How Did People in Medieval Times Actually Siege a Castle in Reality?

Modern entertainment such as movies, fictional books, and TV shows aren’t exactly known for accurately depicting how things may or may not go or have gone in the real life scenarios that they depict. From injecting substances directly into your heart a-la Pulp Fiction or The Rock, to Yarr’ing pirates, let’s just say there’s a lot they get wrong. On the former, ya, don’t poke a hole in your heart. That’s not helpful to, you know, not dying. See our video on the subject before you start arguing in the comments. And on the latter, one actor set the standard there for pirate speak in the 1950s and everyone has just sort of run with it as if it had a basis in reality for how pirates talked instead of just something he came up with for various reasons.

Moving on to Medieval times, don’t even get us started on things like medieval chastity belts or the supposed ideal of the Chivalrous Knight protecting damsels in distress… Far more likely the knights were the ones causing the damsels to be in distress in reality and said damsels would have traded their left butt cheeks for a device like a chastity belt for some level of protection, as we have covered in excruciatingly facepalming detail before. But we’re not here to talk about the fact that real life knights were mostly- and we cannot stress this enough- just massive dicks to women and like, honestly, almost everyone, even each other. No, we’re here today to talk about what they and their cohorts actually got up to on the battlefield when deciding to siege a castle as a means to conquer, rape, and pillage for fun and profit.

To begin with, humans have been besieging one another seemingly as long as we’ve had towns to besiege, going back to at least the 24th century BC in which Egyptian tomb reliefs depict wheeled siege engines being used to help storm city walls. More concrete examples include one of the first ever well documented major military engagements in history, around 3500 years ago in which Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose III battled and then besieged enemy forces at the city of Megiddo when said enemy forces ultimately retreated into the town after losing soundly in a head to head fight outside of the city. Around seven months later, the city occupants agreed to surrender and pledge their loyalty to Thutmose III if he would be so kind as to not slaughter them. While some spoils of war did change hands, overall not exactly an exciting end to things. A deal was simply struck in which mostly everyone just kind of went on with their lives, and the siege completed.

Things became a lot more advanced as weapons, defensive structures, and machines of war progressed over the centuries with the offensive and defensive sides forever trying to one up one another, leading us up to perhaps the most iconic structure associated with medieval times- the castle, which saw its popularity in Europe surge in no small part thanks to William the Conqueror’s rather aggressive castle building program in England that helped ensure King Billy and his buddies weren’t ousted.

Within a couple centuries castles more and more became the near impenetrable fortresses we stereotypically think of today as their designs evolved to counter ever more advanced weaponry until one weapon finally made them obsolete. Although, in truth, castles even up through WWII still occasionally played a part in defenses, such as Dover Castle, which was used by the Allies in WWII as an air-raid shelter and later a hospital and military command center, among other things. On top of that, during the Battle in Berlin at the end of the war, the Spandau Citadel was used as an effective means of defense, resulting in the Soviets deciding to simply negotiate a surrender of its occupants rather than trying an all out attack on it.

But, for all intents and purposes, the castle’s major effectiveness as a defensive fortification more or less went the way of the dodo, ironically, around the same time as the dodo in the 17th century.

But back when castles and walled cities were the height of defense for a region, how did invading soldiers deal with such immovable monoliths in the real world?

Well, for starters, not easily. Shocker, we know… But we’re prepared to say even knowing this obvious fact, if you’re like most, you’re still not quite accurately grasping just how insanely difficult it was to capture a castle by force, and how incredibly rare it was to do so.

But for starters, the general ways in which castle or walled city occupants would win throughout history more or less came down to three things. First- sallying forth and defeating the besieging force in a head to head battle. Without outside help, this was rare, as generally any force hoping to besiege a castle or town would have been by necessity much larger and/or better equipped, causing the occupants of the castle or city to withdraw into it rather than just meeting the invading force head on and avoiding the many issues that come with allowing an occupying army to camp out in your home land.

The second way the defenders would typically win was to be relieved by an allied force coming to help assault or hary the besieging force.

And third, and by far the best way to win a siege pretty much any time in history was to simply outlast the besiegers all comfy cozy behind your nice, big, strong walls, while your enemy is essentially having to camp out.

As for the attacking side and their strategies to victory… Well, for starters, as ever when talking about something like “medieval times” this spans a rather large timespan (around the 5th to 15th centuries) in which many things, including warfare technology and strategies evolved. Further, exact terrain, castle setup, size and fortification level of enemy or defending forces, etc. etc. etc. could alter strategy considerably from siege to seige.

But, that said, as with the defender’s side, that’s not to say there weren’t some tried and true methods used in the general case, and we’ll see if we can’t knock down some medieval specifics along the way to give you a solid picture of what sieging castles was really like during the era in which the Chivalrous, Sword Wielding Sir Lordly Dickish reigned supreme.

To begin with, a successful besieging of any castle almost universally required one thing above all… No, not incredible strategy or better trained soldiers or anything exciting like that. Not even necessarily an army big enough to realistically capture the castle. Nope, many, many, many a siege was won without that. In the vast majority of cases, great administration of day to day matters was the path to victory, even with an insufficient force to actually capture the castle by force.

You see, as alluded to, castles were probably a lot more effective than you think as defensive structures, and even simple motte and bailey style as far as historical accounts go, were insanely difficult for enemy armies of medieval times to take by force, though of course it could be done with the right set of circumstances, resources, and strategy. But as an example, an archaeological study of about 150 such simple motte and bailey castles in Belgium found only five of them are definitively known to have ever been successfully attacked. Granted, it’s possible many of them weren’t even ever attacked at all, but, of course, as noted, a very visible deterrent was half the point of a castle anyway. So they did their job of winning many sieges that never happened because they existed. But the point is, even when attacked, even very simple structures such as the motte and bailey castle were difficult to capture from a practical standpoint. Let alone when talking the grand castles you’re probably envisioning when we say “medieval castle”.

As an example, the castle Caernarfon in 1401 managed to withstand an onslaught against combined Welsh and French forces despite having only a few dozen men to defend it. Who, by the way, inflicted a few hundred casualties on their attackers over the course of the siege, which while details are sparse beyond this, doesn’t appear to have been successful.

On this note, while the general rule was that you needed a ratio of troops of upwards of 10:1 to take a castle, there are known examples of upwards of 50:1 still being insufficient to successfully capture the castle being attacked. Thus, supplying and maintaining such an attacking force tended to be massively more expensive and difficult than it was to defend a castle. This fact is also why so many lords chose to have one built despite the extreme expense, which often left them unable to then have funds for any real offensive endeavors for sometime, or even at all in their lifetime after.

