Siege Towers: Fearsome Vehicles of Ancient Warfare

No discussion of warfare would be complete without a look at the muscle-powered vehicles used by ancient armies. One of these inventions was the siege tower. Built to overcome a city’s walls, these machines were ingenious in design and awe-inspiring in their effectiveness. The earliest examples of siege towers were used around the 10th century in the near East. But the most famous application of this technology was during the siege of Rhodes by Demetrius in 305-304 BC. The Alexandrian general built a tower 130 feet high and about 65 feet wide at its base. Known as the helepolis, or “taker of cities,” it rested on 15-foot wheels and had casters that allowed lateral and direct movement. Demetrius covered three sides of the tower with iron plates. The interior was divided into multiple stories connected by two sets of steps. The wheels were belt-driven; as many as 200 men labored to turn a large capstan which in turn drove the machine forward. Soldiers fired weapons from openings covered by animal skins stuffed with seaweed, making them fireproof. The helepolis was armed with multiple catapults that fired projectiles ranging from 30-180 pounds in weight. On the top two floors attackers could fire arrows at the wall’s defenders. The machine weighed an estimated 160 tons. In addition to its built-in belt drive, it required hundreds of men straining with all their might to push it into position. RELATED: The Enola Gay Was A Necessary Evil Despite its formidable weaponry, the citizens of Rhodes were able to defeat the helepolis and end the siege of their city. Some accounts say that they dislodged the tower’s metal plating, making it vulnerable to fire. Other accounts say that Diognetus, the city’s chief architect, knocked a whole through the city’s walls during cover of night and poured large amounts of water and sewage into the ground in front of the helepolis, causing it to bog down in mud. Demetrius and his forces withdrew, leaving their massive siege tower behind. Reportedly, the residents dragged the massive prize into the city, selling off the weapons it contained and melted down the iron plates to build a gigantic statue of their patron god. Siege towers were used well into medieval times. At the siege of Kenilworth Castle in 1266, attackers built a siege engine that held 200 archers and 11 catapults. As the tower approached the city walls, attackers would run across gangplanks dropped across the open space. Traditional siege towers became obsolete with the use of gunpowder in warfare, though later battery towers built into castle walls were similar in concept. Fans of the Lord of the Rings films will recall that Sauron’s forces used siege towers in their assault on Gondor during the third movie. Brutal in their efficiency and fearsome in appearance, siege towers are a testament to the genius of their ancients builders. RELATED: The Story of the M1 Abrams Tank ____________________________________ Click Here to Read the Original Article on BoldRide

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