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Sassanid leverage artillery ?
Hi all,

Just like many other aspects of Sassanian history, apparently sources are very limited about their use of mechanical artillery.  I did a quick scan of available works but failed to find something reliable.

Now it is certain that leverage artillery (trebuchets) were invented in China and around 6th-7th century spread to Western side of Asia. There are some theories about the path. One theory is that Avars while moving into Europe brought this technology to West since they were familiar with Chinese military technology and possibly had some Chinese engineers with them. According to Eastern Roman sources, around last decade of 6th century, Avars certainly deployed leverage artillery against Romen city walls. The question is what was the state of Sassanian Empire during all this transmission. We know that Sassanians employed captured Roman artillery but they are torsion powered and out of topic for this discussion.

David Nicolle mentions possibility of Sassanian traction trebuchet use during siege of Jerusalem in 614 and he is certain about defending Sassanid garrison of Ctesiphon used traction trebuchets against besieging Arabs in 637.

Joseph Needham also wrote about Central Asian Turkic invasions of Persian could brought Chinese artillery technology to West around 7th century.

Also, Dehkhoda Dictionary suggest the word "mangenik" for this kind of artillery in Pahlavi and asserts that word is originally Greek.

Apart from all this piecemeal suggestions and info, could anyone provide some sources and academical works about Sassanian use of this particular type of artillery?

Thanks in advance.
posted by Semih Koyuncu

I am not a specialist of the Oriental world, but here are some information about sassanid artillery. You may have read that already, of course, and indeed Petersen states than very little is known of persian/sassanid artillery.

Petersen, 2013, Siege Warfare and Military Organization in the Successor States (400-800 ad)
Chapter about the Sassanids, p. 364.
"Procopius mentions Persian engineers (τεχνῖται) on two occasions, once at *Edessa (544) constructing a siege mound, and then at *Archaeopolis (550), referring obliquely to Persian engineers that would normally construct siege engines. Otherwise we know very little of Persian military engineers. Evidence from the Arab conquests indicates that some aristocrats had particular expertise in siege warfare and probably had staffs of craftsmen and engineers within their households. The competence of Persian engineers is beyond doubt in light of the enormous amount of evidence on engines and siege methods assembled in chapter 5.2, where Roman-Persian warfare provides much of the evidence. In addition, they could draw on the technical expertise from the same sources as the Romans: firstly the civilian population in Mesopotamia (cf. 6.2.3), and secondly, the militarized Armenian nobility."

On the matter of leverage artillery, I think the siege mound that Procopius mentions is to be used by onagers, and not by trebuchets, since among ancient artillery only onagers have a recoil, and thus need siege mounts. That being said, the mounds could be used by trebuchets in order to raise them from the ground a little.
Such mounds were also used by Sassanian army during famous siege of Amida for torsion weaponry so it is impossible to detect sort of artillery just by use of mounds as already stated.

Below sketch is  from a wall painting with very nice depiction of traction trebuchet from the palace of Piandjikent, Transoxania is now in Hermitage Museum and is dated somewhere between the 7th - 8th Centuries.

[Image: transox2.gif]

I searched a lot to find original colored painting but failed. Judging from sketch pulling crew does not look like Arabs to me. Also, Chinese influence on the structure of the machine is apparent. This could be sign of direct connection between Chinese and Sassanian military.
posted by Semih Koyuncu

I think the drawing is a little too imprecise to tell if the crew look like Arabs. The man on the left seems to have clear hair, but this can be an imprecision caused by the modern artist.
Also, I can't see why the structure of this early trebuchet should look chinese. What part are you referring to ?
However, connection (direct or indirect) between chinese and sassanids seems possible.
I agree. That is why I tried to find original image. It could help little more than this sketch.

Below drawing is from Wujing Zhongyao, a Chinese military book, compiled some times between 1040-44. Even thought it is a later representation still bears resemblance with the Piandjikent painting like inclined support frames, bulbous fulcrum and a sling with three ropes.

[Image: Untitled.jpg]

Strikingly first Western accounts about leverage artillery describe same machine. The famous account of Avar siege of Thessaloniki in 586 (or 597, still debatable) describes Avar artillery with following words;
Quote:These were tetragonal and rested on broader bases, tapering to narrower extremities. Attached to them were thick cylinders well clad in iron at the ends, and there were nailed to them timbers like beams from a large house. These timbers had the slings from the back side and from the front strong ropes, by which, pulling down and releasing the sling, they propel the stones up high with a loud noise. And on being fired they sent up many stones so that neither earth nor human constructions could bear the impacts.

All those only prove Chinese origin of the leverage artillery which is already well known but still we don't know the specifics about Sassanian contribution and usage if any.
posted by Semih Koyuncu

This is worth a read:

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