Online Encyclopedia

BATTERING RAM (Lat. (pies, ram)

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Originally appearing in Volume V03, Page 531 of the 1911 Encyclopedia Britannica.
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BATTERING RAM (Lat. (pies, ram), a military engine used before the invention of cannon, for beating down the walls of besieged fortresses. It consisted of a long heavy beam of timber, armed at the extremity with iron fashioned something like the head of a ram. In its simplest form the beam was carried in the hands of the soldiers, who assailed the walls with it by main force. The improved ram was composed of a longer beam, in some cases extending to 12o ft., shod with iron at one end, and suspended, either by the middle or from two points, from another beam laid across two posts. This is the kind described by Josephus as having been used at the siege of Jerusalem (B.J. iii. 7. 19). The ram was shielded from the missiles of the besieged by a penthouse (vinea) or other overhead protection. It was often mounted on wheels, which greatly facilitated its operations. A hundred soldiers at a time, and sometimes even a greater number, were employed to work it, and the parties were relieved in constant succession. No wall could resist the continued application of the ram, and the greatest efforts were always made to destroy it by various means, such as dropping heavy stones on the head of the ram and on the roof of the penthouse; another method being to seize the ram head with grapnels and then haul it up to a vertical position by suitable windlasses on the wall of the fortress. Sometimes the besieged ran countermines under the ram pent-house; this if successful would cause the whole engine to fall into the excavation. In medieval warfare the low penthouse, called cat, was generally employed with some form of ram.
End of Article: BATTERING RAM (Lat. (pies, ram)
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Additional information and Comments

More info on the battering ram: Siege armies used a battering ram to break down a gatehouse door or even smash a castle wall. To shield themselves from attack, they built a covered shed, in which they hung a thick tree trunk on chains suspended from a beam above. Carpenters tapered the trunk into a blunt point and capped it with iron. The slow forward movement as the battering ram was wheeled toward the castle wall earned it the nickname "tortoise." Soldiers swung the hanging trunk back and forth, and the forward end of the trunk moved in and out of the shed like a tortoise's head, battering its target. Castle defenders tried to burn the shed down with flaming arrows, though attackers responded by covering the shed with animal pelts or earth to make it fireproof. Defenders sometimes dropped mattresses down to cushion the blows or lowered grappling irons to grasp the trunk, preventing it from swinging.
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