Monday 6 April 2020



 There were also eight turrets on it, of a size proportional to the weight of the ship; two at the stern, an equal number at the bow, and the rest amidships. 
To each of these two cranes were made fast, and over them portholes were built, through which stones could be hurled at an enemy sailing underneath. 
Upon each of the turrets were mounted four sturdy men in full armour, and two archers. The whole interior of the turrets was full of Saracen and missiles. 


These turrets have been interpreted as full height towers. This is not necessary. The meaning is a fighting platform. They were not massive - they housed just 4 men and their ammunition. 4 metres square would give ample fighting space plus some racks for amunition.
Ship tower a la Ben Hur. Nice, but practical?

A light wall around them would deflect missiles and they could be furnished with machiolation. Sculptures suggest they could be painted to resemble stone-built structure but this is not definite at this early date.

Maybe more like this..fighting platforms not Rapunzel towers
 The 'Saracen'  mentioned here is, I believe, tow-like fibre which can be easily lit. Presumably for making fire missiles.


The crane weapons are interesting. They are designed to prevent smaller craft coming alongside - as pirates are wont to do.

The ammunition must be lifted by 2 men by hand so we must assume the calibre was around 1 or 2 talents  25 or 50 pounds, 12 or 25 kilos.(approx.)

Such stones falling 10 metres would have considerable force to crush men or spring planks in a small hull.

The weapon is interesting because it has some parallel with the Theban 'flamethrower' used at the siege of  Delium in  424BC. This was also made of 'beams' hollowed.

There was plenty of ammunition supplied and it would be a brave attacker who came alongside Syrakousia.


 and as there were three masts, from each of them were suspended two large yards bearing stones, from which hooks and leaden weights were let down upon any enemy which might attack the vessel.

Each mast had men serving lines and pulleys which controlled extra yardarms - cranes - which allowed dolphins to be suspended out beyond the ship's sides. Dolphins were an old weapon, used,  not for the first time, at Syracuse in the Peloponnesian Wars.

The principle was similar to the turret cranes, in that a targetted vessel would suffer a heavy weight smashing vertically down into it in free fall. Dolphins could be random heavy things but, in the absence of grand pianos and ton weights the ancients used torpedo or dolphin-shaped lead castings.

ACME is a Greek word, you know? Doesn't lessen the pain though..
 The dolphin was raised to the top of the yard, the yard steered round to hang over the target - probably aimed using a hanging plumb bob - and then released by pulling a pin or slipping a line. Maybe the dolphin could be hauled up for another shot, otherwise it would be cut away and another hoisted.

The same yard crane could deploy an iron hand / grapnel to catch a target and capsize it or hold it for others to attack at will.


A wall with battlements and decks athwart the ship was built on supports;

 Here we read that there was also kind of combat deck on the ship.

This is added to the 3 decks already mentioned. But as we shall see was not a complete deck.

A question arises as to if this was intended to refer to an extra superimposed structure or a specific part of the uppermost deck.

It seems to be an overlying structure because ..

a) the structures on deck 3 needed roofs and this platform could form their roofs.
b) the structure is described as being supported on trestles/tripods  (rather than the columns/pillars of this translation)

The description of a 'wall' crossing the ship is confusing...maybe it refers to the  fore and aft aspects presenting wall-like balustrades? Difficult to interpret.

The platform - which we can call Deck 3A - cannot have extended over the whole of the area of deck 3 because this would cover the promenades, gardens and gymnasium areas which Moschion was so keen to describe.

Deck fighters at this height on the ship  could only hurl missiles or wait to rush to places where attackers had breached the all-round barrior of  iron railings.

Attackers would not need to climb to the top deck. If they got aboard they would be distracted prior to that by the prospect of plundering cabins cargo and passengers while the deck fighters could be left to stew in the sun.
'Chaps, chaps.. I say..there are some steps just over here....

Each mast base needed an area for the mast and tops to be serviced. The large catapult needed a base to operate on and probably to be moved and trained in different directions.

The stables needed roofing. As did the library and reading room - though the roof of this had a circular hole for a sundial. Areas covered by the towers - 8 of them - would not necessarily need a fighting deck at those locations.

The solution would appear to be that there were katastroma-like  strips of decking located at crucial areas over the hull area. Early galleys were not fully decked, they had a narrow gangway down the mid-line connecting forecastle and poop. It is something like this we could see as Deck 3A on Syrakousia.
early undecked pentekonter, later eikosoros with through-gangway

schematic of fighting platform over Syrakousia's top deck
This is a difficult aspect of the reconstruction but we can be sure it was not a true extra deck.

Archimedes' Catapult
on this stood a stone-hurler, which could shoot by its own power a stone weighing one hundred and eighty pounds or a javelin eighteen feet long  This engine was constructed by Archimedes. Either one of these missiles could be hurled six hundred feet.

..this I will save for next time... plenty to deal with besides this....

After this came leather curtains joined together, suspended to thick beams by means of bronze chains. 

