The "helepolis" of Epimachos

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The "helepolis" of Epimachos


It was a giant siege tower of roughly 40 metres in height that was constructed by Epimachos the Athenian and was utilised by Demetrius Poliocretes in the siege of Rhodes (304 BC). It was constituted by nine storeys with windows and had enormous stone-projecting catapults on the lower levels and lighter ones on the upper. It had two staircases (one for the ascent and one for the descent of the crew) and one sliding or opening boarding bridge for the mounting of soldiers onto the enemy wall. The machine sat on eight solid wheels fitted onto a mesh undercarriage ("escharion") with approximately 800 openings for the positioning of an equal amount of men who pushed it towards the enemy wall. The bearings of the wheel axles ("hamaxipous") were placed on lever-turning bases (Castor type) allowing the movement to all directions. The front and side walls were covered with iron sheets and padded rawhide (stuffed with vinegar-soaked chaff or green seaweed) in order to neutralise incendiary arrows and to absorb the blow of stones launched by the enemy.

For its propulsion, the machine probably employed reinforcement with: a) a huge manually-operated winch used to pull the rope which was anchored to the ground beneath the front part of the machine (as in the helepolis of Posidonius) and b) a rope system secured to the rear of the undercarriage ("escharion"). After the ropes had gone around the pulleys which were anchored to the ground (beneath the front part of the machine), they were drawn by pulley-brocks, a hauling crew and draught animals which were positioned at a safe distance behind it. The helepolis was the evolution of the Macedonian siege towers of Polyidus of Thessalia (for Philip II) and of Diades and Charias (for Alexander) and offered besiegers the possibility to attack enemy walls but also targets in the city behind them from a safe and advantageously higher position.

SOURCES: "Vitrouvius, On architecture X", "Plutarch, Lives parallel, Demetrios ", "Diodoros of Sicily, History", "Athinaeus, On machines"