Initially the Romans learned about heavy artillery and siege machines from the Greeks, and often used Greek devices in their own wars. Later they developed a fearsome reputation for being steadfast in their determination to conquer anywhere that they laid siege to, and to having the organisation and resources to make sure the siege was eventually a success. Stone-throwers - ballistae - were a part of that arsenal, and the onagar would be a familiar weapon at many a Roman action, although these were mostly for sieges rather than battles in the field. Nevertheless, if they were setting up a Roman army on the carpet at home, what child wouldn't also want some impressive catapults with which to bombard the enemy ranks (or perhaps just the cat), and Atlantic answered the call with this quite impressive set.
What you get in this set are three identical kit catapults, shown to good effect on the box photograph. Each one is made up of 24 pieces, which are assembled as described on the back of the box (see below). In addition, each machine comes with 10 small balls for use as ammunition. We found construction pretty easy, and the quite soft plastic (still soft after all these years) helps with this. Certainly the fit is nothing like as precise as you would expect from a good quality kit these days, but these were only toys, and more to the point they actually worked - sort of. Once made up, you are instructed to tie the cup of the catapult down to the revolving spindle at the back with 'rope', and attach the front of the throwing arm to the frame with elastic. Then you are supposed to winch the catapult arm back, while the lever engages with a ratchet to stop it returning. Having got a good taught piece of elastic, you load a ball, release the lever and watch it fly. To be perfectly honest, we have not tried this ourselves. However the lever is the same soft plastic as the rest, and we very much doubt it would really engage with the ratchet - its just too light. So the principle is fine, but the reality perhaps less pleasing. Nevertheless a brave effort at a fun toy, and quite a satisfying little model once put together.
The fun element might be quite high, but accuracy plummets the depths. The Romans never employed anything like this, which is part onager and part medieval trebuchet. Roman stone-throwers used a sling and not a spoon like this, despite repeated portrayals in medieval manuscripts, movies and children's books. Also onagers do not appear to have had wheels, which would have been impractical given the forces such a machine would have produced on the frame. In any case onagers were designed to smash towers and walls, and the larger ones were fabricated on site, so little movement was required. Finally, none were this tall or of this design. This model stands 9cm tall to the top of the frame, which is about 6.9 metres at HO scale, so had it existed in ancient times it would have been a tricky beast to operate. Much better models of real Roman stone-throwers can be found elsewhere on this website, but not these ones from Atlantic. One last point is the term 'catapult' is very much a modern one for this device - in Roman times a catapulta was an arrow-firer.
The set also comes with some sprues from the Atlantic Roman Cavalry set, which really has nothing to do with using catapults and precious little to do with sieges in general. So the machines on the box cover, nicely painted and all ready to inflict mayhem on the unfortunate recipients, have no crew at all and are being ignored by some passing cavalry and chariots. Most Atlantic accessories come with few or no figures actually operating the device, which is a shame, but clearly here the point is to set up your enemy army (presumably fellow Romans, as there was nothing else on offer from Atlantic), then proceed to try and knock them down with your small brown balls. No one will ever know how many of these things rolled under furniture or went up the vacuum cleaner, but it is probably a lot.
So a fun toy and an impressive addition to someone's play Roman army. It may have had little to do with historical reality, but that applies to most of the Atlantic Roman range anyway. One for collectors only these days, and like the other large accessories this is increasingly hard to find today.