That said, even beyond potential enemies, simply having a nice and very defensible castle often allowed quite a bit of rebellion or insubordination without fear of attack by your overlord simply because the expense to attack you would now be too great. With, again, the burden of cost disproportionately on the attacker rather than the defender. And even if attacked, you may well be able to bankrupt your opponent if you could win the siege, or at least significantly weaken them for some time, with more than one lord in history suffering a precipitous fall from overextending on such campaigns. Although, on the flipside, there were lords known to have bankrupted or near themselves building castles… soooo…. pros and cons.

As to exact figures on successful vs unsuccessful sieges, nobody really knows, though all evidence seems to be that, first, up until the late Medieval period, the advantage was massively in favor of the defenders if it came to an actual assault. Second, and precisely because of this, successfully assaulting a castle as a means to victory was rare.

Yes, much less exciting than often depicted in film, the vast majority of successful sieges were accomplished not via dominating your foe, but via simple negotiation. Even perhaps the most successful of all castle besiegers, the aforementioned William the Conqueror, who legend has it never failed to conquer a castle he chose to besiege, seems to have done so mostly by negotiation. Even to the point that when he realized he couldn’t take a given castle, he seems to have had the habit of simply offering whatever terms might be accepted so he could cease the siege and move on ostensibly victorious.

This brings us to the nuts and bolts of actually taking a castle in reality. First, if the attacking lord could take the enemy structure by complete surprise, this would be the ideal way to go, such as in the aforementioned example of Belgium motte and baileys, there is one account where just two knights and a couple dozen peasants were able to take the fortification because they got there with one of the gates accidentally still open… You had ONE JOB door locking guy!

The other advantage of a surprise attack, even if unsuccessful initially, was that besieging a castle as quickly as possible before supplies could be brought in and the surrounding area stripped of any resources was also a huge swing towards your odds of success in the waiting and negotiating game, which was more the rule for sieges.

Unfortunately, if a surprise attack wasn’t possible, which was most of the time, things became massively more complicated and expensive.

This brings us back to the fact that a successful siege in reality was all about administration. First, the attacking lord needed to consider what troops he could draw upon and for how long. Important to know here was that European knights and lords and those they would bring with them typically were only required to serve their lord a certain number of days per year, only about a month and a half or so typically…. Not exactly an abundance of time to go sieging unless you could convince them to stay longer or rotate in fresh underlings to replace any leaving.

After soldiers they also needed to see what sort of engineers, blacksmiths, sappers, carpenters, etc. etc. they could draw from at a given time as well. Then consider what supplies such as livestock, food, water, lumber, iron, etc. would be available in a given siege, in terms of what you might bring with you vs what might be available at the castle site or you could reliably bring there at points throughout the siege to replenish supplies. And, of course, most important of all was whether this was all sufficient to support your troops for an estimated duration.

On that note, what the defenders might have available and how long they might be able to hold out needed to be estimated to compare to your own realistic time span and funds and other resources available. On top of that, what enemy forces might be brought against you during a given siege both within the castle and from allies. Etc. etc. etc.

Then after all this, once all the numbers crunched, often using data you couldn’t necessarily rely on, even if you could win potentially, would the cost be worth it?

In the vast majority of cases, the answer was, unsurprisingly, no. And, thus, the castle did its job of busting a siege by making your enemy not even bother mustering one in the first place.

As a specific example of preparations, for the 1224 siege of Bedford Castle, Lord Hubert de Burgh began gathering massive amounts of iron, leather, crossbow quarrels (nearly 20,000), charcoal, hides, hammers, tents, wax, ordered several siege engines to be constructed and individuals trained up to use them, while also gathering a variety of laborers from carpenters to miners, knights and their men, food supplies, spices, etc. etc. On top of this, for good measure on the enemy demoralization front, he had the Archbishop of Canterbury declare all the castle garrison’s soldiers excommunicated from the Church if they didn’t surrender.

From all of this, it might come as no surprise that during Medieval Times, and really something that mostly held true throughout known human history, if a castle or city had a good amount of supplies stocked up, regardless of what force was brought against them, the odds were incredibly strong that events would transpire one way or the other that the defenders would win the siege. As such, as noted in Machiavelli’s “The Prince,” among many other sources, any good commander of city or castle fortresses would plan to make sure they had stocked up at least a year’s supplies before a siege began…

Of course, whether this was actually realistic or not in a given case varied and from many accounts we’ve read in researching this one, it would seem that while this may have been an ideal rule to follow, very few actually managed it in practice.

But in any event, here we are, your surprise attack failed. You’ve dutifully done your due diligence in planning and have all your ducks in a row and forces and supplies sallied and camping outside the castle at a safe distance.

Now what?

Storm the walls immediately before your film studio’s alloted budget runs out and your audience gets bored watching lords administrating? Right?!?

Well, no.

Beyond it being quite difficult in many cases to breach a castle’s walls for a variety of reasons from the obvious, you know, solid wall nature of them, there’s the defending forces raining everything down from arrows to rocks to hot liquids. And let’s face it, this is the real world. You’re not going to get your real human soldiers to just rush pell mell into a massacre like some sort of Orc army thrown against the gates of Minas Tirith.

Even if that would definitively be successful. Turns out real humans don’t like to die if they can help it… usually… And don’t even get us started on moats… Which, ok, we will come around to discussing moats in a bit as there are some common misconceptions about these as we’ll get into shortly. But for these and many other reasons we’ll dig into, bumrushing castle walls directly after arriving at a castle wasn’t exactly a thing and certainly not really technically a siege either, with the word literally deriving from the Latin for “to sit” (sedere).

What you would more likely do in reality upon arrival the vast majority of the time, as alluded to many times here, is simply start talking to those inside and ask pretty please if they wouldn’t mind surrendering or maybe in some cases just betraying their compatriots for you if their leaders wouldn’t do the sensible thing and surrender themselves.

As such, assuming you got to the point of potentially sieging a castle or fortified city and all preparations made, your first move was usually going to be simply to send someone in to try to negotiate at the least a temporary truce where everybody agrees not to attack each other if they wouldn’t just outright surrender. When such a temporary truce could be reached, this allowed the attackers to get in position and fortify their position without fear of attack. And it gave those within the castle time to send off messages and consult with their overlords to determine what they should do, when they might expect relief forces, if any, and then properly weigh their options given all that and what their stocks of supplies on hand were, etc. All further information needed to determine how hard to negotiate a good deal if you think you’ll surrender, or if you should sit tight and enjoy your comfy castle.

