Roman Catapults – A Play Off Greek Inventions

It’s long been known many of the great advancements credited to the Roman Empire actually came from the Greeks.

From scholarly writings to inventions such as Roman catapults, Greek minds often were behind the greatest of Roman accomplishments. But, since to the victor goes the spoils, the empire builders are in fact credited with many of the works others did for them. However, in the case of several types of Roman catapults, it was the Romans themselves who improved on earlier designs from others to create fast, yet deadly machines of war.

In the line of Roman catapults, those related to the chieroballista are solidly connected to Roman engineering. Although the designs are similar to what Greeks and others first created, the brilliant advancements on the technology make them Roman through and through.

Unlike other Roman catapults, the chieroballista and its sister weapons are believed to have been created by the Romans themselves during the early Christian years. These examples of Roman catapults basically were small arrow propelling devices, similar to a crossbow or spear chucking ballista, but much smaller in nature and more mobile. The chieroballista itself was a small arrow-propelling machine that could be mounted onto a carriage for quick movement.

Another example in the line of Roman catapults was the manuballista. This torsion device was similar to the chieroballista only it was not carriage mounted. The acruballista is another catapult credited to the Romans. This Roman catapult’s design did not call for the use of torsion force. It was small and hand-held.

These examples of Roman catapults are simplistic, yet ingenious in nature. Their small, mobile designs lent them to use in supporting the infantry. They were made to be more mobile, but still as powerful as other models, but these Roman catapults had a few advantages over other designs. The support beam at the top of these catapults allowed for a clearer view, making these great for hitting moving targets from a distance a human arm could not throw.

Beyond these basic differences the chieroballista worked just like the catapults before them. The two arms stuck through the sinew or rope skeins of the cheiroballista were pulled back with the aid of a winch and were released by a trigger.

One of the earlier designs in the line of Roman catapults was the mangonel. This model was similar to the ballista, but instead of using two wooden arms along with its system of tightly wound ropes to create torsion, thus propulsion force, this model used a single arm. Not the most accurate of Roman catapults, the mangonel nonetheless made its mark on history. This model’s use of a wooden barrier created issues for the actual firing of this example of Roman catapults, but its use is still documented for quite some time.

Despite some flaws here and there, Roman catapults propelled the technology forward. The smaller designs of some didn’t necessarily lend themselves to castle crushing force like later models created in other lands, but they were deadly nonetheless. The extreme mobility of the chieroballista line proved formidable to many an opposing army and their ability to pick off moving targets must have been chaos inducing on the field of battle.


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