Back in the 1970’s, when the region of old Orsova was flooded  to make possible a new Hydro electric facility, the old Roman Castrum in the middle of town, was submerged for good.  Pity really.  Especially for all us torsion nerds that quiver with interest at the mere mention of late model, iron frame, Roman ballistas.  Who knows what other delicious catapult artifacts may have been found,  lurking underground for the last 1600 years? — Just waiting to be discovered, but denied us by the rising waters.

Here is a photo of our sacred objects from inside the National History Museum of Transylvania, located in Cluj-Napoca, Romania.

Is that a pesky outswinger  I spy over there in the corner?  Honestly!  Kids and industry!  You send ’em to college, give ’em an education ……. an’ whata-ya- get?  …. outswingers!  Grump! Grump! Grump!

Photo by Cristian Chirita.


Anyway, new subject:

There is an excellent resource online to learn more about the locale in which the Orsova artifacts were found.  It is:

Dr. Gheorghe runs the Alexis project, which does a lot to elucidate out-of-towners like myself about the geography and history of the area.  Don Hickock is the webmaster for their site, and has been very helpful in providing  maps of old Orsova  before it was inundated.  One of these maps specifies the orientation of the four walled fort as it sat next to the Danube.  The spot marked in red shows the  projecting western tower, where the kamarion and single field frame were found.

And here is the larger version of this map that contains nomenclature for the fort with it’s four projecting towers.

And finally, here is a map from 1940 that gives some idea of the old fort’s relationship to the original water course.  The grid lines represent one kilometer.

The gold circle is the site where the artifacts were found. The blue circle gives a rough idea of the 892 yard, (815 meters)  maximum range Firefly is currently exhibiting.

Baatz, had this to say about the dig itself :

During the excavation of the late Roman fort at
Orjova (Roumania) N. Gudea discovered two
large iron objects in the projecting south-westem
corner-tower.  The two objects were found side
by side in a destruction-layer of the end of the
fourth century.

Just eyeballing it, the eastern wall is  perhaps a scant  sixty yards from the ancient water course.  This would still allow the south-western tower  to cover a large patch of the river towards the south with direct fire, as well as being able to sweep inland with it to the west and north west.  By indirect fire, that is shooting over the opposite wall of the fort itself, this one tower could still cover the remaining parts of the circle;  other, of course, than those bits directly below that opposite wall. If all four towers were equipped with inswingers of the Lightning class, the Romans would have been able to project a web of criss-crossing, anti-personnel fire from range zero (by virtue of the projecting towers),  out to a very long distance indeed.  (No projections on  maximum Roman ranges until we receive confirmation of the Samuli factor.  That is: the nylon/sinew propulsion ratio)

In the meantime,  there is more data to harvest out on the firing line.


Thumbnail for the comments section:

8 Responses to “The Alexis Project.”

  1. Randi Richert says:

    It would appear from the photo that including the reconstructed frame and the original find, they have created a hybrid type of in/out swinger. Actually, this makes a certain ammount of sense. If you believe, as some do, that the forked ends of the arched strut were uneven in length then this is how the other frame must have been configured with the offset cams or lobes of the plates running parallel to those on the opposing frame. This is because the forked ends on the original find do not mirror each other. The two shorter remaining ends are diagonally opposite each other. This is a fact conveniently overlooked by Alan Wilkins in his book Roman Artillery. I think the only logical answer is that the ends have eroded unevenly and should be approximately even in length.

  2. Nick says:

    On the matter of the forked struts: this project has always used the Baatz drawings as our touch stone. As such, Firefly uses the “uneven forks” interpretation. From what I’ve seen of the limited number of photos available, this makes the most sense. (I’ve tacked a thumbnail from Baatz onto the end of this posting.)

    Maybe one day I’ll undertake a pilgrimage to Cluj-Napoca and take a dekko at these items we’ve spent so much time fussing over.

  3. Randi Richert says:

    Now look at the other end of that diagram and you’ll see what I’m talking about the shorter end is diagonal not opposite. Makes things a bit harder to explain, but the way the Museum has the piece displayed does work. Well at least until you try to install the arms.

  4. Nick says:

    God! You’re right! I never saw that before. Or if I did, it was just dismissed. What an idiot!
    My brain jelly is in defib. What do you think it means?

  5. Randi Richert says:

    Fear not! It means that you mind is not ossified and is still capable of digesting new information. This is just one of the many examples I’ve found where the opinions and theories of “experts” are based on flawed assumptions. If no one goes back and vets the original premise there’s little chance anyone would think to question the result. I just happen to be a cynical heretic who loves to thumb his nose at the powers-that-be. Of course, just because the forked ends were more likely equal, based on the only two sources, Orsova(physical) and the surviving Cheroballista drawings (literary), doesn’t mean that the pittaria brackets attached to them at the same points. The plates and stanchions are still offset the same as if the forked ends were uneven. The only question is what was the purpose/function of the part that extended beyond the bracket?

  6. Nick says:

    If there was a part that extended beyond the bracket, maybe it was used to tie in the diagonal struts, the ones that triangulate back to the stock for rigidity. These struts are absolutely essential for a machine of Firefly’s size and power.

    Although, I must say, I think I prefer my vernier plate solution with the protruding lugs as an attachment point for the struts. I wonder if anyone will ever uncover a complete specimen of one of these devices. That’d end all this warbling around.

  7. Randi Richert says:

    However any extending protrusions of the ends might be used, having them opens up many possibilities yet to be examined.
    The main reason behind pointing out the diagonally opposed reality of the existing short ends is that it puts the lie to the central premise behind Alan Wilkins’ outswinger interpretation. In his book (p.48 IIRC) he says that because of the short ends the forks can’t be directly connected to the Pi-Brackets. He then uses this flawed assumption to justify inventing locking rings, collars, and the 18 degree angled ladder ends that allow him to rotate the frames around to where they will function as an outswinger. All this creative engineering is needed because the artifacts won’t function the way he supposes if they are put together in the most simple and obvious way.
    Just like with the “missing” piece of the Cremona battle plate, the artifacts don’t fit his assumptions so he adds the necessary hunks of brass and declares his theory proven. That’s not how I chosse to approach things.

  8. Nick says:

    “Hear! Hear!”, sez me.

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