…. So it’s the start of season five here in the Little Catapult Factory. I’ve been on sabbatical, and what do I come home to? Catapult wars! And not just between mere mortals mind you. The CG’s are in a tiff over their glandes.

It was the last half of Mr. Duncan Campbell’s paper that caught our attention. Click on his name to view the whole thing: Duncan Campbell

A 400 gram soft lead glans sitting in the Rebecca’s dainty hand.

Our contribution to this shin-dig will be to toss out some more fast moving glandes from Firefly. In our previous experiments firing them, we had several of these 400 gram babies going 320 fps (97.5 ms). That translates into 1,403 foot pounds of energy (1.903 J). The shots in the attached videos were only going about 290 fps (88.4 ms), energy 1,152 fp (1.562 J). Compare that to Campbell’s unsupported claim of a maximum of 75 ms for a hand sling as speculated by Battz, and that with a projectile of unspecified weight. Quoting velocities without indicating the projectile weight doesn’t really mean much when it comes to evaluating power does it?

The targets in the following videos are set up at 50 yards. Check out the sounds of impact with the volume turned up. Pretty cool huh?

Click for vid: 20100701161210(1)
Click for vid: 20100701182936(3)

This level of performance is way beyond what can be accomplished with a hand sling. Unless, of course you are a romantic, and believe in the mystic power of ancient “slinging cultures”. Gotta love those fish stories. Did you know that Robin Hood could split the willow wand at one mile? One mile I tell you! It’s true!

The sheets of plywood in the videos are all 5/8″ sub-flooring material. Nice tough stuff. It is common knowledge in the gun community around here that 1/2″ CDX plywood is roughly equivalent to a human chest wall in terms of resisting puncture, (i.e. if it will go through a piece of 1/2″ plywood, it will probably go through a human chest wall). I read somewhere that back in the day the FBI actually considered 3/8″ plywood a valid analog for this; they must have been up against a particularly skinny criminal class back then huh? It is possible to Google a variety of opinions on this matter. Anyway, I count complete penetration of at least four “chest walls” in that second vid. By using 5/8″ plywood in the above tests, and because the 400 gram glans blew through all of them and then dissipated its remaining energy into the landscape, 4 CW seems a pretty conservative estimate acutally. In any event, there should be enough power in Firefly’s glans conversion to zip through at least a couple of stoutly built Gauls. Try that with your hand sling!

The really amazing thing about this experiment was that the special pouched bowstring for holding the glans was something I just cobbled together in an afternoon. In other words, the double-string design that yielded these results, was my very first attempt. Clearly, with more development work, even better results could be attained.

The conclusion I take away from this is that it would have been pretty darn easy for the Ancients to convert their sharp casters into effective machines for firing lead glandes. That is a lot of tactical advantage to pack around in your kit for just the sake of a special bowstring. It takes about 3 minutes to switch bowstrings, and hand casting glandes from molten lead takes about 1 minute per projectile compared to the hours and hours that go into making even a single sharp-tipped bolt.

Why wouldn’t the ancient Greeks and Romans have availed themselves this capacity for glans projection when it was so simply available to them?

Maybe they weren’t as smart as some fumbly old white guy tinkering away in his workshop.

…….. Which, I guess, would make me and my fellow re-enactors a bunch of geniuses, right?

Thank you Duncan. Appreciate the compliment.

2 Responses to “Extra! Extra! Read all about it. Catapult Gods in a tiff!”


  1. Randi Richert says:

    I’m glad that Duncan has decidedly weighed in on the in-swinger vs. out-swinger debate. His G&R Artillery (Osprey)kind of straddled the fence and showed the iron-framers as outswingers but the Hatra as an I.S., while his older wood-framed ballistae followed Schramm’s pattern. In my way of thinking, and apparently now Duncan’s, pallintone and ballista always meant wide-spaced inswinger, no matter what the field frames were made of, what they shot, or when they were made.
    I fully agree that as with the onager, the Frenchmen like Prou and DeReffye had the basic idea almost correct, but then Sir Ralph and Schramm came along a screwed things up.

    I definitely think it’s worth your time to investigate using oversized lead glandes and stones as ballista projectiles. What’s more, I’d love to see what Firefly would do with 20 lead balls and a more clamshell shaped pouch. It would be one hell of a shotgun. You could take out a whole fruitstand with one shot.


  2. Nick says:

    I’ll see what can be done in the glandes and shotgun department as soon as I get this long range testing in hand. While it pains me to say it of my old childhood hero, Sir Ralph did steer things astray a bit…..splash goes the tiny, tiny teardrop.

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