In 2004, Steve Ressler and two West Point colleagues, Colonel Fred Meyer and Dr. Led Klosky, were selected to participate in a Discovery Channel documentary called “Superweapons of the Ancient World: The Ram.” Steve, Fred, and Led were teamed with a blacksmith, Tom Troszak (a.k.a. “The Burning God of Iron”), and three timber framers to design, build, and test a full-scale working replica of an ancient Roman ram-tortoise—a mobile battering ram. This machine was reasonably well-documented in the ancient sources, and its effectiveness in siege warfare was legendary.
For the Discovery project, Steve served as design engineer; Led provided specialized expertise in geotechnical engineering and wheeled-vehicle trafficability; and Fred served as construction manager. Their task was particularly challenging, because construction would be executed and filmed on location in Morocco during a period just seven days. In practice, the job proved to be even more challenging than anyone expected, due to material and equipment shortfalls and delays, which necessitated a complete re-design of the machine in the field. Despite these challenges, the team completed construction on time, and then demonstrated the machine’s effectiveness by destroying a Roman-style fortification wall—two stout stone facings with compacted rubble in between. The project was an unequivocal success, not only because the ram-tortoise worked, but also because the team was able to demonstrate how modern engineering principles can be used to enhance our historical understanding. This project also kindled Steve’s interest in ancient technology—an interest that has recently come to fruition in his Great Courses lecture series, “Understanding the Marvels of Greek and Roman Technology.”
Highlights of the Discovery “Superweapons of the Ancient World” project are shown in the slide show below. Hover your mouse over each photo to see the caption.