Scythed chariot

Scythed chariot

Inv. 9903
Interpretation by Alessandro Siriati, 1952 - 1956

"These scythed wagons were various in their sorts, and often they were no less damaging to friends than they were to enemies. And what happened was that the captains of the armies, believing they would perturb the enemies’ squads with these, created fear and destruction among their own. Against these, it is necessary to use archers, sling men, and spearmen, and to shoot all manners of darts, spears, stones, fires, noises from drums, and shouting. And the operators should be spread out, in order that the darts do not find them. And by means of this, the horses will be frightened, and they will turn about, unchecked, among themselves, heedless of those governing them, and they will become a great impediment and detriment to themselves. Against these, the Romans used to scatter iron caltrops, which impeded the horses, and when they had fallen to the ground in pain, they left their wagons motionless."

This chariot equipped with rotating scythes was a traditional and powerful war-faring instrument of military engineering used previously by the Egyptians, Greeks, and Persians. Vegetius described it in his Epitoma rei militaris (III, 24), where he also pointed out its limitations. The chariot could easily be invalidated by throwing caltrops, the four-pointed metallic device that always landed with one point upward. The model is constituted of a long wagon with two wheels upon which rotating scythes are connected by means of a transmission shaft and gears. The cart was drawn by horses, putting into motion a system of gears causing the scythes to rotate, with devastating effect.

The model is based on the drawing:

  • Popham 1030 f. 1030 (1487-1490)
    London, British Museum