Such screens were a common device to block incoming missiles. They were bronze and heavy leather to avoid damage and absorb the energy of the  missiles. They are mentioned in the surviving treatises on siegecarft and artillery but we do not know exactly how they were made. A flexible and heavy hanging mat would catch flying missiles and absorb their force without itself suffering too much.

If you know what I mean....

An iron paling which encircled the ship also protected it against any who attempted to climb aboard; 

I have searched for surviving iron railings from the period or even Roman times without success. Iron is, alas, too -easily recycled for such mundane items to survive the centuries. One might be put in mind of the abbatis-like cervi of Caesar's circumvallation of Alesia whenh considering how these pailings functioned.

Railings could even be put into offensive action if one is so minded. Kubrick shows us how in his spectacle 'Spartacus'.
Some great railing action with Kirk HERE

also grappling-cranes of iron were all about the ship, which, operated by machinery, could lay hold of the enemy's hulls and bring them alongside where they would be exposed to blows.

These smaller versions of the mast-cranes or perhaps even catapult propelled grapnels made it dangerous for small vessels to approach Syrakousia. I have discussed the harpax, which is otherwise assumed to have been devised by Agrippa, Octavian's admiral, centuries later, in a previous post HERE

Sixty sturdy men in full armour mounted guard on each side of the ship, and a number equal to these manned the masts and stone-hurlers. 

This means there were 120 armed deck fighters manning the ship. There were cabins for them somewhere or else they must have sheltered under awnings on the deck or fighting platforms. It is interesting what the passengers made of 120 plus warriors milling around the place.

Jenkins rued the ticket price for his week on the Zambezi river considering the limited privacy the vessel afforded

Also at the masts, on the mast-heads (which were of bronze), men were posted, three on the foremast, two in the maintop and one on the mizzenmast; these were kept supplied by the slaves with stones and missiles carried aloft in wicker baskets to the crow's-nests by means of pulleys.

Syrakousia's 'fighting tops' were not the large, heavily-manned platforms of the 'age of sail'.

But they surely could deal some damage as the men up there were relatively immune from attack and well-supplied with missiles which would have serious effect when thrown from such a lofty perch.

Sluys 1340. Gravity still a potential threat.


Syrakousia seems to have been designed with the idea of primarily keeping attackers at a distance. It would have been extremely dangerous for smaller craft, less than a trieres in size, to approach Syrakousia. This is consistent with the main threat being piractes rather than warships. Pirates operated with vessels that could be used as fishing boats when the owners cupboards were not bare enough to have their wives place a cutlass or grapnel on the dining table one evening.

Small vessels with clusters of desperate men aboard,  appearing form behind headlands were the pirate's mode of attack. Several vessels could cooperate to corner a victim. The denouement was when a wave of badly dressed expert sailors swarmed onto the cornered vessel and waved very sharp agricultural instrument under the noses of the occupants who had not already had a siezure or jumped overboard.
Who is tractoring who ?

To be taken by pirates meant certain slavery, possible ransoming, rape of all denominations and death or mutilation for the uncooperative or unlucky. Not to mention the loss of the cargo and the ship. Hence defence.

Along each side there were 7 crane weapons which could reach out several metres. There were the tractor beams . the grapnel thrower - which could drag unwary attackers close.

There were 60 deck fighters chucking javelins, stones and shooting arrows on each side.

Cruel, yet satisfying.

 If the attackers got alongside they had to climb a spiked iron railing under shot and spear-thrust.

Once aboard, the crew of 600 ( ! ? ) would resist. Added-to the occasional sharpened hairpin or aggressive lapdog of the first class passengers this is a lot of manpower.


10 or 20 cutthroats would steer clear of Syrakousia. Several boat-loads of pirates would not bother with Syrakousia. It would take a major combined effort  of several settlements or a state-backed episode of privateering to think about tackling Syrakousia! Unfortunately such shady enterprises were usual along the rugged coasts of the Mediterranean. Hence, Syrakousia was such a bonney girl.
Beautiful lines, full form, comfortable ride, but sharp talons and expensive to maintain : Pirate keep your distance!!!

 Had they but world enough and time no doubt Hieron's brains trust could have devised anything. The only way to secure her cargo better would have been to make Syrakousia a U-boat. Looking at the early models such as Turtle and the Holland, and considering Aristotle's observations about snorkels or breathing lines.....

Just then as divers are sometimes provided with instruments for respiration, through which they can  draw air from above thewater, and thus may remain for a long time under the sea,so  also elephants have been furnished with their lenghened nose wherever they have to traverse the water they lift its tip up above the surface and breathe through it. For the elephant's proboscis as already said, is a nose. 
(Aristotle, de partibus animalium, Part ii.16:658b30 f.)

Probably it was the plans for a u-boat which a Roman soldier stood on as he butchered Archimedes.
Alexander is reputed to have gone down in a diving bell, maybe even with Aristotle, at Tyre. Sadly,  this story has no historical foundation. 
But Syrakousia proves, truth is usually stranger than fiction....