Thursday, 20 October 2016


The saga continues. It is mainly because the Osprey NewVanguard225 has been screaming from my bookshelf for a year or so. It seems to take up more space than an encyclopedia. Partly becaue when I first saw the book I was simply glad the subject had been addressed. This I somewhat regret. I hope to lay the ghost by writing these blogposts.
 Last time plate D got it. The Quinquereme also illustrated in plate D is not error-free but for now I will jump to plate E- 'The Siege of Syracuse 212B.C.'.

What a dog's dinner. Apart from the dress of the sailors at the stern (see previous blogpost).
..warning for the faint-hearted

The most salient problem is the theme of the picture, which is the deployment of a sambuca against the walls of Syracuse.

If you are in doubt as to what a sambuca is look here.

The sambuca of the siege of Syracuse was an arrangement of ships and a ramp for mounting the walls and was so-named because it looked like the musical instrument. Note the soundbox - the ships - and the neck - the ramp - linked by ropes, the strings.

The caption to the plate is largely an excerpt from a translation of Polybius (Historia VIII,4).
By this means the caption author(s?) are hoist by their own petard. The contraption in the plate bears little resemblance to Polybius' description. The ship the thing is mounted-on is also odd.

OK let's go through Polybius' recipe and see how one should make a sambuca.
Nice try but no drinking while blogging!
 1) Take ONE quinquereme.
2) A ladder four feet wide (1.2 metres ) with a side-railing.
3) The next bits need two ships. Here we have only one !? Skip over..
4) The affair is raised by men in the stern pulling lines which run through a block at the masthead. In the plate there are precisely four sailors in the stern. One is musing on the massive cable in front of him. The others are making themselves look busy to avoid having to pull on it. The end of the cable is indistinctly terminated in the deck. If you follow the cables to the masthead it is apparent that the sambuca itself is not connected to the stern. The cables illustrated are th emast-stays. The forward mast-stays terminate in thin air or off the ship on land? The sambuca hangs in the block suspended from the foremast and a single cable runs down therefrom to the deck. Unmanned. The size of the sambuca makes it unlikely it could have been the foremast that supported it. Polybius must mean the mainmast.In any casehe clearly says the sailors hauling it up are in the stern of the ships.
5) The platform at the end of the ladder was protected by wicker screens on three sides which were thrown off when the escalading troops rushed up to get onto the wall. The wicker screens are still in place in the plate.
 1) On a pair of quinqueremes lashed together,
2)Mount over the junction a ladder 1.2metres wide and very long to project before the ships.The ladder is roofed-over and has side-railings.
3)Arrange functional tackle running from the ladder over the mainmasts to enable sailors in the sterns of the ships to raise the ladder with the aid of sailors in the bows who will use poles.
4)The ladder is equipped with a platform at the end occupied by four men protected by wicker screens on three sides.
5) When the platform is in place above the wall then the screens are thrown down and the main escalading party rushes up the ladder and onto the wall.

How long was the sambuca ?
To get maximum lift the ladder must have had a line fitted as near to its extremity as possible. Maybe 2metres behind the tip or immediately behind the platform. When elevated this point cannot have been raised higher than the top of the mast which was the fulcrum.

The mast top block of a quinquereme would be at about 12 metres over the waterline.
Solving the triangle for a hypothetical slope in action for the ramp of 45 degrees...
The sambuca was in the order of 17 metres long. Polybius says it projects a long way forward of the ships and so it does.

Putting all this together we get an arrangement somewhat like this...

Check this with Polybius
The sambuca in red projects forward as it lies ready to be raised.
The lines to raise it run from behind the landing platform over the mainmasts and to parties of seamen (B) in the sterns ready to haul it up.
In the bows (A) of each ship are parties of seamen with poles to help raise and position the ladder.
Troops wait on deck ready to swarm up the ladder when the landing platform is in place on the walls of Syracuse.

While plate E is down let us kick it some more.
The scale of the ship - a quinquereme - is gross. The timbers on the tower at the ship's stern are approximately 20cm or more thick which maybe they have to be because it is armoured with metal shingles and occupied by Chinamen and a bolt-thrower. The height of the deck above the waterline is well over 3 metres judging by the height of the men on the deck.

 It has a strange gangway built onto the side of the bow. There appear to be men marching up the bow ornament. The pedalion disappears through the oarbox which has two holes in it for some reason. In this situation the pedalion cannot be lifted out of the water by angling it back or outward to any great degree. There is no ventilation course of louvres or apertures for the oarsmen who would soon expire.
Plate E : Too-close-up

One should not look landward because the Syracusans are using one of those fairground crane toys to attack the Romans are are shining searchlights on them to set them on fire. The Romans fight back with geometrically impossible combinations of sambucæ.

On the back of this book - Osprey new Vanguard 225 is written ' With dazzling, meticulously researched artwork, it examines Republican Rome's warships...'
Maybe not.
Messrs Connolly and McBride must be gently rotating in their respective Eternities.

No comments:

Post a Comment