What Were the Types of Sieges?

What Were the Types of Sieges?

As I understand it, there were two types of sieges. One was where the attacking army would "camp," surrounding the city, and let the defenders run out of food. An example was Ulysses S. Grant's siege of Vicksburg.

The other kind was where the attacking army would try to invade the city by breaching the walls, scaling them, or by tunneling under them (e.g. Grant's forces at St. Petersburg, Virginia, or Santa Anna at the Alamo).

What considerations would cause an attacking army to choose one kind of siege over the other?

Was one easier to defend against than the other?

I don't believe there is a separate name for either type of siege, they are both considered simply a siege. The whole point of a siege in general is to overtake the castle, and as you indicated, there are different means for going about doing this.

The considerations for choosing one over the other ultimately comes down to a basic function of time and resources. If you have plenty of resources (food, supplies, etc.) and are willing to wait them out, then a siege of starvation might be a viable option. This would ultimately resort in the lowest loss of life. The strategy is to simply outlast the defenders, who will have no way of replenishing their supplies because the attackers would have cut them off. The disadvantage of this is that it meant that you had to tie up a considerable number of men to keep the castle under siege. In the middle ages, a good portion of your army would have been peasants, and they were very likely to get bored and frustrated and longing for home, so this would be a risky tactic. In addition to that, it would become quite costly to keep paying for the supplies to provide for these troops, and before long the cost would become unreasonable.

The alternative, therefore, was to attack the castle by any means available to try to get it to fall. This would usually consist of a concentrated assault on one particular wall in an effort to either weaken the defenses there or overun them. The ultimate objective would be to breach the castle and either force the occupanst to surrender or simply kill them and be done with it. This option was much more common because it was more expedient.

Since each involves dramatically different conditions, its hard to say one would be easier to defend against than the other. The first option I listed would likely resort in a lower loss of life, so it might be preferred from a defensive position. As far as defending against an all out attack, it would really depend on what kind of castle you have and what resources you have within it. Some castles would be easy to defend because they were built to last, while others were mostly built for show, and therefore not easily defended.

In the 17th and 18th centuries, fortresses had changed from the medieval castle, and were designed for artillery and musket defense. A methodical siege technique evolved, primarily associated nowadays with Vauban. This involved digging saps and parallels, and setting up artillery positions in the parallels. Typically, the third parallel (trench roughly parallel to the fortress side), supported by saps (communicating trenches of a particular design), would try for a breach in the walls and an assault.

There were other techniques available. There was the blockade, an attempt to starve the defenders out. There was the escalade, in which the attackers rush forward with ladders, presumably at night, and hope not to be blown away by grapeshot and musket balls before they could scale the walls. There were attempts to enter the fortress by other means, such as a heavily loaded wagon that would have its wheels knocked off while blocking the gates.

Attacking a fortification is a risky proposition indeed and many soldier will die trying. So, softening the defenders could be done if you had the manpower to starve them out. The longer the siege, the more there was a chance of both sides would develop disease and one will have to either surrender or leave. Sieges were, generally, not a good idea as they would tie down the attacking army in one place, leaving the rest of the enemy forces a chance to regroup and continue the fight.

As to which was easier to use and which was easier to defend against, it all boils down to good generals.

Generals used both approaches, mostly whichever would give them the quickest victory -- no country has profited from prolonged warfare. Hannibal never could have siege Rome because he did not have the manpower and fleet he would have needed to force the city to surrender and he had no hope to storm it. Scipio at Carthagena used the storm the walls because he had to. Caesar used the wait at Alesia because he had to. Béziers was taken because of a blunder by the defenders. Constantinople fell because canon could be used to smash the city walls. Vauban created new fortifications that took gunpowder into considerations. The ligne Maginot was unbreakable but could easily be circumvented.

On February 28, 1993, some 80 agents from the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms (ATF) raided a religious compound at Mount Carmel, near Waco, Texas, after receiving reports that the Branch Davidians and their leader, David Koresh, were violating federal firearms regulations.

After four ATF agents and six Davidians were killed in the gun battle that followed, a cease-fire was arranged, and nearly 900 law enforcement officials eventually surrounded the compound, including hostage negotiators and rescue teams from the Federal Bureau of Investigation (FBI).

Reporters soon arrived on the scene as well, and the 51-day siege that followed would play out on TV screens and in newspaper headlines around the world. Despite some early negotiating successes—the Davidians sent about 2 dozen children out in exchange for food and other supplies—numerous children remained among those inside, many of them Koresh’s children with various women.

Siege Warfare

During classical antiquity and the medieval period, two armies rarely battled it out on the battlefield, instead resorting to siege warfare. This battling strategy consisted of an army surrounding a city or fortress with the intention of blocking the supply of food and trapping the people inside. Eventually, the defending army would be forced to surrender or face the attacking army on the battlefield. Since the city would usually be encircled by the attacking army, calling in reinforcements wouldn&rsquot work either. The solution was either starve to death or hope the army inside was tough enough to battle it out and win!

However, the besieged cities usually had a stock of reserved food and water, so the attacking army had plenty of time to wait before the action began. Some sieges have been known to last for months or even years for example, the siege of Drepana lasted 8 years, while the siege of Candia in the 17th century continued for almost 22 years!

An Illustration of the Siege of Lisbon. (Photo Credit : Roque Gameiro/Wikimedia Commons)

In siege warfare, the only things that normally stood between the two opposing armies were the thick city/fortress walls and the heavy wooden gates. The attacking army, apart from blocking the inflow of supplies, also regularly attacked these structural obstacles in an attempt to break through. The hardware that helped the attacking army in this effort to break through were called siege engines.

The earliest recorded use of a siege engine in the form of a battering ram dates back to 865-860 BC. The use of battering rams was followed by catapults and siege towers. However, siege engines had to wait another 500 years, until around 350 BC, to become a significant player in warfare. Philip II, followed by his son Alexander the Great, were the first to use siege engines on a broader scale. Some of the siege engines they built and used were simply mind-blowing, to say the least.

2. The onager

Torsion also powered the onager, a precursor of medieval catapults and mangonels that still hadn’t matched their power many centuries later.

It was a simple machine. Two frames, one horizontal and one vertical, provided the base and the resistance against which the firing arm was smashed. The firing arm was pulled down to the horizontal. Twisted ropes within the frame provided the tension that was released to shoot the arm back towards the vertical, where the vertical buffer would halt its progress helping to shoot its missile forward.

They more often used a sling shot to carry their deadly payload than a cup. A simple rock would do a lot of damage to ancient walls, but missiles could be coated with burning pitch or other unpleasant surprises.

