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Bill Thayer

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 p772  Musculus

by Leonhard Schmitz, Ph.D, F.R.S.E, Rector of the High School of Edinburgh,
on p772 of

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

MU′SCULUS was, according to the description of Vegetius (de Re Milit. IV.16), one of the smaller military machines, by which soldiers in besieging a town were protected while engaged in filling up the ditches round the besieged place, so that the moveable towers (turres ambulatoriae) of the besiegers might be able to approach the walls without obstacle. A minute description of a musculus is given by Caesar (de Bell. Civ. II.10, &c.). The one which he describes was nine feet long, and was constructed in the following manner:— Two beams of equal length were placed upon the ground at the distance of four feet from each other, and upon them were fixed little pillars five feet high. Their top-ends were joined by transverse beams, which formed a gentle slope on either side of the roof of which they formed the frame-work. The roof was then entirely covered with pieces of wood, two feet broad, which were fastened with metal plates and nails. Around the edge of this roof square pieces of wood, four cubits broad, were fixed for the purpose of keeping together the bricks and mortar with which the musculus was then covered. But that these materials, which were intended to protect the musculus against fire, might not suffer from water, the bricks and mortar were covered with skins; and that these skins again might not suffer from the fire or stones which the besieged might throw upon the musculus, the whole was covered with rags of cloth. The whole of this machine was constructed under the cover of a vinea, and close by the Roman tower. At a moment when the besieged were least expecting any attack, the musculus was moved on against the wall of the town. The men engaged under it immediately began to undermine the wall and thus to make a breach in it; and while this work was going on, the besiegers kept up a lively fight with the besieged in order to prevent them from directing their attacks against the musculus (compare Caes. de Bell. Civ. III.80, de Bell. Alex. 1). The musculus described by Caesar was evidently designed for different purposes than the one mentioned by Vegetius, and the former appears to have been only a smaller but a more indestructible kind of vinea than that commonly used (Lipsius, Poliorc. I.9; Guichard, Mémoires Milit. II. p58, tab. 2).

Thayer's Note:

For a more practical approach, with 3 good illustrations, to the vallum, see this section of John Pollen's book, The Trajan Column.

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Page updated: 10 Feb 13