What exactly is a “Helepolis”

Why does the Helepolis (the city-killer) get upgraded from a Ballista?


There are many inconsitencies in how units are named and looked. For AOE2…

  • men-at-arms were professional troops, often of a quality similar to knights, just lacking the nobility title. Not just the tier above basic militia
  • there only were 12 paladins from the times of King Arthur (needless to say, they didn’t have late medieval full plate armour…)
  • galleons only were designed in the 16th century after AOE2, the ingame galleon is a militarised cog.
  • mangonels look like an antique torsion catapult that no longer were used (useless in the rain)
  • scorpions look like an antique ballista instead of the roman scorpion
  • do we need to talk about the kamikaze saboteur ?

For AOE1, the centurion is the final upgrade of the hoplite, and contrary to AOE2 it doesn’t have a commanding aura on nearby troops.

So in the end, I guess they just wanted a fancy name instead of “heavy ballista”.


The series is full of nonsense upgrade names just to sound cool. My favorite being “juggernaught”.

Phalanx upgrading to centurion.
Mangonel upgrading to onager.
Pikeman upgrading to halberdier.

Charlemagne not King Arthur.
That being said “paladin” could make some sense because it was a title given to some certain retinues in the middle ages. I’d say “cavalier” is a more stupid name because (1) it’s just a synonym of knight (2) the word in English is rarely used to refer to medieval knights.


Cavalier means “rider” so anyone who rides a horse, while knight is the lowest nobility title. So a knight becoming a cavalier is actually a downgrade


Well words meaning “rider” or equivalent have been used to refer to lower nobility quite commonly throughout history (equites, reiter, chevalier, etc.)
While English happens to be the language that uses the word “knight” which has a different meaning for that title.


In french “chevalier” is the nobility title, it’s never used to simply mean a horse rider (“cavalier”).

As for latin, between the Roman Empire and the Feudal Age, some modifications happened. For example the Comes (“Count”) ranked above the Dux (“Duke”) in the Late Empire. In the feudal system, it was the opposite, the Duke ranking about the Count.

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Maybe the developers were thinking of transliterating chevalier to English.

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Using Ockham’s Razor, they simply wanted some fancy names that sound cool instead of looking deep into that.

In M2TW the different knights are named Mailed Knight (earlier, norman-style), Feudal Knight (high middle ages, partial plate) and Chivalric Knight (full plate).


In British English, ‘cavalier’ usually refers to royalists in the English Civil War. It’s quite weird having it used in a medieval context, or specifically referring to a cavalry unit.

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The Portuguese word for knight (cavaleiro) already sounds like cavalier, so for the Cavalier the Brazilian translation went with fidalgo.


Helepolis (Greek: ἑλέπολις, meaning: “Taker of Cities”) is the Greek name for a movable siege tower.

The most famous was that invented by Polyidus of Thessaly, and improved by Demetrius I of Macedon and Epimachus of Athens, for the Siege of Rhodes (305 BC). Descriptions of it were written by Diodorus Siculus,[1] Vitruvius, Plutarch, and in the Athenaeus Mechanicus.

The Helepolis is an ultimate siege unit in Age of Empires, the upgrade of the Ballista in the Iron Age. It has a strong attack and fires twice as fast as the Stone Thrower and its upgrades, but is very fragile and should be supplemented with non-siege weapons when sent into battle. Despite being a siege unit, it does not deal bonus damage against buildings

The helepolis (Greek for “city killer”) was one of the most advanced weapons of antiquity and a remarkable demonstration of ancient engineering ingenuity. It was in fact an automatic siege weapon that fired ballista bolts. The top loading lagazine of the helepolis was a horizontal funnel in which were laid bundles of bolts. These were fed by gravity into the chamber of the weapon. A clever gearing mechanism automatically recocked the helepolis and fired. Human operators needed only to keep it loaded and aimed, plus providing power by cranking. The original of the machine was abandoned outside the city of Rhodes when a besieging army withdrew. It has been reconstructed on paper from contemporary sketches and descriptions of that only known example.

