The Antiquity of Ballistas and Catapults
Under this heading I can but give quotations from various sources.
It is evident that a history of ancient siege engines cannot be created
de novo. All that can be done is to quote with running criticism what has
already been written about them. These remarks apply equally to the next
The first mention of balistas and catapults is to be found in the Old
Testament, two allusions to these weapons being made therein.
The references are :
2 Chronicles xxvi. 15, 'And he1 made in Jerusalem engines,
invented by cunning men, to be on the towers and upon the bulwarks to shoot
arrows and great stones withal.'
Ezekiel xxvi. 9, ' And he shall set engines of war against thy walls.'
Though the latter extract is not so positive in its wording as the one
first given, it undoubtedly refers to engines that cast either stones or
arrows against the walls, especially as the prophet previously alludes
to other means of assault.
One of the earliest and most authentic descriptions of the use of great
missive engines, is to be found in the account by Plutarch of the siege
of Syracuse by the Romans, 214-212 B.C. See pp. 265, 266.
Caesar in his Commentaries on the Gallic and Civil wars, B.C. 58-50,
frequently mentions the engines which accompanied him in his expeditions.
The balistas on wheels were harnessed to mules and called carro-balistas.
The carro-balista discharged its heavy arrow over the head of the animal
to which the shafts of the engine were attached. Among the ancients, these
carro-balistas acted as field artillery and one is plainly shown in use
on Trajan's Column.
According to Vegetius, every cohort was equipped with one catapult and
every century with one carro-balista ; eleven soldiers being required to
work the latter engine.