One contemporary report records bombs – “clay balls with combustible substance in them” – being fired and exploding. Ammianus Marcellinus, himself a soldier, described the onager in action. He fought against the Germanic Alamanni and the Iranian Sassanids in his 4 th -century military career.

An onager is also a wild ass, which like this war machine had quite a kick.


The term "bombard" was first used to describe guns of any kind from the early to mid-14th century, but it was later applied primarily to large cannons during the 14th to 15th centuries. [2] Despite its strong association with large cannons, there is no standard size for bombards, and the term has been applied to cannons only a meter in length as well as cannons several meters long weighing up to 20 tonnes. [3]

The oldest representation of a bombard can be found in the Dazu Rock Carvings. In 1985, the Canadian historian Robin Yates was visiting Buddhist cave temples when he saw a sculpture on the wall depicting a demon firing a hand-held bombard. The sculpture was later dated to the early 12th century. [4]

Early bombards also include two Chinese c. 1377 cast-iron mortars weighing over 150 kg, each with 4 trunnions on their barrels. [5]

England certainly began using cannons in the early 14th century. Field artillery was deployed by King Edward III at the Battle of Crecy in 1346 but equipment which may have been an artillery piece was listed as captured on a French ship by the English, at Sluys, as early as 1340. Inverted 'keyhole' gun loops [6] at Bodiam Castle, Cooling Castle and Westgate Canterbury have all been identified as for firing heavy handguns. These defences are dated 1380–1385. Initially used as defensive weapons primitive bombards began to be used as siege weapons in the later 14th century. Henry IV, Henry V, and James II won battles with the use of bombards. Henry V captured Harfleur with bombards in 1415. King Henry's army later came under artillery fire at the Battle of Agincourt. James II destroyed many castles with his one and a half ton cannon named "The Lion". [1]

The French re-conquest of their kingdom from English control saw the use of considerable French artillery in the siege role. The French in this period preferred to avoid attacking English longbowmen in open battle and relied on siege and re-conquest by siege tactics. However the last battle of the Hundred Years' War saw English commander John Talbot lead an Anglo-Gascon army against dug-in French troops equipped with 300 pieces of artillery at the Battle of Castillion in 1453. The French camp had been laid out by ordnance officer Jean Bureau to maximise the French artillery arm. The Anglo-Gascons were shot to pieces and Talbot was eventually killed.

Most bombards started with the construction of a wooden core surrounded by iron bars. Then, iron hoops were driven over these bars in order to surround and cover them. The whole structure was then welded with a hammer while it was still hot at about 1300 °C (2350 °F) [ citation needed ] . The rings then subsequently cooled and formed over the bars to secure them. The last step was to incinerate the wooden core and to attach a one-piece cast. The complicated procedure required a highly skilled forge who could work quickly and precisely with a hammer. [1]

A notable example of a bombard is the large Mons Meg weapon, built around 1449 and used by King James II of Scotland. It was very powerful and used for bringing down castle walls. [7] The origins of the Mons Meg are not fully known but according to Philip the Good, Duke of Burgundy, it was his idea. It was ordered around 1449 and had similar construction to a typical bombard. [8] However, the Mons Meg was seldom used because of several factors. Mons Meg was capable of firing 180 kg (396 lb) shots and was one of the largest bombards in its time. It is now housed on public display at Edinburgh Castle.

A bombard with a bore of approximately 12 inches was found when the moat of Bodiam Castle, Kent, was drained. A muzzle-loader of hoop-and-stave construction, it is believed to be the oldest piece found in England and may be late 14th or very early 15th century. It was possibly dumped in the moat following an abortive siege at the castle during the Wars of the Roses. The original is now at the Royal Artillery Museum at Woolwich, but a copy has been on show at the castle for many years. The Star Gun Company has built a Bodiam Bombard replica while local newspapers report a replica was being fired at the castle for visitors during 2012. [9]

Other known 15th-century very large-calibre guns include the wrought-iron Pumhart von Steyr and Dulle Griet as well as the cast-bronze Faule Mette, Faule Grete, and Grose Bochse. The Tsar Cannon is a late 16th-century show-piece.

The Dardanelles Gun, built in the Ottoman Empire in 1464 by Munir Ali, with a weight of 18.6 t and a length of 518 cm, was capable of firing stone balls of up to 63 cm diameter. [10]

The Tsar Cannon, built in 1586 and today located on the grounds of the Moscow Kremlin, is the largest bombard ever built.

Eventually bombards were superseded by weapons using smaller calibre iron projectiles fired from longer barrels with more powerful gunpowder.

Catapult History: Here’s How Things Went Down

Catapult history dates back to 300 BC, but the most advanced catapults were created by the Greeks and the Romans. The sheer power of these siege weapons struck fear in the hearts of many enemies.

Catapult history dates back to 300 BC, but the most advanced catapults were created by the Greeks and the Romans. The sheer power of these siege weapons struck fear in the hearts of many enemies.

In medieval times, countries were constantly waging wars against one another, trying to establish their dominance. This was often decided on the basis of whose fortifications were more easily breachable than the others. While a lot of effort and planning went into building up the defenses and forts, an equal amount of effort was put into trying to come up with weaponry that would help tear down the enemy forts. The catapult was one such invention, that completely changed the course of many wars, and was often the decisive element that decided the fate of the strife. It still finds its place in modern warfare, although in a completely different form as compared to its predecessors.

What is a catapult?

Any device or machine that can propel a projectile (explosive or otherwise) over a distance is called a catapult. They were originally invented by the Greeks, and the name itself finds its origin in the Greek words kata (downwards) and pallō (hurl). Over the years, the catapult was redesigned and used in its different forms by many armies around the world. It was used in war, that dates back to as early as 399 BC. The great Leonardo Da Vinci too, came up with his own version of the catapult.

What are the types of catapults?

Down the years, the design of the catapult was further worked on, and each army had its own version of the same, each more deadlier and having a greater range than the previous one. Some of the most effective and widely used catapults are listed below –

Ballista – 3rd Century

Ballistas were giant crossbows, which worked on the same principle as their smaller cousins, the handheld crossbow. Although they were deadly accurate, ballistas weren’t too effective siege weapons, as they lacked the serious muscle power needed to knock down the enemy fortifications. Also, their limited mobility was another hindrance during war times, and they were often put together at the battlefield. These were widely used by the Romans and the Greeks towards the end of the third century.

