Monthly Archives: April 2014

Final project: Roman marching camps

For my final project, I used Sketchup to create a virtual Roman marching camp. These camps were remarkably well organized, and could be erected with truly astounding efficiency.

The camp is divided into a couple of main areas. This large, central is the Praetorium, the general’s tent. Around the Praetorium are a number of roads. Leading into the Praetorium from the main gate is the Via Praetoria, which turns into the Via Quaestorium on the other side and runs to the other main gate. There are two more roads, perpendicular to the other two, known as the Via Principalis and the Via Quintana. The Via Principalis connects to the Via Praetoria, and likewise the Via Quintana connects to the Via Quaestorium. These two roads allowed easy access to the other four gates, which were the only other means of entry into the camp.

Surrounding the camp was a ditch and a rampart. The exact size of the ditch varied quite a bit. It could be anywhere from 5 feet wide by 3 feet deep to 17 feet wide by 9 feet deep. While the ditch is mostly triangular in shape, there was a small square slot at the bottom of it. The exact reason for this slot is debated. It could’ve been a waste drainage slot or an ankle breaker defensive measure, but most likely it was used as a base for fencing of some kind. The rampart wasn’t really anything major, it was just made from the soil excavated to make the ditch. To allow access into the camp, two different types of gates were used. When the camp wasn’t in an area particularly threatening, the gates would be simple breaks in ditch and rampart. However, when the threat of an attack was larger, the ditch and rampart would be constructed in a way that was semi-circular. The idea behind this was that any attackers trying to invade through them would expose their right side, the side that held the weapon, not the shield, to archers on the inside. This space between the rampart and the interior of the camp was known as the Intervallum, and is probably where the camp followers stayed.

There is significantly more information available about these camps, but to chronicle it all here would take an unreasonable amount of space. For more information, I would recommend looking at some of the attached sources. Trajan’s Column has a depiction of a camp located on it, which provides for some interesting viewing.  Brueggeman provides a formula that allows the approximate size of a camp to be calculated and helps to show just how large they were. Kaye did quite a lot of research into the logistics of camps, particularly how they provided enough water for all the troops. Matyszak is a good book for a general introduction into Roman life. Finally, Roman Scotland has a more detailed explanation of the layout of the camps.

Attached you will find the file that I created for this project. Feel free to download it and explore. Please, enjoy!


Barrette, P., Beckmann, M., George, M., Rich, S., Rockwell, G., Umholtz, G., & Rockwell, P. (1999). Trajan’s Column. Retrieved from The McMasters Column of Trajan Project:

Brueggeman, G. (2003). Camp Size. Retrieved from The Roman Army:

Kaye, S. (2013). Roman Marching Camps. Retrieved from Banda Arc Geophysics:

Matyszak, P. (2009). Legionary: The Roman Soldier’s Unofficial Manual. London: Thames & Hudson.

Roman Marching Camps. (2008, March). Retrieved from Roman Scotland:



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Final Blog post- Historically accurate (at least as close as possible) Cleopatra VII costume


Photo Credit to Anagoria on Bust of Cleopatra VII at the Altes Museum in Berlin, Germany.

Cleopatra VII Philopator was the last active pharaoh of Egypt before the kingdom fell to and was absorbed by the Roman Empire. Cleopatra co-ruled Egypt for many years with her father then his different brothers. Eventually she became sole ruler of Egypt.

Over the years, Hollywood and popular culture have sensationalized Cleopatra VII’s actions as Egypt’s pharaoh, particularly her relationships with Julius Caesar and Mark Antony. Movies, paintings and plays have kept Cleopatra in the public’s eye even though she died nearly two thousand years ago.

For my final project, I chose to create a costume that would be as close to something that Cleopatra would have worn as possible. Of course, being an amateur costume maker at best, my attempt was modest but I believe it hit the mark in many ways, more often than not reflecting what would’ve been a casual, day-to-day outfit rather than a flamboyant and more dramatic ensemble.

To begin with, I began searching for pictures of Cleopatra VII. Since her tomb has yet to be found, there are relatively few images of what she truly looked like, but there are busts done in the Roman style and coinage that bear her visage. From theses, I gathered that Cleopatra had naturally curly hair which she kept bound back with a headband and pulled into a bun.

To translate this into the costume, I curled my hair naturally stick-straight hair in the smallest sponge curlers available to me. This gave me the naturally curly hair look that Cleopatra would’ve enjoyed when she wasn’t wearing a wig or other headdress.


Photo Credit to Olaf Tausch on Etching of Cleopatra VII and her son Caesarion on the temple at Dendera.

Ancient Egypt was known for their elaborate eye makeup. I copied this from papyrus drawings, wearing blue eye shadow and using eyeliner as kohl. I chose to sport an eye of Ra in addition to the thick black eyeliner and blue eye shadow for dramatic effect.

The etching of Cleopatra VII and her son Caesarion on the temple at Dendera show Cleopatra sporting a collar-style necklace and a headdress similar to the one worn by the goddess Isis. The etching has no color, so I used papyrus paintings and jewelry found in ancient Egyptian tombs to determine that semiprecious stones like feldspar, carnelian, jasper, turquoise, jade and lapis lazuli were most likely used in jewelry that Cleopatra would have worn.

