Experimental Archaeology and Siege Warfare: Analysing Ancient Sources through Experimentation

  • Aimee Schofield

Student thesis: Phd


This thesis seeks to show that by using the principles of experimental archaeology it is possible to reconsider the extent to which the ancient writers understood the use of artillery in the field and under siege conditions. A combination of philological and experimental approaches has been taken to determine not only how catapults could be used by Hellenistic armies, but also why certain actions were taken when artillery was brought into the field. The experimental approach is discussed throughout the thesis, with attention drawn to its merits and disadvantages, and how these can be used to improve the methodologies through which we can further develop our understanding of Hellenistic military history and technology. There are three main sections to the thesis. The first takes a philological approach to considering the ancient artillery treatises by Philon, Heron, and Biton, with reference to Vitruvius' work on catapults. Each treatise is assessed with regard to its level of technicality and the extent to which it can be used for the purpose of constructing catapults. The treatises are then used in the second part of the thesis to construct functional replicas of the Hellenistic stone-thrower and the Hellenistic bolt-shooter. In the third part of the thesis, the catapults are tested against the ancient writers' descriptions of their use in the field. The findings of this thesis show that the ancient writers were broadly accurate in their descriptions of catapult use, but that they appear to be largely unaware of the reasoning behind their deployment. The thesis also highlights problematic parts of the technical treatises which previous scholars have ignored, in particular gaps in the descriptions of some components necessary for the catapults to function. Moreover, solutions are offered to complete the gaps left by the technical writers, especially where none are offered by the commentaries on these works. This thesis also demonstrates that catapults had a specific function in Hellenistic warfare which focused largely on sieges and static engagements. Most importantly, however, this thesis shows that not only can practical experimental methods successfully be applied to otherwise text-based research, but that it produces significant results which can aid in our understanding of military history, ancient technology, and the reliability of the ancient writers.
Date of Award31 Dec 2014
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • The University of Manchester
SupervisorAndrew Fear (Supervisor) & Peter Liddel (Supervisor)

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