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Final Project- Ballista

Before the appearance of the ballista and other similar machines, the power of a weapon was limited to the frame of itself. Around 350 BC, the technology of a torsion powered machine was born (Nossov 136) Torsion machines uses ropes or animal cords tightly wound with a wooden arm in the middle to fire projectiles. By twisting the rope, these people were able to achieve greater power from their weapons and it was less likely to break their machines, just the ropes.

Although the original appearance of ballistae was around 350 BC, it wasn’t until roughly 334 BC that they started being widely used. Alexander was the first to start using these machines, which fired large arrows usually to take out soldiers, not structures (Nossov 136). As time progressed, they were adapted to throw stones. This meant the ballista was equipped with a larger frame and also metal parts began to be integrated into the construction to support the strain (Wikipedia 2012). With the capability of throwing stones, they were now able to take out structures rather than mainly soldiers. There is a wide variety of the calibers of stones used, each having its own purpose. The stones which were thrown ranged from 10 pounds up to 85 pounds; with the lighter stones being used primarily for defense and the heavier stones being used for offense (Nossov 138).

The ballista was a fairly simple weapon for the average soldier to operate; it worked similarly to a crossbow. Soldiers pulled levers at the rear of the machine to retract the pusher through a series of ratchets. All the energy was stored in the ropes, which carried a much higher potential energy than could have possibly been stored in

the wooden throwing arms. Due to this ratcheting system, it could be ready to fire in a moments notice. This weapon was highly accurate and there have been multiple accounts of skilled ballista shooters being able to take out enemy soldiers from a few hundred yards (Wikipedia 2012). Although they were highly accurate, they

Scene 40, Carroballistae. Used with permission, Copyright Peter Rockwell.

weren’t able to shoot very large projectiles and this eventually became the job of newly developed catapults (Nossov 150).

In this early version of a ballista, it can still be seen how they were used to fire arrows. These machines were relatively small, but that made it much easier to carry from place to place. As these weapons grew with new engineering techniques, they became more complex and had to be built more durably. As a result, metal was added to these machines, but this also made transportation more difficult. This required that they needed to be disassembled and reassembled at the site of war.

Works Cited

E. Schramm: Die antiken Geschütze der Saalburg. (Berlin 1918), S. 41 Abb. 14, 42 Abb. 15

Gurstelle, W. (2001). Backyard ballistics. (pp. 91-101). Chicago: Chicago Review Press.

Gurstelle, W. (2004). The art of the catapult. (pp. 60-69). Chicago: Chicago Review Press.

Nossov, K. (2005). Ancient and medieval siege weapons. (p. 136, 138, 150). Guilford: The Lyons Press.

Rockwell, P. (Photographer). (1999). Carroballistae. [Print Photo]. Retrieved from

Wikipedia. (2012, April 08). Ballista. Retrieved from


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Longbows to Crossbows

At the beginning of the medieval era, the ranged weapon of choice was the longbow due to the power and great number of shots per minute that could be achieved by skilled archers. As time progressed, crossbows started to become favored because of their ease and enormous force that could be produced from the weapon.

The longbow was an easy weapon to produce; it was made from a single piece of wood made in the shape of a D. The height of the bow was similar to the archer using it. These men needed to be strong because longbows designed for war required 200 pounds of force to draw the string back to their chin. (Castle & Manorhouses 2010) Accuracy wasn’t an easy feat for these men to achieve either, it required many years of practice. The majority of these archer started practicing when they were young, so when they were older, they were able to easily take out their targets.

As the crossbow was introduced into the armies, it became a widely used weapon. It enabled common men with the ability of shooting very accurately with a large amount of power. (Claydon 1993) Also they had the great advantage of being able to teach new recruits how to properly use a crossbow within weeks instead of taking a lifetime to perfect the art of the longbow.  Due to the drawing system on crossbows, they were able to pull the string farther back and out shoot a longbow. The first type of crossbow had a notch at the end the archer was able to stick his foot in and push to draw the string back. (Wikipedia 2012) This type did allow the user to draw a considerable amount of power from the crossbow, but users still wanted more power and range; therefore, new drawing mechanisms came about. As time progressed, a windlass system and a crank system were introduced to the crossbow. The windlass allowed the user to turn a mechanism similar to a bicycle wheel, which then drew the string back; while the crank system used a handle to slowly pull the string back through a series of ratchets. Although users were able to gain a considerable amount of power through these devices, it was also extremely time consuming. (Claydon 1993) This did give the user an advantage though because once the bow was drawn, it was locked in place. They could then be ready to fire in a moments notice by simply pulling a steel trigger to release the string.

