War Engines: Land and Sea

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War Engines: Land and Sea

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Siege Devices . Most Greek cities had elaborate defensive walls and were built on strategically high points. Nevertheless, the Greeks did not develop sophisticated forms of siege craft until well into the historical period. The legendary siege of Troy lasted ten years and was successful only because of the Trojan Horse, a work of deception. From the Persians, the Greeks might have learned about siege ramps and undermining, but their citizen armies did not have the time or resources for these types of activities. The Athenian general Pericles is said to have used siege devices at Samos in 440. They included rams and “tortoises,” that is, shells to protect those manning the rams; however, for the most part the Athenians depended on blockades, and they took three years (432-429 b.c.e.) to capture Potidaea in this way.

Dionysius the Elder . Siege craft really developed for the first time in Sicily under Dionysius the Elder, who adopted it from the Carthaginians. In his wars against Carthage (397-396 and 392), he employed arrow-firing catapults, scaling ladders, and most important, towers on wheels. Yet, Macedonians Philip II and Alexander the Great used siege craft most effectively. They developed catapults capable of hurling stones, making it possible to smash fortified walls.

Battering Ram . The trireme was the principal warship of the ancient Greek world. It was a long rowing ship manned by 170 rowers plus 30 marines and archers. Each rower had an oar to himself, and rowers were arranged in three rows from top to bottom. Modern reconstruction and experimentation has shown that the trireme was capable of a speed of nine knots. The main weapon of this vessel was its bronze ram, which was attached to the prow and designed to strike an enemy ship at the waterline. The object was simply to punch a hole that would render the enemy ship waterlogged and unmaneuverable; it was not necessarily sunk. For longer trips sails were used, but they were generally removed and stowed on shore before a trireme went into battle.

Sources

Lionel Casson, Ships and Seafaring in Ancient Times (Austin: University of Texas Press, 1994).

Arnold Walter Lawrence, Greek Aims in Fortification (Oxford: Clarendon Press; New York: Oxford University Press, 1979).

John S. Morrison and J. F. Coates, The Athenian Trireme: The History and Reconstruction of an Ancient Greek Warship (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986).

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War Engines: Land and Sea

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