Salammbo HTML version
CHAPTER XIII: MOLOCH
The Barbarians had no need of a circumvallation on the side of Africa, for it was
theirs. But to facilitate the approach to the walls, the entrenchments bordering the
ditch were thrown down. Matho next divided the army into great semicircles so as
to encompass Carthage the better. The hoplites of the Mercenaries were placed
in the first rank, and behind them the slingers and horsemen; quite at the back
were the baggage, chariots, and horses; and the engines bristled in front of this
throng at a distance of three hundred paces from the towers.
Amid the infinite variety of their nomenclature (which changed several times in
the course of the centuries) these machines might be reduced to two systems:
some acted like slings, and the rest like bows.
The first, which were the catapults, was composed of a square frame with two
vertical uprights and a horizontal bar. In its anterior portion was a cylinder,
furnished with cables, which held back a great beam bearing a spoon for the
reception of projectiles; its base was caught in a skein of twisted thread, and
when the ropes were let go it sprang up and struck against the bar, which,
checking it with a shock, multiplied its power.
The second presented a more complicated mechanism. A cross-bar had its
centre fixed on a little pillar, and from this point of junction there branched off at
right angles a short of channel; two caps containing twists of horse-hair stood at
the extremities of the cross-bar; two small beams were fastened to them to hold
the extremities of a rope which was brought to the bottom of the channel upon a
tablet of bronze. This metal plate was released by a spring, and sliding in
grooves impelled the arrows.
The catapults were likewise called onagers, after the wild asses which fling up
stones with their feet, and the ballistas scorpions, on account of a hook which
stood upon the tablet, and being lowered by a blow of the fist, released the
Their construction required learned calculations; the wood selected had to be of
the hardest substance, and their gearing all of brass; they were stretched with
levers, tackle-blocks, capstans or tympanums; the direction of the shooting was
changed by means of strong pivots; they were moved forward on cylinders, and
the most considerable of them, which were brought piece by piece, were set up
in front of the enemy.
Spendius arranged three great catapults opposite the three principle angles; he
placed a ram before every gate, a ballista before every tower, while carroballistas
were to move about in the rear. But it was necessary to protect them against the
fire thrown by the besieged, and first of all to fill up the trench which separated
them from the walls.
They pushed forward galleries formed of hurdles of green reeds, and oaken
semicircles like enormous shields gliding on three wheels; the workers were
sheltered in little huts covered with raw hides and stuffed with wrack; the
catapults and ballistas were protected by rope curtains which had been steeped
in vinegar to render them incombustible. The women and children went to