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p590 Helepolis

Article by James Yates, M.A., F.R.S.,
on p590 of

William Smith, D.C.L., LL.D.:
A Dictionary of Greek and Roman Antiquities, John Murray, London, 1875.

HELE′POLIS (ἐλέπολις). When Demetrius Poliorcetes besieged Salamis, in Cyprus, he caused a machine to be constructed, which he called "the taker of cities." Its form was that of a square tower, each side being 90 cubits high and 45 wide. It rested on four wheels, each eight cubits high.a It was divided into nine stories, the lower of which contained machines for throwing great stones, the middle large catapults for throwing spears, and the highest, other machines for throwing smaller stones, together with smaller catapults. It was manned with 200 soldiers, besides those who moved it by pushing the parallel beams at the bottom (Diod. XX.48).

At the siege of Rhodes, B.C. 306, Demetrius employed an helepolis of still greater dimensions and more complicated construction. Besides wheels it had casters (ἀντιστρέπτα), so as to admit of being moved laterally as well as directly. Its form was pyramidal. The three sides which were exposed to attack, were rendered fire-proof by being covered with iron plates. In front each story had port-holes, which were adapted to the several kinds of missiles, and were furnished with shutters that could be opened or closed at pleasure, and were made of skins stuffed with wool. Each story had two broad flights of steps, the one for ascending, the other for descending (Diod. XX.91; cf. Vitruv. X.22). This helepolis was constructed by Epimachus the Athenian; and a much esteemed description of it was written by Dioeclides of Abdera (Athen. V p206D). It was no doubt the greatest and most remarkable engine of the kind that was ever erected. In subsequent ages we find the name of "helepolis" applied to moving towers which carried battering rams, as well as machines for throwing spears and stones (Amm. Marcell. XXIII.; Agathias, I.18 p30, ed. Ven.; Nicet. Chon. Jo. Commenus, p14B). Towers of this description were used to destroy the walls of Jerusalem, when it was taken by the Romans (Jos. B. J. II.19 §9, III.6 §2). [Aries, Tormentum.]


Thayer's Note:

a Somewhat different measurements, as well as a general description, are given by Plutarch (Demetrius, 21).


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