Springald – 11th Century

An adaptation of the original ballista, the springald was believed to have originated in the Middle East and the Byzantine Empire. As opposed to other catapults, this was mainly used in a defensive role, within a fort, rather than on the battlefield. It was not as powerful as its other cousins, and was mainly used as an anti-personnel weapon at close range. It was mostly installed on the top of fortifications to ward off the enemies. As it wasn’t the most efficient of catapults, its use was restricted to a much smaller region.

Mangonel – 12th Century

Mangonels were a more powerful adaptation of the catapult. The name was derived from the Latin word manganon, which means ‘engine of war’. The design of the original ballista was modified, and the new machine was now able to hurl objects (mostly rocks and at times combustible materials packed together) over longer distances. The one major advantage that mangonels had over ballistas was that the force of gravity was used to its advantage (the missiles followed an arc, as opposed to a straight path followed by those from a ballista) and helped cause a lot more damage, using a lot lesser force. They were invented by the Romans, but were extensively modified and used by the French and the British.

Onager – 12th Century

The onager was an adaptation of the mangonel, and relied on torsional force to propel the missiles. This was a rather effective and powerful siege weapon, and was also very mobile, thanks to the wheels attached. The Romans used it widely for most of their sieges. The onager was a lot smaller than most other catapults used in battles, and needed just two people to operate it. Its firing range was however a lot lesser than the other siege weapons that were in use.

Trebuchet – 12th Century

Trebuchets were a refined version of mangonels, and focused on reducing human effort. The name finds its origin in the French word trébucher, which means ‘to throw over’. These were gigantic machines, which relied on using a counterweight to help generate the force to hurl heavy objects over considerable distances. They were amongst the most extensively used siege weapons, and were an integral part of armies around the world. The first trebuchets are believed to have been built by the Chinese, although the more effective counterweight trebuchets were used by the Byzantine emperor Alexios I Komnenos.

Couillard – 14th Century

A smaller version of the trebuchet, the couillard was a lot easier to operate and needed just about 10 people to operate it. It was built on the same counterweight principle as its much bigger cousin, but unlike the trebuchet, it had just one support. It was used for smaller sieges, and had a much smaller firing range. It is believed to be a French creation, and was often used to complement the bigger siege weapons.

Through most of the medieval times, there were various adaptations of the catapult, in different shapes and sizes. Although the use of the catapult in its original form might have become obsolete, the same principle is still very much in use, and is in fact used to propel fighter planes off aircraft carriers. Even one of the children’s favorite characters from yesteryear, Dennis the Menace, always relied on his slingshot (another catapult) for most of his unintended pranks.

What Were the Types of Sieges? - History

A castle was a well fortified building and when the gates were shut and the drawbridge was raised it was a very difficult place for attackers to get into. Medieval soldiers employed many tactics in their attempts to breach a castle's defences. The term siege is defined as the action employed by an army of surrounding a fortified location cutting its inhabitants off from escape or resupply while being attacked.

The attackers, or besiegers, had several types of siege engines that they used in their attempts to break into a castle, but even with the strongest engine a siege could last months. The attackers sometimes had to wait until the defenders in the castle had run out of supplies and surrendered the castle.

The besieging army had to protect itself from attacks from the castle's inhabitants and possibly their supporters outside the castle. It was common for the besiegers to construct two lines of defence around the castle. The first line of defences was built between the besiegers and the castle and was known as the circumvallation. The second line, known as the contravallation, was built around the besiegers so that they were surrounded by defensive walls. Both lines of defence consisted of earth banks and wooden palisades. There was a danger that the besiegers themselves would be besieged within their fortifications. Within these lines the besiegers set up their camps and built their siege engines.

This was the largest of all siege engines. It was designed to throw large rocks and missiles at castle walls to destroy them. Trebuchets came in many shapes and sizes, some having wheels so they could be moved around the siege landscape. Trebuchets were built as kits that could be assembled and disassembled and transported in sections to where they were needed. All the pieces slotted together and were fixed with wooden or metal pegs.

The siege towers or belfry was designed to allow attackers to get up over the top of castle walls. The tower had wheels so that it could be pushed up to the castle walls and a drawbridge at the top would be lowered when the tower was in place. To protect the tower from fire it would have been covered with animal hides.

The battering ram was used to destroy the gates or walls of a castle. It would be hidden under a wooden roof to protect the men who controlled it and mounted on wheels so that it could be moved into position.

The cat or sow was a wooden shed mounted on wheels. It had a wooden roof angled so that missiles would bounce off and was covered in animal hides to protect it from fire. The cat would be moved up to the castle with men inside safe from attack from the castles walls. This siege machine was used when a section of the moat needed filling in so that a siege tower could be moved into position. It could also be moved right up to the castle so that the men inside could hack away at the walls in an attempt to weaken them.

The mangonel was another siege engine that propelled boulders. It had a throwing arm like the trebuchet but worked on a different principal. The arm was slotted through rope so that when the arm was lowered the rope twisted and provided enough energy to make the arm spring back when released.

Explore a landscape showing different kinds of siege engine, including the trebuchet, siege tower and battering ram.

Trebuchet Game (Beta Version)

Take control of a medieval trebuchet to destroy the enemy castle and capture their flag.

  • Click the trebuchet or press the space bar to launch the projectile.
  • To get the best result wait for the basket to swing back to the left.
  • The trebuchet will reload automatically after each shot.
  • The game have been tested on desktop IE10, IE11, Chrome and Firefox. It may not work on mobile or other browsers.
  • This game in under development and will be improved at a later date.

Undermining and defending against it

It was possible to destroy castle walls from above the ground using trebuchets and mangonels but it was also possible to bring castle walls crashing down from beneath the ground. The besiegers employed skilled miners who could construct tunnels starting from their camps and ending beneath the castle walls. Under a section of wall the miners would remove the foundation stones replacing them with wooden props. Once enough of the wall had been removed a fire was lit beneath the wooden props and the miners left the mine. When the props burnt through there was nothing holding the castle wall up and it would collapse. The corners of square castles were the weakest part of the construction and this is where the miners would aim to tunnel beneath.

Undermining and defending against it

Tactics to counteract undermining

  • The castle's defenders used a tactic called countermining. This involved digging a tunnel from within the castle to intercept the attackers mine and kill the enemy miners.
  • Castle designers added buttresses and extra projections extending from the walls of the castle. These gave the walls a larger foot print and made them more difficult to undermine.
  • Removing sharp angles from castle designs helped reduce the weak points. Polygonal and round castles were the result of this change in design.

Medieval Warfare: How to Capture a Castle with Siegecraft

The present-day notion of medieval warfare is of longbowmen standing shoulder to shoulder loosing arrows and knights charging across open fields before engaging in brutal hand-to-hand battle. Hastings, Bannockburn, and Agincourt come to mind. Such battles, however, were the exception, for during the Middle Ages warfare was a much more complicated affair that more often than not involved siegecraft.

