Smashing the Bridge between Roman and Medieval Artillery: The Onager
By Brian Pangburn
Published Online (1995)
Introduction: The study of the military artillery used by a people can reveal much about their society. Because defense is usually of utmost importance, societies spend a lot of time and money on their military and the equipment needed to support it. Artillery, therefore, reflects the technological capabilities of a people and the education level of those involved in defending it. Types of artillery also give information about the aggression level of a people, their mobility and terrain, and the capabilities of their opponents.
This paper will attempt to uncover some information about the technological level of artillery used during the decline of the Roman empire and the beginning of the middle ages (300 AD – 600 AD). Although several types of artillery were used during this time, only the onager seems to have been unique to the period. The onager will therefore be the primary piece of artillery discussed. Since the historical evidence on the onager is extremely limited, statics, dynamics, and computer simulation will be used to aid in reconstruction and analysis. These methods of analysis may serve as a guide for other research where evidence is limited.