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Final Project Blog #1: Roman Siege Tactics: Development and History

Siege is defined as: “the act or process of surrounding and attacking a fortified place in such a way as to isolate it from help and supplies, for the purpose of lessening the resistance of the defenders and thereby making capture possible” (Siege, 2004). This process was often very difficult as it involved containing a geographic area from all outside influence and could take several months or years to execute successfully. Not to mention that such a feat required great amounts of technology, resources, and endurance to prove effective. Despite all these issues, many civilizations throughout history have exploited this type of warfare, each having their own unique approach to it. So how did the Romans use this powerful and costly means of warfare, and were they effective in doing so?

To answer this question, we must first consider the beginning. Until c.a. 400 BCE, The Romans generally leaned on the Greek ideas of siege, which primarily employed the simple blockade as a manner of conquering an enemy city. Despite the monetary costs, this method worked fairly well until enemy defense systems became nearly impossible to contain and breach. A prime example of this dilemma is modeled by The Siege of Veii in which the Romans were at a standstill with the Etruscans for anywhere from 7 to 10 years! (Nossov, 2005) The Romans were very practical in warfare and quickly began to seek more effective tactics and technology to speed up this grueling process. In accordance with this, Engineers were soon put on the task of developing better systems to counter the ever complicating web of enemy defense structures and strategies. The technological and tactical applications from such research would change military history forever (Meyer, 2012).

By c.a. 200 BCE, the Roman’s had developed a strategy that would stand the test of time, the exhaustion and starvation of a city through constant disturbance. Although not remarkably wealthy in heavy artillery at this time, the Roman’s began to strategically divide armies into sub groups which would keep constant pressure on the enemy by taking turns invading and terrorizing, thus giving no time for the enemy to regroup (King, 1997). This allowed the military leaders to consider and execute new and previously improbable strategies with little disturbance from the preoccupied target. These techniques spiked in popularity during the Second Punic War and continued to grow until large scale throwing machines and other siege equipment become a regular part of the army under Julius Caesar (c.a. 50 BCE).

To ensure a successful siege, an assortment of actions such as undermining, ramming, and use of other siege weaponry became increasingly common as means to breach and conquer adverse defenses (Simkin). One of the most notable techniques that evolved under the Romans was a defense-oriented modification of the Phalanx formation. This resulting formation was coined the name “testudo” or the tortoise formation. This revolutionary arrangement provided the battalion protection from missile projections and other dangers that may be common in a siege situation, thus increasing the effectiveness of Roman infantry. (W. Contributors, 2014)


Depiction of The Testudo Formation from Trajan’s Column (CristianChirita,

All these new components created completely new ways of strategizing, but it came at a cost… money. Due to the cost of proper siege warfare, the development of common tricks called stratagems began to be used in order to shorten the siege process. These often involved deception of the opposing side from both the sieged and the besieged perspectives. A leader from the outside may use tactics such as surprise attacks, false retreats, exploitation of traitors, or the increase of inside population to deplete food faster (Nossov, 2005). The besieged had been known to build up or diminish the outside party’s morale by portraying abundance within to weaken hopes of starvation. These common tricks became retorts from one party to the other in an attempt to portray possession of the situation to hasten a victory. The use of such trickery clearly demonstrates the growing importance of diplomacy and deception as a war tactic in addition to the various Roman battle arrangements.

Although not perfect in execution, Rome’s demonstration of strategic advancement and tactical innovation at this time period is remarkable. Siege warfare was in its infancy, but was quickly being established. Considering the intense tactical and technological nature of this form of battle, the Roman’s truly reached new heights that would assist in carrying them in their successes as an empire, and would ultimately be built upon in civilizations to come.



Connolly, Peter. Greece and Rome at War. Frontline Books, 2012. Book. 28 March 2014.

Contributors, Wikipedia. “Testudo Formation.” 4 March 2014. Web. 28 March 2014. <>.

CristianChirita. Trajan’s Column. Cast. 28 March 2014. <>.

King, Jay. “Starving a City Into Submission With Siege Tactics.” 1997. Web. 3 April 2014. <>.

Meyer, Joseph, “Roman Siege Machinery and the Siege of Masada” (2012). 2012 AHS Capstone Projects.Paper 14. <>.