Since I’m no master jewelry maker, I created a collar out of crepe-back satin using felt as an interfacing to give the collar some body and attached plastic jewels to it using fabric adhesive. I used red, shades of blue, and yellow colored stones. Respectively, these stones for Cleopatra would have been jasper or carnelian, lapis lazuli and turquoise, and feldspar or topaz.

Photo by Abby Payne. Detail of Eye of Ra eye makeup.

Photo by Abby Payne. Detail of Eye of Ra eye makeup.

Moving caudally, the shift that Cleopatra would have worn would most likely have been made of a fine linen. In ancient Egyptian papyri, statues, and wall etchings, one can see that both men and women wore simple white clothes that required little to no sewing, just a wrapping of fabric around the body held in place by pins, belts, robes or collars.

For my costume, I chose to create the dress of white linen, wrapped around my body several times to ensure modesty. I pinned the fabric to an undershirt at my shoulders to aid in keeping the dress in place. While many ancient Egyptians weren’t terribly worried about keeping their bits and pieces covered, I am.

For my linen shift, I chose to take inspiration from ancient Rome as well, considering that Egypt would have been well acquainted with Roman fashion during Cleopatra’s time as Pharaoh of Egypt. Instead of simply pinning the shift shut, I threw the end the length of fabric over my shoulder and pinned it to my undershirt. This gave an interesting Roman flair to an otherwise distinctly Egyptian costume.

Photo by Kraig Peterson. Finished historically accurate Cleopatra VII costume.

Photo by Kraig Peterson. Finished historically accurate Cleopatra VII costume.

At my waist, I wore a belt made of crepe-back satin and felt. The belt wrapped around my natural waist with a section hanging down in front. The belt is decorated with yellow, blue, and green jewels, respectively those jewels would be feldspar, lapis lazuli, and jade. In reality, Cleopatra’s belt would have been made of gold and contained real jewels.

In ancient Egypt, there wasn’t a real need to wear shoes in order to stay warm, so unless the ground was dangerous, normal people wouldn’t have worn shoes. However, Cleopatra would’ve worn sandals made of leather and reeds decorated with jewels. For this costume, I wore a pair of sandals that have an ankle strap attached to the soul of the shoe with one band going from the ankle strap between my toes.

The finished product was almost exactly as I had in mind. The shape of the collar was a little off, and my hair didn’t exactly what to cooperate, but it all worked out pretty well. In the future, if I do this particular costume again, I think I will invest in some eyeliner in a pot instead of using the felt-tip wand eyeliner I use everyday. Also, I think the collar was a bit tight and I would’ve preferred the shape to be a bit more round and little less rectangular. But, c’est la vie, non? At any rate, I’m pleased with the way that this costume turned out.


Works Cited:

Anagoria, Portrait of Cleopatra VII; Marble; Inv. 1976.10,, 24 April 2014.

“Cleopatra”. Wikipedia. 24 April 2014.

“Clothing in ancient Egypt”. Wikipedia. 24 April 2014.

“Egyptian Jewlery”. 24 April 2014.

Tausch, Olaf. Relief of the Ptolemaic Pharaoh Cleopatra VII and her son Caesarion on the southwest side of the Temple of Dendera, Egypt.

“The Latest Fashions in Ancient Egypt”. 24 April 2014.

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The Roman Scutum: An “Approximation”

In the beginning I set out to build my best approximation of a Roman scutum. It was going to be exciting to learn something about the evolution of Roman tactical equipment while also getting to use power tools. I soon found that making an exact look-alike would be difficult.

An original shield would have been made of plywood and would have been bent by hand.  Due to time and resource constraints, I decided to craft my shield from polystyrene foam.  This is the kind of hard foam that is used for insulation.  Once I had purchased a block that was four feet long, two feet wide, and 2 inches thick, I proceeded to carve it.  At the start, I tried using an orbital sander.  The filter of this tool quickly clogged with foam particles.  Because of this, I was forced to carve the convex part of the shield the old-fashioned way, by using elbow grease.


(Here you can see the foam during the sculpting process.)

It felt like Christmas while I sculpted the front of the shield with a sanding block.  Small pieces of foam clung to me and everything else they came in contact with.  I modeled the convexity of the front by looking at pictures of replicas and a recovered shield on the Internet.  Due to the thickness of the foam, the scutum I made only had about 1/8 the convexity of the real shield that Roman heavy infantrymen carried.  After about four hours of sanding, I had the shape that I desired.  It was then time for the back.


(The foam was everywhere. Including in my ears.)

My longing to use power tools was finally satiated when I sculpted the handle in the back of the shield.  The handle was traditionally made of wood and located in the center of the shield. Because my scutum was so thick, I only carved the handle half of the way through the foam.  To accomplish this, I used a dremel tool.  This made the job much more quick than when I sculpted the front with sanding block.  Next, I moved to the central boss.

My boss would not be as deadly as the metal one on the real scutum. This was because it was made of hollow foam, from the floral department of the local craft store.  The installation of the eight-inch half sphere was incredibly easy.  Once it was installed it only took a few coats of paint to make the shield look like a brand new scutum, ready for action.  Some recovered scuta had ornate paint jobs, but due to my lack of artistic ability, I went with garnet for the body and bronze for the boss and  “metal” strips around the edge of the shield.


