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p1009 Scalae

Article by Leonhard Schmitz, Ph.D., F.R.S.E., Rector of the High School of Edinburgh
on pp1009‑1010 of

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

SCALAE (κλίμαξ), a ladder. The general construction p1019and use of ladders was the same among the ancients as in modern times, and therefore requires no explanation, with the exception of those used in besieging a fortified place and in making an assault upon it. The ladders were erected against the walls (admovere, ponere, apponere, or erigere scalas), and the besiegers ascended them under showers of darts and stones thrown upon them by the besieged (Sallust. Jug. 60,º 57;º Caes. de Bell. Civ. I.2863; Tacit. Hist. IV.29, &c.; Veget. de Re Milit. IV.21; Polyb. IX.18). Some of these ladders were formed like our common ones; others consisted of several parts (κλίμακες πηκταὶ or διαλυταὶ) which might be put together so as to form one large ladder, and were taken to pieces when they were not used.a Sometimes also they were made of ropes or leather with large iron hooks at the top, by which they were fastened to the walls to be ascended. The ladders made wholly of leather consisted of tubes sowedº up air-tight, and when they were wanted, these tubes were filled with air (Heron, c2). Heron also mentions a ladder which was constructed in such a manner, that it might be erected with a man standing on the top, whose object was to observe what was going on in the besieged town (Heron, c12). Others again were provided at the top with a small bridge, which might be let down upon the wall (Heron, 19). In ships small ladders or steps were likewise used for the purpose of ascending into or descending from them (Virg. Aen. X.654; Heron, c11).

In the houses of the Romans the name Scalae was applied to the stairs or staircase, leading from the lower to the upper parts of a house. The steps were either of wood or stone, and, as in modern times, fixed on one side in the wall (Vitruv. IX.1 § 7, &c.).b It appears that the staircases in Roman houses were as dark as those of old houses in modern times, for it is very often mentioned, that a person concealed himself in scalis or in scalarum tenebris (Cic. pro Mil. 15, Philip. II.9; Horat. Epist. II.2.15), and passages like these need not be interpreted, as some commentators have done, by the supposition that in scalis is the same as sub scalis. The Roman houses had two kinds of staircases: the one were the common scalae, which were open on one side; the others were called scalae Graecae or κλίμακες, which were closed on both sides. Massurius Sabinus (ap. Gell. X.15 § 29) states, that the Flaminica was not allowed to ascend higher than three steps on a common scala, but that she might make use of a climax like every other person, as here she was concealed when going up (Serv. ad Aen. IV.664).


Thayer's Notes:

a See for example Plut. Aratus VI.3.

b I've been unable to find any pertinent reference in Vitruvius, in Book 9 or elsewhere.


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Page updated: 21 Jan 13