Nossov, Konstantin. Ancient and Medieval Siege Weapons. Guiolford: The Lyons Press, 2005. Book. 28 March 2014.

“siege.” Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 27 Mar. 2014. <>.

Simkin, John. “Military Tactics of the Roman Army.” n.d. Spartacus Educational. Web. 28 March 2014. <>.

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Final Project Blog #2: Medieval Siege Tactics: Development and History

The Medieval time period completely altered the art of siege as it was known to the ancient world, even though in the beginning medieval siege-works shared many parallels to that of Rome. In the Dark/Early Middle Ages (c.a. 600 – 900 A.D.), there seems to be the continued theme of reluctance toward siege warfare due to its large expenses and overall lack of success. Long term sieges were avoided, and hardly ever established (Nossov, 2005). This is confirmed by noting the low numbers of siege engines used and the substitution of proper siege procedure with shallow stratagems as a quick ploy for victory (although such tactics were often effective).  Siege warfare, during this time period, was still used but lacked the enthusiasm necessary for great success. The problem, as it was in Rome, was that siege works was very costly and there still was not sufficient technology to easily and effectively overrun the enemy. The penalties from siege battles were often far more severe than the dividends. So what happened to this form of warfare over the course of the Medieval Age?

In the beginning the progression of tactics and technology was slow moving, often imitating classical Roman tactics such as the testudo formation. However, there were several major advances that occurred in these few hundred years that would forward the art of siege-craft forever. Between c.a. 1000 – 1400 A.D. sieges were not centered about a town, instead, the new focus became the much more manageable castle. This movement from town to castle completely altered the nature of siege tactics and technology. Combat was now far more direct and focused, making sieges more tactful and manageable. In addition, a breakthrough in weapon engineering in the 12th century A.D. produced the high esteemed Trebuchet. This powerhouse allowed armies to make quick work of a city or castle wall as its ability to rapid fire far exceeded its predecessor, The Perriere (Nossov, 2005). Sieges were shifting from long, drawn out ambiguous blockades to tactful and far faster paced battles. This shift from outer to inner city siege forced both the defensive and offensive parties to come up with completely new approaches to invasion and defense strategies altogether.


Depiction of fortification invasion from Bayeux Tapestry (Wilson)

As a counter measure to the spike in offensive machinery, we begin to see castle and city walls becoming immensely thick to hold up against the constant projection fire about perimeter during an attack. In Medieval time’s, fortifications, usually castles, were the main target and they were not taken down easily (McGlynn, 1994). As a matter of fact, these fortified structures were almost always placed in locations that were very difficult to invade such as swampy/moat surroundings or mountainous climates. Although the siege of a castle is seemingly far more malleable than that of a city, the defensive considerations by the besieged made a proper siege far from easy to handle. For example, defense towers littered along castle walls built on bedrock to hinder undermining may prove to be difficult to handle (Renoux, 2002). In accordance to such situations, a variety of siege machinery was used and developed to assist, including the somewhat dormant siege tower which made a comeback during this time. Bastille’s or defensive base camps were also established as a common area where the attacker could defend and strategize. These camps were usually placed in a strategic location to give them additional leverage in their attack as well as establish a solid blockade.

In addition to the classic undermining, starving, storming, bombarding, treachery, and various negotiations, psychological warfare also came into play as a siege tactic at this time. This movement became possible with the revolutionary invention of the cannon (c.a. 1450 A.D.). Although in the beginning the cannon’s capabilities were nowhere near as powerful as some of the other siege engines, its potential was frightening to anyone who was faced with it. Initially used as a means of flaunting power, the cannon quickly revolutionized sieges into the type of warfare we are more familiar with in the modern age (Nossov, 2005). No longer were sieges several months or years, they were now were moving towards becoming a few months, several weeks, or days. At long last modern weaponry was reaching a point where the weapons could stand on their own against the enemy. No longer were long drawn out tactical considerations necessary, siege was becoming a science.

By looking at the development of this form of war from Rome to the latter end of the Medieval Age, we can see the development of early modern war (McGlynn, 1994). The ideas passed from Rome to the Middle/Medieval times were built upon, specifically in the art of siege technology. It is very clear that although the tactics of battle fluctuated from case to case, we ultimately see a traumatic increase in technological advancement empowering the party with the better weapons for the job. Much like warfare today.