(The finished product.)

Through the process of making my shield I had the opportunity to learn about the evolution of Roman military tactics. The fabrication also gave me a chance to get back to my inner craftsman. Although I enjoyed the process, material and time constraints seriously limited the authenticity of my scutum. It seems that in the end, “approximation” was the correct word.

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The Roman Scutum: A Revolutionary Design

Movement in to maniples, during the 3rd century BC, called for a more independent Roman swordsman.  He needed to be able to take sole responsibility of protecting himself in open combat, against more free-fighting adversaries.  With the soldier’s evolution came the adaptation of his shield.  The composition and components needed to acclimate to the changing tide of warfare.  His shield would need to give him a new dimension of lethality while also doing its job in protecting the soldier.  This need gave rise to the scutum, a simple yet effective design that the Roman Army used during the end of the republic, all the way through 300 AD.

Making the scutum strong enough to take repeated sword blows, yet light enough to be carried over long journeys was a challenge.  Either oak or birch constituted the body of the shield.  Birch was considered because of its flexibility, while oak was utilized because of its tight grain, which made cutting through it harder (Matyszak 60-61).  Three thin layers of wood were glued together at right angles.  The plywood made from this process and a strip of iron or bronze around the outside gave the shield the strength it needed to protect its holder from the blows of heavy swords (Matyszak 61; Sage 71). It also kept the scutum light for long marches, at about 15 pounds (Kelly, et al.).

The scutum was rectangular in shape and very convex.  It was built to dimensions that would better cover a soldier’s body as he was fighting.  Ideally, the scutum would cover an infantryman from shoulder to knee and be wide enough so that he would not be seen when crouching behind it.  This means that the shield was about 48 inches tall and close to 28 inches wide (Sage 71).  So convex was this shield, that there was a 26-inch gap behind its face (Guttman). The curvature lent protection from the sides while charging and from a stationary position. With the plywood composition, this design made the scutum an amazing defensive tool.


(Cristian. This is a picture of a Roman turtle formation from Trajan’s Column. Here you can see the rectangular shape of the Roman soldiers’ shields.)

The large round hoplite shields of the phalanx had seriously limited the Roman soldier while on the offensive.  The round shield had an awkward handle that made it useless for anything other than protection. Two sleek adaptations allowed a legionary to insert his shield into his offensive arsenal.  One is that the handle was both horizontal, and built into the shield.

When adding wooden reinforcing strips to the back, the shield maker would cut two small semi-circles in the center of the shield body. Doing this created a bar in the middle that allowed the shield to be held overhand like a suitcase handle (Matyszak 61).  This grip style gave the wielder some versatility in what he did with the shield.  It allowed him to bring the shield up sharply in defense against a sword.  Offensively, it allowed the soldier to punch out with the shield as if it was a big fist (Matyszak 61).  Legionaries often did this to knock their opponents to the ground and jab them with their sword (Kelly, et al.).  Something that allowed a soldier to pack a little more punch into his wallop was the central boss of the shield.


(Kelly, et al. This is a shield that this researcher believes to have been found at Dura Europas. The piece of wood in the middle of the hole is the handle.  The space would have been covered by a metal boss to protect the soldiers’ hands)

The boss was made of bronze or iron to match the metal-bound edge (Kelly, et al.). It was attached to the center of the shield over the horizontal grip to protect the hand from sword blows.  Often the bosses were round or came to a point.  This added to the offensive lethality of the shield (Guttman).  During a punching motion, a sharp pointed boss could puncture through the armor of an enemy and kill him or leave a large open wound that would almost certainly become infected.  Together, the handle and the central boss allowed a legionary to add some offense to his defense.

As the battlefield opened up, the Roman shield had to adapt to allow its user to survive.  Maniples forced the soldier to fight more as an individual.  Because of this, the scutum changed its shape and its composition.  The rectangular shape and taller dimensions kept a legionary safe during the course of the battle.  The special handle and the metal boss at the center helped the soldier use his scutum on the offensive. The combination of these defensive and offensive adaptations allowed the shield and the legionary to survive and thrive for many, many years.


Works Cited

Cristian, Chirita. “Roman turtle formation on Trajan column.” Photograph. Wikimedia Commons. Wikipedia:  23 Feb. 2013. Web. 1 April 2014.

Guttman, Jon. “Roman Gladius and Scutum:  Carving out an Empire.”  Weider History Group:  13 Aug 2010. Web. 9 April 2014.

Kelly, Patrick, et al. “The Shield:  An Abridged History of its Use and Development.” Ed. Patrick Kelly., 2012. Web. 23 March 2014.

Matyszak, Philip. Legionary:  The Roman Soldier’s Unofficial Manual. London:  Thames and Hudson, 2009. Print.

Sage, Michael M. The Republican Roman Army: A Sourcebook. New York:  Routledge, 2008. Print.

