Monday, February 04, 2013

Roman-era cannons? Really?

Commentarii de Bello Gallico, an account writt...
Commentarii de Bello Gallico
By Roman History Made Easy

You've probably heard of Archimedes 'super weapons' - there's the ever present 'Solar Heat Ray' that 'Mythbusters' keep trying to perfect, the troublesome 'Claw' or 'ship-shaker', which did exist but no one has a clue how it worked, and then there's the 'steam cannon'. All of these were supposedly used by the Sicilians against Roman invaders in 212BC, but with the death of the inventor during this campaign - and no doubt many of those who'd built and operated these machines - their use or effectiveness was largely forgotten. Even the Romans who had been confronted by these 'super weapons' appear to have been quick to eschew them - perhaps more concerned with the designs falling into Carthaginian hands than any advantages they might bring to Classical-era warfare. But the question is, what if some of these weapon designs were perpetuated? Is it possible?

Well, it's by no means conclusive proof, but during the siege of Massilia (April 19th-September 6th 49BC) Julius Caesar makes mention of a weapon that may have come from Archimedes arsenal. First of all, who were the Massilians? In 49BC, Massilia - now modern day Marseilles - was the largest independent Greek city state left in the world. Around 400,000 Ionian Greeks and Gauls lived within the walls of the largest city west of Rome and despite nearly one hundred years of conquests in both Gaul and Greece, various Roman generals - including Julius Caesar - had left this place well alone. Massilia wasn't necessarily a military city, it was an economic hub - a Gallic Hong Kong - through which much of Gaul's export and imports had been funnelled for some 400-years. But this had made the city rich, which meant it could afford the best in defensive weapons from its fellow Greeks - weapons that remained untested on Roman armies until Julius Caesar crossed the Rubicon. As the civil war expanded, Massilia sided with the Pompeians, which made it a serious thorn in Caesar's supply lines between Northern Italy and Spain.