Artillery of Roman Legion

AlpinLuke

Forum Staff
Oct 2011
27,374
Italy, Lago Maggiore
I am familiar with it, but it does not offer the answers I am seeking: specifically, the tactical usage of Roman legion's artillery, especially in a field battle.
I've read around [Roman history is not my main field of interest, so I need to research a bit about details] and as for I have understood the "tormenta" [this is how ancient Romans called their field artillery] was overall used to cause disorder among the enemy lines to allow the advance of the heavy infantry. Josephus and Tacitus talk about ballista in battle [Josephus says 60 per legion] and in particular Tacitus [Historia 3,23] reports that the Legio XV had a big ballista to launch stones on the enemy infantry. It seems that these missiles were efficient in creating disorder in the opposite ranks. This makes sense: generally the first purpose of Roman tactics was to make the enemy lose the order of their formations. Obviously enough, it's more easy to attack a disordered infantry formation than an ordered one.
 
Oct 2011
510
Croatia
I've read around [Roman history is not my main field of interest, so I need to research a bit about details] and as for I have understood the "tormenta" [this is how ancient Romans called their field artillery] was overall used to cause disorder among the enemy lines to allow the advance of the heavy infantry. Josephus and Tacitus talk about ballista in battle [Josephus says 60 per legion] and in particular Tacitus [Historia 3,23] reports that the Legio XV had a big ballista to launch stones on the enemy infantry. It seems that these missiles were efficient in creating disorder in the opposite ranks. This makes sense: generally the first purpose of Roman tactics was to make the enemy lose the order of their formations. Obviously enough, it's more easy to attack a disordered infantry formation than an ordered one.
Thanks.

Siege engines will not have tactical battle field applications. Smaller mobile platforms would be best used in oblique and enfilade fire. I would think such units would need light arms (sling, missile, etc.) to protect them, particularly in enfilade avenues, from enemy cavalry.
Roman siege engines were used primarily to decrenellate walls and even kill individual soldiers. And I recall mention of a cart-mounted ballista, although I do not know how large it was.

Alpin Luke gave some details.
 
  • Like
Reactions: JakeStarkey

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
4,741
Dispargum
For much of late Roman history, the Roman Army was stressed by the shear number of enemies. Recruitment was difficult and the Romans tried various means to multiply the power of their limited infantry. One example was to invest in body armor. Another was to possibly use artillery to engage the enemy at long range rather than to fight only in hand-to-hand combat which risked higher Roman casualties. Using artillery to extend scarce infantry resources is common enough throughout military history. Napoleon and Hitler both did it near the end of their wars when infantry started to become scarce. So I'm inclined to think the Romans did use artillery in open field battles, not just sieges. I'm surprised that so far the community has produced so little evidence of it.
 
Sep 2017
783
United States
The smaller scorpios shouldn't be considered artillery any more than a heavy crossbow. These engines should only be considered artillery if they require more than one person to operate.

Scorpions were manned by a single soldier? I was under the impression they had a man to aim/fire the machine and a man to load the machine.
 
  • Like
Reactions: JakeStarkey
Mar 2018
890
UK
What does catapultae mean precisely in this context? Is it a general term for artillery or a specific kind of weapon?
 
Mar 2018
890
UK
According to the Osprey book on Greek and Roman artillery, catapultae are arrow-shooting artillery.
So scorpions and the lighter ballista then? Frankly I'd like to see a glossary (ideally with drawings) of the different siege engines from antiquity and when they were used . Personally, I'm rather muddled at the moment.
 
Oct 2018
1,855
Sydney
So scorpions and the lighter ballista then? Frankly I'd like to see a glossary (ideally with drawings) of the different siege engines from antiquity and when they were used . Personally, I'm rather muddled at the moment.
I was under the impression that petroboloi/lithoboloi/ballistae are stone-throwers, katapeltika/catapultae are arrow-throwers, and scorpions are small arrow-throwers. But this entry states that the Latin terms ballista and catapulta became interchangeable: Latin Word Study Tool
 
  • Like
Reactions: Olleus