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The Roman Scutum: An Evolution

According to the theory of evolution, an organism must adapt or die.  Much like evolution, types of warfare and equipment must change.  These changes must be made to ensure survival of the organism, which in this analogy, is an army.  The army of the early Roman Republic understood this law and changed, or adapted, their techniques to survive in an ever-changing world. Their transition from a phalanx unit into maniples was necessary for the army to survive against more loose-fighting adversaries.  Like one gene that changes a whole organism, the Roman tactical adaptation set in motion many changes.  One of these was the change in the soldiers’ shields.

From the 10th through 7th century BC the shield of the armies of Rome closely resembled that of the Etruscans, with whom they were almost continually fighting. The shield was a large, round, convex, and made of wood.  This made it very heavy. It also had a very unique grip (Sage 15). The strength of this shield was the way in which it was used.  Its unique grip rendered it very awkward for single combat but made it near impossible to breach in a tight formation (Sage 14).  It was made this way because the Etruscans, neighbors to Rome, fought in a phalanx.  Romans evolved their earlier shields into something similar in order to defeat the Etruscans at their own game.


(Nguyen. This is a depiction of the large hoplite shield.  It is easy to see how it could cover the man next to the holder)

A phalanx was a tight, rectangular formation of men.  Men in the phalanx were trained to move as one.  This allowed them to push back enemy troops and always protect their comrades’ sides.  The large round shield of these warriors allowed a soldier on the right to cover the right side of another soldier on the left (Sage 15).  Every combatant did this, and together they formed a line of protection around each other.  On even ground, the soldiers were always able to cover their fellows while advancing against and battling foes.  However, fighting on uneven ground proved not as effective.

When on uneven ground the soldiers of the phalanx were often forced to fight on different levels from one another.  This meant that they were unable to cover each other as effectively.  In the 5th century BC, Rome used round shields because their fighting against the Etruscans, on even ground, allowed them to utilize the phalanx.  As their adversary changed, around the 3rd Century BC, the Romans were forced to fight on more hilly and mountainous terrain (Sage 63).  Their adversary, the Samnite mountain tribes, understood how to fight on uneven ground.  Their fighting was more loose and single combat centered (Rosenstein 151).  Seeing this, the Roman Republican Army chose to once again adapt to survive.

From this decision came the advent, or evolution, of maniples.  On mountainous terrain, a large phalanx was unable to maneuver.  Manipular division of men solved this problem.  A maniple was a smaller, more maneuverable group of soldiers.  The fighters were also more spread out. Each troop occupied six feet of space, which was about double what he had occupied in the phalanx (Rosenstein 143).   This new space demanded a evolution of equipment; it called for a revolutionary rectangular shield (Rosenstein 144; Sage 64).

In the maniples, soldiers were asked to fight more as individuals rather then a solid unit (Sage 71). Their new shield needed to be lighter than the round shield of old and needed to provide more protection for their whole body.  This means that it would be held easily in one hand (“Scutum…”).  The new shield needed to be made out of slightly different materials and different dimensions then those of old. The Roman army had to adapt their equipment once again in order to defeat their enemy.


(Cichorius. This is a relief of Trajan’s column.  One can see the Romans, with their rectangular shields, fighting spread apart from each other)

The evolution in Roman battle technique and equipment was essential to the state’s survival.  Shields utilized by the Roman army were adapted to be the best fit to defeat their adversary.  Phalanx warfare called for a larger shield to protect more than just one soldier.  Movement into maniples necessitated the need for a new breed of shields.  This version needed to be more mobile and agile.  When utilized right, its design became the standard for the Roman Republican Army and would be utilized for many centuries to come.


Works Cited

Cichorius, Conrad. “The Reliefs of Trajan’s Column.” Photograph. Wikimedia Commons. Wikipedia: 3 Nov. 2008. Web. 5     April 2014.

Nguyen, Marie-Lan. “Hoplite wearing his shield with a dog decoration. Attic red-figure eye-cup, 500–490 BC. From    Chiusi.” Photograph. Wikimedia Commons. Wikipedia:  20 Sept. 2008. Web. 5 April 2014.

Rosenstein, Nathan. “Armies of the Roman Republic.” The Ancient World at War:  A Global History. Ed. Philip de Souza.   London:  Thames and Hudson, 2008. 139-155. Print.

Sage, Michael M. The Republican Roman Army: A Sourcebook. New York:  Routledge, 2008. Print.

“Scutum (shield).” Wikipedia. Wikipedia:  17 Dec. 2013. Web. 5 April 2014.

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Tower of London Model- Final Project

Tower of London Overview

An overview of the Tower of London taken from Wikipedia

I decided to do my final project on the Tower of London, by making a model of it. I went on a vacation to London with my dad in 2011. While we were there we stopped at a lot of the famous attractions and one that struck out to me was the Tower of London. I’ve always loved and have been fascinated by castles, so what better chance to get to learn about them more than do my final project on one! I started by project by looking up images of the aerial view of the castle. The one I based my model off of is the one to the left that I found on Wikipedia’s page about the Tower of London. With this picture giving me a general idea of how to make my model, I decided to look up model ideas that maybe other people have used. I came across a website that had a paper print out that could be cut out and folded into the main central building of the castle called White Tower. I used this as my main focus and after hours of cutting, folding, and gluing, I finally had my White Tower. I then bought a foam poster board, some spray paint, and saved a lot of toilet paper rolls for the inner and outer walls of my castle. I used popsicle sticks for the inner wall and then created the other buildings with cardboard. After all of that was finished, I completed my model by printing out labels of the buildings and towers, and taped them to the sides. I had a lot of fun doing this project and I was very pleased at how it turned out.

