It’s funny how you can you can look at something a million times and not see the deeper truth that lies within it.   Let’s take a look at this machine again.

outswinger 1

The way this machine is set up, it is apparently intended to be an outswinger.  Of course, there are no limbs installed.  The idea is that the outswinging limbs would retract into the pockets on the curved stanchion, and thereby gain an extra long draw.

Here is a photo of a machine by Alan Wilkins that is set up this way.


Notwithstanding the ghastly stacking that would result from such a shallow limb/string angle at full draw, there is one very powerful reason why this outswinging interpretation of the artifacts is bogus.

By simply mounting the stock 180 degrees around from where it is now and turning the field frames upside down, these machines would have the natural geometry to become much more powerful inswingers.  (If you ain’t getting why “powerful” is such a desirable trait in a weapon of war, truly I despair.)

It’s really very simple.  Flip things around a bit, and the machines seen in these photos could become  much more powerful inwingers. All of which means, that with a minimum of effort, Phoenix can be made to be an outswinger as well as an inswinger.  I have checked to see if the geometry of the Elenovo artifact can allow this without any kind of alteration, and it does.

And so, dear and gentle proponents of the outswinger, ask yourselves which of the two configurations, outswinger or inswinger, would have the better performance?  If you have been paying attention to the facts presented in this journal, the answer is obvious.  Why would you choose a weaker powered outswinger, with a big old footprint, as opposed to a more compact and powerful inswinger?  Especially when the difference between them is so slight as a stock and field frame reversal?

If this were a fair debate, and the hard evidence given it’s proper due, the outswinger interpretation of these iron frame ballistas would have been in the ditch a long time ago.   (Please note: no one is saying outswingers did not exist.  Clearly most of the earlier wooden machines were of that type. Just not the iron frame machines we are studying in this investigation.)  In a way though, the outswinger camp does have a point.

If the attachment brackets and hold down wedges that secure the metal frame to the stock were designed properly, it would be a trivial matter to switch back and forth between outswinger and inswinger. Perhaps the underpowered outswinger configuration was simply a ruse.  The inswinger capabilities being a closely guarded military secret.  “See, our ballistas are only good for 300 or 400 yards.  Unless we knock out some wedges, spin the stock and field frames around and go to town on you at twice that distance.”  If the Wilkins translation and interpretation of Heron’s descriptions of these iron framer’s is correct (and that should not be an automatic given)  then perhaps the ancient writings were just clever propaganda to fool the gullible.  A truly brilliant ruse as it still appears to be operational.

(In truth though, I’m pretty dodgy on this ruse assertion. But I’m not redacting it because the purpose of this blog is to consider all possibilities, even the weak one’s sometimes have something to offer  So this is me slapping myself down.  Remember, I told you you’d need a sieve. Ain’t ballistain’ fun?)

Ultimately, the hard evidence is what tells the real story. It would seem Phoenix has just acquired an additional mission.  Because the geometry of the Elenovo artifact supports it, she is now going to be a convertible:  inswinger and outswinger both.  How very Italian!


Update: And yet again, nothing is ever quite so simple with historical catapults.  The above scheme for convertibility requires the field frames to be flipped end over end in order to match the different length tangs on the Kamarion.  This convertible feature should be easy enough to accomplish with Phoenix, the Elenovo reconstruction, because the top and bottom loops on the field frames are all the same size. The Orsova and Lyon field frames have large bottom loops and small top loops.  No end over end switcheroo of their field frames is possible. Convertibility is an interesting concept though and should tell us a lot about the relative merits of the two sides in this fracas. I intend to pursue it.

Update of the update:  And then there is this configuration.

bal 1

One supposes that the idea here is to gain more pre-load on the springs by allowing the limbs to rotate forward into the pockets on the curved stanchion, performing the  linear and rotational pre-tensioning in the conventional manner, and then increasing that tension even further by drawing the limbs back through a greater arc of movement (thanks to those helpful little pockets that allowed the limbs to move so far forward), and then, the theory goes, install the bowstring and be off to the races with dynamite velocities.  To my way of thinking, creating a curved stanchion to facilitate this strategy is a tremendous amount of extra work and potential hassle to gain just an extra inch or so of pre-load in the springs.   If that’s your game, why not just rotate the washers a bit?

However, with a few simple switcheroos, Phoenix should be able to test this geometry as well. Having a machine that can explore all the variations possible of how these machines could have been hooked together, and doing so with the same limbs, springs and everything else, should settle this ridiculous debate once and for all.

It will still be a tough sale though. Because these outswinging interpretations of iron frame ballistas look so familiar to folks with a lifetime of seeing ordinary bows and crossbows, it can be said that outswingers just “look right”.  I feel this effect on myself when I look at a machine like the one by Mr. Wilkins.  It is quite handsome and has a comfortable grace and elegance to it’s lines.  However, that does not mean it is correct.  Unless we are to suppose the Romans were dullards and could not see the high-performance potential so easily available to them within the perfectly adapted inswinger geometry of the Elenovo kambestrion.

The easier I can show the conversion between outswinger and inswinger can be made, the stronger the argument becomes for the existence of inswingers.  Ripe fruit on low hanging branches always gets picked first.  It’s just not credible that the Romans would not have noticed the easy ballistic pickings available to them with the inswinging arrangement. Ultimately, everything is relative.  Which is why careful analysis of the artifacts, combined with actual shooting assessments, is a better way to sort this all out.



2 Responses to “Istina”

  1. Murray says:

    I suspect that the field of catapult study is presently dominated by a small number of people who have done good work and established themselves. however their works needs new interpretations to fully develop and this is being stifled by those who see new interpretations as a threat when in fact it is not.

  2. nick says:

    Ivory can take a pretty nice polish. Which makes vertical ascent of any structures made from it a tricky problem. Especially if you have grease on your hands. No traction, you see. Tunneling is probably the better option.

    Dig, Dig, Dig, ….

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