Siege Engines and Battering Rams: Roberto Valturio on The Military Arts

In Worcester Cathedral Library, we have a 1555 edition of Roberto Valturio’s De Re Militari (On the Military Arts) printed in France in French and Latin. The book was probably written about a hundred years earlier – Valturio died in 1475, and by the time our edition was published certain aspects of it must have been wildly out of date. Mechanical siege engines, for instance, must have been entirely replaced with gunpowder weapons by the mid-16th Century.

batteringram2

Battering rams were one of the earliest forms of siege engine. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK).

However, people were still clearly interested enough in Valurio’s work in this period for it to have been still in print. Perhaps this was due to the quality and clarity of the draughtsmanship evident in the illustrations, with clean lines and a clear sense of perspective. Indeed, it has been suggested that this work was a key influence on Leonardo Da Vinci, particularly that aspect of his work which focused on military engineering.[1]

Earlycannon15thc

An early cannon, 15th Century. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)

 

siegeetower

Simple siege tower. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter Worcester Cathedral (UK)

siegecrane

Siege crane. Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)

scissorsiegeengine

Some of the siege engines showed evidence of advanced mechanical abilities, such as this scissor lift… Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)

dragonsiegetower

…While others look more decorative than functional! Image copyright the Dean and Chapter of Worcester Cathedral (UK)

A Cathedral library might not be the first place you would go to find a military textbook. That we have many more than just this one (although none quite so attractive) is evidence of the great breadth of bibliographic material that the clergy at Worcester collected over the years.

Tom Hopkins

 

[1] http://www.metmuseum.org/toah/works-of-art/26.71.4 [accessed 05/09/2014].

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