In the Dark Ages warfare was a constant state of life. With this constant fighting new ways to defend from attacks created Castles. Once castles and fortifications began changing warfare new methods to overcome these defenses were formed. Siege weapons were the order of the time to defeat castles and similar fortifications. One of the many forms of siege weapons was one of the most feared, and psychologically damaging, sappers.
Imagine for a moment you are on top of a wall fighting against an opponent when there is a low guttural rumble under your feet, suddenly your whole world is turned on its head as the section of wall you were standing on is now crumbling into a gaping hole in the ground and strewn across the castle grounds and surrounding areas, if you were lucky enough to survive.
Sappers were one of the best weapons for causing mass havoc and ending sieges. These troops would dig tunnels underneath the walls of the castle that was besieged, create large voids, or caves, that were supported by wooden pillars as the earth was removed. Once the caves were large enough the caverns would be filled with combustible materials and then ignited. These fires would destroy the supporting timbers and then, boom, down comes the wall.
One of the best accounts of how effective sappers were comes from a monk who wrote “… 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” (Historia Albigensis – Pierre des Vaux de Cernay, 53).
Cernay, Peter of les Vaux de. Historia Albensis. 1218. Print.
http://www.medievalwarfare.info. 2010. 4 April 2012.
Marvin, Laurence W. “War in the South: A First Look at Siege Warfare in the Albigensian Crusade,1209–1218.” War in History (2001): 373-395. web.