Roman Century Artillery Placement

Apr 2017
1,678
U.S.A.
How was the attached scorpio bolt thrower of a Roman Century placed in relation to the rest of the artillery of the Legion? Were they put by themselves or grouped with the rest of the artillery?
 

Matthew Amt

Ad Honorem
Jan 2015
3,008
MD, USA
I'm sure it varied, but there wouldn't be much reason to put the scorpios with the larger catapults, since the scorpio was for anti-personnel on the field while the larger machines were siege weapons. I *think* the tendency was to group the scorpios (or catapultae) together in "batteries", but I couldn't cite you a source for that, I'm afraid. Artillery really isn't my thing.

Matthew
 
Sep 2017
783
United States
I'm not sure if it would be grouped with other similar anti-personnel artillery or used by itself, but I'm sure it was situational.

Likely it had to have other troops around to protect it. If it was too detached from the main body, it would get isolated and destroyed (siege machines aren't known for their melee prowess!).

However, it couldn't really be smack dab in the middle of a formation of troops or in front of them, since that would hinder their fighting ability.

Likely, they would be deployed on raised areas like hills to give the best range and lines of fire, and probably have some infantry to guard them. I don't know how overall effective they were in battle either, but I'm sure they worked because even into the late Empire cheiroballistas were being used.
 
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Mar 2018
890
UK
This is mostly speculation from my part, but it's based on two facts:
1) We know there was a decent amount of anti-personel artillery in the legions
2) Descriptions of battles (outside of sieges) don't mention them during the actual description of battles [to my knowledge at least, please correct me if I'm wrong].

From that I'd guess that they were mostly 'operational' rather than 'tactical' weapons. By that I mean that they are used, either directly or the threat of them, to manipulate things before battle is engaged, but do relatively little during engagement. For example, say a Roman army wants to ford a medium sized river. Doing that with the enemy on the other side waiting for you is difficult. So you place the scorpions on your bank of the river and start shooting. The enemy won't stand there dying, so they clear out and give you some space to ford in peace. Scorpions are a great help, without technically being part of the battle. Same thing if you're facing a well formed enemy on a nice hill. Nobody wants to charge up that, so you belt them with scorpion bolts until they decide to fight on the flat bit of ground you've chosen.

In all those cases you'd want to deploy them towards the edge of their range, all at once. That means in front of your battle line, but with enough of a infantry/cavalry escort to keep them safe. As soon as the enemy responds to them, you can pack them up to the rear nice and safe. They're not there like napoleonic artillery to inflict casualties, but more as an area denial/manipulation weapon.


Incidentally, are there reports in antiquity of two armies with comparable field artillery engaging each other?
 
  • Like
Reactions: macon
Sep 2017
783
United States
This is mostly speculation from my part, but it's based on two facts:
1) We know there was a decent amount of anti-personel artillery in the legions
2) Descriptions of battles (outside of sieges) don't mention them during the actual description of battles [to my knowledge at least, please correct me if I'm wrong].

From that I'd guess that they were mostly 'operational' rather than 'tactical' weapons. By that I mean that they are used, either directly or the threat of them, to manipulate things before battle is engaged, but do relatively little during engagement. For example, say a Roman army wants to ford a medium sized river. Doing that with the enemy on the other side waiting for you is difficult. So you place the scorpions on your bank of the river and start shooting. The enemy won't stand there dying, so they clear out and give you some space to ford in peace. Scorpions are a great help, without technically being part of the battle. Same thing if you're facing a well formed enemy on a nice hill. Nobody wants to charge up that, so you belt them with scorpion bolts until they decide to fight on the flat bit of ground you've chosen.

In all those cases you'd want to deploy them towards the edge of their range, all at once. That means in front of your battle line, but with enough of a infantry/cavalry escort to keep them safe. As soon as the enemy responds to them, you can pack them up to the rear nice and safe. They're not there like napoleonic artillery to inflict casualties, but more as an area denial/manipulation weapon.


Incidentally, are there reports in antiquity of two armies with comparable field artillery engaging each other?
I seem to recall one description of a battle where Roman scorpions proved decisive in defeating some attacking force somewhere in Germania. But descriptions of their actual use are really limited.
 

aggienation

Ad Honorem
Jul 2016
9,813
USA
As noted, the scorpio was for anti-personnel use, specifically for clearing enemy manning the ramparts of the section of wall that the Romans were attempting to invest. So where would it be? If the Romans were attempting to force a specific section of the wall by mining or escalade (going over), they'd all probably be concentrated around the area to keep enemy archers, slingers, javelineers, and other infantry away from the ramparts. If the Romans were trying to blockade a city with a circumvallation wall to surround them, they'd probably scatter the scorpio equally around nearby to their centuries, who'd be manning their own ramparts.

In a pitched battle, they were only occasionally used and really it would come down to the enterprising decisions of the generals. But since they need a clear field of fire, they'd probably be massed on high ground to overshoot their own forces, or else on the flanks, to provide enfilading fire.
 
Apr 2017
1,678
U.S.A.
This makes me wonder why they would attach a scorpion to a century, would they be detached to attack small outposts if needed?
 

aggienation

Ad Honorem
Jul 2016
9,813
USA
This makes me wonder why they would attach a scorpion to a century, would they be detached to attack small outposts if needed?
What do you mean by attacking small outposts? What is a small outpost? Remember, we're talking about ancient warfare, not modern.
 
Apr 2017
1,678
U.S.A.
I do not have specific numbers for what may have been considered a small outpost in ancient/classical times but I meant an outpost they may have deemed small enough to be handled by a century and its one scorpion.