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A powerful weapon in the art of siege warfare is the ballista. “a ballista is generally taken to be a large catapult, like a crossbow, that shoots huge bolts, with force created by a winch” (Rogers, p. 267) but it is more than just that. The earliest form of the ballista was developed by the Greeks in its earliest design as a non-torsion powered weapon and became a more powerful torsion powered machine as time progressed. It went through many improvemments and adjustments to become the formidable siege weapon that they are know for. They were effectively in use by both attackers and defenders up through the middle ages until the invention of the trebuchet and the later development of the cannon, at which point the use of ballistas declined. They varied in purpose, size, design, portablility, and projectiles they fired, as well as name. That being said, the ballista made a difference in siege warfare whatever its size, shape, or if it was throwing arrows or stones.


The earliest ballistas were developed by the Greeks and were non-torsion powered. The earliest form of this kind of ballista was the gastraphetes or “belly bow” in Greek. “It was little more than a large, powerful, and flexible bow (DeVries, p. 117).” It had the look of a primitive crossbow but it did not have a footloop near the bow part of the crossbow that a person stepped in to draw the string back to fire. The gastraphetes had a concave that a person leaned on and, after placing the front of it on the ground, was able to draw the string back and “dishcarge the missile with much greater power than the traditional hand-drawn bowstring (Devries, p. 118).” It had greater range and more importantly greater power and force to help penetrate armor of enemy soldiers. A major limit to the gastraphetes was the limited power it could shoot with. It mostly shot bolts because they were lighter than stone, but bolts were only good for so much. they were great for piercing armor. They were not good to break down buildings. These non-torsion powered machines lasted for roughly 150 years, until they resurfaced during the Middle Ages and the development of the crossbow (Nossov, p. 136).


Adaptations like winches and bases brought greater power, size, stability to the gastraphetes (Devries, p. 118) but it was still limited on it’s power and size because it was non-torsion powered. The only way to increase the power and size was to change how the machine was designed. The bow springs gave way to two arms in tightly twisted springs known as torsion springs, which increased the power of the ballista a great deal. It was the change to torsion springs that gave the bolt shooting machine the label catapult, or shield breaker (Nossov, p. 136) because of how much additional power was aquired from the torsion springs. The rest of the of design stayed very similar. The other major change in design was a deeper groove that made it possible to shoot stone balls as well as the traditional bolts. This allowed for these early ballistas to be used for more impact oriented purposes like breaking walls or different fortification structures.


The power of these torsion-powered siege machines was incredible. Procopius gave an account of the incredible force with which the bolts were projected from these ballistas when he wrote about the defense of Rome in 537-38 BCE:

“At the Salerian gate a Goth of goodly stature and a capable warrior, wearing a corselet and having a helmet on his head, a man who was of no mean station in the Gothic nation… was hit by a missile from an engine which was on a tower at his left. And passing through the corselet and he body of the man sank more than half its length into a tree, and pinning him to the sport where it entered the tree, it suspended him there a corpse.” (Devries, p.121, quoting Barton C. Hacker)

These engines of war were used both by attackers and defenders. For those that were attacking, they would often put the ballistas in their siege towers and use them to provide cover as they drew close to the castle or city walls (Sacks, p. 364). Those on the defensive side of the siege would mount their ballistas on platforms on their towers and shoot down on their enemies (Lawrence, p. 106). This defensive strategy may have been the circumstance in which the person Procopius wrote about died.


As time progressed, these torsion powered machines grew larger and their projectiles grew proportionally as well. The Romans made changes in the materials used to build the variety of different arrow-firing and stone-throwing ballistas, using metal parts where they could to increase the strength and life of these war machines. Changes were made to increase their portability (DeVries, p. 120). As the technology improved, so did the ballistas. As the ballistas improved, they became more common in armies and fear of these machines grew as well. Below is an example of a horse-drawn ballista. This is but one example of the different kinds of ballistas that developed since the Greek gastraphetes.


