Ancient Catapults

In 399 B.C. Dionysius the Elder, ruler of the Greek colony of Syracuse in Sicily, prepared his city for a long war with Carthage

by undertaking a search and development program. Utilizing such now familiar techniques as the assembly of large teams of specialists, the division of labor to break down the tasks into manageable units, and the provision of financial and psychological incentives. Dionysius clearly aimed from the outset at the production of novel weapons. Out of the program came quadriremes and possibly quinqueremes, ships with the equivalent of four or five banks of oars and so with more potential power behind their rams than the standard three bank triremes. Dionysius'engineers also devised the first catapults.

These early machines probably fired arrows from a bow not much stronger than one a man could draw. By mechanizing the drawing and releasing of the arrow, however,the catapult inventors made possible the construction of much more powerful bows.These devices appear to have been built of composite materials, with a wood core surmounted by a tension layer of animal sinew in the front and a compression layer of horn in the back. Eventually the flexible bow reached the limits of its design, and it was superceded by catapults based on the torsion principle. In this approach tightly stretched bundles of elastic fibers were further strained by a rigid bow limb as the weapon was brought to a full draw. Horsehair or human hair could be used for the ropes that made up these bundles, but for superior performance animal sinew was preferred.

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Authors: Werner Soedel and Vernard Foley - Scientific American

Article and Image Source: pfscience.info

Werner Soedel and Vernard Foley - Scientific American

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