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One thing that puzzled me about the story of Masada, is the ramp for the ram.

The angle looked bizarre to me. I suppose it wore out over the years by the harsh winds, and maybe floods, but from models over the web (e.g. Google Earth and other models), it should be about 25 degrees.

The Romans were indeed gifted engineers but in order to pull a tower that weighs, say, 10 tons in 25°, you need about 4.5 tons of force + friction. Not sure they had the technology for keeping it intact all the way up. Not sure we have the technology.

What am I missing?

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    You're probably aware of this, but the ramp today as shown on Google Earth is in its condition after being partly rebuilt for a miniseries, so it might not reflect the original shape exactly. Also, I think it was indeed supposed to be a ram and not a tower. – Luke Sawczak Mar 23 at 11:57
  • The angle of the ramp can be computed if you know the place where it begins and the height it had to reach. I suppose this can be found from the existing remains. To build a ramp with smaller angle would involve much more labor and time. We don't know exactly what siege engines were brought up on the ramp, but take into account that if the angle is too steep, an engine can be disassembled, the parts carried up, and then assembled on the top. – Alex Mar 24 at 12:09
  • Which would pose a simpler problem: defending from the archers while assembling the ram. Yeah, so all they needed was a ramp to carry the parts, which allowed them a much faster construction. It could be steeper and with a lower quality. – Meymann Mar 25 at 6:58
  • And thinking about it... it only makes sense. That fortress didn't need a gigantic wall. It was a cliff all around so the wall was probably minimalistic. That probably didn't justify anything more than a lightweight ram. Nothing like a 1st century tank. – Meymann Mar 25 at 7:21
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What am I missing?

Alex points out in comments that a machine may be transported in sections, and this was apparently the intent here. A 19th century article in the Cyclopædia of Biblical, Theological, and Ecclesiastical Literature, Volume 12 By John McClintock, James Strong, concerning this construction has this to say (emphasis mine):

The second path on the west ascends from a narrow sloping bank of white marl which is about 1000 feet high and which Josephus calls the White Promontory upon this rises the great ramp about 300 feet high which the Romans piled up against the rock during the siege, a work so laborious that it seems almost incredible that human efforts could have accomplished it in so short a time. At the top of the ramp is the masonry wall which the besiegers built as a foundation for their engines before discovering the great tragedy that had been enacted within the fortress where the garrison had fallen by one another's swords

So the seige machinery was to be constructed at the top of the ramp, not pulled up the ramp itself.

Note: If you are still interested in some more recent information concerning this siege, a more recent publication which has some good discussion is Making History: Josephus And Historical Method edited by Zuleika Rodgers. (This lists several sources of other articles discussing the ramp, most of which are modern publications so aren't falling into the viewable category on Google books.) This article does provide some good dimensions for a different ramp, one built by Caesar, which was 23.5 meters high, 97 meters in length and 50 meters wide. You might use this as a comparison for your calculations.

  • If my math is correct the angle on Caesars ramp is about 14 degrees? – justCal Mar 24 at 15:20
  • The ramp of Masada was something they built in 3months or so, in 74CE tech (jealousy...). They wanted to finish that revolt and get back home. Doing that would allow them to construct much faster. All they needed was a slope easy enough merely to carry the parts, and shields to defend against the archers. Brilliant! – Meymann Mar 25 at 7:06

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