On this note, sometimes terms for a surrender might be set at this point with conditions. Like, for example, the defenders would hold out for X days, at which point if relief forces hadn’t arrived, they’d agree to surrender based on whatever terms they work out with you when this deal was struck. If relief forces did arrive in that span, well, then we’re fighting now… Or more likely just re-negotiating as fighting is expensive, makes your underlings unhappy from dying, etc. And worst of all, YOU might die or at least have your power and forces diminished based on a decidedly uncertain outcome. Better to just have your armies stare at one another unless one of you had the very clear advantage, while you work out a deal. And even if one of you had the very clear advantage, that really just changed the nature of the exact deal, rather than necessarily meaning the superior force should attack.

An example of the whole “by X date” thing occurring was in 1415 during the siege of Harfleur. In this one, the walls had been given a sizable pummeling and thoroughly breached. After this fact, the town leaders requested a cease of the attack and agreed that if the French army did not arrive to help drive off the besiegers by September the 23rd, then the town forces would surrender without further resistance. This ultimately came to pass and the town surrendered on the 22nd of September, with the terms more or less being the citizens could stay if they swore allegiance to Henry V, and anyone who didn’t want to swear would be allowed to leave, while the knights and other leaders among the enemy forces would be allowed to go unharmed in exchange for agreeing to pay a ransom.

On this latter note of allowing refugees to leave, we should also point out that defending a castle also tended to include first already getting rid of anyone who was non-essential, to help conserve supplies. And going back to refugees of a walled city or castle, it was sometimes to the benefit of the invading army to allow these individuals to go on their merry way unhindered if they weren’t a threat or useful to you, as a flood of discontented mouths to feed sent into a neighboring city or the like could potentially benefit you if your campaign included then following up by attacking that place too.

But in any event, going back to making such deals as agreeing to surrender if relief forces didn’t arrive to help rout the enemy army by X date, this was very beneficial for defenders poorly supplied or likely to lose eventually over just surrendering right away, even if they knew no such aid was coming. This was because the commander could then say they did their best in defending the castle for as long as possible, but someone else screwed the pooch by not getting explicitly needed aid to them in time. If your allied forces were also aware of the date set where you deemed you could no longer hold out, it also helped motivate them to get there first to help, if they were coming at all.

Regardless, throughout the course of the siege, even if open fighting was occurring, envoys back and forth were common trying to feel out where the other side was at and if any amicable deal could be struck to end the siege to the relative benefit of both sides. Or depending on the terms being offered by either side at a given point, trying to determine how desperate the other side was at that moment. In fact, even after walls breached and castle penetrated, it appears to have been relatively common to simply negotiate in earnest to try to wrap things up without actually needing to resort to finishing the attack.

Of course, in this case, terms for the defenders were probably going to be much worse now in a more weakened position. But with at least some negotiating power still available to them, might still be better than continuing to defend and ultimately die in battle.

Unsurprisingly from this, again, as alluded to previously, most sieges appear to have ended by negotiation, rather than routing your enemy and storming the inner Keep.

As an example of something like this, in 1326 the defenders of the rather impressive and incredibly defensible Caerphilly Castle in Wales managed to withstand a four month siege, with little end in sight. This was despite the fact that pretty much right away they were offered a great deal pardoning all inside if they’d just pretty please open the gates and also give up a 17 or 18 year old by the name of Hugh the Despenser who they really wanted to separate from his head. With the literal terms being, to quote the exact offer: “[p]ardon to all who [are] in Kaerfilly Castle… held against queen Isabella, except Hugh son of Hugh le Despenser the younger.”

In charge of defending the castle and its approximately 150 occupants, Sir John Felton and co. refused to give up the castle, or the apparently pretty sizable treasury inside, or give them poor Hugh whose main crime seemingly was that he was the son of the aforementioned Hugh le Dispenser the Younger. Which does kind of make you wonder why the Hugh le Dispenser walled up in the castle wasn’t officially named Hugh le Dispenser the Youngest, but we digress…

On the attacking side was listed as 20 bannerets, 5 knights, 21 squires, approximately 400 footmen, and various men-at-arms and supporting retinue.

While you might think that an awfully small number to siege a practically impregnable castle with around 150 defenders inside… well, you are right and they had zero chance of ever taking the castle by assault. But that was ok here given that a smaller force was relatively cheap and they weren’t really worried about outside attack. Thus, devoting massive resources and troops, even if available, would have been pointless precisely because this particular castle was practically impregnable no matter what. And, thus, the goal was simply to hold the defenders inside until they starved or, say it with me, negotiate a deal in which they just all surrendered and gave you Hugh to dismember, and the sweet, sweet treasury inside… The castle, not Hugh… Though we are sure his insides were lovely.

Thus, while the siege wasn’t exactly cinematically exciting, it was a pretty good example of the reality of sieges, especially since, in the end, Sir Felton and Hugh managed to negotiate a surrender which not only pardoned everyone else as the first deal offered, but also spared Hugh le Dispenser from being dispensed with. Or, at least, he got to keep all his body parts attached and his insides inside himself. He was imprisoned, but later freed and given lands and the like by Edward III. To wrap up his story, he died in 1349, possibly of the plague, along with about half of the rest of Europe at the time because the past was the worst.

In any event, let’s just say, however, all attempts at a deal are spurned. What would you most likely do instead? Attack right?!?

… No, probably not.

If official envoys didn’t work, another strategy you’d at least attempt would be to work under the table and try to get someone within the castle or city to betray their fellows and maybe let you in, destroy supplies within, etc. For example, going back before medieval times, it’s noted by Josephus (who incidentally also gave us the story of the deadliest fart in human history, see our video on the subject) during the Roman siege of Jerusalem, the Israelites were ultimately forced to fight owing to Israelite zealots destroying many of the city’s stock of food supplies, thus no longer being able to just use the otherwise best method of winning a siege- waiting out your besiegers. Of course, this didn’t exactly work out for the Israelites… But, I mean, zealots aren’t exactly known for being rational.

But in any event, if you could bribe or otherwise convince someone within the castle or walled city to destroy food stores or somehow let you in, this was an ideal way to win a siege and make the whole thing massively cheaper for you too. Thus, the amount a besieging force might be willing to pay or promise to make something like this happen was potentially massive.

On this note of bribery or otherwise convincing occupants of a fortified position to side with you, in many cases the occupants of a city may not care one bit which lord ruled them and so it wasn’t totally uncommon for a city to surrender when given favorable terms whether their lord liked it or not. Leaving the soldiers and lord in a bit of a pickle inside some central defensive position like a Keep. Perhaps making them more willing to make a deal than when they also held the city itself.

Alrighty, so let’s just say you actually do after literally exhausting every other possibility, have to attack the castle and you by some miracle have the troops and resources to do it because you’re just that much of a noble baller… What did real life lords actually do then?

