The Ten Books on Architecture, 10.13

Vitruvius  translated by Joseph Gwilt

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Of Machines for Attack

13I have said as much as I could on these matters; it now remains for me to treat of those things relating to attacks, namely, of those machines with which generals take and defend cities. The first engine for attack was the ram, whose origin is said to have been as follows. The Carthaginians encamped in order to besiege Cadiz, and having first got possession of one of the towers, they endeavoured to demolish it, but having no machines fit for the purpose, they took a beam, and suspending it in their hands, repeatedly battered the top of the wall with the end of it, and having first thrown down the upper courses, by degrees they destroyed the whole fortress.

2After that, a certain workman of Tyre, of the name of Pephasmenos, turning his attention to the subject, fixed up a pole and suspended a cross piece therefrom after the method of a steelyard, and thus swinging it backwards and forwards, levelled with heavy blows the walls of Cadiz. Cetras the Chalcedonian, was the first who added a base to it of timber moveable on wheels, and covered it with a roof on upright and cross pieces: on this he suspended the ram, covering it with bulls’ hides, so that those who were employed therein in battering the walls might be secure from danger. And inasmuch as the machine moved but slowly, they called it the tortoise of the ram. Such was the origin of this species of machines.

3But afterwards, when Philip, the son of Amintas, besieged Byzantium, Polydus the Thessalian used it in many and simple forms, and by him were instructed Diades and Chæreas who fought under Alexander. Diades has shewn in his writings that he was the inventor of ambulatory towers, which he caused to be carried from one place to another by the army, in pieces, as also of the auger and the scaling machine, by which one may step on to a wall; as also the grappling hook, which some call the crane (grus).

4He also used a ram on wheels, of which he has left a description in writing. He says that no tower should be built less than sixty cubits high, nor than seventeen wide, and that its diminution at top should be one fifth of the width of the base: that the upright pieces of the tower should be one foot and three quarters at bottom, and half a foot at top: that it should contain ten floors, with windows on each side.

5That the greatest tower that is constructed may be one hundred and twenty cubits high, and twenty-three and a half wide, diminishing at the top one fifth of its base; the upright piece one foot at bottom, and half a foot at top. The large tower is made with twenty floors, and to each floor there is a parapet of three cubits, covered with raw hides to protect it from the arrows.

6The construction of the tortoise ram is similar: it was thirty cubits wide, and, exclusive of the roof, sixteen high. The height of the roof from the eaves to the ridge, seven cubits. On the top thereof in the centre rose a small tower, not less than twelve cubits wide: it was raised with four stories, on the upper of which the scorpions and catapultæ were placed, and in those below was kept a large store of water, to extinguish the flames in case it should be fired. In it was placed the machine for the ram, which the Greeks call κριοδόκη, wherein was the round smooth roller on which the ram worked backwards and forwards by means of ropes, and produced great effect. This, like the tower, was covered with raw hides.

7He describes the auger (terebra) thus: the machine is made like a tortoise, as in those for the reception of the catapultæ and balistæ, and in the middle thereof is a channel on the pilasters fifty cubits long, one high, and across it an axle. In front, on the right and left, are two pulleys, by means of which is moved a beam with an iron point at its end, which works in the channel. Under the channel are rollers, which give it an easier and stronger motion. Above the beam an arch is turned to cover the channel, and receive the raw hides with which the machine is covered.

8I do not describe the grappling machine, because I consider it of very little use. I perceive that he only promises to explain, which however he does not do, the construction of the ladder called ἐπιβάθρα by the Greeks, and the other marine machines for boarding ships. Having described the construction of the machines as Diades directs, I shall now explain it in a way that I think will be useful, and as taught me by my masters.

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