In the picture to the right, it is shown how easily a crossbow could be used by a common infantryman. It required a small amount of effort to produce a high powered shot able to piece the armor of knights. It also greatly increased the accuracy of these men because it used sights similar to that of a gun; which wasn’t an option with a longbow.

Works Cited

Castle & Manorhouses. (2010). Medieval warfare. Retrieved from

Claydon, S. M. (1993). A bolt from the blue. Medicine, Science, and the Law, 33(4), 349-350.

Crossbow. In (2012). Medieval Europe Wikipedia. Retrieved from

Gun Powder Ma. (Producer). (2009). The martyrdom of st. sebastian. [Web Photo]. Retrieved from

Verbruggen, J. F. (1997). The art of warfare in western europe during the middle ages. (2 ed.). Boydell & Brewer.

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Dacian Prisoners

During the reign of Trajan over the Roman Empire, the Romans experienced a great amount of resistance from the kingdom of Dacia. As a result, the Roman leader, Trajan, prepared his forces to fight against the forced of the Dacian Empire led by Decebalus. Battle began between these two nations in 101 A.D. and lasted until roughly 106 A.D. over the period of two wars (Schmitz 7-8). These wars took place on the Dacian’s land, which was in their favor, but they ultimately ended up losing although they dealt many devastating blows to the Roman forces.

As the wars waged on between these two forces, the Romans took many captives and the number of slaves only increased once they claimed victory in the war. The prisoners were treated poorly and expected to complete many tasks for the Romans. The slaves could be assigned any number of tasks including stone work, although they were given low quality tools to work with (Petrie 1917). Although the prisoners provided large amounts of labor for the Romans, they were also used to show a symbol of status and wealth among the Romans. Along with the gold and silver, the servants received from the war were considered to be a part of the goods gained for the Roman Empire. They were displayed in front of the emperor, along with other treasure, as a part of celebration for the Roman army (Cracknell 2010).

75.Subjugation of the Dacians. Used by permission. Copyright Peter Rockwell

As the picture demonstrates, the slaves were brought before the king not only to be shown off, but also to pledge their allegiance to the kingdom. It was important for the slaves to know that they were now a part of the Roman culture and under its influence for the remainder of their existence.


Works Cited

Cracknell, N. (2010, April). Trajan’s forum: A triumphal reading. Retrieved from

Petrie, W. (1917). 104. links of north and south. Man, 17(Oct), 158-162.

Piperno, R., & Moore, R. (n.d.). Two roman wars. Retrieved from

Rockwell, P. (1999). Subjugation of the Dacians.Trajan’s Column, The McMaster Trajan Project. Photograph retrieved from

Schmitz, M. (2005). The Dacian Threat. 101-106 A.D. Caeros, 7-8


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Roman Scouts

When it came to gathering intelligence for the Roman army, the exploratores and the speculatores were the units most often used. Although each unit had specific duties, their jobs did tend to overlap from time to time. Exploratores were generally used to gain information through the use of patrols at a distance from the enemy, whereas speculatores most often acquired enemy intelligence through undercover operations (Evov, 81). Both positions were important to the Roman army when it came to battle strategy and to provide protection from enemies when not in combat.

As previously mentioned, exploratores gathered information concerning the enemy by patrolling the areas around hostiles. When sent on a mission, their objectives were to provide the captain with details of enemy movement and activity. Also, they were to relay information regarding the conditions of the terrain and any strong or weak points within. They usually patrolled about a day ahead of the main army unit, constantly on the lookout for enemies and potential ambush sites (Ezov, 75). Aside from patrolling, they were used to verify information obtained from prisoners taken from the enemy or deserters. In addition to their previous duties, they were often selected to locate a camp site to be used by the army for a period of time. When choosing a site, they had a few factors to keep in mind: size of the army, location, and security from the enemy (Caesar, 2- 17).

The exploratore unit originated from the cavalry; it already had the great advantage of mobility. The typical soldier assigned to this unit would generally be native to the area due to his knowledge of the terrain. To this day, we still have little evidence regarding the size and organization of an exploratore unit; they were thought to be relatively small in size and because there was no official ranking for them, by default, they were under a centurion (Ezov, 79).

Athough the picture below contains models, it is assumed that this is how the exploratore units functioned. They traveled in small groups and on horses to remain highly maneuverable and quick.