Well, the first thing you’d do, and as alluded to in part why you might have in the first place agreed to not attack the castle if they agreed not to attack you while you tried for an initial negotiation of surrender, is begin fortification of your seige position against any outside attack. At the same time, you’ll be wanting to cut off any means of castle occupants sallying forth against you or able to get outside supplies in.

And if you were really going to attack and not just have your soldiers bottle up the occupants of the castle until they ran out of supplies and/or agreed to a deal, you’d also want to start building or setting up any siege weaponry or the like you might need, which we’ll get into in a bit.

Once any initial deal failed to be met, one side or the other would generally announce that the little temporary truce, if any, was at an end, such as in the late 15th century during the siege of Rhodes, the attacking force raised a black flag to indicate their agreement not to attack was now done. A similar strategy employed was simply to do something like symbolically shoot some otherwise harmless crossbow bolts at each other, or have your siege engines or eventually cannons fire off a few signal shots to let everybody know it was game on.

Even then, however, it might not be game on in terms of full on attacking. It could be simple demoralization or even disease warfare. For example, in both cases via chucking diseased or otherwise rotting bodies over the walls into the structure, possibly even some of your enemy’s former compatriots. Of note here is this sort of disease and demoralization strategy went both ways.

For starters, psychologically there’s something rather oppressive about having a large enemy force bottling you up with no way to escape and uncertain terms of what deal might be reached eventually when your lords got around to it. That said, a well stocked castle or fortified city and their infrastructure provided shelter from the elements and facilities for relatively normal day to day life during the siege.

In contrast, forces outside the protected castle or city tended to be at somewhat of a disadvantage owing to lack of protection from the elements, lack of normal sanitary conditions, which in preindustrial times was all generally a fantastic way to succumb to a variety of diseases from exposure or otherwise food source issues once hunting/foraging no longer became a viable option to supply your troops. As you might have guessed from this, mini-epidemics weren’t uncommon in medieval armies, especially ones that were poorly supplied.

But going back to a specific example of demoralization, or maybe in this case more aptly just psyching your opponent out, we have the case of Gerald de Windsor at Pembroke Castle in Wales in 1096. This bastion of strategy, and no doubt someone you’d never want to play poker with, managed to break a siege by chucking four pigs at his enemy…

Why did this work? Well, this act was accompanied by another. A letter he wrote declaring to his allies that he had four months’ worth of supplies on hand and thus did not need reinforcements before then… The besieging force ultimately intercepted this letter and deduced from it and the chucking of the pigs at them that the occupants of the castle were well stocked. And so it was that the besieging army decided continuing the siege for those four months wasn’t feasible and they left.

Of course, the reality was that Gerald and co. intended for that letter to be intercepted and at that point were pretty much without any remaining food stores outside of those pigs they threw at their enemy. Had the hog throwing and letter trick not worked, they’d have quickly had to surrender or starve.

So what about when things did get spicy? How were attacks and defenses done in reality?

Well, while Hollywood would generally have you believe that besieging forces would simply setup outside the castle and maybe even on the same day or the next begin having all your pre-constructed siege weaponry launch their deadly missiles at the castle while you simultaneously sent all your troops rushing forward while castle occupants reigned arrows down… Well, once again, let’s just say you try to coax your real human troops with a desire not to die to bumrush a castle wall while all manner of death is reigned down upon them both from the castle walls and from your potentially inaccurate siege weaponry behind. It’s not to say this sort of all out attack didn’t happen, just… they were usually smarter about it than the Witchking of Angmar throwing his orcs at the walls. And attacking the supposedly impenetrable walls of Helms Deep literally moments after you arrive after a long march…? Also, not a great plan. Take a rest. You’ve earned it. And for the love of God if some old man can shoot and penetrate an Uruk-hai’s armor accidentally without difficulty, we’re pretty sure the army of insanely accurate elf archers with superior bows could do the same, so why the hell are you’re full quivered archers all just standing there and not reigning death down on them? They are literally just standing there mostly completely still. Let alone you all just standing there in the rain with bows pulled and holding for no particular reason if you’re not intending to shoot anytime soon… Rest your arms people. It’s going to be a long night.

As you might imagine, real life troops were only likely to rush a castle wall if death was NOT a relatively probable outcome. Towards this end, if rushing the castle, it was likely only done with considerable protection in the form of shielding like pavises or within some sort of siege engine on approach.

To further motivate soldiers to actually rush the walls in more dicey situations, a lord themselves might go with them and lead the charge, but this doesn’t appear to have been exactly common and often a perilous thing to do, such as in 1346 at the siege of Caen. With this one it’s recorded that Sir Edmund Springhouse met his end by slipping and falling from a scaling ladder. At this point, lying in the ditch below, the French tossed some burning straw from the walls down on top of him, and had themselves a Sir Springhouse barbeque in celebration. No doubt all while shouting about his mother being a hamster and father smelling of elderberries while he sizzled.

Further, everybody rushing the same spot wasn’t likely an ideal strategy outside of something like a sizable wall breach given the defending forces would be able to concentrate their defenses on that point. Thus, utilizing your probably vastly superior numbers, an all out onrush against unbreached walls was likely to take place in multiple points if possible in the hopes of dividing the inferior force within the castle. In fact, the castle itself may well only be defended by dozens against many hundreds. Spreading them out all around the castle and providing your forces with some level of shielding from arrows and the like makes the whole thing much safer than commonly depicted in movies.

While all this was happening, beyond utilizing any physical shielding available, covering fire from forces behind such as crossbowmen, archers, and slingers was also ideal to try to counter those attacking your storming men.

But what about just bringing down the walls? Naturally you could use a variety of siege engines, which we’ll get to shortly. But for various reasons a potential better strategy was the use of sappers to dig tunnels under the walls, if possible, although moats or bedrock could make this infeasible.

Before we go any further here, we should address moats, both as they were a common very effective castle defense able to thwart certain siege engines and sapper tactics and because the common image most people have in their heads of a moat isn’t exactly representative of what historical moats usually looked like.

To begin with, moats have been around seemingly as long as humans have had need of protecting a structure or area, with documented instances of them appearing everywhere from Ancient Egypt to slightly more modern times around certain Native American settlements. And, of course, there are countless examples of moats being used throughout European history. In many cases, however, these moats were little more than empty pits dug around a particular piece of land or property- the stereotypical water filled moat most people envision was something of a rarity.

You see, unless a natural source of water was around, maintaining an artificial moat filled with water required a lot of resources to avoid the whole thing just turning into a stinking cesspool of algae and biting bugs, as is wont to happen in standing water. As with artificial ponds constructed on certain wealthy individuals’ estates, these would have to be regularly drained and cleaned, then filled back up to keep things from becoming putrid.

