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Full Version: Questions re: ballista, scorpio crews
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Ballista: my understanding is that a normal sized ballista would require a somewhat large crew. While I realize that for construction, transportation, and maintenance purposes many men might be needed, how many would be needed for its use in battle given it was to remain in one place? If a ballista's draw weight was such that the winch could be drawn with the power of two men, could it be effectively deployed by only those two men, and if so, what made it worth it for more manpower to be allocated to it beyond the point of setting it up? Would it have often been the case that some of the ballista crew would be re-allocated to melee duty?

Scorpio/cheiroballista: I can imagine it running more efficiently with two operators, but is it more likely to have been used by a single operator or two? Might there have been main operator with an assistant who would only stay with him up to a certain point?


Thanks in advance Smile
As far as I know and understand it would be one contubernium that would be in charge of one piece of artillery, not auxiliaries. Of course I'm no expert on anything and I'm probably wrong.
Quote:As far as I know and understand it would be one contubernium that would be in charge of one piece of artillery, not auxiliaries. Of course I'm no expert on anything and I'm probably wrong.

Vegetius wrote, that every century operated a carroballista and every cohort an onager. But well, this is Vegetius, the most famous armchair general of historiography. His explanations are strange in many regards. But he was probably right, that artillery was operated by the legionaries themselves. We also see that on images. And we know a ballistiarius, probably a specialist and immunes maintaining the equipment and leading its operation in combat. Dedictated artillery-regiments are an development of the late-empire with more specialisation in general. But there seem to be hints from archaelogy, that also the auxilia cohorts of the principate could operate artillery like the legions.

Well, this does not answer the question of the OP. Actually I know no source with details or number of men per piece of artillery. What could help is experimental archaeology. There are some groups of re-enactors, which have built and operated such equipment. Of course not in a combat situation. But they should have a clue. Perhaps some of them are posting on this forum.

However a full contubernium of 8 men (11 according to Vegetius) per piece of artillery sounds fully overpowered to me and a waste of manpower. Perhaps Vegetius meant, that 1 contubernium was responsible for the maintenance of the centuries artillery equipment. That does not mean, that all of them were needed for operation in combat.
Trajan's Column has several scenes of small scorpio ballistae in use, including some cart-mounted artillery. In each case there appears to be two men operating the machine.

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Per manning of centurial support weapons. Perhaps we might look at if from the perspective of a modern infantry weapons section. The scorpione is assigned to a particular contubernia.
The weapon itself would require a " gun controller"/ guy in charge for command and control..as well as the troops required to lay and fire it....
The number one and two gun team members ( Using Canadian/ UK terms) load; lay and fire the weapon per the "gun controllers" direction. The remainder of the section/ contubernia would be occupied as ammunition bearers; handling the mobility asset ( ox and cart) or providing local defence for the piece.
Designating one section as the "gunners" rather than detailing pers from across the century simplifies command relationships.
As well..like the modern weapons sections/ platoons..the support weapons may have been viewed as one more tool in the toolbox. Centurion Marcus Aquilia would simply detail off number 3 contubernia to man the scorpione as required. When not so employed Immunes Scaeva 's 8 lads would fulfill their infantry role.
My perspective is coloured by my own experiences and my admittedly imperfect grasp of the source materials. ;-)
Quote:Trajan's Column has several scenes of small scorpio ballistae in use, including some cart-mounted artillery. In each case there appears to be two men operating the machine.

There are many topics on this forum, where the Trajan's column and others come into play. The discussions always comes down to the question, what is a realistic depiction and what is artistic freedom or simply a necessity due to space and such.

So I am careful, to take everything the column shows for granted. On the other side, 2 men sounds feasible. Perhaps 3-4 men are reasonable too, if you like to stay semi-mobile including ammunition and such. But I can't believe in 8 or more.
With our scorpio we are able to fire a maximum of 13 bolts in one minute with a 3 men crew. It took 2 days drilling and refining who does what when and getting used to the sequence by repetitionrepetitionrepetitionrepetition to achieve this (we started at 5/minute). I guess we could maintain a rate of 9-10 bolts per minute over a 10-20 minute period. Of course that's no sniping, rather shooting at barn doors, like. No proof of what they did back then, just an observation of personal experience.
On our ballista (Legion VI Victrix, in California... see https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eHfqg1qpOd0 for video of the debut of this piece on Mail Call with R. Lee Ermey; note the ballista was built in a week, and had never been fired before this show), it is awkward to operate with less than three men. However, we do have a windlass device on the end which will be replaced with a more period cranking device at some point. This means we have one man who is essentially pulling belay, as the rope isn't tied to the windlass, and he sites the weapon and gives the commands; one fellow on the right who pulls the prawls back, runs the slider box forward, fits the bowstring under the Y claw, sets the trigger block, then assists in winching the block back, and once the block is set, places a bolt in front of the bowstring and then attaches the rope to activate the trigger, and pulls that same trigger upon command; and a guy on the left who helps unwind the rope to run the box forward, and winches the block back under pressure. The guy on the right does the most work, by far.

I can see adding a fourth guy to be a dedicated winching motor. After a few shots, you get tired. Constant use would mean you'd want to switch out guys. From a management standpoint, there would be a degradation in speed as your winders got tired, and it'd they'd get tired faster if you had only three guys instead of four.

The way I can see a contaburnium of guys being assigned to it would have to do with transportation, repairs, maintenance, and having a fresh reserve you could rotate in when the first crew gets tired.

Matt
Why did you use the Orsova frame (which is right, the largest ever found) if you didn't use an inswinger configuration? There's a reason why the spacing is so wide between the Torsion housings: that's what it was designed for.

Then you wouldn't have the issue of it being so long and awkward either, and it could shoot much farther. Also, then it would actually be correct to call it a Ballista (Palintone configuration, i.e. what you're using, is called a Catapulta/Scorpio).

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[Image: ballistamuseum1.jpg]
Quote:Why did you use the Orsova frame (which is right, the largest ever found) if you didn't use an inswinger configuration? There's a reason why the spacing is so wide between the Torsion housings: that's what it was designed for.

Then you wouldn't have the issue of it being so long and awkward either, and it could shoot much farther. Also, then it would actually be correct to call it a Ballista (Palintone configuration, i.e. what you're using, is called a Catapulta/Scorpio).
Hi Evan. Thanks for your reply.

I don't know the answers to your questions. I didn't build it. The OP asked about crews, and I answered that based on my experience.

Matt
It's okay Matt, I need to pester Brandon Barnes about it though Tongue