Military vehicles of the past: tensional and torsion guns

Last time, we learned that the entire military engineering of mankind began with the invention of the most basic throwing tools - slings and bows. But this is only the beginning of the journey: the time has come to set off in ancient times.

Modern history believes that the Greeks began to use military vehicles for the first time. There is a theory that the inventors of the very first machines were Assyrians, and the Greeks only borrowed the technology later, but there is still no official confirmation to it. The early prototypes of military machinery worked on the principle of a regular bow, and therefore they are called tensional (from the English. Tension - "tension") or non-torsion (non-torsion).

Tensile war machines

Last time we talked about the fact that the most popular throwing weapon of early civilizations was the bow, which combined ease of manufacture and high striking ability. One of the main disadvantages of the bow was the need to keep the bowstring taut for more precise aiming. Those who at least once held in their hands a modern sports bow know that this requires considerable effort and considerable strength of arms. Horstate (" abdominal onion ", sometimes gastra and fet), the earliest known mention of which refers to the policy of Syracuse of the 5th-4th century BC, solved the problem. It was no longer a bow, but a full-fledged crossbow: a long butt with a wide bell comfortably rested on the stomach, after which the shooter cocked the bowstring with the help of two straps, the top (protruding and smooth) and the bottom (serrated, playing the role of a bowstring lock). The gunner fired short (40-60 cm) bolts with faceted metal tips.

Outward appearance

Geron of Alexandria, who described in his work the principle of operation of this complex mechanical device, argued that Dionysius the Elder, who had ruled Syracuse at that time and was at war with the powerful Carthage, gathered in the city a real design bureau from the best engineers of his time. Of course, due to the complexity of manufacturing, weapons did not become as popular as onions. Be that as it may, he had a significant plus: as in the case of the crossbow of later eras, mastery of the horoscope did not require archery skill and long, exhausting training - if necessary, anyone could use powerful and very long-range weapons.

Oxybeles, or easel bow

Over time, horror has evolved into oxybeles, or easel onions . He increased in size, and his shoulders became wider and tighter. Being no longer a hand weapon, oxybeles was mounted on a support and served as a stationary firing point during the defense and siege of fortifications. Subsequently, shooting along a flat trajectory gave way to shooting along a ballistic trajectory. And so we come to a new class of combat vehicles - torsion guns.

Ballista story

Often the ballista did not have a single bow, but only two independent shoulders

For a long time, the ballista was called a catapult, and the catapult - ballistic, and only around the VI century AD scientists suddenly changed their places. It is also worth noting that in some works the word “ballista” denotes the usual arrow thrower - which, of course, introduces even more confusion into the already not very coherent classification. The term “ ballista ” itself comes from the Greek βαλλειν - “throw”. If in the case of tensional machines the principle of operation is based on bending the shoulders of the bow, then torsion ones involve the use of twisting energy of ropes, which are usually woven from livestock, as well as horse and even human hair. Thick ropes provided greater reliability, and the use of twisting energy made shooting more convenient and aimed, not to mention increasing the power of the shot itself.

The design of propelling mechanisms has undergone major changes. Now the basis was no longer a bow, but a lever connected to a twisted rope. A frame appeared that acted as a fixture for the ropes and the link between the trigger and the bed. Here began the first serious division of torsion engines into palintons (aka “ catapeltai petrobolos ”, stone throwers) and eutitons (Greek “ arrow thrower ”). According to the ancient Roman author Vitruvius, who lived in the 1st century BC, “... A ballista capable of throwing stones at 0.6 kg should have a hole size for a twisted tourniquet with a width of 5 fingers; for stones 1.1 kg - six fingers; for stones 1.7 kg - seven fingers; for stones 3.3 kg - eight fingers; for stones of 6.5 kg - ten fingers; for stones 13 kg - twelve fingers and 9/16; for stones of 26 kg - fifteen fingers ... The twist of the tourniquet is carried out to such an extent that the tourniquet, after hitting it with a hand, makes an even melodic sound along the entire length, the same sound should be in another tourniquet ... "

The legendary "Archimedean ballista" could, according to the ancient Greek writer Athenaeus, throw stones at 3 talents (approximately 78 kg) at one stage, that is, at 170 meters!

Information about the range of the ballist also varies. According to Flavius, the Romans besieging Jerusalem threw the notorious 30-kilogram cobblestones to a distance of up to 360 meters. In 305 BC Demetrius destroyed the city walls with ballists of the same caliber, but they threw stones much more modest - at half the distance.

Mobile artillery

Modern reconstruction of the Roman scorpion

It is generally accepted that a torsion gun is a purely stationary tool and is effective only during the defense or siege of fortresses. But this is not so: in the arsenal of Rome as early as the 1st century BC there was an impressive amount of mobile combat vehicles. Karroballista - a lightweight version of the stationary torsion gunner, which was installed on the wagon. They were placed on an elevation around the perimeter of temporary camps; in addition, the carroballists (the Romans called the Euryton ballista scorpions ) were even installed behind the heavily armed infantry. Their effectiveness in battle raises many expected questions: for servicing a ballista, about 10-11 people were required, while its rate of fire in a real battle left much to be desired. However, taking into account that the legion accounted for as many as 60 carroballists, as well as the fact that the projectile released from it easily stopped the rider at full gallop, the use of mobile torsion engines looks more than justified.

Stationary Palinton

Palintons, whether stationary or not, had another significant advantage: they used stones as shells, the most common field resource anywhere in the world (except, perhaps, deserts and sea open spaces). Mounted on a movable tripod that allows you to rotate and tilt the weapon, the palinton made it possible to shower enemy infantry and cavalry with a hail of cobblestones with high accuracy - in some situations it was much easier and more efficient to use the same scorpions. In addition, targeted stone shooting works equally well against large concentrations of manpower, and against the walls.

Scorpio and palinton are the two main ballista patterns that have existed for more than a thousand years. The Europeans actively used them until the 16th century, but with the advent of more effective powder artillery the popularity of torsion guns declined.

Modern replica polybola

In conclusion, I would like to talk about another brainchild of cunning antique engineering. The Alexandrian inventor Dionysius developed a worthy alternative to the Chinese rapid-fire crossbow chu-ko-nu - polybol . With the help of a special mechanism for feeding arrows and gears, this rapid-fire ballista could, apparently, throw projectiles at a crossbow speed. Of course, at the same time, a significant part of the striking power had to be sacrificed. Alas, this played a critical role: coupled with the complexity of manufacturing, this machine did not become a model for mass production and was more a deterrent than an effective means of warfare.


On this, our story about tensional and torsion military vehicles comes to an end. Next time we will consider gravitational mechanisms, which also played a crucial role in the history of world wars.


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