Of course, if one had a natural flowing water source nearby, some of these problems could be avoided. But, in the end, it turns out a water filled moat isn’t actually that much more effective than an empty one at accomplishing the goal of protecting a fortress.

And as for the stereotypical idea of putting crocodiles (or alligators) in them, we’d be remiss if we didn’t mention that introducing such animals to a region, beyond being quite expensive if not their native habitat, is also potentially dangerous if the animals got out. Again, all this while not really making the act of conquering a fortress that much more difficult- so little payoff for the extra cost of maintaining crocodiles. Unsurprisingly from this, there doesn’t appear to be any known documented cases of anyone intentionally putting crocodiles or alligators into their water filled moats, much to our chagrin.

Going back to sieges, it should also be mentioned here that while at first glance it would appear that the key purpose of a moat is to defend against soldiers attacking at the walls, they were often actually constructed with the idea of stopping certain siege engines, as well as stopping the ability to tunnel under the walls to collapse them or otherwise penetrate into the castle.

You see as alluded to, a technique favoured since ancient times for breaching cities, fortresses and fortified positions was to simply dig tunnels below any walls surrounding the position and then intentionally let them collapse, bringing part of the wall above that section tumbling down. Eventually this was accomplished by use of explosives like gunpowder, but before this a more simple method was to cart a bunch of tinder or even massive amounts of animal fat into the tunnel at the appropriate point and set the whole thing ablaze to destroy support beams and heat the surrounding ground significantly. If all went as planned, both the tunnel and the wall above it would then collapse.

To get around this very effective form of breaching fortifications, moats would be dug as deeply as possible around the fortification, sometimes until diggers reached bedrock. If a natural source of water was around, surrounding the fortress with water was a potential additional benefit over the dry pit at stopping such tunneling, but not, as noted, strictly necessary.

Either way, beyond making tunneling more difficult (or practically impossible), dry and wet moats, of course, helped dissuade above ground attacks as well thanks to moats being quite good at limiting an enemy’s use of siege weaponry. In particular, devices such as battering rams are rendered almost entirely useless in the presence of a large moat.

All this said, it wasn’t as if proud moat owners didn’t put anything in them. There are plenty of ways to beef up moat defenses without the need for water and crocodiles. Pretty much anything that slows an enemy’s advance works well. And, better yet, anything that is so daunting it deters an attack at all.

In fact, archaeological surveys of moats have found evidence of things like stinging bushes having once grown throughout some moats. Whether these were intentionally planted on the part of the moat owners or just a byproduct of having a patch of land they left unattended for years at a time isn’t entirely clear. But it doesn’t seem too farfetched to think this may have been intentional in some cases. As you might imagine, wading through stinging or thorny plants while arrows and rocks and the like are raining down at you from above wasn’t exactly tops on people’s lists of things to do, even if you have some form of protection from the attack above.

As for moats that were filled with water, while filling them with crocodiles or alligators wasn’t seemingly something anyone did, some savvy castle owners did fill them with fish giving them a nice private fishery. (As mentioned, artificial ponds built for this purpose were also sometimes a thing for the ultra-wealthy, functioning both as a status symbol, given maintaining such was incredibly expensive, and a great source of food year round). During a castle siege, pleasantly fishing off your walls while your enemy troops sat in the mud trying to figure out where their life went wrong was no doubt the ultimate demoralization flex.

Moving back to the dry bed moats, when not just leaving them as a simple dug pit or planting things meant to slow enemy troops, it does appear at least in some rare instances fortress owners would put dangerous animals in them, though seemingly, again, more as a status symbol than actually being particularly effective at deterring enemy troops.

Most famously, at Krumlov Castle in the Czech Republic there exists something that is most aptly described as a “bear moat”, located between the castle’s first and second courtyard. When exactly this practice started and exactly why has been lost to history, with the earliest known documented reference to the bear moat going back to 1707.

Unsurprisingly from all of this, before actually bumrushing a castle, even with breached walls, if it had a moat, you were probably going to want to try to fill at least parts of it with something so your soldiers and/or siege engines could quickly traverse it and hopefully into the castle.

Going back to sappers and collapsing walls by digging tunnels, it was generally ideal for accuracy of getting under the walls and more limited amount of work needed to start digging as close as possible to the wall, even potentially extremely near, such as during the siege of Carcassonne in 1209, in which it is recounted in Historia Albigensis, “…after the top of the wall had been somewhat weakened by bombardment from petraries, our engineers succeeded with great difficulty in bringing a four-wheeled wagon, covered in oxhides, close to the wall, from which they set to work to sap the wall.”

An example of a siege where this technique was used effectively was when King John of England besieged Rochester Castle in 1215. During the attack, John bombarded the castle with five siege engines for some seven weeks without making any real progress, but where his siege engines failed, his sappers were successful, managing to cause a breach in the outer wall, at which point the defenders retreated into the keep. The sappers were then used to similarly cause a breach in the wall of the keep, though the defenders once again retreated into a corner of the keep, at which point John was content to wait them out until they were willing to make a deal, which he did successfully.

On this note, we yet again feel obliged to point out that once the castle walls were breached, your first act wasn’t necessarily to have all your troops rush in. That could still cost a lot of your soldiers, which might not only demoralize the rest, but then, once dead… well, you don’t have that soldier anymore in future…. Better was to approach with just one of your people offering once again to make a deal, perhaps with more urgency on the defending side to accept a deal now that the wall was breached.

Are we sufficiently driving the point home yet that castles were incredibly hard to take by force in reality? Because if not, just wait, there’s more!

This all, finally, brings us to siege engines. Which, on the surface, may seem like a no brainer and a relatively easy way to breach a castle’s walls, but in reality it wasn’t quite so simple.

A variety of siege weapons were used that you may be familiar thanks to many a medieval times themed video game and even movies which at least on these ones often get the general principals right, even if the rapidity with which the throwing things ones throw is often exaggerated, as is the number of siege engines any attacking force could realistically bring to bear in an attack… not to mention the timetable in which they could do it.

But in any event, going all the way back to the Ancient Greeks, siege engines were a thing, such as one supposedly invented by none other than famed human brain Archimedes. During the 213 BC siege of Syracuse his petrariae were a key weapon in the fight, more or less just catapults that chucked rocks and other things at the attackers. He also apparently designed some sort of crane device, which today is aptly named the Claw of Archimedes. In a nutshell, if any enemy ships got too close, these devices could be used to literally grab the boats, and then either capsize or lift them up, then drop them back down, even potentially on other boats within reach.

Going back to the catapult, this general idea of some sort of device to chuck heavy objects at the enemy was repeated and perfected over the ages, leading up to perhaps the king of all siege engines before the cannon became a thing- the counterweight trebuchet, which rendered many other siege engines, and older castle wall designs, obsolete.

