The Ten Books on Architecture, 10.11

Vitruvius  translated by Morris Hicky Morgan

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11I have now spoken of the principles applicable to the parts and proportions of catapults.

Ballistae are constructed on varying principles to produce an identical result. Some are worked by handspikes and windlasses, some by blocks and pulleys, others by capstans, others again by means of drums. No ballista, however, is made without regard to the given amount of weight of the stone which the engine is intended to throw. Hence their principle is not easy for everybody, but only for those who have knowledge of the geometrical principles employed in calculation and in multiplication.

2For the holes made in the capitals through the openings of which are stretched the strings made of twisted hair, generally women’s, or of sinew, are proportionate to the amount of weight in the stone which the ballista is intended to throw, and to the principle of mass, as in catapults the principle is that of the length of the arrow. Therefore, in order that those who do not understand geometry may be prepared beforehand, so as not to be delayed by having to think the matter out at a moment of peril in war, I will set forth what I myself know by experience can be depended upon, and what I have in part gathered from the rules of my teachers, and wherever Greek weights bear a relation to the measures, I shall reduce and explain them so that they will express the same corresponding relation in our weights.

3A ballista intended to throw a two-pound stone will have a hole of five digits in its capital; four pounds, six digits; and six pounds, seven digits; ten pounds, eight digits; twenty pounds, ten digits; forty pounds, twelve and a half digits; sixty pounds, thirteen and a half digits; eighty pounds, fifteen and three quarters digits; one hundred pounds, one foot and one and a half digits; one hundred and twenty pounds, one foot and two digits; one hundred and forty pounds, one foot and three digits; one hundred and sixty pounds, one foot and a quarter; one hundred and eighty pounds, one foot and five digits; two hundred pounds, one foot and six digits; two hundred and forty pounds, one foot and seven digits; two hundred and eighty pounds, one foot and a half; three hundred and twenty pounds, one foot and nine digits; three hundred and sixty pounds, one foot and ten digits.

4Having determined the size of the hole, design the “scutula,” termed in Greek περἱτρητοϛ, . . . holes in length and two and one sixth in breadth. Bisect it by a line drawn diagonally from the angles, and after this bisecting bring together the outlines of the figure so that it may present a rhomboidal design, reducing it by one sixth of its length and one fourth of its breadth at the (obtuse) angles. In the part composed by the curvatures into which the points of the angles run out, let the holes be situated, and let the breadth be reduced by one sixth; moreover, let the hole be longer than it is broad by the thickness of the bolt. After designing the scutula, let its outline be worked down to give it a gentle curvature.

5It should be given the thickness of seven twelfths of a hole. The boxes are two holes (in height), one and three quarters in breadth, two thirds of a hole in thickness except the part that is inserted in the hole, and at the top one third of a hole in breadth. The sideposts are five holes and two thirds in length, their curvature half a hole, and their thickness thirty-seven forty-eighths of a hole. In the middle their breadth is increased as much as it was near the hole in the design, by the breadth and thickness of . . . hole; the height by one fourth of a hole.

6The (inner) strip on the “table” has a length of eight holes, a breadth and thickness of half a hole. Its tenons are one hole and one sixth long, and one quarter of a hole in thickness. The curvature of this strip is three quarters of a hole. The outer strip has the same breadth and thickness (as the inner), but the length is given by the obtuse angle of the design and the breadth of the sidepost at its curvature. The upper strips are to be equal to the lower; the crosspieces of the “table,” one half of a hole.

7The shafts of the “ladder” are thirteen holes in length, one hole in thickness; the space between them is one hole and a quarter in breadth, and one and one eighth in depth. Let the entire length of the ladder on its upper surface—which is the one adjoining the arms and fastened to the table—be divided into five parts. Of these let two parts be given to the member which the Greeks call the χελὡνιον, its breadth being one and one sixth, its thickness one quarter, and its length eleven holes and one half; the claw projects half a hole and the “winging” three sixteenths of a hole. What is at the axis which is termed the . . . face . . . the crosspieces of three holes?

8The breadth of the inner slips is one quarter of a hole; their thickness one sixth. The cover-joint or lid of the chelonium is dove-tailed into the shafts of the ladder, and is three sixteenths of a hole in breadth and one twelfth in thickness. The thickness of the square piece on the ladder is three sixteenths of a hole, . . . the diameter of the round axle will be equal to that of the claw, but at the pivots seven sixteenths of a hole.

9The stays are . . . holes in length, one quarter of a hole in breadth at the bottom, and one sixth in thickness at the top. The base, termed ἑσχἁρα, has the length of . . . holes, and the anti-base of four holes; each is one hole in thickness and breadth. A supporter is jointed on, halfway up, one and one half holes in breadth and thickness. Its height bears no relation to the hole, but will be such as to be serviceable. The length of an arm is six holes, its thickness at the base two thirds of a hole, and at the end one half a hole.

I have now given those symmetrical proportions of ballistae and catapults which I thought most useful. But I shall not omit, so far as I can express it in writing, the method of stretching and tuning their strings of twisted sinew or hair.

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