Even tyrants have their problems. Dionysios I (c.432 – 367 BCE), Tyrant of Syracuse, faced a major problem in the form of the Carthaginians, who regularly competed with Syracuse for dominance of Sicily. If the Carthaginians lost a battle they could, and did, shelter inside their cities, where the Greeks could not reach them as the latter apparently had no siege train worthy of the name. Dionysios put out a call for skilled craftsmen from all over the Mediterranean to build him a new arsenal, and the result was a number of innovations which finally gave the Greeks the ability to attack walled cities. One of these was an enormous composite bow rather like the later crossbow but far too large to be lifted by one man. Such a machine, the oxybeles, is what we have in this set.
The ancients were not obliging enough to leave behind detailed schematics or drawings of this machine, at least none that have survived the last two millennia, so we must rely on contemporary descriptions, or on writers with supposed access to such things. Sadly the descriptions are far from complete, and over the years several modern historians have suggested different designs. All make some assumptions, and of course no one knows which if any are completely accurate, although it seems likely that there were variations in design even at the time. This one designed by HaT is certainly as good as any, and could be said to be fairly typical of what is currently believed to be their appearance. The central bed of their machine where the arrows or other projectiles were placed is at about shoulder height, which is reasonable as any higher would make using the weapon particularly difficult. The bow rests on a stand with one point of contact, which presumably had some form of tilt and swivel ability to facilitate aiming. This model also has a further support at the rear, although for aesthetic reasons if nothing else we would have thought this would have a twin on the opposite side, as illustrated on the box. Since no one can confirm if this design is right we must content ourselves with saying that it is reasonable and therefore a sound choice.
Such a large weapon would have required a crew to operate it, and HaT have provided six figures to fulfil this function. One man carries a large bolt while two others carry smaller rocks, perhaps for battering at walls. The rest are actively engaged in operating the machine, which is all too rare for artillery figures and therefore very nice to see. Six men seems reasonable as a crew, and all these poses are first rate. The men all wear the ancient equivalent of the T-Shirt – the short tunic which served as working clothes for the ordinary Greek man. This therefore is an excellent crew.
Sculpting is very good indeed. The figures are well proportioned with good faces and musculature, and no sign of any flash. The machine too is well done, with the handful of parts fitting together nicely despite the slightly soft plastic used, and for the most part no glue is necessary. This model scores over previous attempts by other manufacturers in that it has separate and well made handles for the winch. These can be placed in any desired position – not just as shown in our picture – which adds to the good looks of the machine.
Such a machine is thought to have been introduced around the late 5th or early 4th century BCE, but it was not too long before superior torsion-powered machines also appeared and made the large bow redundant. Nevertheless the oxybeles appears to have continued in use for probably over a century, and this set makes an interesting and well produced addition to many an ancient Greek army.