The Helepolis is a Greek siege tower unit available in the Mythic Age in Age of Mythology. It shoots multiple bolts from close range which do both pierce and crush damage.

Like the Petrobolos, the Helepolis is a top-quality Greek siege unit. It is like an ancient version of a tank; it has by far the highest hit points of any non-myth unit and can turn buildings to rubble with ease. Helepolises also do decent damage against units sent against them. Nevertheless, this unit still requires an escort as they can quite quickly be destroyed by massed cavalry and infantry attacks.

The name of this siege machine translates as “taker of cities.” The name was first applied to a mobile tower constructed by Greeks to attack a city on Cyprus. This large movable tower mounted stone throwers and ballistas of different sizes, with the smallest at the top. Two hundred men pushed the tower up to the enemy walls using parallel beams extending out from its bottom. The larger weapons in the machines battered the walls while the smaller ones swept defenders off the walls in preparation for an assault.

The Helepolis is a Unique Siege Unit in Age of Empires Online.

  • Siege Unit. It becomes available in the Golden Age.
  • Effective against buildings and small group of units.
  • There are different versions of this unit available (Veteran, Master, Champion). These versions have better statistics than the normal version.
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Not necessarily a horse, a 5 years old riding a Shetland pony is still a cavalier :smile:


It would be a fun exercise to name the ingame units to more historically accurate names.

Eg. Militia swordsman ls 2hs m@a

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Man-at-arms => militia swordsman
Champion => man-at-arms (not entirely sure as man-at-arms was a general term for professional troops, but “zweihander” is far too german, while I assume the 2h sword used is a visual choice for late medieval polearms)
Cavalier => landed knight (a knight owning a fief instead of only having the nobility title, the revenue from his land allowing him to afford better gear)
Scorpion => springald (used in AOE4)
Heavy scorpion => heavy springald
Onager => heavy mangonel
Siege onager => siege mangonel
Bombard cannon => bombard
Galleon => war cog
Cannon galleon => bombard cog
ECG => cannon cog

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I think it would be a good idea to remove all reference to swords in the naming, in case the devs finally decide to give regional skins to units. I could easily imagine the Mesoamerican militia line using macahuitl or other club weapons and the central european one using axes.

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Functionally a macahuitl is still a sword, adapted to use obsidian instead of bronze or steel. What is a sword if not a club sharpened on most of its length ?

But alright…

Current man-at-arms => militia infantryman
Long swordsman => shield infantryman
2h-swordsman => 2h-infantryman


One thing Age 4 did it right is making the militia line armored with shield until the last age. (and resistent to archer) And then you have specialized Two Hand weapons soldiers.

Age 2 you have your soldiers with shields magically drop them and getting better armor in the last upgrades.


The 2HS and champion look more armoured than the longsword, which makes sense, you would keep a shield at the expense of the extra power of a 2h weapon, so long that your armour isn’t reliable enough against missiles. A good chainmail may be enough against most bows, but if the enemy has longbows or crossbows, then you need plate.

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When armour is good enough there’s no need for a shield. One of the reasons why heavy two handed polearms became popular in late Middle Ages.

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The devs of Ensemble Studio had a good understanding of how weapons worked, even if how units are named is sometimes questionable.

Another example is in AOE1 : chariots are available in the Bronze Age while good cavalry is mainly in the Iron Age. It seemed weird as a kid, after all a chariot looks more complex than riding a horse. But it’s historical, chariots were used before riding horses, as horses need to be strong enough to carry a rider (the rule of thumb is : don’t exceed 20% of the weight of the horse), and it took a lot of time of selective breeding to get horses strong enough to carry an armoured rider. As for towing a chariot, if the chariot is designed correctly, most of the weight rests on the wheels.

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