McGlynn, Sean. “The Myths of Medieval Warfare.” History Today. Vol. 44. 1994. Web. 3 April 2014. <>.

“Medieval Warfare: How to Capture a Castle with Siegecraft.” MHQ. 12 June 2006. Web. 3 February 2014. <>.

Nossov, Konstantin. Ancient and Medieval Siege Weapons. Guildford: The Lyons Press, 2005. Book. 3 April 2014.

Renoux, Annie, and Lucia Velardi. “castle, fortification.” Encyclopedia of the Middle Ages. : James Clarke & Co, 2002. Oxford Reference. 2005. Date Accessed 3 Apr. 2014 <>.

Thérouanne, Walter of. Uita domni Ioannis Morinensis Episcopi. Trans. Jeff Rider. 23 February 2014. Web. 3 April 2014. <>.

Wilson, D. M. (2004). The Bayeux Tapestry. New York, New York: Thames and Hudson Inc. Retrieved April 1, 2014

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Final Project Blog #3: Roman Siege Machinery and Technology

The Roman Empire was a time of great change and improvement. These changes were not simply restricted to the social and political realms, but also consisted of major military and technological advancement. As the defensive techniques of the armies besieged by the Romans became more effective, high impact machinery quickly became a necessity for success against them. The Romans began to aggressively engineer and build new offensive military technology that pushed for stronger and more practical ways to breach enemy defenses. In the end we see dramatic development of machinery allowing Rome to have the upper hand in siege combat. The most important inventions of this kind include the Tortoise, Battering Ram, Onager, Ballista, and various applications and moderations to the Testudo formation. These many changes and advancements in technology allowed the Roman’s to find success under the ever growing pressures of siege warfare like never before.

The common Roman infantry shield or Scutum did not always provide the necessary protection required, even in the Testudo formation (W. Contributors, 2013). It quickly became clear that in order to approach enemy defenses without being taken out by the oncoming fire, a mobile defense structure or shield was necessary. The Ancient Vineae was a good start towards a structure of this kind; however, over time the Roman’s modified the Vineae to develop a structure referred to as the Musculus or Tortoise (Nossov, 2005). Caesar describes the overhead covering in one the Siege of Massilia (49 BC) by saying, “… the musculus was covered with tiles and mortar, to secure it against fire, which might be thrown from the wall. Over the tiles hides are spread, to prevent the water let in on them by spouts from dissolving the cement of the bricks. Again, the hides were covered over with mattresses, that they might not be destroyed by fire or stones…” (Caesar, Civil Wars, 2.10). Caesar also describes these structures as being 60 feet long, thus sheltering many men which provided the man power to destroy heavily fortified wall foundations. This imperative war machine allowed the safe transport of infantry to the foot of an enemy wall protecting them from the countless threats including but not limited to arrows, stone, lumber, and boiling water, oil, or sand.


Depiction of Roman Onager used to attack enemy infantry and defenses from a distance             (Hossman,

Throughout Roman history, the Battering Ram proved to be a valuable part of Roman artillery allowing an invading army to make quick work of enemy defense structures, specifically fortified walls. The actual rams were usually simple in design, consisting of a log with one end made of copper or iron that was usually in the form of a ram’s head. Technicians learned that this combat piece served best when suspended from a frame of some kind. Over time, the ram found its way into the tortoise structure giving the incoming infantry defense as well as the awesome power of the battering ram. These so called “Ram Tortoises” were often quite large (as long as 17 feet) and allowed the incoming infantry a great advantage on the destruction of stone walls (Nossov, 2005).

Between the 1st and 3rd centuries ballistae technology begins to become present in the Roman artillery. These technologies required more sophisticated engineering and carpenters to maintain (Feugère, 1993). These included the Onager which was the primary stone-projector used to smash walls or oncoming siege engines (depending if you were attacking or being attacked), and the Carroballista which was also used to launch projectiles rapidly against enemy troops (Cavazzi). The introduction of these torsion powered artilleries was the very beginnings of what would become medieval siege weapons, although medieval weapons were non-torsion powered (Hebblewhite, Artillery, 2012). Throwing technology introduced a new power, power from a distance. This new ability forced those being attacked to develop new defensive precautions and strategies to satisfy their defensive needs. Although the throwing technology was just in its infancy, the importance of such technologies become prevalent at this time and continued to grow in the centuries to come.

