A siege is the attack or a raid of a city or a fortress with aim of winning by wearing down the enemy, of their personnel, and cutting of the supply of weapons to them and denying their people foodstuffs. The medieval siege warfare was fought from the mid fifteenth century to the end of the eighteenth century. This paper seeks to explore the different methods used in defense during the late medieval warfare1.
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The medieval siege warfare was characterized by the use of weapons that had gunpowder. Gunpowder was mainly used in China and during this particular era, it gained popularity and now had spread to Europe. This characteristically changed the war tactics. The tactics however shifted between direct engagement and the siege tactic.
The enemy would be surrounded in his city or fortress and the attackers would block the supplies from reaching the population. These supplies included food, and additional artillery. The main aim of this method was to starve out the defenders.
The late medieval times witnessed the use of cannons. Cannons were used to attack the castles. The castles were built with tall walls. The weapons were heavy, large, and required a huge number of people to carry and operate. The use of castles with tall walls as defense mechanism became irrelevant immediately the siege cannons were invented.
The siege cannon largely gave a big advantage to the attacker and hence the eventual winner. Normally necessity is the mother of invention; new tactics had to be developed. The sloppy walls that actually were the opposite of the original design replaced the tall castles.
The sloppy walls then turned to being the new defense structures. This new development ultimately rendered the use of castles, which were quite thin, obsolete. The fortress was developed to replace the castles. They had thick and sloppy walls. Their strength was strong and they could withstand cannon fire hence they led to the reintroduction of the siege as a basic attack line2.
The Methods applied
The fighters during the medieval age applied different methods of defense. These methods kept changing depending on need. For example if the war required more men at the battle ground, if it was necessary to keep the fighters for longer periods at the battle fields and the development of technology which came along with urbanization. The siege tactics included the following.
This method was also referred to as sapping. This method of defense entailed digging of tunnels under and around the castles walls. The walls strengthened using wood, which were fixed onto it for reinforcement. These passageways would then be filled with combustible equipments and the military would set them on fire.
With the advent of gunpowder, the same gunpowder replaced the flammable materials. Gunpowder was more superior, lethal, caused more damage, and was therefore considered more effective. The use of mining would bring down the wall to the mine and therefore a gateway would be made. The attackers would this as an through way to attack their enemies.
The Artillery Bombardment
This was a simple but very cruel method. All the available machinery would be used to bring down the whole fortress. The system brought down everything and anything causing mayhem.
Use of siege engines
The siege engines were widely used and were comprised of very many categories. The categories included catapults, trebuchets, ballista, mangonel, battering ram, siege towers, and onager.
This was a very deadly weapon. It was used to fire heavy arrows. The weapon had the shape of a crossbow. Its strength was in its capacity to propel bows one by one and threw them if they were in groups. Initially, it was designed to throw large stones. It was later on, modified to throw arrows commonly referred to the bolts. This earned the ballista a nickname the bolt thrower. Its effectiveness was felt during close range shots.
A catapult was a modification of the ballista. It was therefore an offshoot of ballista. This category of a blockade steam engine was used to drive projectiles over a long distance. Whereas, the ballista was perfect at close range, a catapult was effective over long distances. The weakness experienced by using the ballista was eliminated using the catapult.
This type was less portable and hence it was easier to build them at the battleground. Building them at the war site was also influenced by their raw material. The raw material, which was wood, could easily be found at the battlefield. The catapults were categorized according to their varied ability to keep and release power energy for execution.
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The first type was the tensional catapult. This type utilized chains or an animal skin to heave the objects. This process involved pulling back the rope or the sinew under tension. The tension would then release the power to propel the projectile.
The next category of the project was called the torsion catapult. This type utilized torsion energy. It consisted of an arm with a bucket joined together using a rope. To it was a sling that held the missile. The category of the catapult applied the knowledge of gravity. A. member of this group was the Trebuchet.
The Battering Ram
These are among the very ancient weapons used in the medieval warfare alongside the Helipolis. The battering was used to break forcefully into the doors and walls of the castles. This would then cause a heavy impact that breaks it creating the way for the raiders. It would then be an avenue for accessing the enemy.
The logs were later improved by adding the wheels. Locomotion was then media easy; hence, the speed at which the enemy would be attacked was increased. The addition of the wheels however came along with the increase in the battering ram’s size. Chains that allowed it to swing held the ram. Further improvement covered the rooftop to prevent it from being burned in cases where the defenders responded. This protected the attackers too3.
Its sophistication was later enhanced by fixing rollers onto it. This increased its speed tremendously making it more lethal. To reduce its power of damage, defenders applied various options that ranged from putting obstacles on the way to obstruct its movement. They sometimes resorted to setting the machine on fire and sometimes they launched a counter attack before the attackers arrived at the fortress. These machines were greatly used by Alexander the Great to bring down the Roman Empire and Jerusalem.
Demetrius Paliocetres used this type of siege engine in Cyprus when the Salami’s were massacred. These weapons were among the oldest weapons. The structure of the Helipolis had nine sections. These sections were professionally divided in order to accommodate projectiles, large spears, and stones. Two hundred soldiers controlled it4. This method was effective because of its capacity of being wheeled forward. This could without the soldiers coming out to face the defenders.
Mangonel was another bludgeon that was utilized in throwing projectiles at citadel walls. The Mangonel had immense power to throw projectiles at longer distances. Its biggest weakness was its lack of precision. This weakness was reduced by the development of Trebuchet. The trebuchet was had better precision but was effective over short distances. The improvement had been effected but at the cost of distance.
