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Ram - Tortoise

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  • James Mathews
    ... Earlier, I presented a picture of my model battering ram for your enjoyment. In the following paper I will be pleased to describe some of the aspects of
    Message 1 of 1 , Feb 23, 2014
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      >>>> Ram - Tortoise <<<<

      Earlier, I presented a picture of my model battering ram for your enjoyment.  In the following paper I will be pleased to describe some of the aspects of this weapon as explained by Philip’s engineer Polyidus and his pupil Diades.

      The Ram-Tortoise is a siege machine that essentially has three parts to it, the first, of course, is the ram, usually a log of  some size capped at the end with a heavy bronze head designed to break into the stone walls of a fortified city.  The second is the scaffold from which the log (ram) was hung and the ropes used to draw the ram back to be released against the wall.  The third is the hide covered, wheeled shed that protected the scaffold, ropes, and log from fire-arrows.  The shape of this shed was triangular with a very steep roof to shed spears and rocks.  Often another wheeled shed was placed behind the ram - tortoise to protect the soldiers working the ram itself.

      Apparently there were two sizes of battering rams used by Diades.  The first was the one just mentioned as the smaller.  The larger one was installed on the base level of the siege tower.  The middle level of the siege tower would then have some sort of “scorpion” (arrow-firing catapult of a small caliber) to clear the wall walk directly above the Ram, keeping all opponents from dumping rocks, boiling oil, on the ram or dropping a heavy blanket over the wall to soften the ram’s blows.  The next floor would be the bridge to allow warriors passage onto the wall-walk and the last level would be where the archers and spearmen would engage the defending warriors on the wall.

      Later Diades apparently added to the smaller Ram-Tortoise a turret, located on framework above the ram itself.  This turret would have been large enough to contain at least one ‘scorpion” or several archers.  These machines and / or archers would be used to maintain a clearance at the top of the wall from any defenders and their weapons  for use against the ram.

      Vegetius describes the Ram-Tortoise as follows; “The Tortoise is made from timbers and planks with a covering of hides, goat’s hair mats, and fire-blankets to save it from destruction by fire.  It holds within it a beam tipped with a head  covered with iron and called a ‘ram.’  This is either because it has an extremely hard brow for undermining walls, or because it backs off like a ram in order to strike harder at speed.  The “Tortoise” takes its name from its resemblance to  a real tortoise.  Just as it now withdraws, now thrusts out its head, so the machine at one moment withdraws its beam, at another sends it out to strike more strongly.” 


      >> Duncan B. Campbell, Brian Delf (illus.), “Greek and Roman Siege Machinery, 399 BC -- AD 363,” (Osprey Pub., 2003);

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

      Respectfully Submitted;

      Marcus Audens  
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