The stride of Roman technology truly is a spectacle. The new ideas at this time clearly demonstrate the ever changing evolution of war and technology even in ancient times, especially regarding technology. By putting forth resources to better the situation of siege warfare Rome learned remarkable skills that would revolutionize the art of warfare, and it would never revert back. The Roman’s deliberately identified and exploited the weakness of their enemies which directly drove them to new technological realms, allowing the Empires following to pick up where they left off and improve things even more.



Caesar, Julius. The Civil Wars: Book Two. Trans. W A McDevitte and W S Bohn. 49 BC. Web. 3 April 2014. <>.

Cavazzi, Franco. “Siege Warfare.” n.d. Web. 3 April 2014. <>.

Connolly, Peter. Greece and Rome at War. Frontline Books, 2012. Book. 3 April 2014.

Contributors, Wikipedia. “Scutum (Shield).” 17 December 2013. Web. 3 April 2014. <>.

Feugère, Michel. “The Arms of the Romans.” 1993. Web. 3 April 2014. <>.

Hossmann. “Roman Onager.” 15 October 2005. Web. 17 April 2014. <>.

Hebblewhite, M. K. 2012. Artillery. The Encyclopedia of Ancient History.

Hebblewhite, M. K. 2012. Sieges and siegecraft, Roman. The Encyclopedia of Ancient History.

Nossov, Konstantin. Ancient and Medieval Siege Weapons. Guildford: The Lyons Press, 2005. Book. 3 April 2014.

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Final Project Blog #4: Medieval Siege Machinery and Technology

The advancements made in siege warfare during medieval times set the stage for the basics of modern technology and tactics to emerge. The advanced engineering of the time period introduced basic concepts that still are used today. It was not always this fantastic, however. Initially the engines and tactics used were somewhat similar to that of the Roman Empire, however with the shift of siege warfare being inside of city walls about a castle instead of outside city walls about an entire city, things were rapidly changing. Throwing machinery and other artillery quickly became more effective, leaving the Roman technologies behind (Tarver, 1995), and eventually becoming the center of medieval siege-works. The use of these new engines caused major strategic alterations from both the offensive and defensive perspectives. So what were these machines, and what did they do?

Some of the most prominent engines of the time period were the siege tower, trebuchet, cannon, and scaling ladder. The scaling ladder, although in existence long before the medieval times (actually one of the first siege devices recorded), had specific significance in the context of this time period. That is, it allowed infantry to rush and scale Castle walls quickly and effectively, causing all kinds of problems for the besieged. It should be noted that this technique was often dangerous due to the concentration of defense atop of castle walls, and thus was not used until the time was appropriate. That being said, siege ladders did yield some success, especially with its legs being wedged firmly into the ground with a height fit to be very tall compared to the wall being scaled. These precautions were done to make the ladders very difficult to get rid of once established (Nossov, 2005). Other siege ladders or siege towers were set up on wheels and platform making the transportation easier and more effective. It was imperative that infantry in an invasion involving a ladder were well trained and prepared to take on lots of incoming fire. This tactic was dangerous because the besieged often were prepared with boiling oils, sand, or water to ensure a difficult climb.

The icon of medieval siege warfare is the throwing machines, particularly the Trebuchet. Although throwing engines had existed in the Roman times, it was not until this time period that they were widely used, and altered into a very versatile form. Before the final model of the Trebuchet was reached, Engineers experimented with various forms of force to set a projectile in motion. The Roman’s method utilized twisted rope, twine, or other forms of tension to allow projectile launch, and was referred to as the use of torsion (W. Contributors, 2014). The Early Medieval engineers turned from torsion, and experimented with different forms of force. One record suggested the use of wound rope and soldier manpower as a means of force. This, often unnoticed, engineering feat is referred to as the Traction Trebuchet, and clearly demonstrates the complexity of weapon engineering and the research that the engineers put into their war efforts (Tarver, 1995).