In a nutshell, this trebuchet was more or less a giant counterweighted hurling machine, capable of throwing an object at a rate of around 2 or so projectiles per hour, give or take. While nobody quite knows who invented them, accounts of counterweight trebuchets go all the way back to the late 12th century in the siege of Castelnuovo Bocca d’Adda near Cremona in Italy in 1199.

One of the great advantages of this counterweight device over many other throwing engines was the ability to relatively accurately hit the same basic area with potentially a very large object repeatedly until what was being targeted was destroyed. Naturally, this made it relatively effective at breaching early castle design walls that were built thin and vertical, and castle designs quickly evolved to account for this.

Beyond pummeling walls, somewhat accurately hurling objects over the walls into the city or castle could also, as previously alluded, be an effective way to dole out destruction and demoralize your enemy into submission. A famed example of using the trebuchet to fling other than stone at the enemy was on the Crimean Peninsula in 1346 outside of Caffa. During this one, a rather deadly disease, that has the streatname of The Black Death, was ravishing the attacking Mongol-Tartar army.

Naturally given the attacking army was well aware the defending forces were having to live in the past, which was just the worst, they thus wanted to help them by providing the besieged with the sweet release from all cares that is the eternal sleep. And so it was that they began using the trebuchet and other catapults to toss their dead, rotting, disease ridden corpses over the walls… Almost as if to say, these rotting bits of flesh look and smell horrible on the surface, but in reality no longer have a care in the world. Perhaps you’d like to join them in also being care free?

This is all outlined in this 14th century account by Genoese Gabriele de’ Mussi, which also provides an interesting, detailed anecdote into siege life at the time,

“Oh God! See how the heathen Tartar races, pouring together from all sides, suddenly invested the city of Caffa and besieged the trapped Christians there for almost three years. There, hemmed in by an immense army, they could hardly draw breath, although food could be shipped in, which offered them some hope. But behold, the whole army was affected by a disease which overran the Tartars and killed thousands upon thousands every day. It was as though arrows were raining down from heaven to strike and crush the Tartars’ arrogance. All medical advice and attention was useless; the Tartars died as soon as the signs of disease appeared on their bodies: swellings in the armpit or groin caused by coagulating humours, followed by a putrid fever.

The dying Tartars, stunned and stupefied by the immensity of the disaster brought about by the disease, and realizing that they had no hope of escape, lost interest in the siege. But they ordered corpses to be placed in catapults and lobbed into the city in the hope that the intolerable stench would kill everyone inside. What seemed like mountains of dead were thrown into the city, and the Christians could not hide or flee or escape from them, although they dumped as many bodies as they could into the sea. As soon as the rotting corpses tainted the air and poisoned the water supply, and the stench was so overwhelming that hardly one in several thousand was in a position to flee the remains of the Tartar army. Moreover one infected man could carry the poison to others, and infect people and places with the disease by look alone. No one knew, or could discover, a means of defense.

…among those who escaped from Caffa by boat were a few sailors who had been infected with the poisonous disease. Some boats were bound for Genoa, others for Venice, and to other Christian areas. When sailors reached these places and mixed with people there, it was as if they had brought evil spirits with them: every city, every settlement, and their inhabitants, both men and women, died suddenly. … We Genoese and Venetians bear responsibility for revealing the judgements of God. Alas, once our ships had brought us to port we went to our homes. And because we had long been delayed by tragic events, and because among us there were scarcely ten survivors from a thousand sailors, relations, kinsmen and neighbors flocked to us from all sides. But, to our anguish, we were carrying darts of death. While they hugged and kissed us we were spreading poison from our lips even as we spoke.”

We should probably mention here that despite this account, it is generally thought unlikely that this was the only, or even necessarily main, way The Black Death was spread throughout Europe. More likely just one of many vectors that occurred around this time.

But let’s get back to siege engines shall we?

As for why every attacking force wouldn’t just build a bazillion trebuchets (or other siege engines) and ceaselessly bombard what they were attacking was, well, it wasn’t that easy. First off, they didn’t exactly have Google and those with expertise in building such devices weren’t a dime a dozen. And even if you had such individuals at your disposal, it still took a lot of work and money to transport and/or build these things. For example, the trebuchet used by King Edward I against Scotland’s Stirling Castle took a reported thirty wagons to transport the pieces, and once ready to siege a place and put it together, required 54 people, including five master carpenters three months to build owing to the lack of any local Ikea. Worth it, in the end this giant trebuchet, named Warwolf, ultimately “brought down the whole wall”, and was capable of throwing approximately 300 lb objects (136 kg) a couple hundred yards or meters, depending on whether they were American or European objects… all with relative accuracy.

Despite its extreme effectiveness, from all this, you can see why building the number of siege engines sometimes depicted in films just wasn’t generally practically feasible.

On that note, going back to Warwolf, upon seeing the device nearing completion, the defenders actually reportedly offered to surrender before it could be used, with Edward declaring in reply, “You don’t deserve any grace, but must surrender to my will.” We personally think he, like us, just kind of wanted to see the thing throw giant objects and make things crumble before accepting terms.

As for other devices used, these included the mangonel, sometimes called a traction trebuchet. Some of these could fling objects upwards of hundreds of yards or meters. However, unlike their successor, the counterweight trebuchet, these were not exactly known for their accuracy at hitting a specific target. Further, most accounts have them more as light artillery weapons, not necessarily sufficient for throwing things that would have any hope of breaching walls.

Another classic siege engine was the ballista, going all the way back to the Greeks and Romans, and later improved upon by Medieval engineers. These were generally powered by twisted skeins of rope or the like, but instead of an arcing shot tended to fling directly and with a bit more accuracy anything from giant bolts to stones. Some of the largest of these are known to have been able to fire large projectiles upwards of hundreds of yards or meters as well.

As a specific example, the springald was more or less a giant crossbow-like siege engine meant to fire large bolts at the enemy. Not just used for attacking castles or the like, they also were used by defenders, such as at Chepstow Castle in Wales, with four of these mounted at the corners of the castle, the platforms of which are still there.

Beyond firing projectiles, another handy siege machine was a form of a battering ram. However, going back to the fact that the attacking soldiers didn’t like to die any more than the rest of us, as alluded to, running up to the door and smashing a log against it wasn’t exactly conducive for the attackers living and, thus, better methods were devised and used. Generally any battering ram worth its use in a real battle would have included a timber and animal skinned’ framework to protect those using the machine from the enemy while they pounded away.

Further, adding something like a relatively pointed iron tip or the like to the front of the battering ram was also advisable for maximal effectiveness. The battering ram was also likely mounted via ropes or chains inside to make it easier to swing back and forth with maximal force and without the soldiers tiring too quickly.