The structure of the Mangonel had a sling held the held the projectile. The sling was however, multipurpose. It could throw anything touchable including stones, rocks, and even materials that were on fire. This weapon was funny in those attackers could throw dead bodies and carcasses of animals. Alexander the Great modified it and used it to cover his troops in battlefield.
As much as its accuracy was questionable, it happened to be the most famous weapon of the medieval age. Tone of the reasons for this was the ability of the attackers to use it to throw dead bodies. This was very unhygienic; it quickly spreads diseases that also happened to be a war tactic. The Mangonel was also very versatile and easy to move around5.
Its name originated from the way in which it executed its immense power. The movement was almost like a kicking action. It maintained its strength using the twisting ropes Onager had a very simple structure. It was made of frames that worked as a foundation. On the perpendicular frame was a hinge with a projecting beam. The mangonel improved to develop the Onager.
The Siege tower
This was a bludgeon utilized in the late medieval age with the main purpose of defending the soldiers in the battleground as they advanced towards the castle walls. The blockade tower had ramparts high enough to the stature of the castle walls and some even higher. This was to enable the attackers to shoot directly in to the fortress.
These weapons were however, only applied as the last resort after exhausting all the other war methods. This was because of its weight and size. This made it very cumbersome and time consuming to construct. This was also its greatest undoing. It allowed the defenders to spot it easily, hence making an easier target.
The infantry was also very popular during the medieval war era. The use of infantry was influenced by various factors. First among them was that the war kept becoming generally expensive to sustain. This aristocratic knight turned out to be only affordable to the nobles. Another reason that led to infantry increasingly becoming famous was the Back Death. This death swept across Europe in the fourteenth century. The death had devastating effect to both the population and resources.
Following the crusade war era, that required more men to be deployed to far of battle grounds, the cost of had escalated to almost unmanageable levels. It was felt that these deaths and costs could end up wiping out regimes. This played a great role to the rise of infantrymen. The group comprised of warriors, heavily armed, riding powerful horses that specially trained. The soldiers were well motivated. This worked almost in a perfect way against weak and poorly armed opposition6.
The initial workers to be recruited in the force commonly consisted of peasants and masses that were employed because of their low level of income in the pecking order of the feudal system. The system changed with urbanization. As opposed to the earlier recruits, who were uncivilized, lacked proper training and used crude weapons, those who were recruited during urbanization were specially trained and war skills.
This era was characterized by the rise of mercenaries who had specific loyalty; they could easily be hired by any medieval regime. It was during this period that the use of bodyguards by people who held higher positions in the society started. They also had troops to guard their homes. The increased need for fighters led to an expansion of the soldiers. The entry of the elite into infantry brought with salaries. The soldiers were now to be paid. This changed the methods of recruitment, organization and saw an increase in remuneration7.
The infantry applied three methods in the battlefields.
It was also referred to as the crown because of its method of surrounding the enemy in a circular manner putting the Calvary at the centre. Among the notable users were Alexander Flemings and the Scandinavians.
This tactic was very common during the medieval period. The lines used as defense lines were an improvement of the Shield walls that employed in the early days. Lines were found to be more effective because they could be used to form depths with a range of four to sixteen8.
This was a heavy force was very skilled especially in dividing into portions. Their tactics included the formation; they referred to as the manner of the shield. Wedge hammers were also applied in these formations. Another pattern employed here was the wedge of pikes to head their lineage.
It is evident from the methods of defense discussed above that the tactics kept improving. The regimes of medieval times kept developing new fighting and defense lines on need basis. The skills had to be developed because war was a common phenomenon. The modern war technology and the superior artillery applied today are a result of improvement on the medieval period techniques.
The medieval period witnessed new fighting skills developed and other methods that had earlier been used were rekindled. These weapons contributed a lot to the spread of war across Europe, Africa, and in some parts of Asia for example in China. The gunpowder for example, which was mainly used in China, became a better weapon of fighting in Europe.
These methods also led to the rise and fall of many other regimes. Alexander the Great for example became popular during this period, The Crusade war had these weapons applied at the same period.
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Karl, Friday. Samurai, Warfare and the State in Early Medieval Japan. New York: Routledge, 2004.
1Harper Christopher (Medieval Knighthood IV: Papers from the Fifth Strawberry Hill Conference 1990. New York: Boydell, 1992), p. 78.
2Karl Friday (Samurai, Warfare, and the State in Early Medieval Japan. New York: Routledge, 2004), p. 98.
3O’Connell Robert (Of Arms and Men: A History of War, Weapons, and Aggression. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1989), p. 112.
4 Bradford Broughton (Dictionary of Medieval Knighthood and Chivalry: Concepts and Terms. New York: Greenwood Press, 1986), p. 54.
5Kaeuper, Richard. Chivalry and Violence in Medieval Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.
Kaeuper Richard (Chivalry and Violence in Medieval Europe. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 3.
6 Gore Terry (Neglected Heroes: Leadership and War in the Early Medieval Period. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1995), p. 9.
7 Boutell Charles (Arms and Armour in Antiquity and the middle Ages: Also a Descriptive Notice of Modern Weapons. New York: Combined Books, 1996), p. 89.
8Keen Maurice (Medieval Warfare: A History. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999), p. 67.