In addition to the use of exploratores for reconnaissance missions, Caesar also used speculatores. Although they did have similar jobs, speculatores usually gathered information by working in disguise and spying on the enemy (Ezov, 80). Exploratores and speculatores both collected information about hostiles, but only speculatores were ever referred to as spies. Gathering intelligence regarding the enemy was their main duty, but in addition, they patrolled like exploratores, although they were usually involved guarding important people (Wikipedia).

Parallel to the situation of exploratores, we have little evidence to the size and organization of these units. Due to the particular missions of these men, conclusions can be drawn that most likely the units contained few men, if not alone, on a mission (Ezov, 83).

 Works Cited

Caesar, J. (1994) The Gallic Wars (trans. W.A. McDevitte and W.S. Bohn.).

Ezov, A. (1996). The “missing dimension” of c. julius caesar. Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte, 45(1), 64-94.

Richmond, J. (1998). Spies in ancient greece. Greece & Rome, 45(1), 1-18.

Speculatores. (2011, October 14). Retrieved from

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Battle of Zama (strategy & tactics)

The Battle of Zama took place between the Romans, accompanied by the Numidian cavalry, and the Carthaginians with Scipio as the commander of the Roman forces and Hannibal as the leader of the Carthaginian troops. This confrontation between the Romans and Carthaginians marked the end of the Second Punic War, which had been occurring for many years. It took place on the plains of Zama Regia in the fall of 202 BC.

Romans marching and making camp- Use by permission. Copyright Peter Rockwell

Previous to the battle, the Romans utilized diverse mental tactics to psych out their opponents and prove dominance. As they won each battle, the Romans intentionally mangled the bodies of their fallen foes to demonstrate their ruthlessness and display an example of what the next enemy could expect to occur (75 Zhmodikov). They also made a camp each night, not only out of necessity, but to show their superiority as a force. The Romans had enough sophistication to build an entire village in one night and have it taken down by morning in order to be ready to march.

Both the Romans and the Carthaginians used similar battle layouts, but each tweaked their tactics with personal techniques. Hannibal utilized a traditional phalanx line of troops consisting of three rows with a cavalry on the wings, but also had war elephants as a unique weapon of war. Scipio, on the other hand, used a maniple formation of troops consisting of three lines with a large cavalry on the wings. The first two lines consisted of lighter infantry men known as the Hastati and the Principes (67 Zhmodikov). The last row consisted of heavy infantry men called Triarii; they were only used as back-up so they rarely saw much fighting. Although the Romans had fewer infantry troops, they made up for it in number and skill of cavalry troops. This became an important factor in the outcome of the battle; the terrain highly favored cavalry troops.

As the battle commenced, Hannibal unleashed his elephants on the Roman lines, which Scipio had anticipated. Scipio then used the maniple formation in order to allow his troops to move apart and permit the elephants to run right past them; it worked. In addition, the Romans blew loud horns as the elephants approached in an attempt to scatter them from their charge (Scullard 1930). As the lines clashed, they met in deadlock and each side repeatedly gained and lost ground with their opponent. It wasn’t until the superior Roman cavalry joined the battle, victorious over the Carthaginian cavalry, that the Romans were able to surround the Carthaginians and slaughter them. Roughly 20,000 Carthaginians were killed and another 20,000 were taken prisoner, while only 5,000 Romans were slain during the battle of Zama.

Works Cited

Rockwell, P. (1999). Romans marching and making camp- trajan’s column. Retrieved from

Sabin, P. (2000). The face of roman battle. The Journal of Roman Studies, 90, 1-17.

Scullard, Howard Hayes (1930), Scipio Africanus in the second Punic war, CUP Publisher Archive .

Zhmodikov, A. (2000). Roman republican heavy infantrymen in battle. Historia: Zeitschrift für Alte Geschichte, 49(1), 67-78.

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Alexander and the Animal Train

In one of Alexander’s early campaigns, he traveled through Asia Minor in an attempt to conquer the Persian Empire. Alexander wanted to fight the Persians to silence them, in contrast to his father who wanted to form peace treaties with the Persians while he was on the throne. The conquest of Alexander began in the year 334 BC with 48,100 soldiers, 6,100 cavalry, and a fleet of 120 ships. (Rosiman. 2010) Accompanying his army was a baggage train which carried supplies for the soldiers.

