Battering ram - Encyclopedia

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BATTERING RAM (Lat. aries, 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 120 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 penthouse; 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.

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