Going back to the roots of this project, I am contemplating the maximum allowable dimensional deviation that can be tolerated from the Orsova artifacts and still have this morass of trial and error be considered “experimental archaeology”.  It is temping to make Phoenix a souped-up machine of greater range and power than Firefly.  (Although, strictly speaking, I think Firefly has accomplished those feats of performance claimed by contempories of the Orsova machine who actually saw Lightning class ballistas in action.)

So what purpose would this quest for increased performance serve?   My goal has always been to elucidate how the original Orsova artifacts would have performed if given enough sustained development to matter.   How much development is enough to matter? Well that’s the rub isn’t it?  Ambition defines what matters, and in this game, foot pounds and feet per second are obvious and easy ways to score success.  Too obvious perhaps.  They “matter” only so long as we can suspend our disbelief and agree the model being worked on is plausibly similar to the original it seeks to emulate. Otherwise the historical aspect is lost entirely and the whole exercise turns into mere sport.

Most historical catapult projects I have read about do not record as large a number of upgrades as Firefly.  Dealing with all her failures is what has lead to authentic levels of performance.  The development process for catapults seems to require an extended amount of mayhem in order to deal with all the weak links and move ahead in a balanced manner.  Striking this balance is even more important when development is limited to a certain set of historical constraints, and individual parts at least have to make a show of appearing authentic.


Photo by Baatz.

The Orsova Kamarion is withered down from it’s original dimensions by the ravages of corrosion.  For the historical catapult maker an honest duplication of this artifact must balance the desire to make it as beefy as possible with what this vital piece of the puzzle must have actually looked like before oxidation had it’s way with it.  I am thinking that a 50% increase in the cross section of this part is not unreasonable given the pitiful shape it appears to be in.  There is no reason to suppose that such a highly stressed part would not have been made from the best spring steels the ancients could devise.  That such steels may only have been available in limited supply does not preclude their use in high end, strategic mechanisms like ballistas.   For Phoenix,  a modern steel with around 120,000 psi tensile strength does not strike me as beyond what very high quality ancient forge work could accomplish, (e.g.  Damascus steel, which was available in the Middle East as early as 300 B.C.).   And that, I reckon, will just have to satisfy the Authenticity Police who are running around inside my head and monitoring this little game we are playing.

It would be naive to think that the Romans, and the pool of foreign artificers they likely had working for them, could not rise to the occasion and get their machines sorted with a minimum of fuss.  They had centuries to develop them after all.  Unfortunately, my allotted time to quibble about these matters has a fast approaching expiration date.  I probably have just one of these over-the-top catapult projects left in me.   An unmitigated quest for horsepower, or a doubling down on historical accuracy.  Best to choose wisely…..




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