Showcase: Roman War Machines

Alongside the massed legions of Rome, these devastating war machines sought not to just provide covering fire for the legionaries but also to destroy the enemy from afar. These weapons revolutionised artillery warfare and helped pave the way for future technology.

Ballista

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Originally a weapon made by the Greeks, it saw use in the campaigns of Alexander the Great. Once the Greeks had been conquered by Rome much of its culture and philosophies were adopted, including Greek technology. Made of strong wood and corded rope, this weapon required the use of winding the ropes via a winch system, it could build immense tension that when released hurled the projectile. The largest of these could fire well over a thousand metres making these siege weapons devastating to enemy formations and fortifications alike. Found across the empire, this weapon was used for both defending Rome’s assets and taking the fight to the enemy.

Carroballista

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This was a small ballista mounted onto the back of a modified horse and cart, effectively making this a form of mobile artillery! There is speculation as to whether or not this is the case, as the whole unit would be very heavy to manoeuvre and is possibly just way of transporting the weapon. Either way, this meant that this could be used across the battlefield where it would be needed. This flexibility would mean that any part of the legions that needed support could be given it in rapid time.

Onager

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This siege weapon was a type of trebuchet and was primarily used in siege warfare against many of the forts and towns the Romans came up against. It was a formidable weapon, cheaper and easier to produce than the Scorpion, it could also hurl a flaming projectile that would explode on impact and shower down onto the enemy, burning anything it came into contact with. The machine could fire indirectly, lobbing its payload over any obstacles, causing chaos and disruption behind. Being able to strike from afar meant that the Roman infantry could march forward in their tight ranks almost unopposed.

Scorpion

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This weapon was the sniper of the age, able to accurately pick out individual targets and bring them down from a distance. Able to fire four bolts a minute meant that this was also capable of attacking larger formations, and was great for slowing down an enemy advance. The Scorpion could be fired by either one or two men as it was small and relatively lightweight, but provided a fast rate of fire. Found in every Roman Century these catapults could punch through even the thickest armour, making sure that one was safe. A battery of these formidable weapons could put out 240 bolts within a minute, making the enemy think twice before taking them on!

Article written by Sam Phillips

 

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