The final product of my project!

The final product of my project!

 Work Cited

Cannon Creative Park: (where I got my paper model)

Image from: Wikipedia contributors. “Tower of London.” Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia. Wikipedia, The Free Encyclopedia, 7 Apr. 2014. Web. 24 Apr. 2014.


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Final Project Blog #1: Roman Siege Tactics: Development and History

Siege is defined as: “the act or process of surrounding and attacking a fortified place in such a way as to isolate it from help and supplies, for the purpose of lessening the resistance of the defenders and thereby making capture possible” (Siege, 2004). This process was often very difficult as it involved containing a geographic area from all outside influence and could take several months or years to execute successfully. Not to mention that such a feat required great amounts of technology, resources, and endurance to prove effective. Despite all these issues, many civilizations throughout history have exploited this type of warfare, each having their own unique approach to it. So how did the Romans use this powerful and costly means of warfare, and were they effective in doing so?

To answer this question, we must first consider the beginning. Until c.a. 400 BCE, The Romans generally leaned on the Greek ideas of siege, which primarily employed the simple blockade as a manner of conquering an enemy city. Despite the monetary costs, this method worked fairly well until enemy defense systems became nearly impossible to contain and breach. A prime example of this dilemma is modeled by The Siege of Veii in which the Romans were at a standstill with the Etruscans for anywhere from 7 to 10 years! (Nossov, 2005) The Romans were very practical in warfare and quickly began to seek more effective tactics and technology to speed up this grueling process. In accordance with this, Engineers were soon put on the task of developing better systems to counter the ever complicating web of enemy defense structures and strategies. The technological and tactical applications from such research would change military history forever (Meyer, 2012).

By c.a. 200 BCE, the Roman’s had developed a strategy that would stand the test of time, the exhaustion and starvation of a city through constant disturbance. Although not remarkably wealthy in heavy artillery at this time, the Roman’s began to strategically divide armies into sub groups which would keep constant pressure on the enemy by taking turns invading and terrorizing, thus giving no time for the enemy to regroup (King, 1997). This allowed the military leaders to consider and execute new and previously improbable strategies with little disturbance from the preoccupied target. These techniques spiked in popularity during the Second Punic War and continued to grow until large scale throwing machines and other siege equipment become a regular part of the army under Julius Caesar (c.a. 50 BCE).

To ensure a successful siege, an assortment of actions such as undermining, ramming, and use of other siege weaponry became increasingly common as means to breach and conquer adverse defenses (Simkin). One of the most notable techniques that evolved under the Romans was a defense-oriented modification of the Phalanx formation. This resulting formation was coined the name “testudo” or the tortoise formation. This revolutionary arrangement provided the battalion protection from missile projections and other dangers that may be common in a siege situation, thus increasing the effectiveness of Roman infantry. (W. Contributors, 2014)


Depiction of The Testudo Formation from Trajan’s Column (CristianChirita,

All these new components created completely new ways of strategizing, but it came at a cost… money. Due to the cost of proper siege warfare, the development of common tricks called stratagems began to be used in order to shorten the siege process. These often involved deception of the opposing side from both the sieged and the besieged perspectives. A leader from the outside may use tactics such as surprise attacks, false retreats, exploitation of traitors, or the increase of inside population to deplete food faster (Nossov, 2005). The besieged had been known to build up or diminish the outside party’s morale by portraying abundance within to weaken hopes of starvation. These common tricks became retorts from one party to the other in an attempt to portray possession of the situation to hasten a victory. The use of such trickery clearly demonstrates the growing importance of diplomacy and deception as a war tactic in addition to the various Roman battle arrangements.

Although not perfect in execution, Rome’s demonstration of strategic advancement and tactical innovation at this time period is remarkable. Siege warfare was in its infancy, but was quickly being established. Considering the intense tactical and technological nature of this form of battle, the Roman’s truly reached new heights that would assist in carrying them in their successes as an empire, and would ultimately be built upon in civilizations to come.



Connolly, Peter. Greece and Rome at War. Frontline Books, 2012. Book. 28 March 2014.

Contributors, Wikipedia. “Testudo Formation.” 4 March 2014. Web. 28 March 2014. <>.

CristianChirita. Trajan’s Column. Cast. 28 March 2014. <>.

King, Jay. “Starving a City Into Submission With Siege Tactics.” 1997. Web. 3 April 2014. <>.

Meyer, Joseph, “Roman Siege Machinery and the Siege of Masada” (2012). 2012 AHS Capstone Projects.Paper 14. <>.

Nossov, Konstantin. Ancient and Medieval Siege Weapons. Guiolford: The Lyons Press, 2005. Book. 28 March 2014.

“siege.” Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 27 Mar. 2014. <>.

Simkin, John. “Military Tactics of the Roman Army.” n.d. Spartacus Educational. Web. 28 March 2014. <>.

