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523Mobile Siege Towers

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  • James Mathews
    Feb 21, 2014
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      >>>> Mobile Siege Towers -- Vegetius, Book IV, para 17 <<<<

      “Towers” refers to machines constructed from beams and planks looking like buildings.  They are very thoroughly armored with raw hides and fire blankets, lest all this work be burnt by enemy fire.  Their width increases in proportion to their height, for sometimes their dimensions are 30 feet square at the base, and sometime 40 or 50 feet. (1)  Their height is sufficient to overtop not only walls but even towers built of stone.  Many wheels are placed under them by mechanical skill, so that by their rolling motion such a great bulk can be moved.  The danger to the city is immediate once a mobile tower is moved up to the wall, for it holds within it many ladders , and attempts to make a breach in different ways.  In the lower storey it contains a ram, whose impact destroys walls.  About the middle storey it holds a bridge, made from two beams and fenced with wicker.  This is suddenly thrust or dropped between the wall and the tower and made secure, and soldiers emerging from the machine cross over by it into the city and occupy the walls.  In the upper story of the tower are stationed pikemen and archers , who cut down the defenders of the city from above with pikes, javelins, and stones.(2)  When this happens the city is captured without delay.  What help is there left when those who were counting on the height of their walls suddenly spy a higher wall of the enemy above their heads?”

      Marcus Audens Note --
      In the model the upper storey is the bridge,  The battering ram has been removed and shown previously as a separate machine, so its operation can be seen.

      -- (1)Vitr. 10.16.4 says that the breadth of the famous helepolis of Demetrius was 60 feet and the height was 125 feet.

      -- (2)At Julian’s siege of Aquileia AD 361, three mobile towers were constructed with a drawbridge in the lower storey and soldiers shooting from the upper, and were conveyed to the city walls on rafts, cf. Amm. 21.12.9-10.  The Ostrogothic king Vittigis built mobile towers drawn on wheels by oxen for the siege of Rome AD 536-537, cf. Amm. 24.2.18ff. (Not sure who AMM is as it was not included in the Vitr. bibliography.)


      Vegetius, N.P. Milner (trans.), “Epitome of Military Science,” (Liverpool Univ. Press, 1993)

      Respectfully Submitted;

      Marcus Audens