Trebuchet (1)

Recreation of Medieval (Counter-Weight) Trebuchet (ChrisO,

All this research eventually, and inevitably, led to the creation of one of the greatest modern weapons, The Trebuchet. The Trebuchet functioned on a counterweight system meaning that the object was set into motion through a large weight opposing the projectile driven by gravity. This system offered far better rapid fire capabilities in contrast to its previous counterparts. The Chronicle of James the Conqueror includes a brief dialogue with a siege engine builder, Nicoloso (the builder) says, “… in eight days I will build for you a castle of wood, and I will make it move on wheels up to the place, as you know I made the `trebuchets’ move up at Mallorca.” (Agrait, 2013) These builders were clearly skilled and very effective craftsman. The other major advantage that the Trebuchet offered was that it could be managed and run by far fewer people than its main predecessor, The Perriere. It also had improved accuracy and power making it an obvious choice in most siege situations, being able to launch a 100 kilogram ball a distance of approximately 200 meters (Nossov, 2005). Balls were not the only projectile fired however, Trebuchets were known to launch plague infected bodies, pots full of snakes, and other devastating objects. By the late 12th Century, the Trebuchet was well spread throughout the continent. Modern weaponry had finally arrived.

The next milestone in weapon engineering shows up around the 15th Century. That is, the development of gunpowder weaponry and specifically the cannon. Although this new technology’s capabilities were nowhere near as devastating as some of the other siege machinery of the time, the cannon immediately caught everyone’s attention, causing a great psychological stir. As an act of intimidation, large cannons were created as cannon size was considered to be of importance in its effect on the enemy, which clearly is not necessarily true (Nossov, 2005). The cannon was revolutionary, and not completely understood by its users, thus we see the cannon technicians often sheltering behind wooden shields when reloading to avoid injury! Other major problems were introduced as gunsmiths all made cannons in their own unique manner, meaning only specific cannonballs would fit your cannon. That being said, cannon bombardments became more and more effective with time as the technology advanced and became more palpable. Although the artillerymen running such weaponry were often noted to be cowards.

The advancements made in the middle ages clearly indicate accelerated strides in technology and their important role in the progression of warfare. The weapons that ended this chapter in history would be the ones that would be refined into some of the weapons that we are familiar with today. Warfare quickly was becoming a matter of technology and intellectual advancement, which attacked the previous ideas of success lying in bravery and charm. Modern warfare was emerging.



Agrait, Nicolas. “Chronicle of James the Conqueror, Siege of Burriana (1233).” 26 February 2013. Web. 16 April 2014. <>.

ChrisO. “Trebuchet at Château des Baux, France.” 1 January 2005. Picture. 16 April 2014. <>.

Contributors, Wikipedia. “Trebuchet.” 15 April 2014. Web. 15 April 2014. <>.

Nossov, Konstantin. Ancient and Medieval Siege Weapons. The Lyons Press, 2005. Book. 3 April 2014.

Tarver, W.T.S. “The Traction Trebuchet: A Reconstruction .” Technology and Culture. Vol. 36. The Johns Hopkins University Press, January 1995. Web. 3 April 2014. <>.

Wyley, Stephen Francis. “Siege Warfare: The Art of Offence and Defence.” 7 January 2002. Web. 16 April 2014. <>.

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Final Project Blog #5: The Roman Siege of Veii

The Siege of Veii was one of the most important sieges in Roman history. The Siege itself took place c.a. 404-396 BCE, lasting for an approximate eight years! (Tucker, 2011) These dates are, however, disputed due to the fact that Livy documents the siege as lasting ten years, which clearly is contradictory. Nevertheless, as with all battles, it is vital that we first learn why the event took place so we can better understand the significance of the event. In the case of this particular siege, most of the information that we have is based on documentation by Livy, who lived c.a. 64 BCE – c.a. 17 A.D., several hundred years after the event being considered took place. This is somewhat problematic, because this leaves some uncertainty in the accuracy of his telling of the events. Regardless, we should be led to wonder, why did this conflict occur and what were the outcomes?