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Final Project Blog #2: Medieval Siege Tactics: Development and History

The Medieval time period completely altered the art of siege as it was known to the ancient world, even though in the beginning medieval siege-works shared many parallels to that of Rome. In the Dark/Early Middle Ages (c.a. 600 – 900 A.D.), there seems to be the continued theme of reluctance toward siege warfare due to its large expenses and overall lack of success. Long term sieges were avoided, and hardly ever established (Nossov, 2005). This is confirmed by noting the low numbers of siege engines used and the substitution of proper siege procedure with shallow stratagems as a quick ploy for victory (although such tactics were often effective).  Siege warfare, during this time period, was still used but lacked the enthusiasm necessary for great success. The problem, as it was in Rome, was that siege works was very costly and there still was not sufficient technology to easily and effectively overrun the enemy. The penalties from siege battles were often far more severe than the dividends. So what happened to this form of warfare over the course of the Medieval Age?

In the beginning the progression of tactics and technology was slow moving, often imitating classical Roman tactics such as the testudo formation. However, there were several major advances that occurred in these few hundred years that would forward the art of siege-craft forever. Between c.a. 1000 – 1400 A.D. sieges were not centered about a town, instead, the new focus became the much more manageable castle. This movement from town to castle completely altered the nature of siege tactics and technology. Combat was now far more direct and focused, making sieges more tactful and manageable. In addition, a breakthrough in weapon engineering in the 12th century A.D. produced the high esteemed Trebuchet. This powerhouse allowed armies to make quick work of a city or castle wall as its ability to rapid fire far exceeded its predecessor, The Perriere (Nossov, 2005). Sieges were shifting from long, drawn out ambiguous blockades to tactful and far faster paced battles. This shift from outer to inner city siege forced both the defensive and offensive parties to come up with completely new approaches to invasion and defense strategies altogether.


Depiction of fortification invasion from Bayeux Tapestry (Wilson)

As a counter measure to the spike in offensive machinery, we begin to see castle and city walls becoming immensely thick to hold up against the constant projection fire about perimeter during an attack. In Medieval time’s, fortifications, usually castles, were the main target and they were not taken down easily (McGlynn, 1994). As a matter of fact, these fortified structures were almost always placed in locations that were very difficult to invade such as swampy/moat surroundings or mountainous climates. Although the siege of a castle is seemingly far more malleable than that of a city, the defensive considerations by the besieged made a proper siege far from easy to handle. For example, defense towers littered along castle walls built on bedrock to hinder undermining may prove to be difficult to handle (Renoux, 2002). In accordance to such situations, a variety of siege machinery was used and developed to assist, including the somewhat dormant siege tower which made a comeback during this time. Bastille’s or defensive base camps were also established as a common area where the attacker could defend and strategize. These camps were usually placed in a strategic location to give them additional leverage in their attack as well as establish a solid blockade.

In addition to the classic undermining, starving, storming, bombarding, treachery, and various negotiations, psychological warfare also came into play as a siege tactic at this time. This movement became possible with the revolutionary invention of the cannon (c.a. 1450 A.D.). Although in the beginning the cannon’s capabilities were nowhere near as powerful as some of the other siege engines, its potential was frightening to anyone who was faced with it. Initially used as a means of flaunting power, the cannon quickly revolutionized sieges into the type of warfare we are more familiar with in the modern age (Nossov, 2005). No longer were sieges several months or years, they were now were moving towards becoming a few months, several weeks, or days. At long last modern weaponry was reaching a point where the weapons could stand on their own against the enemy. No longer were long drawn out tactical considerations necessary, siege was becoming a science.

By looking at the development of this form of war from Rome to the latter end of the Medieval Age, we can see the development of early modern war (McGlynn, 1994). The ideas passed from Rome to the Middle/Medieval times were built upon, specifically in the art of siege technology. It is very clear that although the tactics of battle fluctuated from case to case, we ultimately see a traumatic increase in technological advancement empowering the party with the better weapons for the job. Much like warfare today.



McGlynn, Sean. “The Myths of Medieval Warfare.” History Today. Vol. 44. 1994. Web. 3 April 2014. <>.

“Medieval Warfare: How to Capture a Castle with Siegecraft.” MHQ. 12 June 2006. Web. 3 February 2014. <>.

Nossov, Konstantin. Ancient and Medieval Siege Weapons. Guildford: The Lyons Press, 2005. Book. 3 April 2014.

Renoux, Annie, and Lucia Velardi. “castle, fortification.” Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages. : James Clarke & Co, 2002. Oxford Reference. 2005. Date Accessed 3 Apr. 2014 <>.

Thérouanne, Walter of. Uita domni Ioannis Morinensis Episcopi. Trans. Jeff Rider. 23 February 2014. Web. 3 April 2014. <>.

