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A Multidisciplinary Investigation into Various Possible Geometries of Imperial Roman Artillery: A Case Study

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2011 ASEE Annual Conference & Exposition


Vancouver, BC

Publication Date

June 26, 2011

Start Date

June 26, 2011

End Date

June 29, 2011



Conference Session

Multidisciplinary Poster Session

Tagged Division

Multidisciplinary Engineering

Page Count


Page Numbers

22.73.1 - 22.73.14

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Paper Authors


Willard W. Neel P.E. Virginia Military Institute

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Willard Wayne Neel, Ph.D., P.E.,
Professor in the Mechanical Engineering Department at the Virginia Military Institute. He has degrees in physics and mechanical engineering from the University of South Florida and NC State University respectively. Besides teaching for the past forty years he is interested in ancient and medieval technology.

Jon-Michael Hardin, Ph.D.,
Professor and Department Chair in the Mechanical Engineering Department at the Virginia Military Institute. He has degrees in mechanical engineering and theoretical and applied mechanics from the University of South Carolina and the University of Illinois, Urbana-Champaign, respectively. His areas of research interest include engineering mechanics applications.

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Jon-Michael Hardin Virginia Military Institute

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A Multidisciplinary Investigation into Various Possible Geometries Of Imperial Roman Artillery: A Case StudyMultidisciplinary projects provide a unique opportunity to foster critical thinking inundergraduate engineering students and to help students develop an understanding of theresearch process. In addition, multidisciplinary projects which combine engineering analysis anda study of technological history are an interesting way to increase student interest in theengineering design process. In this paper, the authors will present a case study of one suchinterdisciplinary project, conducted by a undergraduate mechanical engineering student, in whichthe student investigated a Roman siege weapon, known as a ballista which is rather like a largecrossbow that uses torsion springs to shoot an arrow or a stone.In this case study, three different historical configurations of ballistae were analyzed andcompared by the students: 1. the earliest configuration, in which two torsion springs are set closetogether with the two arms projecting outward from the axis of the weapon, 2. a configuration inwhich the arms maintain the same orientation, but the torsion springs are set farther apart, and 3.a configuration in which the torsion springs are set in the same wider positioning, but areoriented such that they point toward the target. After the student analyzed each of these threeconfigurations, he conducted tests, using scale model ballistae, to see which configuration hadthe greatest initial projectile velocity, and compared these test results to those of an analyticmodel. Through his work with this multidisciplinary project, the student gained critical thinkingskills, since much of the actual design of these ballistae had to be reverse engineered due to thelack of detailed historical accounts. The student also gained a better understanding of theresearch process by having to identify and use various analytical tools and to develop appropriatetests. However, perhaps as importantly, through this multidisciplinary project, the student gaineda greater interest in engineering design and its applications.

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