The animals in the baggage train were an important component to the army; they frequently carried large loads of food and other necessary items such as siege equipment or cookware for the soldiers. Baggage trains consisted of anywhere from 520 to 1500 animals. (Shean. 171) Typically horses, mules, and camels were used due to their ability to carry large loads, but still keep a rapid pace. Horses and mules could carry about 200 pounds and camels were able to carry around 300 pounds. Oxen and donkeys were not utilized because they weren’t as quick and, therefore, slowed down the progress of Alexander’s conquest. Animals were generally superior to man in their ability to carry large loads, but their downfall was in the recovery process. After multiple days of hard work, the animals were not able to promptly recover with a little nourishment and rest like man. For this reason, a careful watch was kept over the animals, “the transport animals of an army shall be regarded as worth their weight in gold, no care or supervision can be too great or too strict.” (Engels. 1980)

Alexander’s army encountered harsh conditions along the way that took an extra toll on the animals. The greatest difficulty for the animals was traveling through the desert. The extreme heat, lack of water, and sandy terrain drained their energy. Marching through the sand was complicated; the uneven soil caused them to stumble frequently and the sand didn’t support their weight like solid ground (Arrian. 2010). Instead, their feet seemed to sink through the sand rather than walk in it.


The camel in the photograph above is the type of pack animal that Alexander would have used for his campaign. Although camels are well known for their ability to store water, they need to drink as much as other pack animals, but are able to go for longer periods of time without taking a drink.


Works Cited

Arrian. (2010). The landmark arrian : the campaigns of alexander. (J. Romm, R. Strassler Eds.). (P. Mensch Trans.). New York: Pantheon Books. (Original work published 2005)

Engels, D. (1980). Alexander the great and the logistics of the macedonian army. (pp. 126-130). Los Angeles: University of California Press.

Roisman, Joseph; Worthington, Ian (2010). A Companion to Ancient Macedonia. John Wiley and Sons.

Shean, J. (1996). Hannibal’s mules: The logistical limitations of hannibal’s army and the battle of canne. 216 b.c. Historia: Zeitschrift fur Alte Geschichte, 45(2), 170-174.

warsame90. (2008). Camel pack animal transporting nomadic materials. In Retrieved from


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The Battle of Thermopylae (aftermath)

The battle of Thermopylae is one of the most memorable battles fought during the Persian wars. The encounter took place between Greece and their allies (Thespians and Thebans) which were led by King Leonidas, and the Persian Empire led by Xerxes I. The odds were in favor of the Persians in this battle; it is estimated there were 100,000- 300,000 Persians compared to the much smaller Greek force of about 7,000. The fight took place in the coastal pass of Thermopylae and dated back to late September through early October of the year 480 (Sacks, 1976). The pass was very narrow and key in allowing the Persians to continue conquering Greece; for this reason, the Spartans picked this location to hold off the Persians. This pass in particular also suited the Greek phalanx style of fighting very well; it was difficult for the Persians to break through.

The Greeks were able to hold off the massive Persian army for seven days, but at this point the Persians learned of a small pass behind the Greeks which they used to surround them. The Greeks made one last stand on a hill behind them, but in the end, they were extinguished except for the troops Leonidas sent home. The total deaths for the Greek forces amounted to 2,000- 4,000, while the total for the Persians was roughly 20,000. Although it was a victory for the Persians, they lost many troops to the small Greek army. Xerxes was consumed in such a rage from the fighting, that upon victory he ordered his troops to cut off the head of Leonidas and have his body crucified. This was against traditional Persian policy because they highly respected valiant warriors even if it was an enemy (Kerasaradis, 2007).

(This stone was placed on the hill the Greeks made their last stand on. Inscribed upon the stone is “Stranger, announce to the Spartans that here We lie, having fulfilled their orders.” It was important because it signified that there were no warriors left to make the journey home to tell Sparta the news.)

In winning this battle, the Persians were able to continue their conquest of Greece. They continued marching toward the City of Athens, dominating small towns along the way. Also as a result of their victory at Thermopylae, it spurred their navy to continue their attack upon Greece resulting in the battle of Salamis. The previous naval battle at Artemisium ended in a draw, but that no longer mattered because the Persians had claimed victory on land.

Works Cited

Kerasaradis, F. (2007). The battle of thermopylae. Retrieved from

Lendering, J. (2008, August 01). Thermopylae. Retrieved from

Sacks, K. (1976). Herodotus and the dating of the battle of thermopylae. The Classical Quarterly, 26(2), 232-248.

Slubowski, N. (2006). Thermopiles memorial epitaph. In Retrieved from

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