Wilson, D. M. (2004). The Bayeux Tapestry. New York, New York: Thames and Hudson Inc. Retrieved April 1, 2014

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Final Project Blog #3: Roman Siege Machinery and Technology

The Roman Empire was a time of great change and improvement. These changes were not simply restricted to the social and political realms, but also consisted of major military and technological advancement. As the defensive techniques of the armies besieged by the Romans became more effective, high impact machinery quickly became a necessity for success against them. The Romans began to aggressively engineer and build new offensive military technology that pushed for stronger and more practical ways to breach enemy defenses. In the end we see dramatic development of machinery allowing Rome to have the upper hand in siege combat. The most important inventions of this kind include the Tortoise, Battering Ram, Onager, Ballista, and various applications and moderations to the Testudo formation. These many changes and advancements in technology allowed the Roman’s to find success under the ever growing pressures of siege warfare like never before.

The common Roman infantry shield or Scutum did not always provide the necessary protection required, even in the Testudo formation (W. Contributors, 2013). It quickly became clear that in order to approach enemy defenses without being taken out by the oncoming fire, a mobile defense structure or shield was necessary. The Ancient Vineae was a good start towards a structure of this kind; however, over time the Roman’s modified the Vineae to develop a structure referred to as the Musculus or Tortoise (Nossov, 2005). Caesar describes the overhead covering in one the Siege of Massilia (49 BC) by saying, “… the musculus was covered with tiles and mortar, to secure it against fire, which might be thrown from the wall. Over the tiles hides are spread, to prevent the water let in on them by spouts from dissolving the cement of the bricks. Again, the hides were covered over with mattresses, that they might not be destroyed by fire or stones…” (Caesar, Civil Wars, 2.10). Caesar also describes these structures as being 60 feet long, thus sheltering many men which provided the man power to destroy heavily fortified wall foundations. This imperative war machine allowed the safe transport of infantry to the foot of an enemy wall protecting them from the countless threats including but not limited to arrows, stone, lumber, and boiling water, oil, or sand.


Depiction of Roman Onager used to attack enemy infantry and defenses from a distance             (Hossman,

Throughout Roman history, the Battering Ram proved to be a valuable part of Roman artillery allowing an invading army to make quick work of enemy defense structures, specifically fortified walls. The actual rams were usually simple in design, consisting of a log with one end made of copper or iron that was usually in the form of a ram’s head. Technicians learned that this combat piece served best when suspended from a frame of some kind. Over time, the ram found its way into the tortoise structure giving the incoming infantry defense as well as the awesome power of the battering ram. These so called “Ram Tortoises” were often quite large (as long as 17 feet) and allowed the incoming infantry a great advantage on the destruction of stone walls (Nossov, 2005).

Between the 1st and 3rd centuries ballistae technology begins to become present in the Roman artillery. These technologies required more sophisticated engineering and carpenters to maintain (Feugère, 1993). These included the Onager which was the primary stone-projector used to smash walls or oncoming siege engines (depending if you were attacking or being attacked), and the Carroballista which was also used to launch projectiles rapidly against enemy troops (Cavazzi). The introduction of these torsion powered artilleries was the very beginnings of what would become medieval siege weapons, although medieval weapons were non-torsion powered (Hebblewhite, Artillery, 2012). Throwing technology introduced a new power, power from a distance. This new ability forced those being attacked to develop new defensive precautions and strategies to satisfy their defensive needs. Although the throwing technology was just in its infancy, the importance of such technologies become prevalent at this time and continued to grow in the centuries to come.

The stride of Roman technology truly is a spectacle. The new ideas at this time clearly demonstrate the ever changing evolution of war and technology even in ancient times, especially regarding technology. By putting forth resources to better the situation of siege warfare Rome learned remarkable skills that would revolutionize the art of warfare, and it would never revert back. The Roman’s deliberately identified and exploited the weakness of their enemies which directly drove them to new technological realms, allowing the Empires following to pick up where they left off and improve things even more.



Caesar, Julius. The Civil Wars: Book Two. Trans. W A McDevitte and W S Bohn. 49 BC. Web. 3 April 2014. <>.

Cavazzi, Franco. “Siege Warfare.” n.d. Web. 3 April 2014. <>.

Connolly, Peter. Greece and Rome at War. Frontline Books, 2012. Book. 3 April 2014.

Contributors, Wikipedia. “Scutum (Shield).” 17 December 2013. Web. 3 April 2014. <>.

Feugère, Michel. “The Arms of the Romans.” 1993. Web. 3 April 2014. <>.

Hossmann. “Roman Onager.” 15 October 2005. Web. 17 April 2014. <>.

Hebblewhite, M. K. 2012. Artillery. The Encyclopedia of Ancient History.

Hebblewhite, M. K. 2012. Sieges and siegecraft, Roman. The Encyclopedia of Ancient History.

Nossov, Konstantin. Ancient and Medieval Siege Weapons. Guildford: The Lyons Press, 2005. Book. 3 April 2014.

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Final Project Blog #4: Medieval Siege Machinery and Technology

The advancements made in siege warfare during medieval times set the stage for the basics of modern technology and tactics to emerge. The advanced engineering of the time period introduced basic concepts that still are used today. It was not always this fantastic, however. Initially the engines and tactics used were somewhat similar to that of the Roman Empire, however with the shift of siege warfare being inside of city walls about a castle instead of outside city walls about an entire city, things were rapidly changing. Throwing machinery and other artillery quickly became more effective, leaving the Roman technologies behind (Tarver, 1995), and eventually becoming the center of medieval siege-works. The use of these new engines caused major strategic alterations from both the offensive and defensive perspectives. So what were these machines, and what did they do?

