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Sting of the Scorpio

On the shelf in Classics Professor Roger Ulrich's office, a model of a Scorpio resides. This miniature piece of artillery, which was used by Romans and Greeks 2,000 years ago, was made by Brad Wolcott '06. Wolcott, a classics major, built the model for an assignment in Ulrich's Early Roman Imperial Archaeology course.

Brad Wolcott '06 and Classics Professor Roger Ulrich
Brad Wolcott '06 (left) and Classics Professor Roger Ulrich with Wolcott's model of the Scorpio, a piece of artillery used by the ancient Greeks and Romans. The functional model, which Wolcott made by hand, can shoot an arrow over a distance of 80 feet. (Photo by Joseph Mehling '69)

Says Wolcott, "We were given four options for a final project: one long paper on Roman archaeology, a series of six short papers, a Web-based project, or a model project. I've written a lot of papers over the last four years, so I decided to pursue the model project."

Wolcott and Ulrich decided to focus on the Scorpio, as described in the written work of the architect and engineer Vitruvius, who lived during the Republican Period of ancient Rome.

"It seemed like a challenging design to recreate in a small scale," says Wolcott.

Wolcott, by hand and from scratch, crafted the wooden pieces at the Hopkins Center's woodworking studio and machined the metal parts at the Thayer School of Engineering. The finished product is about two-feet long and shoots an eight-inch arrow a distance of over 80 feet. After building the Scorpio, he wrote a short paper detailing the construction process and the problems faced in reconstructing it from Vitruvius' descriptions.

"It was an excellent exercise in problem solving, and it exposed me to the challenges that modern archaeologists face in reconstructing ancient machines from written and archaeological evidence," says Wolcott.

A real Scorpio generally measured about eight- to 10-feet long, and it could impale 10 men at close range. Ulrich explaines that it was often used to protect a city from invaders.

"Brad built a remarkable model," says Ulrich. "Because it's a working Scorpio, I can use it to demonstrate how ingenious people were in Classical times."

Ulrich's fascination with ancient life drew him into a book project that took 10 years to complete. After studying stone and concrete artifacts for many years, he became intrigued by the less common remains from ancient Rome: wood."

After doing some research, I was surprised by just how many references to wood I found," he says. "Some of the tools survive. There are mentions in ancient texts and some paintings representing everyday life that include wooden objects."

"Craftsmen worked with apprentices and shared their knowledge. It's been going on for 2,000 years.

The traditions still survive today." The book, Roman Woodworking, will be published by Yale University Press in the fall of 2006.


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Last Updated: 5/30/08