly and how far the arms move when the weapon is fired. Winding it more quickly or more slowly shouldn't affect the stored energy.


Winding speed is excatly the point. If you take 2 machines, one a single shot and one a repeater and they both have a draw weight of 500kg, the single shot taking 30 seconds to load and the repeater taking 3 seconds, then why not use the repeaters winch system on the single shot because it would either allow you far faster loading or far more powerful draw weights.

If you want energy out, you have to put energy in, there is not time to put significant energy in with a repeater as compared with a single shot. Tthe ability of the decice to store energy is irrelevant if you have little to store. Looking at us as motors, we can produce about 250watts at peak power, 300 for a professional athlete, that is about 1/3hp. Running a 1/3hp motor for 30 seconds will get more work done that running one for 3.

Sorry I feel I have thrown this off topic, but I just don't get it and feel I must be missing something and that is bothering me. I am not a physicist by training either and may well have got this totally wrong but I cannot see how they would be possible. On the other hand they are mentioned as fact in the treatises.

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Brandon Gray




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PostPosted: Thu 26 Apr, 2012 9:24 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Leo Todeschini wrote:

To expand my reasoning, the power source for the machine is ultimately the (say) 2 men loading it. They can apply a maximun amount of power per second during the loading process. If the loading process is shorter then the amount of energy that can be input is lower regardless of the gearing. If the input energy is lower, the output energy is lower.
Tod


Levers amplify input force, so that the output is greater than the power that was put in by the men. I'm not sure how these machines work but having a shorter or easier loading process alone wouldn't affect the power of the output.
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Kevin S.




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PostPosted: Thu 26 Apr, 2012 9:39 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Hey Mr. Todeschini, I believe that Mr. Amt is right in this this regard. If it is the same type of machine with the same draw length and the same projectile, then the time to draw them would not matter. To test this, try using a BB Gun with a spring coil. Load slowly and shoot. How load more quickly and shoot. With the same angle of elevation, the projectile should shoot to the same range.
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William P




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PostPosted: Thu 26 Apr, 2012 10:33 pm    Post subject:         Reply with quote

also , i realise archery isnt a caltapault design, but what reduces the power of an arrow but increases firing speed is shooting in a rushed fashion, either not reaching full draw, relaxing slightly and lowing the draw slightly or just releasing improperly

if the repeating ballista has the same 'draw length' and some powndage bow, in theory it shouldnt matter how quickly the bolt is released the difference between a rregular and repeating ballista is that the time taken tograb and re winch back the loading block and load the bolt is reduced which increases shooting speed, it doesnt matter if the bolt is sitting there fully loaded for 2 seconds or or 2 minutes its still the same energy
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Lafayette C Curtis




PostPosted: Fri 27 Apr, 2012 7:01 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Matthew Amt wrote:
And careful--375 BC is hardly "pre-Roman"! Though of course it is pre-Imperial Roman.


It's earlier than any surviving Roman historical source, however (maybe with the exception of some fragments preserved as quotations in later works). Even Livy said he wasn't so sure about the veracity of the accounts he collected to compile his history of the early Roman era.

That being said, while Arrian is generally regarded as one of the more honest sources on Alexander, he wrote several centuries after the event, and I can't help wondering about whether his account of the use of artillery in the Scythian river crossing was influenced by the more prevalent use of artillery in his more heavily Romanised era. He was, after all, the one who wrote the Ektaxis Kata Alanoon for Imperial Roman troops.
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Matthew Amt




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PostPosted: Fri 27 Apr, 2012 7:56 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

Leo Todeschini wrote:
Matthew Amt wrote
Quote:
Hmm, if you say so. I'm not a physics person by any means! But I *think* what matters is how quickly and how far the arms move when the weapon is fired. Winding it more quickly or more slowly shouldn't affect the stored energy.


Winding speed is excatly the point. If you take 2 machines, one a single shot and one a repeater and they both have a draw weight of 500kg, the single shot taking 30 seconds to load and the repeater taking 3 seconds, then why not use the repeaters winch system on the single shot because it would either allow you far faster loading or far more powerful draw weights.


The drawing back of the arms is not necessarily faster in the repeater. The mechanism simply automates certain steps than were done manually for the single-shot machine. The problem with the repeater is that the mechanism is very complicated, difficult to produce and probably prone to jamming and breaking. Same reason why you don't see a lot of breech-loading rifles in the American Revolution--they existed, they simply were not practical enough for equipping a whole army.

Quote:
If you want energy out, you have to put energy in, there is not time to put significant energy in with a repeater as compared with a single shot. Tthe ability of the decice to store energy is irrelevant if you have little to store. Looking at us as motors, we can produce about 250watts at peak power, 300 for a professional athlete, that is about 1/3hp. Running a 1/3hp motor for 30 seconds will get more work done that running one for 3.


It's not a motor, it's a spring, so the measurements are different. Take a rubber band, and shoot it off your thumb. Pull it back a particular distance, quickly, and see how far it goes when you release it. Now hold it identically but pull it back slowly to the same point before you release. It will go about the same distance (or perhaps a tad less if it had time to stretch out!). The *stored energy* is what matters.

Matthew
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Leo Todeschini




PostPosted: Fri 27 Apr, 2012 10:35 am    Post subject:         Reply with quote

I don't think I have expressed myself clearly enough, so I will try again.

I understand that for a given draw weight it does not matter how quickly it is drawn back, if it is drawn back it will will shoot with the same power whether it is drawn fast or slow.

The point I am making is as follows. The bundles are energy reserviors, no more and no less. They must be charged with energy provided by the work of the loaders; this is their only source of energy. If the power is not put in, it cannot be given up on shooting. that is a given.

If the 2 operators/loaders have to work for 30 seconds at their maximum exertion of approx 300W then 2 x 300 x 30 = 18,000 Watt/seconds (yes I invented a new unit).

If we assume that the loaders can shoot every 3 seconds (as per the TV doc I saw) then then two loaders can input 2 x 3 x 300 = 1800 Watt/seconds.

As the loaders are the only source of power it stands to reason that the bundles have to get their power from this source, If the bundles can only get charged with 1800W/s then it will shoot with far less power than one that has been charged with 18,000W/s

Following this logic the power that can be provided to be stored is far less in a repeater than in a single shot, so in fact the bow strength for a bow that takes 3 seconds to load has to be 10% of one that takes 30 seconds to load, given that the operators are working at maximum exertion. If it is more than 10%, then the operators are having to work harder than they are physically able to do.

Like I said before, I see this logic as solid, so cannot understand the nature of a repeater that is comparable to a single shot weapon - it seems to me to defy physics. That said the Romans spoke of it, so there must be something in it. That something is the basis of my question - what is going on?

The point made earlier that it does not neccessarily speed up the drawing of the device but speeds up the ancialliary actions of loading makes sense as the power would remain the same, but some precious seconds would be saved during loading, albeit at the expense of complexity.

I hope that helps.

Tod [/code]

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