Away from the day job and the writing I have another project – The Roman Army School, which is a meeting of academics and enthusiast Romanists every year in Durham (check it out here www.ad43.org.uk). Since it began a solo life after the Hadrianic Society disbanded last year, I have been captain of the merry ship RAS and the end of March was our first meeting. And boy, oh boy did it go well! I won’t bore you with all the details here – a full round up will shortly be available on the RAS website. This year’s theme was Roman Artillery, so for the excursion we had a live artillery display, not only that but on Saturday, Roman artillery pieces turned up in the bar!
Beer, and bolt throwers, what could be better?
Sunday afternoon was the highlight. We took a bus out to Binchester Fort and after a quick tour around (thanks to David Mason for opening the fort especially for us) we headed to the field for the show.
The Roman Military Research Society (http://www.romanarmy.net/) had an array of Roman catapults for us to look at. The biggest, based on Vegetius’ description of the machine was constructed before our eyes in a matter of minutes. Oh yeah, these things are portable.
Once it was all ready to go the machine was loaded – for health and safety reasons modern Romans, no matter how enthusiastic they are, cannot go hurling stones across fields. So instead we shot several grapefruit 50 meters across the field at some attacking cardboard Celts. Kersplat!
I hope my new friend Kristian doesn’t mind that I pinched his photo, he was in a better position than me to get this shot of the launched grapefruit.
After the grapefruit came the bolt throwers, lethal catapults throwing deadly pointed metal tipped bolts at our marauding cardboad Celts. There were two winching styles in action see pic and both could be accurately aimed at a target 50m away. And yep these were portable too – although not like a crossbow, the pieces are far too heavy, but they could have been moved around a battlefield with relative ease. It was wonderful during these demonstrations to have the creator of the pieces Len Morgan and Alan Wilkins, the leading expert whose research enables the machines to be built, on site with us to explain each machine and what research it was based on. (Alan’s new book can be purchased here http://romancatapults.co.uk/product/new-book-roman-imperial-artillery-by-alan-wilkins and is well worth a read). I had no idea that an almost complete front piece of one of these machines had been discovered at Xanten!
A full round up of the event will shortly be published on the Roman Army School webpage, (when yours truly gets around to writing it). However, I highly recommend seeing the Roman Military Research Society in action for a taste of how powerful these ancient Roman weapons were.
S. M. Porter
Professional archaeologist and author, S. M. Porter loves history, adventure and digging in the mud. Her career is in ruins - just where she wanted it to be.