Some of the most prominent engines of the time period were the siege tower, trebuchet, cannon, and scaling ladder. The scaling ladder, although in existence long before the medieval times (actually one of the first siege devices recorded), had specific significance in the context of this time period. That is, it allowed infantry to rush and scale Castle walls quickly and effectively, causing all kinds of problems for the besieged. It should be noted that this technique was often dangerous due to the concentration of defense atop of castle walls, and thus was not used until the time was appropriate. That being said, siege ladders did yield some success, especially with its legs being wedged firmly into the ground with a height fit to be very tall compared to the wall being scaled. These precautions were done to make the ladders very difficult to get rid of once established (Nossov, 2005). Other siege ladders or siege towers were set up on wheels and platform making the transportation easier and more effective. It was imperative that infantry in an invasion involving a ladder were well trained and prepared to take on lots of incoming fire. This tactic was dangerous because the besieged often were prepared with boiling oils, sand, or water to ensure a difficult climb.

The icon of medieval siege warfare is the throwing machines, particularly the Trebuchet. Although throwing engines had existed in the Roman times, it was not until this time period that they were widely used, and altered into a very versatile form. Before the final model of the Trebuchet was reached, Engineers experimented with various forms of force to set a projectile in motion. The Roman’s method utilized twisted rope, twine, or other forms of tension to allow projectile launch, and was referred to as the use of torsion (W. Contributors, 2014). The Early Medieval engineers turned from torsion, and experimented with different forms of force. One record suggested the use of wound rope and soldier manpower as a means of force. This, often unnoticed, engineering feat is referred to as the Traction Trebuchet, and clearly demonstrates the complexity of weapon engineering and the research that the engineers put into their war efforts (Tarver, 1995).

Trebuchet (1)

Recreation of Medieval (Counter-Weight) Trebuchet (ChrisO,

All this research eventually, and inevitably, led to the creation of one of the greatest modern weapons, The Trebuchet. The Trebuchet functioned on a counterweight system meaning that the object was set into motion through a large weight opposing the projectile driven by gravity. This system offered far better rapid fire capabilities in contrast to its previous counterparts. The Chronicle of James the Conqueror includes a brief dialogue with a siege engine builder, Nicoloso (the builder) says, “… in eight days I will build for you a castle of wood, and I will make it move on wheels up to the place, as you know I made the `trebuchets’ move up at Mallorca.” (Agrait, 2013) These builders were clearly skilled and very effective craftsman. The other major advantage that the Trebuchet offered was that it could be managed and run by far fewer people than its main predecessor, The Perriere. It also had improved accuracy and power making it an obvious choice in most siege situations, being able to launch a 100 kilogram ball a distance of approximately 200 meters (Nossov, 2005). Balls were not the only projectile fired however, Trebuchets were known to launch plague infected bodies, pots full of snakes, and other devastating objects. By the late 12th Century, the Trebuchet was well spread throughout the continent. Modern weaponry had finally arrived.

The next milestone in weapon engineering shows up around the 15th Century. That is, the development of gunpowder weaponry and specifically the cannon. Although this new technology’s capabilities were nowhere near as devastating as some of the other siege machinery of the time, the cannon immediately caught everyone’s attention, causing a great psychological stir. As an act of intimidation, large cannons were created as cannon size was considered to be of importance in its effect on the enemy, which clearly is not necessarily true (Nossov, 2005). The cannon was revolutionary, and not completely understood by its users, thus we see the cannon technicians often sheltering behind wooden shields when reloading to avoid injury! Other major problems were introduced as gunsmiths all made cannons in their own unique manner, meaning only specific cannonballs would fit your cannon. That being said, cannon bombardments became more and more effective with time as the technology advanced and became more palpable. Although the artillerymen running such weaponry were often noted to be cowards.

The advancements made in the middle ages clearly indicate accelerated strides in technology and their important role in the progression of warfare. The weapons that ended this chapter in history would be the ones that would be refined into some of the weapons that we are familiar with today. Warfare quickly was becoming a matter of technology and intellectual advancement, which attacked the previous ideas of success lying in bravery and charm. Modern warfare was emerging.



Agrait, Nicolas. “Chronicle of James the Conqueror, Siege of Burriana (1233).” 26 February 2013. Web. 16 April 2014. <>.

ChrisO. “Trebuchet at Château des Baux, France.” 1 January 2005. Picture. 16 April 2014. <>.

Contributors, Wikipedia. “Trebuchet.” 15 April 2014. Web. 15 April 2014. <>.

Nossov, Konstantin. Ancient and Medieval Siege Weapons. The Lyons Press, 2005. Book. 3 April 2014.

Tarver, W.T.S. “The Traction Trebuchet: A Reconstruction .” Technology and Culture. Vol. 36. The Johns Hopkins University Press, January 1995. Web. 3 April 2014. <>.

Wyley, Stephen Francis. “Siege Warfare: The Art of Offence and Defence.” 7 January 2002. Web. 16 April 2014. <>.

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