 Exemplum balistæ quadrirotis

Print shows two soldiers with a horse-drawn ballista. The device, mounted on a wagon, is manipulated like a crossbow, shooting large arrows at enemy fortifications. The horses are well covered with armor. Taken from the collection Notitia utraque cum orientis tum occidentis ultra Arcadii Honoriique Caesarum tempora (1552) edited by Sigismund Gelenius (1477–1554). This part is from the De Rebus Bellicis, which contains many illustrations of weapons and engines of war.
print: engraving Source: Wikimedia Commons

There is no doubt that the ballista made a significant impact on warfare. From it’s earliest use by the Greeks, to it’s final display during the Middle Ages as the age of gunpowder set in, the ballista in all it’s varieties was an asset for siege warfare, for the defender and the attacker alike.






Works Cited


“Ballista.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 21 Apr. 2014. Web. 25 Apr. 2014.

DeVries, Kelly, and Robert D. Smith. “Non-gunpowder Artillery.” Medieval Military Technology. 2nd ed. Toronto: U of Toronto, 2012. 117-22. Print.

Lawrence, A. W. “Archimedes and the Design of Euryalus Fort.” The Journal of Hellenic Studies 66 (1946): 99-107. JSTOR. Web. 24 Apr. 2014.

Murray, Oswyn, and Margaret Bunson. “Warfare, Siege.” Encyclopedia of the Ancient Greek World. By David Sacks. Revised ed. New York: Facts on File, 2005. 364-65. Print.

Nicholson, Helen J. Medieval Warfare: Theory and Practice of War in Europe, 300-1500. Houndmills, Basingstoke, Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004. 94. Print.

Nossov, Konstantin. “Ancient and Medieval Throwing Machines.” Ancient and Medieval Siege Weapons: A Fully Illustrated Guide to Seige Weapons and Tactics. Guilford: Lyons, 2006. 133-162+. Print.

Rogers, Clifford J., William Caferro, and Shelley Reid. The Oxford Encyclopedia of Medieval Warfare and Military Technology. New York: Oxford UP


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Panel 64- Who are Gyrth and Leofwine?

I am going to take a different approach to this assignment than I originally thought I would take. Rather than talk mostly about who two of the individuals in this section of the Bayeux Tapestry are, namely Leofwine and Gyrth Godwinson, I am going to look at how the lack of information about these two leaves a lot open for question.

Panel 64 of the Bayeux Tapestry has a total of seven Englishmanon the ground facing what apears to be only one Norman soldiers on horseback, but in viewing more of the tapestry, one can see that there are many more Norman soldiers on horseback surroundingthis group of Englishmen (Wilson, pl. 64). Two of the Englishmen stand taller than the others: The Englishman with his head turned and wielding the axe and the other is the Englishman with a moustache getting stabbed in the face by the Norman on horseback, according to Richard Gameson. These two individuals are believed to be Gyrth Godwinson, the Englishman getting stabbed in the face, and Leofwine Godwinson, the axe wielder. These are the brothers of King Harold Godwinson and both die in the Battle of Hastings as displayed by this panel.


Panel 64 of the Bayeux tapestry depicts the deaths of Gyrth and Leofwine Godwinson, brothers of King Harold Godwinson.


We understand that these two in particular die on October 14, 1066 because of the Latin inscription above the heads of the combatants. The Latin inscription, “Hic ceciderunt Lewine et Gyrth fratres Haroldi regis”translates as follows: “Here were killed Leofwine and Gyrth, the brothers of King Herold. (Wilson, p. 173)” Gyrth was the Earl of East Anglia and Oxfordshire while Leofwine was the Earl over the area from the eastern part of the Thames River, which covered from “Buckinghamshire and Surrey to Essex. (Wilson)” But there isn’t a lot of information about who they were and what they did as Earls or what their part in the battle of Hastings was. This was all I could find in the research I did on this subject. The information that would help us to understand more about Leofwine and Gyrth and information about many other individuals did not make it to us. Thanks to the tapestry we have at least this much information about them. and their story isn’t the only part of the history missing. There are other sections on the tapestry that leave everyone guesing what is meant by the symbols or who is represented by the characters.


Although it isn’t much, the tapestry has provided us with the information that these two individuals and many more died. We can back that up by the history of the battle of Hastings. Who are they? What else were they known for? We may never know. As of right now, that information has been lost and we may never know the whole story about these two men and the people who fought side by side with them.


Works Cited

“The Battle Of Hastings – Scene 3.” The Battle Of Hastings – Scene 3. N.p., n.d. Web. 03 Apr. 2014. <;.

“Battle of Hastings.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 23 Feb. 2014. Web. 03 Apr. 2014.

