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 p1200  Vinea

Article by Leonhard Schmitz, Ph.D., F.R.S.E., Rector of the High School of Edinburgh
on pp1200‑1201 of

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

VI′NEA, in its literal signification, is a bower formed of the branches of vines,​a and from the protection which such a leafy roof affords, the name was applied by the Romans to a roof under which the besiegers of a town protected themselves against darts, stones, fire, and the like, which were thrown by the besieged upon the assailants. The description which Vegetius (de Re Mil. IV.15) gives of such a machine perfectly agrees with what we know of it from the incidental mention of other writers.​b The whole machine formed a roof, resting upon posts eight feet in height. The roof itself was generally sixteen feet long and seven broad. The wooden frame was in most cases light, so that it  p1201 could be carried by the soldiers; sometimes, however, when the purpose which it was to serve required great strength, it was heavy and then the whole fabric probably was moved by wheels attached to the posts. The roof was formed of planks and wicker-work, and the uppermost layer or layers consisted of raw hides or wet cloth as a protection against fire, by which the besieged frequently destroyed the vineae (Liv. II.17, V.7, XXI.61). The sides of a vinea were likewise protected by wicker-work. Such machines were constructed in a safe place at some distance from the besieged town, and then carried or wheeled (agere) close to its walls. Here several of them were frequently joined together, so that a great number of soldiers might be employed under them. When vineae had taken their place close to the walls the soldiers began their operations, either by undermining the walls, and thus opening a breach, or by employing the battering-ram (aries, Liv. XXI.7, 8). In the time of Vegetius the soldiers used to call these machines causiae (J. Lipsius, Poliorcet. I. dial.7).

Thayer's Notes:

a the original meaning of vinea is merely "vineyard"; but since the Romans trained most of their vines onto trees or trellises, the word soon came to mean a vine-trellis — which of course, as a side effect, will make a shaded or protected bower. For details, see generally Books 3‑5 of Columella's de Re Rustica; a quick summary of the technique can be found in IV.26.

b To dot the i's and cross the t's, Vegetius is a very late writer, often writing about things hundreds of years before his own time, about which his knowledge is imperfect; he says so.

The vinea is much older. The idea, if not the word, is found for example several times in the 10th Book of Vitruvius: his ram (aries) includes a protective leather roof (X.13.2, 5‑7), as do both of the tortoises he describes (X.15.1, 6) and his standard design for the tortoise (testudo) even includes details of further fire-resistant padding to be provided under the leather roof (XIV.3).

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Page updated: 21 Mar 05