Once the structure was in place, the wheels were also potentially designed to be relatively easily removed or the structure otherwise stabilized and the battering would commence.

As for defense against this, the defenders may attempt to set ablaze the structure, though anticipating this the attackers likely would have made this as difficult as possible, including wetting and/or covering the structure in hides and mud to make them as flame retardant as possible.

Another strategy used by defenders was simply to try to smash the siege engine to pieces by hurling or dropping large heavy objects on it, or even to use ropes and hooks to grab a part of the battering ram structure and then try to flip it over.

Or better yet, simply to prevent the battering ram from getting into position by placing various large obstacles in front of any gates or the like. Or, as previously mentioned, having some form of moat which would need filled in to bring such a siege engine into place.

An example of successful use of such a battering ram is brought to us by the Count of Toulouse, Raymond VII, when he attacked Beaucaire in 1216. The Song of the Crusade (the Canso) describes the ram,

“long, straight, sharp and shod with iron; it thrust, carved and smashed till the wall was breached and many of the dressed stones thrown down. When the besieged Crusaders saw that, they did not panic but made a rope lasso and used a device to fling it so that they caught and held the ram’s head, to the rage of all in Beaucaire. Then the engineer who had set up the battering ram arrived. He and his men slipped secretly into the rock itself, intending to break through the wall with their sharp picks. But when the men in the keep realised this, they cast down fire, sulphur and tow together in a piece of cloth and let it down on a chain. When the fire caught and the sulphur ran, the flames and stench so stupefied them that not one of them could stay there. Then they used their stone throwers and broke down the beams and palisades.”

Moving on from there, another popular siege engine was the siege tower or belfry. This was more or less just a structure meant to protect the inhabitants inside from any outer attack, while getting them into position in front of a wall. On this note, as a general design rule, these structures usually were wheeled, at least a couple stories in height (with some accounts of towers upwards of 100 ft tall), and included some form of drawbridge at the top to allow the occupants of the tower to get on the enemy wall. Some more advanced siege towers might themselves also include other elements, like a ballista to attack the defenders with. To avoid being set aflame, much like the aforementioned battering ram structures, these might also be covered with animal hides and coated with flame retardant substances like mud, and occupants of the structure might also bring water along to further help in extinguishing flames.

On top of this, the structure may even include a battering ram at the ground level, and sappers may even be sent inside once near the wall, to start doing their thing. Attackers inside, such as archers, may also be reigning arrows down on the castle defenders as it approached to help clear off the space the drawbridge, if any, was to be dropped onto the wall, or otherwise just help defend the structure from attack as it lumbered towards the castle.

As an example of this sort of thing, there is an account of a belfry at the 1266 siege of Kenilworth Castle which held two hundred crossbowmen. Unfortunately, this siege tower was rendered completely ineffective by a well aimed missile from a siege engine within the castle….

Of interest to the entire discussion here is that this siege featured at least nine siege engines on the attacking side which, according to a contemporary chronicler was an amount “hitherto unheard of among us and unseen”. Other interesting tidbits include that King Henry III on the attacking side had 2,000 wooden hurdles (thought to be protective shields for use in storming the castle), and he had brought along 60,000 crossbow bolts.

And, again, driving home the point of sieging castles generally being incredibly expensive, despite literally being the King, this 172 day siege, one of the longest ever in England, almost bankrupted the king, with it reported he had to sell the jewels from the shrine of King Edward the Confessor to help pay for it.

On top of this, despite the massive force brought against the castle and continual attacks by apparently among the most siege engines ever leveled in a siege in the region, Henry was unsuccessful in taking the castle by force. He only won when the defenders ran out of food and had to negotiate a deal for surrender, ultimately accepting the terms of the Dictum of Kenilworth, which more or less pardoned the rebel lords and gave them their lands back, so long as they would then agree to pay a fine for them, which varied a bit in amount from noble to noble, but in the general case was about five times the annual income from their lands.

In any event, as with their battering ram counterparts, moving a belfry into position was no small feet in many cases, requiring the ground to first be relatively smooth and level, any moat filled in, the enemy not to have any effective counter siege engines themselves that might be capable of penetrating or even destroying the belfry whether directly (as happened to poor King Henry III in the aforementioned example) or by use of fire. Even when the conditions were right, moving one into place was a slow process, in which high winds could potentially even topple your best laid plans for your belfry.

However, if it could be gotten into place, it was often an effective tool in the arsenal of the noble who could afford and had the time to have one built.

This all brings us to the king of all siege engines that would ultimately definitively and finally for the first time in history sway just about any castle or city siege to favor the attacker, rather than the defender- the cannon. Once perfected, it was in many ways much easier and cheaper to make and transport than big, bulky siege engines of yor, as well as able to be fired at a much greater rate than antiquated devices like the trebuchet. And so it was that by the 15th century, the cannon came to dominate the siege.

Going back to the aforementioned siege of Harfleur in which the town agreed to surrender after their walls were breached if the French army didn’t come to help them by September the 23rd, it was a battery of 12 cannons that made short work of said walls before this deal was struck.

In the late 15th century, using the cannon, Spain was likewise able to dominate a variety of Moorish strongholds in Granada that had previously been more or less practically impenetrable.

Thicker walls were constructed to counter such weapons, and even some clever designs were suggested, such as by Italian architect Leon Battista Alberti noting that walls should be built in more or less a saw-toothed fashion. And, indeed, while his exact suggestions weren’t implemented, star shaped structures using these design principles did prove more difficult to take than their thin, straight walled compatriots. But, alas, the cannon was still too formidable and the Medieval Castle as we think of it was on the way out as a bastion of defense, more and more in favor of strategically positioned gun forts, armed with heavy artillery and the like instead.

But to sum up, besieging castles was largely a pretty boring process of administration more than anything, and a whole lot of sitting around not doing anything particularly exciting outside of perhaps continually chucking large objects at your opponent if you happened to have siege engines capable of such. And at the same time trying not to die of diseases while constantly asking your enemy if they wanted to make a deal yet. Rinse and repeat until an amicable deal was struck or one of you runs out of supplies and/or money or sufficient soldiers willing to sit around with you. Then you’d probably make a deal.

And so it is that while every siege was different and specific weaponry and strategies varied over time, in the general case the reality was the absolute best way to win a siege was to avoid one at all costs if possible, which was half the point of castles- simple, very visible deterrent to attack in the first place. If that didn’t work, negotiation was the name of the game. Failing that, the victor tended to be which side was supplied best. And all out crushing of your enemy as so often depicted in cinema, in reality appears to have been the exception, rather than the rule.