Gameson, Richard. “The Authority and Interpretation of the Bayeux Tapestry.” The Study of the Bayeux Tapestry. Rochester, NY: Boydell, 1997. 89. Print.

Jones, Kaye. “Appendix 1: Key People.” 1066: History in an Hour. London: HarperPress, 2011. 33-34. Print.

MacLeod, Dave. “The Bayeux Tapestry: Unpicking the Past.” BBC News. BBC, 17 Feb. 2011. Web. 03 Apr. 2014.

Wilson, David M. The Bayeux Tapestry: The Complete Tapestry in Color. New York: A.A. Knopf, 1985. Print.

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Battle of Issus

The battle of Issus was a decisive victory for Alexander the great in many ways. It was the first time a Persian army with the King present was defeated. Much of the success of this battle can be atrributed to the terrain of the area. It limited the size of the Persian army and gave Alexander the advantage. ”[Alexander] said the god was pursuing a better strategy on their behalf, having given Darius the idea of moving his army from an open space into a narrow one, where the terrain would be wide enough for the deployment of their own phalanx, but where the Persians would derive no advantage from superior numbers” (Arrian).


Darius III was the king of Persia. His army was significantly larger than Alexander’s with an army that most scholar’s agree was around 108,000 troops (Warry) while Alexander had a much smaller army of around 30,000 to 40,000 troops (Delbruck). The terrain had it’s own benefits for both armies and it really came down to who could use the terrain the best. “The mountainous terrain presents a string of narrow passes; it was a natural place for the Persians to try to bottle up Alexander” (Sacks). Darius had a better advantage because he was in a defense position. He had passed by Alexander’s small army unnoticed and cut off Alexander’s lines of communication with the main part of his army under the direction of Parmenio, one of Alexander’s generals (Moerbeek). He was able to do this because the armies were separated by a small group of mountains. As soon as Alexander learned that Darius had cut off his communications, he began making preparations to attack and take back the city of Issus.  



From The Landmark Arrian: The Campaigns of Alexander


 Darius has his army spread out by the mouth of the Issos river and Alexander has to march out of the mountains in order to face Darius. He recognized that the mountains would give Persian archers a great advantage over his army. He made the decsion to keep his army moving at a steady pace until they were within range of the archers. They did this to help keep the phalanx together and at peak effectiveness, as running made it more difficult to keep the phalanx together and effective. As soon as they were within range of the archers they began to run to decrease the damage taken by the hailstorm of arrows, which had the byproduct of intimidating the Persian army. It also made it more difficult to keep the Macedonian phalanx together.      



From The Landmark Arrian: the Campaigns of Alexander

As the two armies engaged, the Persians broke through the Alexander’s phalanx. “Darius’ Greek mercenaries attacked the Macedonian phalanx when a gap appeared in the right wing; for when Alexander dashed zealously into the river coming to blows with the Persians posted there and driving them off, the Macedonians at the center did not apply themselves with equal zeal, and when they came to the banks, which were steep at many points, they could not keep their front line in proper order” (Arrian). At nearly the same time as the Greek mercenaries fighting with the Persians broke through the Macedonian phalanx, Alexander’s cavalry broke through the Persian lines near Darius and attacked the mercenaries from behind. Darius ended up fleeing the battle for fear of his life with the his army following him once they saw him leaving. Alexander won many decisive small victories that led to this successful battle at Issus.



Works Cited

Arrian, Pamela Mensch, and James S. Romm. “Issus.” The Landmark Arrian: The Campaigns of Alexander ; Anabasis Alexandrous: A New Translation. New York: Pantheon, 2010. 67-73. Print.

“Battle of Issus.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 03 July 2014. Web. 07 Mar. 2014.

Delbrück, Hans. Warfare in Antiquity. Lincoln: University of Nebraska, 1990. Print.

Hammond, Nicholas G. L. “Alexander’s Charge at the Battle of Issus in 333 B.C.” Historia: Zeitschrift Für Alte Geschichte 41.4 (1992): 395-406. Jstor. Franz Steiner Verlag. Web. 7 Mar. 2014.

Moerbeek, Martijn. “The Battle of Issus.” Warfare in Hellas. N.p., 21 Jan. 1998. Web. 7 Mar. 2014. <;.