As far as we can tell, one of the main issues between the Etruscans and Roman’s was that Rome was unable to expand northward because the Etruscan city-state of Veii was established right in their way (approximately 16 km away). This would not normally be too big of a problem, however the city-state of Veii was quite large (about 562 km²) and was clearly capable of withstanding Rome (Lendering, 2014). This fact alone makes this siege far more significant and concerning for the Roman’s than most other invasions from the time period. Livy begins his documentation of the events between Rome and Veii by saying, “Whilst peace prevailed elsewhere, Rome and Veii were confronting each other in arms, animated by such fury and hatred that utter ruin clearly awaited the vanquished.” (Livy, The History of Rome, 5.1). It is clear that there was building tension, even hatred between the two parties and thus war between the two was imminent. Immediately the Roman’s begin to establish a solid blockade about the Etruscans. One of the longest sieges in history had just begun.


Map of the ancient Etruscan City-State of Veii (Dennis,

While Rome was busy overtaking Fidenae, the Veientines began to build up walls for defense against the inevitable incoming invasion from Rome. These massive walls proved to be a very difficult obstacle for the Roman army to overcome. The situation did not become any better with the Capenates and the Faliscans joining theVeientines under the assumption that if Rome took Veii they would surely be next. In this particular siege, the Roman’s stood by their defenses year-round, for a documented 10 years according to Livy. “… (Veii) since after being besieged for ten summers and winters and inflicting more loss than it sustained, it succumbed at last to destiny” (Livy, The History of Rome, 5.22). This incredible display of persistence and determination shows the will power and diligence that the Roman army possessed towards their cause. The resources, time, and effort spent in this siege did have lasting negative effects on the people involved during the grueling time of the invasion.

In the end, the solution that yielded the sweet taste of victory was a simple undermining strategy. The men were split into six work forces that would trade off (as one of Rome’s primary advantages was manpower) digging into a mine that was to lead straight into the enemy citadel for invasion. It has been suggested that perhaps the Roman’s ended up using an Etruscan sewer system as a passage, due to the fact that the Etruscans were known for their complex engineering (Lendering, 2014). Once the mine was complete, the Roman army used their established passageway to disoriented the besieged by breaching directly into the besieged land as well as invade from all directions round about the wall, which the Roman’s had ultimate control over. The Veientines were surrounded, and had inevitably lost to the Romans.

The way that Livy documents the news of victory is fascinating as it uncovers the true emotions of victory within the Roman lifestyle. Livy says, “when the capture of Veii was announced in Rome, after so many years of undecided warfare and numerous defeats, the rejoicing was as great as if there had been no hope of success” (Livy, The History of Rome, 5.23). It is also states that the people continued on in a public Thanksgiving for four days. After overtaking the seemingly most probable enemy to the Roman people, the general attitude quickly became one of ease and joy. The Romans had put lots of time and resources into the siege and now finally had the opportunity to reap the benefits, including an “enormous wealth” that was taken from the Etruscans (Livy, The History of Rome, 5.21).

This battle is significant not only to our political and social understanding of Rome, but specifically to the tactical/technological aspects of Rome. The use of undermining and other siege engines clearly demonstrates the progression of siege warfare even early in Rome’s history. The applications of such tactics and technology will only grow in complexity, and ultimately provide greater victories for the Roman’s in the future.




Contributors, Wikipedia. “Battle of Veii.” 30 November 2013. Web. 17 April 2014. <>.

Dennis, George. “Map of Veii.” 5 November 1848. Map. 17 April 2014. <>.

Lendering, Jona. “Veii.” 23 March 2014. Web. 17 April 2014. <>.

Livius, Titus. Livy’s History of Rome: Book 5. Ed. Ernest Rhys. Trans. Rev. Canon Roberts. 1905. Web. 17 April 2014. <>.

Nossov, Konstantin. Ancient and Medieval Siege Weapons. Guiolford: The Lyons Press, 2005. Book. 28 March 2014.

Rickard, J (6 October 2009), Siege of Veii, 405-396 B.C. ,

Tucker, Spencer. Battles That Changed History: An Encyclopedia of World Conflict. Santa Barbara, 2011. Web. 17 April 2014. <>.

Ward-Perkins, J.B. “Veii: The Historical Topography of the Ancient City.” Papers of the British School at Rome 29 (1961). Web. 17 April 2014. <>.