As for any aftermath. Well, if you were on the defensive side, you probably now have a lot of issues to deal with on the outside, like that the surrounding area has probably been stripped of many of its normal useful resources, and more or less needing to be rebuilt. Because even if you didn’t use the scorched earth policy before the siege, you can be almost positive the besiegers probably had a scorched earth policy of their own on their way out if no deal was struck.

On the attacking side, there’s the potential for needing to deal with some of these same issues even if you win, once again it all tended to come back to administration. But in any event, however you got to that victory, once the defenders surrendered or were soundly defeated, depending on terms of the deal, you may do anything from just letting them all go free to ransoming off those worth it to do so to help recoup expenses, to otherwise executing a good number of others. And, above all, doing the real knightly thing, which certainly wasn’t being noble and chivalrous, but rather, raping and pillaging and otherwise being dicks to anyone and everyone to your heart’s content, especially when on enemy lands where you didn’t have to worry about your own populace rising up against you if you were too much of a dick to them, relatively speaking. In fact, a populace being angry and maybe even rising up in your enemy’s lands was a good thing.

Lest you leave here thinking we’re exaggerating, we’ll leave you today with the account of one 12th century chronicler Orderic Vitalis, extolling the virtues of a knight for choosing NOT to slaughter a large group of peasants, and using him as an example of greatness because of it. As outlined in historian Catherine Hanley’s book War and Combat, 1150-1270: “he describes a raiding expedition undertaken by a young knight, during which his men destroy the homes of a group of peasants and kill their livestock. The peasants themselves flee to huddle around a cross; the knight spares their lives, and this charitable deed, according to [Vitalis] deserves to be remembered forever.”

Indeed, so brave; so noble.

In contrast, a 12th century knight and lord, Waleran Count of Mellent, was noted as simply cutting off one of the feet of any and all peasants he encountered while in his enemies’ lands. The idea presumably being that lord now had just lost a useful worker and had an extra crippled and unhappy individual on his hands to manage, assuming the individual survived the de-feeting encounter with this particular lord.


History and classification of siege machines

Siege Warfare Before Gunpowder

Under Siege

The Medieval Siege

Medieval Castle Defense and Assault: How Did It Work?


What was It Actually Like to Be a Knight in Medieval Times?

Plague at the Siege of Caffa, 1346,+straight,+sharp+and+shod+with+iron;+it+thrust,+carved+and+smashed+till+the+wall+was+breached+and+many+of+the+dressed+stones+thrown+down.+When+the+besieged+Crusaders+saw+that,+they+did+not+panic+but+made+a+rope+lasso+and+used+a+device+to+fling+it+so+that+they+caught+and+held+the+ram%27s+head,+to+the+rage+of+all+in+Beaucaire.+Then+the+engineer+who+had+set+up+the+battering+ram+arrived.+He+and+his+men+slipped+secretly+into+the+rock+itself+%5Bpresumably+the+hole+already+made+by+the+ram%5D,+intending+to+break+through+the+wall+with+their+sharp+picks.+But+when+the+men+in+the+keep+realised+this,+they+cast+down+fire,+sulphur+and+tow+together+in+a+piece+of+cloth+and+let+it+down+on+a+chain.+When+the+fire+caught+and+the+sulphur+ran,+the+flames+and+stench+so+stupefied+them+that+not+one+of+them+could+stay+there.+Then+they+used+their+stone+throwers+and+broke+down+the+beams+and+palisades&source=bl&ots=87OAYTx-Yj&sig=ACfU3U1pjjoFXJxaNIRBoc_280VLNGXcnQ&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwi_8Nj3mtf6AhXFGzQIHfwHCdcQ6AF6BAgDEAM#v=onepage&q=long%2C%20straight%2C%20sharp%20and%20shod%20with%20iron%3B%20it%20thrust%2C%20carved%20and%20smashed%20till%20the%20wall%20was%20breached%20and%20many%20of%20the%20dressed%20stones%20thrown%20down.%20When%20the%20besieged%20Crusaders%20saw%20that%2C%20they%20did%20not%20panic%20but%20made%20a%20rope%20lasso%20and%20used%20a%20device%20to%20fling%20it%20so%20that%20they%20caught%20and%20held%20the%20ram’s%20head%2C%20to%20the%20rage%20of%20all%20in%20Beaucaire.%20Then%20the%20engineer%20who%20had%20set%20up%20the%20battering%20ram%20arrived.%20He%20and%20his%20men%20slipped%20secretly%20into%20the%20rock%20itself%20%5Bpresumably%20the%20hole%20already%20made%20by%20the%20ram%5D%2C%20intending%20to%20break%20through%20the%20wall%20with%20their%20sharp%20picks.%20But%20when%20the%20men%20in%20the%20keep%20realised%20this%2C%20they%20cast%20down%20fire%2C%20sulphur%20and%20tow%20together%20in%20a%20piece%20of%20cloth%20and%20let%20it%20down%20on%20a%20chain.%20When%20the%20fire%20caught%20and%20the%20sulphur%20ran%2C%20the%20flames%20and%20stench%20so%20stupefied%20them%20that%20not%20one%20of%20them%20could%20stay%20there.%20Then%20they%20used%20their%20stone%20throwers%20and%20broke%20down%20the%20beams%20and%20palisades&f=false

Archimedes died devising new defences for Syracuse,_Baron_le_Despenser_(1338)

Share the Knowledge! FacebooktwitterredditpinteresttumblrmailFacebooktwitterredditpinteresttumblrmail
Print Friendly, PDF & Email
Enjoy this article? Join over 50,000 Subscribers getting our FREE Daily Knowledge and Weekly Wrap newsletters:

Subscribe Me To:  | 

One comment

  • A lot of good points here, but the reference in an early paragraph to “the castle’s major effectiveness as a defensive fortification more or less went the way of the dodo… in the 17th century” comes across as odd, particularly when following on from the previous paragraph with its reference to rare cases from after the 17th century; it seems to be giving the impression that you are saying there were no sieges after then, which is completely untrue. The medieval style castle certainly did go the way of the dodo, but it was obsolete largely by the start of the 16th century not the 17th (there were exceptional cases where an older fortification held up against artillery), and the medieval castle was simply replaced by ‘artillery fortification’, designed to resist smoothbore solid-shot artillery as much as possible (and a later paragraph does sort-of hint at this with reference to “strategically positioned gun forts, armed with heavy artillery”); the 17th and 18th centuries are notorious as the heyday of siege warfare (sieges being pursued actively to the point of taking a fortress or forcing its surrender), with hundreds of fortresses across Europe some of them besieged multiple times, and, despite Napoleonic legends, this continued throughout the French Revolutionary and Napoleonic Wars and into the 19th century (e.g. siege of Sevastopol in 1854-55).