The Battering Ram
The Battering ram - the most famous of all Medieval weapons! The Battering Ram was used to literally 'batter' down, pound, punch and shake castle gates, doors and walls! Huge tree trunks were used to construct a battering ram which were often fitted with a metal head and supported by metal bands. Troops swung the tree trunk back and forth battering its target. Considerable organisation was required to use the battering ram. Up to 100 might be involved and skill was required in timing the rhythmic movement, the swing and twist of the ram in the sling. The Battering Ram was most effective against wooden gates and doors. However, a Battering Ram also proved effective against stone castles particularly when they were aimed at the castle corners. The design of the Battering Ram was modified and a war machine, called a 'Bore' was developed to compliment the Battering Ram.
The Battering Ram was modified and the metal head was designed like a drill to break and gouge out stone castle walls. The Bore was often smaller than the ram, resembling a pole, and could be used in more limited spaces. The Bore often featured a spiked head. Continuous 'boring' would result in the castle wall crumbling. Once the wall had been breached men gained access to the castle and the next stage of attack would be made.
The History and Development of the Battering Ram
The history of the battering ram dates back to antiquity and variations of the battering ram were used in China and by the Romans and the Greeks. The Battering Ram was introduced in England by the Romans. The history of the Battering Ram saw its development as follows:
- Simple Log Battering Ram
- Suspended in Slings
- The Head of the Battering Ram was Flat (which cracked surfaces)
- The Head of the Battering Ram was reinforced with bronze or iron
- The Body of the Battering Ram was reinforced with bands of metal
- The Head of the Battering Ram was fashioned into the crude representation of a ram's head
- It was suspended by ropes or chains from a frame fixed over it
- The Battering Ram was mounted on wheels
- The Battering Ram was covered by a roof to protect the operators from missiles - this was called the Penthouse
- The Ram was suspended by chains or ropes from the Penthouse ceiling
- A series of levers, ropes, rollers, pulleys, and winches were included to enable the Penthouse and Ram to be manoeuvred against the target
The Battering Ram became obsolete when the Trebuchet, the most powerful of all siege engines, began to dominate English sieges.
The Design of the Battering Ram
The history of the battering ram dates back to antiquity and variations of the battering ram were used in China and by the Romans and the Greeks. The History of the Battering ram illustrates the changing design of the Battering Ram which increased its effectiveness. The size of the rams varied in size according to the materials available and the target which needed to be destroyed and ranged from 20 to 120 feet! The Battering ram was first powered by sheer muscle, then a sling was added and finally wheels assisted in moving the ram to the target. The design of the head was shaped to resemble that of a ram. It consequently looked like an animal butting, or in the case of the Bore, gnawing against its target. This movement gave rise to many nicknames which included:
- The Cat
- The Sow
- The Mouse
- The Tortoise - ( the slow movement of a covered battering ram approaching the target and the movement of the tortoise head in and out of its shell gave rise to this nickname)
Battering Rams were made of tree trunks - oak, ash or fir were preferred. The design of the Battering Ram could also serve as a bridge across a defensive moat or ditch! When a wall had been breached the ram could be used as an access route to the castle. No two rams were the same. They were designed to gain the maximum effect when attacking the defences of the castle.
The men who powered the Battering Ram were under constant attack from the enemy. A timber shed, or roof, was developed to shelter the troops - this was called the Penthouse. The word 'Penthouse' is derived from its sloping roof and taken from the French word 'pente' meaning 'slope'. The Ram or Bore was suspended by chains or ropes from the penthouse ceiling. The Penthouse was often covered by wet hides as protection against fire and braced with iron plates as defence against arrows and other missiles. The Ram, its wheels and the men were all completely covered by the Penthouse. Positioning the Penthouse and its battering ram against the desired target required the use of levers, ropes, rollers, pulleys, and winches. The wheels of the Penthouse were usually removed to stabilize the whole structure.
The Countering the Power of the Battering Ram
The power of the Battering Ram needed to be countered by the castle inhabitants. Castles were designed to combat the battering ram weapon. The following defences were therefore added to Medieval castle designs:
- The Moat
- The Drawbridge
- The Gate Towers
- The Barbican
- Murder Holes
The weapons used against the men operating the Battering Ram included the following:
- The Sling - a constant hail of stones (cheap and plentiful)
- The Short Bow and Crossbow - a constant hail of arrows
- Fire - Firebrands,
- Boiling liquids and sand
The Defenders used a grappling iron, hooks or pincers as their major attack on the Battering Ram. Pads of sacking were also lowered as a cushion between the castle wall and the ram.
The Battering Ram, Bore and Medieval Warfare
Castle attackers employed Siege Warfare including starvation tactics. Castle walls could fall due to bombardment from Siege Engines such as the Trebuchet, the Mangonel, Ballista, and of course, the Battering Ram and Bore. The Battering Ram became obsolete when the Trebuchet, the most powerful of all siege engines, began to dominate English sieges.