After his 1066 victory at Hastings, William the Conqueror initiated a massive castle-building program in England that was instrumental in completing the Normans’ subjugation of the Anglo-Saxons. Throughout medieval Europe and the Middle East, the castle functioned as a private fortress that, among its other roles, physically–and symbolically–proclaimed the status and strength of its lord to all comers, friend or foe. Even the simplest earth and timber motte and bailey castle, used to great effect by the Norman kings of England, validated the power of the conquering force.

During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, castles evolved into powerful fortresses capable of defying intensive assaults. At the same time, in order to combat strengthened castle defenses, siegecraft developed. By the late Middle Ages, few major campaigns took place without at least one castle siege. Indeed, while battles such as Crcy (1346) have gleaned all the glory, it was not until the siege of Calais in the following year that the English made significant progress in their fight against France. The successful castle siege skillfully combined sophisticated science with specific standards of conduct known to, but not always practiced by, the participants. Ultimately, the siege dominated medieval warfare for at least as long as the castle dominated the social and political order of the day.

Besieging a castle was a much more complicated affair than simply ‘rushing into the breach,’ as Shakespeare’s Henry V exhorted his troops before the 1415 siege of Harfleur. Sieges, likewise, involved much more than bombarding a fortress until either the garrison surrendered or the defenses were overcome. In fact the medieval siege was a complex, highly choreographed process that ended with a castle assault only when other tactics had failed to force a surrender. Besieging a castle involved assembling and paying an army, gathering supplies, and hauling them to the siege site. Because the costs were so high, military leaders normally did not rush into a siege. Indeed, if a besieging army lost too many men in an initial onslaught, it was often forced to retreat or give up the siege entirely. If it was successful enough to gain control of the castle, the army’s now-weakened troops might not be capable of repulsing a renewed attack by forces sent to relieve the garrison. Consequently, the full-out siege was normally a last resort, unless, of course, the attacking king or lord had a particular investment in breaking his opponent.

Early medieval sieges were generally directed against towns or major cities, which were often fortified, rather than at individual castles. As castle sieges became more commonplace, besiegers devised methods to overcome increasingly complex defenses. Until about 1100, tactics mainly consisted of using firepower to break through the castle’s physical defenses or of starving out the defenders by blockade. During the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, siege warfare became increasingly sophisticated, and by the mid-fourteenth century enormous timber war machines had become the mainstay of virtually every investment. At the same time, specific conventions for conducting a siege were well established. The most practiced soldiers followed traditional protocol, which encouraged honorable negotiation and surrender before an attacker pummeled the garrison into submission.

Commanders first had to devise an overall strategy for taking the castle. They had to consider from where in the realm the best archers, skilled carpenters, blacksmiths, sappers, and engineers could be drawn. If a king was contemplating launching a siege, he would consider which lords owed him knights’ service and how many men-at-arms they would provide (knights normally were obligated to serve for forty days during the course of a year). Other considerations included how much timber, lead, tools, nails, food, drink, livestock, and other provisions were required for the duration of the siege and where they could be acquired.

The preparations undertaken prior to the 1224 siege of Bedford Castle by Hubert de Burgh for King Henry III provide a case in point. First, the archbishop of Canterbury, the king’s advocate, excommunicated the castle’s garrison, hoping to demoralize the defenders into surrendering. In the meantime, the besiegers began to assemble vital materials, laborers (including miners, carpenters, and masons), knights, and other fighters. Among the items required for the siege were iron, hides, charcoal, leather, and some nineteen thousand crossbow quarrels. The king ordered protective screens, bolts, hammers, mallets, wedges, tents, wax, and a variety of spices. He also made sure that several siege engines were readied and that gynours, or gunners, were on hand to operate the machines.

The most satisfying way to successfully conclude a battle was without fighting. Indeed, many more sieges were settled by negotiation, bribery, or forms of intimidation than open warfare. Given the huge effort involved in coordinating a siege and assembling an army, potential besiegers made at least cursory efforts to convince the garrison, the constable, or the lord of the castle to surrender peaceably.

Surrender under honorable terms was a common way out of a siege. In many cases, the besiegers allowed the defenders a period of time, ranging from a week to forty days, to decide whether or not to give in. Truces effectively delayed a full-blown assault, so that the constable could contact his lord for directions on how to handle the situation or to gain assistance at the castle. Lengthy truces could also lead to the deterioration of the attacking army, particularly when knights’ forty-day service obligations neared completion and no reinforcements showed up to replace them. If members of a beleaguered garrison knew they had enough food and drink to carry them at least forty days or had notice that relief was on its way, they knew they might survive the investment. Truces also gave the defenders time to construct their own siege engines, shore up their defenses, and build wooden hoards, or fighting platforms, on the battlements.

If the garrison refused surrender demands, the siege began with an overt act by the attackers, a symbolic sign of intent. At the siege of Rhodes in 1480, for example, Muslim forces hoisted a black flag to warn their opponents that they would attack. At times, attackers threw javelins or shot crossbow bolts at the castle gateway to signal their intentions. On occasion, siege engines hurled missiles. By the late Middle Ages, cannon fire signaled the beginning of sieges.

When a garrison refused to surrender, the balance of besieging forces would trek to the siege site, set up their encampment, and construct some basic defenses of their own not too far from the castle’s walls. Engineers would also begin erecting bulky, intimidating siege engines. Other soldiers fomented dissent in the surrounding countryside in an effort to recruit supporters and seize control of crops and other resources–assuming landowners and peasants had not already torched them. It was common for inhabitants of an area to use a’scorched earth’ policy to sabotage an impending siege. After gathering food, livestock, and other items for their own use, they intentionally burned their own lands to prevent the enemy from gaining any benefit from them. Often the resulting famine left the besiegers no alternative but to retreat.

In order to ease access to the castle, attackers might first fill the strongpoint’s surrounding dry ditch or wet moat with tree branches, gorse, heather, loose earth, or whatever else was available. Alternatively, they might sail a barge to the base of the castle’s outer, or curtain, wall. Once the ditch could be crossed or the moat forded, the initial offensive could proceed rapidly. Often relatively light, the early assault primarily featured an escalade–an attempt to scale the curtain wall by ladders. The key to an escalade was for the attackers to climb the ladders as quickly as possible, leap onto the battlements, and begin fighting the defenders. During this effort, archers, crossbowmen, and slingers outside the castle provided protective fire for their comrades while shielding themselves behind screens known as pavises. The onrush would take place at several spots along the curtain wall in hopes of splitting up the garrison, diverting attention, and gaining access at whatever point might weaken.

