Sticks and Stones (Research Paper)


Nothing sounds more Roman than hurling a 3ft bolt through the chests of several enemy soldiers at once (Kinard). The screams of pain indicate the culprit of the carnage, the ballista. The ballista made its way onto the battlefield near the first century AD and changed the landscape of war history to come (Penta, Rossi and Savino). The war innovation may be rather simple, but in the hands of the Romans, opposing forces would tremble at the thought of it (Kinard).

The ballista, developed first in the Greek empire, was created as a war machine (McNab). Julius Caesar commissioned the production of 30 ballistae per legion under his command for artillery purposes in 55BCE. The need for production emerged from the need for versatile cover fire (Kinard). Two types of ballistae existed to serve certain purposes for the Roman Empire. The first design, shooting large stones between 5-60 lbs. chosen meticulously before a battle, served siege purposes primarily, but did not fail at mutilating bodies (Kinard; Garrison). The other shot bolts. The version that shot bolts could be stationary or mounted on the back of a wagon to create a highly mobile weapon (Penta, Rossi and Savino). These bolts became favorable in comparison to the stones due to the penetrating aspect, each capable of traveling 300 m at a speed of 115 mph upon impact (Credland; Kinard).

In the technical sense, the ballista falls short from the word complex, but several technologies were needed to make it work correctly.  Both the rock throwing and bolt varieties have the same general design with slight modifications to the size of the channel, the part where the projectile sits and is ejected from (Whitehorn). The power that propels the load out of the object out of the ballista with such great force comes from the two-arm design in conjunction with the skein, made from twisted fibers such as hair or leather (Whitehorn; Credland; McNab). The machine, cocked using a set of winches on a drum pulling the string back using metal claws, implemented a tripping device for holding and releasing tension (Whitehorn). The release, in turn, sends the projectile flying out at an aggressive rate of speed and precision (Whitehorn). The precision far outdoes the catapult, also prevalent in this period making the ballista the weapon of choice for most tasks (Credland; Whitehorn).

This figure shows the main mechanisms of the bolt shooting variety of ballista (Whitehorn)


The social impact of the ballista may have meant more to its success rather than the results of warfare. The device put fear into the hearts of anyone on the other end of the death machine. Although it could not kill thousands of people in one shot, the ballista did give the Romans a psychological edge in battle (Kinard). Josephus, a Roman historian during the Roman Empire, wrote about his personal observations surrounding the device, most of which included the nauseating scenes created upon the battlefield (Kinard). People did not want to fight in the wake of the ballista. The ballista called for the need for new fighting methods as well as better fortifications (Credland; Kinard).

Word Count: 507


Credland, Arthur C. “Sir Ralph Payne-Gallwey Bt. And the Study of Medieval and Ancient Projectile Weapons.” Arms & Armour 8.1 (2011): 46-88. Print.

Garrison, James V. “Casting Stones: Ballista, Stones as Weapons, and Death by Stoning.” Brigham Young University Studies 36.3 (1996): 350-62. Print.

Kinard, Jeff. “Artillery; an Illustrated History of Its Impact.” Reference & Research Book News 2007/11// 2007. Print.

McNab, Chris. “Roman Ballista.” MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History 2016 Autumn 2016: 23+. Print.

Penta, Francesco, Cesare Rossi, and Sergio Savino. “Mechanical Behavior of the Imperial Carroballista.” Mechanism and Machine Theory 80 (2014): 142-50. Print.

Whitehorn, J. N. “The Catapult and the Ballista.” Greece and Rome 15.44 (1946): 49-60. Print.

Father of the Fortress By: James Falkner

This article reviews the works of a man named Sébastien Le Prestre, most commonly referred to as Vauban. Faulkner hits the main point of the man’s life, including all of his contributions to the French, and goes deep into the later implications of the fortress technologies that Vauban implemented in his works. The author displays a strong theme of trying to tie the medieval innovations to more recent events in history. 

      Vauban is best known for his fortification techniques, although he played a large role in siege planning and design. His fortresses almost always consisted of geometric patterns laid upon each other to create star-like structures. Other key design points include sloped walls and channels to direct the flows of attack. Vauban worked alongside many influential leaders of France including Louis XIV.  Louis XIV tasked Vauban to construct massive fortresses including citadels and a massive project called the iron fence. These two examples are only a few of a very extensive project history for Vauban. 

Image result for vauban fortress

The fortresses and tech that Vauban created did not die when he was put into the ground, but rather it evolved as the war landscape changed. Many structures today resemble that of Vauban’s ideology. Vauban built the structures not only to last but also to slow down the enemies. There are several examples in the article of how his fortresses fell but gave time for others to prepare for a fight. This correlates to a more recent example of how his tech was implemented. During the Second World War, Germany was slowed down enough by the Maginot Line to give those on the other side a fighting chance. Ideas for this fortification that ultimately saved the French people was derived from a single man who lived hundreds of years beforehand, aka Vauban.  This proves that technology never really dies, but rather it just spurs or influences the next idea.

Image result for maginot line

-Nicholas Burnette

Related Readings

The second link is a very long, but very informative passage about the entire history and interactions between Louis XIV and Vauban. The source is very detailed and can be used if the reader is interested in a certain fort or to expand knowledge in his history as an engineer. This article brings forward the extensive history of Vauban. This article goes into much more detail of all of the design techniques as well as the reasons certain ones were used. The source is very useful to get a more enriched appreciation of the military genius of Vauban.