“” Major Battles. N.p., n.d. Web. 07 Mar. 2014. <;.

Sacks, David, Oswyn Murray, and Lisa R. Brody. “Alexander the Great.” Encyclopedia of the Ancient Greek World. New York: Facts on File, 1995. 23. Print.

Warry, John. Warfare in the Classical World: War and the Ancient Civilizations of Greece and Rome. London: Salamander, 1998. Print.

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Revision of Spartan Training

One of the greatest armies in history was the Spartan army. But what made them great? They used the phalanx as was customary of the time and their phalanxes were filled with ranks of hoplites. The difference for the Spartans may have come from their militaristic society. The Spartans began training warriors almost from birth, the men going through a process called the Agoge, or “the upbringing” to become the warriors and the women being educated to run the affairs of the house and prepared to give birth to warriors.


Young Spartans Exercising, located in the National Gallery in London.


When a child was born in Sparta, they were washed with wine, and presented before a council of elders who would decide if the child was strong enough and healthy enough to be a Spartan. If the council decided the child wasn’t healthy enough, the child was taken to Mount Taygetus to die from exposure. Otherwise the children lived at home until they were 7 years old. At age seven, the boys were put into a mitilary school and their training began. They were trained in several disciplines including gymnastics, warfare, and others,  all of which were designed to produce great warriors. As part of their training, they were not well fed, which was believed to produce tall warriors (Cartledge, p. 69-70). The lack of food also prepared the men for long campaigns with little food, and encouraged stealing. If the boys were caught stealing, they were punished for being caught, rather than for stealing. Stealth was a highly desired quality for Spartan warriors.


When the boys reached the age of 20, they had ten years to join a group or messes (pheiditia, sussitia). Election into these groups was highly competitive. All members of a mess had to accept the applicant in order for them to join the group. If the individual was not accepted into one of these groups by age 30, they were not granted full citizenship in Sparta. These individuals became part of the Perioikoi, a group of free people but not full citizens who contributed to society in a variety of ways.. They may have been part of what we would understand as the military reserve, but that isn’t known for sure. They were a step up from the helots, who were serfs, the group of the Spartan society that did not enjoy freedom (Wikipedia, Sparta).


After being admitted into a group, the warriors continued training and the leaders would have rewards to keep the men fit for battle. In Xenophon”s Hellenika, Xenophon records “As [Agesilaos] wished to train the army, he set up prizes among the hoplites for the one who was found to be in the best physical condition.” Agesilaos also set up prizes for the cavalry, the peltasts, and the archers as well.  Xenophon continues, “Because of this policy, one could see all the gymnasia full of men exercising,” and the other groups all training and preparing for their specific factions of the army (Xenophon, p 105).


The spartan army was one of the greatest armies of the world and much of that was in part to the lifestyle of complete dedication of the men to the military until they reached the age of 60. If a person wanted to be a Spartan, they had to live the life, be part of a mess, and fight honorably and with singularity of purpose. The training brought discipline, discipline brought trust, trust brought unity, and unity led to success for the Spartans.


Works Cited

“Agoge.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 16 Feb. 2014. Web. 7th Feb. 2014. <;.


Cartledge, Paul. “Under the Sign of Lycurgus.” The Spartans: The World of the Warrior-heroes of Ancient Greece, from Utopia to Crisis and Collapse. Woodstock, NY: Overlook, 2003. 69-70. Print.


Degas, Edgar. Young Spartans Exercising. 1860. Oil on Canvas. National Gallery, London. Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 3 Jan. 2014. Web. 10 Feb. 2014. <;.


Kyriazis, Nicholas, and Xenophon Paparrigopoulos. “War and Democracy in Ancient Greece.” European Journal of Law and Economics. 2012. Springer US. Web. 12 Feb. 2014. <;.


Sacks, David, and Oswyn Murray. “Sparta.” A Dictionary of the Ancient Greek World. New York: Oxford UP, 1995. 233. Print.


“Sparta.” Wikipedia. Wikimedia Foundation, 17 Feb. 2014. Web. 8 Feb. 2014. <;.


Xenophon. The Landmark Xenophon’s Hellenika: A New Translation. Trans. John Marincola, and Robert B. Strassler. New York: Pantheon, 2009. 105. Print.

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~This is drag0nturtl3. I’m excited for this class. Over and out.~

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