At the same time, the besiegers assaulted the main gate’s heavy timber doors and attempted to set afire any timber rooftops shielding castle towers. They might also begin hammering the masonry defenses with picks, iron bars, and other tools while protected inside a hide-covered timber-and-iron framework, known variously as a cat, rat, tortoise, or turtle, which had been wheeled to the castle wall. Of course, the defenders made every effort to thwart the escalade by shoving ladders away from the walls, shooting at the besiegers, and dropping stones, quicklime, or hot liquids upon them.

It took nimble, sure-footed, quick-thinking men to maneuver their weighty armor and weapons and scale the walls successfully. At the siege of Caen in 1346, Sir Edmund Springhouse slipped off a ladder and fell into the ditch. French soldiers overhead swiftly tossed flaming straw on top of the Englishman and burned him alive. During the siege of Smyrna, Turkey, also in the fourteenth century, one of the besiegers climbed halfway up a ladder. When he rested and took off his helmet to see how much farther he had to climb to reach the top, a crossbow bolt shot from the battlements hit him between the eyes, killing him.

If an escalade proved successful, the besiegers would chivalrously offer the garrison a final chance to surrender with honor or to call a temporary truce. On the other hand, when an escalade failed to make a serious dent in the defenses, the attackers intensified the onslaught. They also began constructing siegeworks or a siege castle, sometimes called a countercastle, in preparation for a prolonged conflict. Then they would man the era’s most destructive weapons–siege engines.

No two sieges were ever conducted in exactly the same way. How the operation developed depended on the strength, size, and resources of the attacking army the condition and complexity of the castle’s fortifications the fortress’ armory and supplies as well as the resolve of the besieged. An army might employ several different types of siege engines to bring down the battlements while also attempting to force surrender by other means.

Medieval siege engines originated in Greek, Roman, and ancient Chinese warfare. Archimedes was responsible for advancing siege technology, which the Greeks had introduced before the fourth century b.c. The renowned mathematician and engineer developed several engines as early as 213 b.c., when the Greeks fought the Romans at the siege of Syracuse. His prototypical petrariae, great stone-throwing engines, were copied and modified by the Romans and later used throughout the medieval world.

The Romans bequeathed two important siege engines to medieval warfare. The onager, meaning wild ass, consisted of a heavy timber trestle mounted midway on a horizontal timber frame, and it hurled a missile in an overhead arc, rather like a child flinging peas with a spoon. When fired, the engine’s rear kicked upward–hence the descriptive name. The onager’s medieval counterpart, a mangonel, employed a long timber arm or beam held in place by skeins of tightly twisted rope stretched between two sides of the frame. Gunners would ratchet back the arm and place a large stone or incendiary device in the scoop at its end. When the firing arm was released, the projectile would arc out to a range of up to five hundred yards.

Despite the inherent inaccuracy of this torsion-powered machine, which is sometimes called a catapult, the mangonel could effectively break through stone walls or knock down a castle’s battlements. Mangonels were occasionally used to hurl dead carcasses over battlements in an effort to spread disease among the castle defenders. In response, defenders sometimes used their own siege engines to toss back one of the besiegers–if they had managed to capture one during the escalade or during a raid outside the castle–or a messenger who carried unacceptable surrender terms.

Used in battle across Europe and the Holy Land, mangonels saw action when the Vikings besieged Paris in 885, at the 1191 siege of Acre, and at the 1203-4 siege of Chteau Gaillard. Mangonels were also on hand in 1216, when France’s Prince Louis besieged mighty Dover Castle, on England’s southeastern coast. Despite Louis’ greatest efforts, which included a battery of siege engines, he failed to breach Dover’s formidable defenses.

The Romans modified the modest Greek siege engine known as the scorpion into a horrific dart-firing machine called the ballista, which was later used during the Middle Ages. Like the mangonel, the ballista was powered by twisted skeins of rope, hair, or sinew. But, instead of firing its missiles in an overhead arc, the ballista loosed heavy stones, bolts, and spears along a flat trajectory. Easy to fire accurately, smaller ballistas were effective anti-personnel weapons that could skewer warriors to trees, while large versions could send a sixty-pound stone at least four hundred yards.

A variant of the ballista was a tension-driven device called the springald, which closely resembled a crossbow in function. Used to fire javelins or large bolts, it had a vertical springboard fixed at its lower end to a timber framework. Soldiers manually retracted the board, which moved like a lever. When released, the springboard smacked the end of the projectile, propelling it toward its target. Springalds also made excellent defensive weapons. At Chepstow Castle in Wales, Roger Bigod mounted four springalds on the corners of the great keep to hold the enemy at bay. Although the springalds no longer survive, the platforms on which they stood during the late thirteenth century are still visible.

While their comrades busily managed the siege machines, other besiegers used battering rams or bores (chisellike poles) to pound the main gateway and crash through the walls. Rather than simply grabbing a giant log and repeatedly thrusting it at castle gates or stone walls until they broke through, medieval soldiers did their ramming from inside a timber framework called a penthouse or pentise. Used in warfare as early as the sixth century, rams and bores were often pointed and iron-tipped for added effect, and were sometimes shaped, not surprisingly, as rams’ heads. The ram or bore was suspended by chains or ropes from the penthouse ceiling so that the operators, sometimes scores of men, could swing the beam rhythmically and pound the walls into submission.

The movable penthouse consisted of a lanky timber gallery covered with a pointed roof, cloaked with wet hides to prevent burning, and braced with iron plates to deflect missiles dropped by the defenders overhead. The attackers used rollers, levers, ropes, pulleys, and winches to maneuver the penthouse into place at the base of the castle wall. They then removed the wheels to stabilize the structure.

Rams were most effective against timber defenses, particularly the heavy oak doors barricading most main gates. Against stone fortifications, they worked best when battering corners. Defenders would counter by using hook-ended ropes to grab the ram and overturn the penthouse or by swinging beams on pulleys to smash the timber cat as it approached the castle. Popular during the Crusades, battering rams were effectively employed in 1191 at Acre, a walled city with a formidable citadel. They became obsolete once the most powerful siege engine of all–the trebuchet–began to dominate European sieges.

The terrible trebuchet was the mother of all stone-throwing siege engines. A purely medieval invention, the giant counterweight-powered machine struck fear into the hearts of many garrisons. Considerable question exists about the trebuchet’s origins. Peter Vemming Hansen, director of the Medieval Centre in Denmark, argues that the first trebuchets arrived in the Nordic countries by way of northern Germany and may have been used by the Vikings as early as a.d. 873. He states that the first trebuchet arrived in Denmark as early as 1134 and emphasizes that the counterweight engine was definitely a Western invention that spread eastward.

