Sambuca, Siege Engine and Musical Instrument


One of my favorite activities when teaching Hellenistic warfare is to have students try to draw the siege engine that Polybius describes for the siege of Syracuse.  The passage is below.  I think its a useful way to build students ability to visual and engage with the text they are reading.  Anyway.  I’ve been wanting a Republican period image of a sambuca for many years to add to the lesson plan.  And Lo! The musical instrument appears as control mark on the Papius series.  I could get really obsessed with the Papius symbols.  Must resist today.

4 1 Meanwhile Marcellus was attacking Achradina from the sea with sixty quinqueremes, each of which was full of men armed with bows, slings, and javelins, meant to repulse those fighting from the battlements. 2 He had also eight quinqueremes from which the oars had been removed, the starboard oars from some and the larboard ones from others. These were lashed together two and two, on their dismantled sides, and pulling with the oars on their outer sides they brought up to the wall the so‑called  “sambucae.” 3 These engines are constructed as follows. 4 A ladder was made four feet broad and of a height equal to that of the wall when planted at the proper distance. Each side was furnished with a breastwork, and it was covered in by a screen at a considerable height. It was then laid flat upon those sides of the ships which were in contact and protruding a considerable distance beyond the prow. 5 At the top of the masts there are pulleys with ropes, and when they are about to use it, they attach the ropes to the top of the ladder, and men standing at the stern pull them by means of the pulleys, while others stand on the prow, and supporting the engine with props, assure its being safely raised. After this the towers on both the outer sides of the ships bring them close to shore, and they now endeavour to set the engine I have described up against the wall. 8 At the summit of the ladder there is a platform protected on three sides by wicker screens, on which four men mount and face the enemy resisting the efforts of those who from the battlements try to prevent the Sambuca from being set up against the wall. 9 As soon as they have set it up and are on a higher level than the wall, these men pull down the wicker screens on each side of the platform and mount the battlements or towers,10 while the rest follow them through theSambuca which is held firm by the ropes attached to both ships. 11 The construction was appropriately called a Sambuca, for when it is raised the shape of the ship and ladder together is just like the musical instrument.

BM 2002,0102.3986, RRC 408/1

227 out of 410 days: Confusing Omens, Confusing Cities

Reverse of RRC 472/1. 1944.100.3525


I used to think I was the only person who might mess up Lanuvium and Lavinium.  NOT SO! Apparently Dionysius of Halicarnassus made the same mistake when he told this story:

While Lavinium was building, the following omens are said to have appeared to the Trojans. When a fire broke out spontaneously in the forest, a wolf, they say, brought some dry wood in his mouth and threw it upon the fire, and an eagle, flying thither, fanned the flame with the motion of his wings. But working in opposition to these, a fox, after wetting his tail in the river, endeavoured to beat out the flames; and now those that were kindling it would prevail, and now the fox that was trying to put it out. But at last the two former got the upper hand, and the other went away, unable to do anything further.5 Aeneas, on observing this, said that the colony would become illustrious and an object of wonder and would gain the greatest renown, but that as it increased it would be envied by its neighbours and prove grievous to them; nevertheless, it would overcome its adversaries, the good fortune that it had received from Heaven being more powerful than the envy of men that would oppose it. These very clear indications are said to have been given of what was to happen to the city; of which there are monuments now standing in the forum of the Lavinians, in the form of bronze images of the animals, which have been preserved for a very long time.

Why should we assume he’s wrong?  Or at least that the attribution of this prophecy is disputed? Whelp.  The obverse of the above coin looks like this:

Obverse of RRC 472/1. 1944.100.3525


That’s Juno Sospita, the patron goddess of Lanuvium!  The moneyer’s family is well known for celebrating their connection to this city on their coins.  If there was a statue that looked like the reverse, it probably stood in that forum, not at Lavinium.  Add in this tantalizing bit of Horace:

Bk III: XXVII Europa

 Let the wicked be led by omens of screeching

from owls, by pregnant dogs, or a grey-she wolf,

hurrying down from Lanuvian meadows,

or a fox with young:

And we can be pretty sure that Lanuvium that claimed the she-wolf and by extension the eagle as prodigies of its foundation.  

It’s also a nice example of the wolf as a non-Roman, but still Latin, symbol, one that is morphed into a proto-Roman symbol through its alignment to the Aeneas narrative.

Pity its too late for the book.  Thank goodness for this blog as a thought dumping space.

[Refs found at Crawford 1974: 482]