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Are Early Artillery Towers Misinterpreted?
#1
Josiah Ober: Early Artillery Towers: Messenia, Boiotia, Attica, Megarid, AJA 1987 is an admirable piece of scholarship, but what irritates me is that he never considers the possibility that the large rectangular windows high in the towers were meant for javelin throwers or slingers, not for the employment of early catapults. These kind of troops, if stationed inside a tower, could hurl their missiles better from embrasures than tight windows, I venture to say.

Strictly speaking, these embrasures may even be meant for archers despite the lack of protection they offered against enemy fire. What Ober fails to demonstrate is that the more advanced arrow slits already existed in Greek fortifications before these towers were built in the 4th century BC (I for one haven't found any evidence for them yet). It might be therefore possible that Greek engineers built at first big windows for archers until they figured out that slits were much more suitable. Since Polybios credits Archimedes with the introduction of arrowslits as late as the Roman siege of Syracuse (around 212 BC), this scenario is not even wildly implausible. What do you think?
Stefan (Literary references to the discussed topics are always appreciated.)
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#2
It's a small thing, but for the tiro in militaria, such as myself, it's worth pointing out here (in case someone can't find the paper) that the catapult so called is not the stereotypical mediaeval mangonel or trebuchet, even the Roman onager, but a comparatively light tension-powered artillery piece akin in principle to a giant cross-bow, referred to as the gastraphetes or belly-bow. It was devised by engineers in the employ of Dionysios of Syracuse c. 399 B.C.E.

The paper alludes to the these weapons as having a span of 4-9 Greek feet, and although the invention of the torsion catapult by the Macedonians in the 340s, and the presence of heavy torsion engines in the armies of the Diadochi (i.e. post 323 B.C.E) are both mentioned, even the latest towers treated of in the paper do not seem to have been designed for anything but the every lightest torsion artillery -- ''primarily antipersonnel weaponry'' certainly not siege-weapons.

I have advanced the solution of the question posed not a jot, but I hope my notes might warn other tiros that the study of classical artillery needs to be taken as a distinct discipline and shipping in our preconceptions about what a catapult is is dangerous.
Patrick J. Gray

'' Now. Close your eyes. It's but a short step to the boat, a short pull across the river.''
''And then?''
''And then, I promise you, you'll dream a different story altogether''

From ''I, Claudius'', by J. Pulman after R. Graves.
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#3
(01-19-2018, 04:31 PM)Eleatic Guest Wrote: ... he never considers the possibility that the large rectangular windows high in the towers were meant for javelin throwers or slingers, not for the employment of early catapults.

Just noticed your thread. Apologies for the late response. I, too, have always been sceptical of this interpretation. I voiced my scepticism briefly in my 2008 review of Rihll's The Catapult here (on p. 2, column 2, last paragraph). I always meant to work it up into a longer discussion. Rolleyes
posted by Duncan B Campbell
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#4
In my own research (my undergrad dissertation was on 'the evolving use and cultural representation of artillery in the Roman world') I have found that it is that both were viable, and that there is little relationship between the size of a tower's openings and the weapon behind it. Anyone with a ranged weapon (except a slinger due to space) would have been a valuable asset. As artillery works best with a height advantage, and had the potential to cause serious harm to enemy morale by gruesome spectacle, it would have made sense to place artillery as high as possible to get the most out of it. However, accounts of the Siege of Syracuse tell us that even the narrow slits lower down could have artillery behind them, as some unfortunate Roman soldiers found out when they tried to put up ladders against the walls. Artillery lower down is also recommended by Philon of Byzantium (who was writing just before the Second Punic War) in case an attack should slip beneath the firing arc of the upper towers.

I therefore suspect that artillerymen and archers could have operated anywhere in those towers, and probably moved about depending on enemy movements. That being said, the upper layer would have been the best vantage point as it got the most out of their machines and the wider openings maximised this advantage by offering a wider field of fire. So to answer the original question, the large rectangular windows probably are there primarily for the benefit of artillerymen, but certainly not their exclusive use.
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