Trebuchet may derive from the Old French word, trabucher, which means to overturn or fall, and probably described the action of the timber beam that falls over its pivot. The word made its first appearance in the account of the siege of Castelnuovo Bocca d’Adda written by Johannes Codagnellus in the late twelfth century. According to the Chanson de la Croisadde Albigeoise, Simon de Montfort used a ‘trabuquet’ against Castelnaudary in 1211, destroying a tower and the hall. Powered by a counterweight mechanism and able to accurately hit targets at a range of five hundred yards with missiles exceeding three hundred pounds in weight, the trebuchet’s ability to relentlessly pound a curtain wall until it broke open made the engine invaluable during a siege.

Engineers in seventh-century China may have perfected an early form of the trebuchet, the perrier–a traction trebuchet operated solely by men pulling down on ropes attached to a pivoting arm. Its medieval counterpart, however, effectively applied the principle of counterpoise and replaced manpower with a counterweight. Lead weights or a massive pivoting ballast box filled with stones, sand, or dirt–sometimes weighing as much as twenty tons–was fixed to one end of the engine’s arm, which could be up to sixty feet long. The other, longer end of the arm would be hauled down and a heavy stone placed in a leather pouch that was attached by two ropes to the beam’s end. When the arm was released, the force created by the falling weight propelled the long end upward and caused the missile to be flung slinglike toward a target. The same spot could be pummeled repeatedly, and range and aim could be adjusted. Eventually, the incessant pounding breached walls, killed personnel, or crushed siege engines defending the castle.

Counterweight trebuchets probably arrived in England when Prince Louis of France besieged Dover Castle during his near-successful invasion of England. In 1216 the French army first used a variety of techniques and weapons to try to breach the resistant castle walls. Then the two sides signed a truce in October, and Louis moved most of his troops to London. After the English garrison broke the truce, killed many of the French soldiers posted outside the castle, and interfered with the movement of troops and supplies, the prince returned to Dover, which he again besieged. The following May, he used a trebuchet, but it proved ineffective. After the defeat of the French fleet in August 1217, the prince gave up his ambitions for the English throne. Despite the losses and his retreat back to France, Louis left an important legacy in England: new technology that not only changed how sieges were conducted but also influenced the design of castle defenses.The trebuchet was also useful for flinging all sorts of projectiles over the curtain walls to create mayhem. In 1346 outside Kaffa, on the Crimean Peninsula, an unknown but virulent disease savaged a besieging Mongol-Tartar army. Hoping to likewise weaken their enemies, the Asian warriors used a trebuchet to toss the diseased bodies of their dead comrades at the Genoese army, which held the major port and cathedral city. The Italian soldiers then unwittingly carried the mysterious disease–later known as the Black Death–back to their homeland, and it subsequently devastated Europe.

Trebuchets also hurled incendiary devices, including flaming missiles, casks of burning tar, and pots of Greek fire, a particularly nasty concoction whose ingredients included saltpeter and sulfur. The fiery substance stuck like glue to almost any surface and was nearly impossible to extinguish, except with sand, salt, or urine–water only fanned the flames. In twelfth-century medieval France, Count Geoffrey V of Anjou used a siege engine to hurl a heated iron jar filled with Greek fire at the castle of Montreuil-Bellay, which promptly fell after having endured a three-year siege.

England’s Edward I, a master of siegecraft as well as castle building, was particularly fond of the trebuchet and used it and other siege engines against castles in Scotland, Wales, and France in the late thirteenth and early fourteenth centuries. In 1304 Edward I assaulted Scotland’s Stirling Castle using thirteen siege engines, including a springald, a battering ram, and an enormous trebuchet named Warwolf, which, when disassembled, filled thirty wagons. According to Michael Prestwich, who has written extensively on the reign of Edward I, historic documents indicate that the construction of the giant trebuchet took five master carpenters and forty-nine other laborers at least three months to complete. A contemporary account of the siege states, ‘During this business the king had carpenters construct a fearful engine called the Warwolf, and this when it threw, brought down the whole wall.’

Even before construction could be completed, the sight of the giant engine so intimidated the Scots that they tried to surrender. Edward, declaring, ‘You don’t deserve any grace, but must surrender to my will,’ decided to carry on with the siege and witness for himself the power of the masterful weapon. The Warwolf accurately hurled missiles weighing as much as three hundred pounds and leveled a large section of the curtain wall.

In 1300 Edward had besieged Caerlaverock Castle. Located in the Scottish Borders about three miles from Dumfries, the castle of the Lords Maxwell posed a formidable obstacle to the king’s plans to control Scotland. In a contemporary poem titled ‘The Song of Caerlaverock,’ Walter of Exeter, a Franciscan friar, chronicled the entire event, from the gathering of troops and materials for the siege train to the assault with siege engines. Originally composed in French, the work remains an invaluable record of the tactics and technology involved in conducting a castle siege.

According to Walter, ‘Caerlaverock was so strong a castle that it feared no siege before the King came there, for it would never have had to surrender, provided that it was well supplied, when the need arose, with men, engines and provisions.’ Edward required all of England’s noblemen who owed knights’ service or held property in his name to assemble at Carlisle, in the northwestern corner of the country. He commissioned Brother Robert of Ulm as his master mason, and a variety of specialist laborers to construct a cat, battering ram, belfry, springalds, and robinets (probably trebuchets). Edward also stockpiled large stones, timber, bolts, animal hides, and tools. Ships hauled in supplies by sea, while the siege train journeyed northward to the castle.

Once at their destination, the English army set up camp, erected tents and huts, stabled the horses, and foraged in the surrounding countryside for timber and other resources. Then they laid siege to the Scottish castle. English and Breton soldiers toting small arms charged the castle walls while siege engines began their assault. Despite suffering several deaths, the garrison remained defiant, and the siege continued for some twenty-four hours. Finally, the siege engines breached the curtain wall. Waving a white flag, the Scots first requested a truce to discuss terms, but their spokesman was killed by an arrow, and they soon surrendered. The English ended the siege by formally taking over the castle and flying the king’s standard. The garrison had amounted to only sixty men, whose fates varied from reprieve to hanging.

If a castle was strong enough to withstand the pounding of siege engines and if the garrison refused to surrender, the commander of the besieging army still had several options. He could employ sappers to dig tunnels underneath castle walls and towers. Once the miners reached their destination, they filled the tunnel, sometimes called a sap, with tar-soaked beams, branches, and other flammable material that was set on fire. If things went according to plan and the flames consumed the timber props inside, the tunnel would collapse, as well as the tower or section of wall overhead. Besiegers would then storm through the breach.