WC: 421

Roman Hydraulic Technology

The Romans are known for the iconic aqueducts, but Roman hydraulic tech is far more complex than most of us give them credit for. Of course, the known aqueduct was a tremendous part of the society, but they also came up and performed other marvelous engineering feats.

The whole story starts with a man named Sextus Julius Frontinus. He set out on the goal to create the largest public water system of its time. Although opposed by many due to the cost, nine separate aqueducts supplied all of Rome in the first century. These used a steady gradient on or under the ground coming from the River Anio. Contrary to popular belief, only about 5% of the water was carried upon bridges, the arched ones we all know from pictures. The five that did use bridges are Aqua Tepula, Julia, Marcia, Novus, and Claudia. The creations of these bridges were usually formed by stacking bridges on top of each other, kind of like Legos. The bridges had many problems though such as leakage and lack of stability, so don’t expect to see us building them anytime soon. The bridges also fell subject to the effects of the weather and frozen water does not flow. Researchers assume today that the aqueducts most likely never ran full and only a few ran at a certain time. This engineering is a direct cause of the urban landscape emerging in the capital. Most of the ideas were not theirs as much as they would like to think it to be true. The Romans used the innovations of past societies such as the Greeks to give them a boost.

Now you must be thinking that well that means that the aqueduct was tunnels instead of bridges. This thought would be mostly wrong. With the technology Romans had it was very hard to make the two sides of a tunnel meet up, so they avoided this option opting for plain troughs on the ground instead. One thing that stood out to me is that the Romans tried to drain an entire lake with tunnels, with little success, but I mean, what is the purpose of draining a lake. If the drop was too far to bridge stack and there was no possible way to use ground-level troughs, the Romans used pipes, made with lead. No problem here right, lead pipes are healthy. These pipes were known as siphons, with each bundle having as many as 10 pipes.

The Romans also created a Dam that worked to supply clean water to the city, only to be contaminated by lead, but still, it was better than cholera. Small dams were used by the Romans to irrigate their land just as the Mesopotamians did before them, but this time using new better materials.  They also implemented a system of wadi irrigation. This irrigation was based on terraced flood irrigation. The tech that helped them in this process was the creation of a hydraulic concrete, one that can set underwater.

The interest in irrigation farming sparked the creation of water raising devices. The article talks about three in particular. The first being the pot wheel, the name explains it pretty well, it is a wheel with pots on it. Next was the chain of pots. This was a system of pulleys used to lift pots at a higher distance than the pot wheel. Finally comes the noria. The thing that makes this one unique from the other two is the fact that it is powered by the water rather than by humans or animals. It is a self-sufficient power source, but due to the public not being ready for water powered things, they disregarded the amazing innovation. The public could not grasp the possibilities of this technology so it was lost to time rather than harnessed. This ideology still continues today, all one has to do is look at when any new tech is introduced. If we can’t handle it, the world will oppose merely due to ignorance.

The Romans had more than just some bridges to carry water and they are truly amazing with the revolutions they came up with. In fact, we still use quite a few of these technologies to this day. They set the baseline for society to build from after they fell.

Connected Links

This first link summarizes water technology and one can see that the Romans had it but failed to adopt it in their society. The article also gives a more specific date of the innovation and the names of those inventions of their time. This article would be supplemental to the reader if they e=were interested in exploring water technology in the Roman Era as well as how it expanded to the rest of the world and its implementation in different locations. The link also has very nice pictures of the mechanisms and the comparisons of the innovations.

WC: 817

History of Science and Technology in China

Throughout the article “History of the Science and Technology in China” written by New World Encyclopedia, there is a recurring theme. The Chinese created countless amazing inventions and revolutions while segregated from the western world. They did eventually broaden their horizons and start trading with outsiders, but for a long period of time, all of the new technologies were rather secluded to the Chinese culture.

From astronomical observation, feats in architecture, revolutionary medial practices, to a water wheel powered puppet show, China had it all. Four technological however stand out as the most important to ever come out of the east. These include the compass, gunpowder, papermaking, and printing. All of these had a major impact on the rest of the world as they opened doors for war, travel, trade, knowledge, and other new possibilities to come.

In the middle ages of China, more advancements in science and tech were prevalent. First came the Tang Dynasty, called to be a “time of great innovation,” by the writers of the article. During this dynasty, several inventions that we still use today such as parachutes, natural gas, plows, and propellers were thought of. Later came the Song dynasty, although they had militaristic inventions such as Greek Fire, they fostered a time of great peace. During this time political institutions were set up to encourage free thought and led to innovations and creativity. They established mints due to the immense amount of trade and scientists wrote books on their discoveries of the time. Chinese astronomers were very big in this point in history. They recorded several things including the Crab Nebula.

To this day, thousands of innovations and technology have come from the western world. This article was basically about the ones that got the ball rolling and led to the future events in the world.

Image result for ancient chinese technology inventions

Related Readings:

The article titled “China’s age of Invention” by NOVA is all about years of the Song dynasty. This article goes into deeper detail concerning why and how the culture changed during this era to give birth to all of the amazing intellectual ideas. It breaks down effects of the certain technologies on China’s culture and economy. The article also uses specific examples such as gunpowder and printing to show their relationship to the world and China. In simple terms, this article takes examples and shows how and why they affected certain aspects of both ancient and modern life.

Nicholas Burnette (WC 408)