In 305 BC, Demetrius I of Macedon waged war with the island of Rhodes, now known as the siege of Rhodes. During this siege, Demetrius utilised a superweapon that is, to this day, the largest siege tower ever built – the Helepolis. Helepolis loosely translates to “destroyer of cities”, which is interesting as Demetrius’ nickname was Poliorcetes, or “The Besieger” in ancient Greek. In short, Demetrius was set to raze Rhodes or wipe it off the map.
The Helepolis lived up to its name: designed by Polyidus of Thessaly, it was 40m high (about 13 stories), 20m wide, weighed 160 tons and had a crew of 3400 people. It had eight wheels, each 3.7m high, and had compound wheels that allowed it to move side-to-side. The 3400 men both pushed the tower and worked a belt system that moved the wheels forward. The entire structure was clad in iron plates, making it completely arrowproof and fireproof.
Its armament was just as impressive. One face of the tower was covered in windows, with each concealing a catapult that could hurl heavy objects at the target. The first floor had a pair of catapults that could hurl 80kg projectiles (about the weight of a refrigerator) and one that launched 30kg projectiles. The second floor had three 30kg catapults and the third to eighth floor had ten 15kg catapults in total. Lastly, the roof had four dart throwers which could clear any defenders on the top of castle walls. Essentially, the tower had both the ultimate defensive and offensive capabilities.
Of course, there was no chance the Rhodians could stand a face-off with such a behemoth. So instead, they came up with a cunning plan that exploited the huge size of the Helepolis. The night before the siege began, the Rhodians channelled the water and sewage coming out of the city into the area they expected the attack to come from to create a vast area of mud and bog. When the Helepolis stormed in for the offensive, it immediately started sinking in the mire. Knowing that no amount of horses and men could pull the structure out of the mud, the soldiers abandoned the superweapon without even using it once.
Ultimately, the siege of Rhodes failed (largely due to the failure of Helepolis) and the Rhodians took apart the Helepolis, melted the iron plates and used it to build the Colossus of Rhodes (one of the Seven Ancient Wonders).