Undermining was not without risks, and miners were sometimes killed when a tunnel collapsed too early. Yet the technique was an effective tactic and resulted in the capture of formidable fortresses. In late 1215, England’s King John besieged Rochester Castle, which was held by a group of rebellious barons led by William d’Albini. For almost seven weeks John used five siege engines to pound away at the powerful stronghold, but he failed to take the castle from the well-supplied and well-armed defenders. The king then turned to his miners.

First the sappers managed to breach the outer wall, and John’s troops rushed into the bailey. In response, the rebels retreated to the protection of the great keep, which was one of the strongest in the kingdom. John’s sappers were soon undermining the southeastern corner of the huge rectangular structure and filling the tunnel with the usual flammable items.

Meanwhile, to ensure the keep’s demise, King John ordered his justiciary, Hubert de Burgh, to send ‘with all speed by day and night forty of the fattest pigs of the sort least good for eating.’ After the king had the swine killed, his sappers packed the tunnel with their carcasses. The subsequent fire burned so hot that the keep’s foundations cracked, and the corner and a portion of wall fell outward. The rebels still refused to yield and retreated to the opposite side of the keep, which was divided by a sturdy cross wall into two separate, self-sufficient areas. John then waited out the barons, who finally surrendered due to fatigue and hunger. When repaired, the new angle of the keep sported a more modern round turret.

During the late stages of a prolonged siege, attackers would often make use of one last great engine–the siege tower, or belfry. It was a multipurpose machine that would be rolled to the battlements of a castle so that the men secreted inside could climb onto the walls or operate weapons, such as battering rams and mangonels, from close-range positions of relative safety. Bringing a siege tower into the fray was an expensive prospect and required advance planning, plenty of building materials, skilled craftsmen, and enough soldiers to move the engine as close to the castle as possible. Sometimes disassembled belfries were transported to the siege and only assembled when absolutely necessary, for it could take several weeks to put the engine together. Only the wealthiest noblemen could afford to construct siege towers.

The wheeled wooden tower normally stood at least three stories high. Near the top, a strategically placed drawbridge lowered to allow the attackers to scramble onto the battlements. Some belfries rose well over ninety feet and were crowned with a mangonel or ballista. To protect the belfry from fire and the men inside from being shot, animal hides soaked in mud and vinegar covered the framework. On rare occasions, iron plates also offered protection. The mechanism itself might carry scores of soldiers, who climbed ladders to move between levels. A belfry at the 1266 siege of Kenilworth Castle held two hundred archers and eleven siege engines.

Moving the belfry into position was no mean feat. Attackers first had to ensure that the moat or ditch was filled in and the ground relatively smooth. Then strong, persistent men–and sometimes oxen–hauled the unstable, heavy tower into place at the foot of a curtain wall. Windy weather posed problems, and the large, slow-moving belfry was vulnerable to fire from castle siege engines, as well as archers and crossbowmen.

Each man assigned to a siege engine had a particular role to play. Some were responsible for moving the clumsy structure into place others stood poised with containers of water to keep fires at bay. The ground level of a belfry often featured a ram, which swung on ropes or chains from the ceiling. Sappers might dig at the castle foundations from inside the tower. Archers, crossbowmen, gunners, and armored knights manned upper levels, firing at the castle defenders while waiting to pounce upon them when the drawbridge dropped onto the curtain wall.

During the 1224 siege of Bedford Castle, Henry III employed two enormous belfries to tower over the battlements and shelter archers firing at the garrison. The castle must have been a formidable foe to precipitate such an extensive and expensive undertaking. After it was captured, the king ordered the complete demolition of the fortress.

Given the destructive power of siege engines, the devastation that mining could cause, and the determination of the attacking army, one would expect a breach in the castle’s walls or the surrender of the garrison during the later stages of a siege. But as often as not, the besiegers had to resort to a final tactic to force capitulation. With the attackers already in place around the castle, and much of the land scorched, the likelihood was poor at best that reinforcements and additional supplies would safely reach the besieged. Attackers could then attempt to starve out the garrison.

Of course, this wait-them-out approach could come early in a siege, if the attackers believed the garrison had few resources with which to defend themselves. Then a blockade might save lives on both sides of the fight, while also conserving the resources available to the besiegers if they decided to push ahead with a full-scale assault. Sometimes garrisons held out for months during blockades and forced the besiegers to retreat when their supplies ran out or disease became a problem.

Occasionally, a castle’s constable might concoct shrewd displays to induce an attacking commander to abandon his plans and move on. In 1096 at Pembroke Castle in Wales, Gerald de Windsor ordered that the garrison’s four remaining hogs be cut up and thrown over the curtain wall, creatively convincing his Welsh enemies that his stronghold was fully stocked. His actions suggested to the attackers that the castle was so filled with food that the men inside could resist a siege indefinitely. In fact, the garrison was on the verge of starvation, but Gerald’s plan intimidated the Welsh into a speedy retreat.

When a garrison finally gave in, the men often symbolically signaled the besiegers of their intent to surrender. Many sieges ended with the waving of a white flag or the handing over of castle keys to the leader of the attacking force. Negotiations would then begin to ensure the safety of the garrison or of any important individuals remaining in the castle. For example, in 1326 John Felton, constable of Caerphilly Castle in Wales, withstood a four-month siege led by William, lord Zouche, in the name of Queen Isabella. While the castle ably withstood the battering, Felton began negotiating a pardon for himself and Hugh le Despenser II, boy heir to the lordship of Glamorgan. In March 1327, Felton obtained amnesty and surrendered the castle and its provisions.

As soon as a garrison surrendered, arrangements were made for the movement of captives and the payment of ransom, and the victors were expected to keep up their side of the bargain. A variety of solutions might be debated, including banishment, relinquishment of all personal property, or the symbolic humiliation of the captives, which included parading them barefoot. Not surprisingly, defeated leaders were often imprisoned or swiftly and brutally executed.

In the thirteenth century, cannons, or bombards, began to appear in medieval warfare. It was not until the late fourteenth century that cannons were developed to the point that they began to replace timber engines as the preferred siege machine. By 1415, when Henry V besieged Harfleur, the king’s favored weapon was the cannon, the fire from which devastated the castle’s barbican to the point that the English could then torch the castle and force the French garrison’s surrender.

