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Set 089

Roman Artillery (Set 1) Ballista

Click for larger image
All figures are supplied unpainted    (Numbers of each pose in brackets)
Date Released 2023
Contents 2 figures and 1 weapon
Poses 2 poses
Material Plastic (Medium Consistency)
Colours Brown
Average Height 25 mm (= 1.8 m)


Artillery in the ancient world took two forms – arrow-throwers and stone-throwers. Arrow-throwers were essentially anti-personnel weapons, but if you wanted to capture a major town, most of which had walls, then you needed to batter those towns with a stone-thrower. Machines such as this are first recorded being used by Alexander the Great, although their precise origins are not known today, but in time the Romans adopted this Greek technology, and would use and improve it over the centuries. As with artillery of any age, the weapons came in many sizes, and the best illustration of this is the many caches of stone ammunition of different weights still to be seen at many ancient sites today. Bigger was of course better in terms of the damage you could inflict, yet the larger the machine the more effort was required to set it up, handle it and, very importantly, move it. Nevertheless, such machines could be of astonishing size, with balls that might weigh 20 to 30 kg, or potentially even more. The stone-thrower in this set is certainly one of the largest, and so the more impressive, of those fearsome engines.

The size of our image, which is in the same scale as the rest of them on this site, gives some idea of the dimensions of this monster. This ballista occupies ground that is about 90 mm (6.5 metres) long and 55 mm (4 metres) wide, and stands about 80 mm (5.8 metres) at the highest point. Historians have speculated that even larger machines were built, but if so then there can have been few of them, so this is near the top end of the scale. The design is basically that of an enormous crossbow, but using torsion springs to give the required power, and this model is a good reflection of the many reconstructions that have been done in modern times (no original machines survive today). The machines probably varied in some details, but this is as good as any, although most such reimaginings have more struts to strengthen the machine, an issue that was also faced when a full-sized reconstruction of one was built for a BBC documentary early in this century. The machine lacks the bowstring and the sling into which the projectile would have been loaded, but in essence we think this is a pretty accurate model.

The whole kit is made in the usual medium-consistency plastic so many figure sets are made in, which is not the most ideal kit material in our view. Hard plastic kits are easier to handle and generally more precisely engineered, and this model has the same slightly vague feel as other softer kits, so the parts all fit reasonably, but not as tightly or perfectly as hard-plastic kits. The two pieces of bow projecting from the springs have a hole to fit into, but they have to be glued in place, and we found that the levers used to set the machine needed trimming down a little to fit into the holes provided on the winch. There is also a fair amount of flash which would have to be removed before assembly, so the process of putting this kit together is not as satisfying as some would like, and the result is good rather than great. It will be noted on our image that one lever is considerably shorter than the other – this is due to failure to completely fill the mould with plastic, and we found that this problem varied between copies of the kit – this is discussed further below when we talk about the figures. The only movable part of the model is that it pivots on the top of the stand, so the elevation, and therefore the range, can be adjusted. We found that the groove into which the stand sits needed widening somewhat to make this action work properly. The weapon itself has been designed to show it as if just fired, with the claw and trigger more or less fully forward on the stock, which makes sense as the crew are clearly in the act of winching it back.

Clearly it would take many men to serve such a machine, even ignoring the many others that would be needed to assemble, disassemble and move it, so the two crew figures here are just a representation of that crew, yet welcome when so many sets do not bother to include any crew at all. As can be seen, both are busy pulling on the winch levers, and both poses interact well with those levers to make a very convincing little display. They are dressed similarly, in mail corselets and typical helmets of the early imperial period, and have gladius sheathed on the right and pugio on the left. Only after we photographed our example did we realise that the first figure is almost entirely missing his gladius, yet other examples have one, so again the plastic did not fill properly. Indeed, one of our other examples had the man on the right with no hands at all, so these are the best samples we could find. On those figures with their full compliment of plastic we found the legs in particular to be rather misshapen and very chunky, while those on the figure with missing extremities were much more natural. It would seem that it was easy to inject too much, or too little plastic into the mould, which is a common problem when the sprue includes some large pieces and some small ones, as this one does. What it does mean is the quality of any set you buy will be somewhat variable, and very hard to remedy. Those parts of the figures that have been filled properly display nice detail, and the poses themselves are good and dynamic, really making you believe they are putting a lot of effort into pulling the levers. Like the machine, the men suffer from flash, but this varies greatly, again because of the fill issue.

In time weapons such as this were replaced by the onagar, although there is still debate over how long this took. For much of the early imperial and perhaps late republican period, machines such as this would prove useful in attacking cities, and also in their defence (though perhaps smaller examples than this one). Onagars have been modelled before, but this is the first time that a ballista of this type has been represented in the hobby. The result is a largely accurate but not particularly precise model, and one that suffers, along with its crew, from considerable difficulties in properly filling the mould. All this makes the model rather less pleasing to build than we were expecting, and the production quality of the figures was also a disappointment.


Historical Accuracy 10
Pose Quality 10
Pose Number 3
Sculpting 9
Mould 4

Further Reading
"Ancient and Medieval Siege Weapons" - The Lyons Press - Konstantin Nossov - 9781592287109
"Armies of the Macedonian and Punic Wars" - Wargames Research Group - Duncan Head - 9780950029948
"Greek and Roman Artillery 399BC - AD363" - Osprey (New Vanguard Series No.89) - Duncan Campbell - 9781841766348
"Siege Warfare in the Roman World" - Osprey (Elite Series No.126) - Duncan Campbell - 9781841767826

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