In response to changing technology, castle-builders devised sturdier defenses to thwart the bombards, as at Craignethan Castle in Scotland, where low, thick bastion walls with cannon loops were added in 1530. As the construction of new castles waned, Henrician gun forts–Henry VIII’s so-called Italian ‘Device’ forts, armed with clustered circular batteries of heavy artillery that eased cannon positioning–began to take their place. Despite these developments, besieging armies continued to adhere to the conventions of warfare established centuries earlier.

Like the timber siege engines, in time the castle became obsolete, not just as a weapon in the medieval arsenal but also as a formidable residence. Yet castles continued to serve a military function until well into the seventeenth century, when they thwarted the efforts of Parliament to defeat King Charles I. As late as World War II, Dover Castle was still considered to have strategic value to the British army and was used by Churchill and his compatriots in the battle against Germany. While castles and trebuchets no longer play a critical role in the military theater, the conventions of siege warfare still guide the efforts of military strategists around the world.

This article was written by Lise Hull and originally published in the Spring 2004 edition of MHQ.

What Were the Types of Sieges? - History

The Sieging of Castles (Siege Warfare)

Over the centuries many different techniques were employed to siege castles. Here were some of the simpler (less technological) ways that castles were sieged. These techniques were used more often in the early centuries of castles. As technology improved and siege engines were developed the engines were more often used because they were quicker to bring about the fall of the castle.

Interested in Learning about one of the most famous castle sieges of all times? This was the siege of Richard the Lion Hearted Castles

  1. Deception: Spies were used to infiltrate the castle. They could, at night, open the castle gates or wreak havoc on the interior defenses of the castle. The most famous case of this tactic is the Trojan Horse.
  2. Treachery: Someone trusted within the power structure of the castle could give misleading information that would bring down the castle. He could for example report that there were many more troops sieging the castle than there actually were. This would induce the castle residents to either revolt or surrender out of fear.
  3. Starvation: This was a method used but it often meant many months, sometimes even a year or more. The sieging army would station itself around the castle and not allow any form of commerce. Eventually the inhabitants would surrender due to imminent starvation.
  4. Biological warfare: Yep that's right. A sieging force could launch the remains of rotting corpses into the castle causing outbreaks of life-threatening illness.
  5. Simple storm: The sieging force could carry on an all out attack at various points of the castle. This overwhelming would hopefully break through in some places causing a collapse in defenses.
  6. Mining: The sieging army would actually dig tunnels under the castle. The hope was not so much for an entry into the castle but for a way to collapse the castle defenses.

The Siege Arms Race - Castles, and how they were sieged developed over the centuries in a medieval style arms race. All of the siege tactics shown above were replaced by large medieval weapons. These weapons could bring down the fortress walls quickly and efficiently. But castles too adapted by building stronger, taller, and thicker walls. They even used concentric walls with walls inside walls. Once the art of explosives developed reasonably well and artillery became accurate and reliable castles fell out of favor in that they could not provide adequate defense. The castles then became more of a fortified place for royalty to live. NOVA: Medieval Siege

Technological Ways that Castles were sieged: Of course we are all familiar with some of the machinery that was used to siege a castle. Here is an overview of some of these machines of mass destruction.

Some of the Means of Sieging a Castle

Catapults - A catapult was a large machine used to throw objects, often rocks, arrows, pots of fire, or even spears, at a castle. This would destroy the castle walls and buildings. When we think of a catapult the one shown here is what we envision. But more often than not the catapults used for sieging didn't have the cup that you put the thrown object into. They usually had a sling. This sling could generate more force and throw the object further with more accuracy. This sling effect was later developed into the Trebuchet. Shown in picture: Schleich Catapult

Trebuchet - Similar to the catapult in that it was designed to throw large objects but it was more efficient than a catapult because it could be built faster and at less cost. Yet it could throw heavier objects even furhter. The basic theory of the Trebuchet was like that of a see saw. One end had a heavy weight. The other end extended much longer and had a sling where the thrown object was put. When the trebuchet was activated the heavy weight would fall and the swinging of the see-saw would propel the object. Medieval Siege Weapons (1): Western Europe AD 585-1385 (New Vanguard)

Battering Rams: They were large mechanical objects, often on wheels that were used to ram the walls and doors of a castle in an attempt to break them down. Often times battering rams were part of a siege tower. The image at left shows early roman era battering rams. They have wooden structures around them to protect the operators of the ram.

Siege Towers: Were wooden towers often built at the site of the siege. They were built to the height of the castle walls and were on wheels so they could be rolled up to the wall. Then the attackers could cross right over into the castle. Often times they had battering rams like the one shown here.

Counter Measures that Castles Took in defense against sieges

  1. Stronger and thicker walls were built. These walls could sustain more punishment from siege engines.
  2. Concentric walls were built around the castle. This made it more difficult for siege engines to hurl objects at the castle. If the outer wall was breached the siege engines had to be brought inside these walls in order to attack the inner walls. This made them very vulnerable to attack.
  3. Moats were built: A moat was a body of water that surrounded a castle. It served the purposes of making it difficult for enemy troops, enemy siege towers and enemy battering rams to get close to the castle walls. It also made it near impossible for the sieging army to dig a tunnel under the castle.
  4. Higher castle towers were built. It was a great advantage to have the castle towers higher than the siege towers that attacked. They could fire down on the enemy.

Make Your Own Siege Engine!

Medieval Projects you can build and make

  • The Little Dragon Trebuchet - Build this table top Medieval siege weapon from materials found around the house. Without any tuning this trebuchet launches projectiles 30 feet. You can tweak it to hurl items much longer distances. It's a great project, easy to do and can be completed in one afternoon. This tutorial is complete with lots of pictures and even a video of my the completed trebuchet firing its projectile.
    The Little Dragon Trebuchet
  • The "Table Top Troll" Catapult! This project is done. You can build your own catapult with just a few pieces of wood, a rubber band and a couple of eye hooks. This tutorial has lots of pics and takes you through the complete process. the Table-Top Troll Catapult


Another good way of attacking a stone castle was by placing it under siege. Attackers would surround a castle with both men and catapults so that no one could enter or leave the castle. Sieges could last for months, usually until the inhabitants of the castle ran out of food and were starving. One of the castle owner’s main line of defence against siege was to send all women, children, old, weak and sick people out of the castle. This meant that only those strong enough to fight off attackers remained in the castle and that the food supply would last much longer.

This article is part of our larger selection of posts about the medieval period. To learn more, click here for our comprehensive guide to the Middle Ages.

For more information on medieval castle defense and assault, and other counter-intuitive facts of ancient and medieval history, see Anthony Esolen’s The Politically Incorrect Guide to Western Civilization © 2008. You can find it at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.

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