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Final Project Blog #6: Medieval Castle Siege: The Siege of Château Gaillard

In the middle Ages, warfare often involved the surrounding and besieging of an enemy castle within their city walls. As I mentioned in previous blog posts, this type of siege-works was completely different from that experienced by the Roman’s in surrounding and starving an entire city, although they did share some commonalities. While Roman sieges were often very long and devastating, they usually did not involve the intense tactical and technological considerations required in breaching castle walls. This change, in part, may be attributed to the reduction of army sizes from Roman to Medieval times, which made sheer brute force against an enemy insufficient and no longer plausible. This is not to say that siege armies had few men, camps of cavalry and other infantry were always part of proper siege works (Morris, 1914), although they were not organized in the same manner that the Roman’s were.  This is to say that when dealing with a compact and concentrated defense structure such as a castle, the attacker was often faced with many tactical problems that required their utmost concentration like never before. In any case, in order to understand castle siege better, it is vital to first consider the basic design and purpose of medieval castles.

Although each castle was unique, they all shared one thing in common… they were nearly impossible to get inside of while under siege. A perfect example of such a structure is that of Château Gaillard, a famous medieval castle. This amazing fortification was build c.a. 1196 under the reign of Richard the Lionhearted of England, and was purposefully placed in a naturally defensible spot as to provide additional protection when confronted with a siege situation. These locational defense precautions taken by castle builders of the time period were appropriate especially as many castles were used as protection for a location of importance. For example, Château Gaillard overlooked the Seine River which was an important transport route at the time (Rigord, 1204). In accordance with these considerations, castle’s designs emphasized heavy fortification and defense as evident by the large walls and towers. Château Gaillard consisted of an outer and inner bailey (or outer and inner wall), along with several defense towers and ditches as mediums of defense (Hamill, 2012). In addition to all of that, Château Gaillard was also built on limestone as to further its sturdiness and protect it against potential undermining. The advanced design of this castle (and many other castles like it) clearly demonstrate that these structures were prepared for the worst, and that is exactly what they faced.


Plan of Château Gaillard showing the outer and inner baileys (Viollet-le-Duc,

In c.a. 1204, the famous besieging of the castle Château Gaillard took place between the kingdoms of France and England, closely following the death of King Richard. King Philip of France was in pursuit of control of Normandy, and Château Gaillard was a central part in his campaign in so doing. In preparation for this six month siege, Philip besieged and overtook several, lesser, castles around the area. When the time became appropriate, the French army finally began to move into position to besiege the English castle. Rigord, a medieval monk, documented the siege’s beginnings saying, “When he had recovered his strength and that of his army he laid siege to Castle Gaillard, in the month of September following. This was a strong fortress which King Richard had had constructed upon a high rock which dominated the Seine near the island of Andelys” (Rigord, 1204). Phillip quickly identified his options and began to contemplate what his next move would be. He concluded that he could either find a way to sneak through his enemy’s defenses by means of breaching, or to open the main gate. The latter of the two seemed less desirable if not impossible, so he and his men immediately began to plot a method of breaching. Soon, the French were executing common medieval siege tactics including the scaling of castle walls and undermining. With the use of siege towers and other Siege Engines, the French were soon pounding through the outer Bailey. These actions did not come without any adversity from the English. By the time the first bailey was decimated, the French had experienced great losses. Although the defender always has a clear advantage in these situations, all good siege artist know that quitting never is an option.

As the French made it through the first Bailey, they quickly re-established themselves and began to work on the second, inner bailey. As I mentioned above, castles were designed to keep the enemy out, which kept the besieged in. This may seem irreverent, but all castle logistics carry some weight of importance to the invasion as a whole. This inability to allow people to leave castle quarters quickly became a major issue in this particular siege, as several local civilians ran to the fortified castle to survive from their burning villages (W. Contributors, 2014). How was this an issue? Well, before long these additional civilians began to greatly increase the consumption rate of the already limited supplies, making the situation within the castle walls even worse. While the defenders within castle tried to do everything possible to make any type of enemy breach impossible, persistence has a way of overcoming if it given enough time. Thus Phillip, now having lost many of his men, came up with a new idea that really encompasses the devotion nested in medieval castle siege tactics. He proposed that they climb up the garderobe, commonly known as a toilet chute. This may sound strange, and perhaps it is, but when an army is trying to breach enemy defenses nothing is too crazy or daring to do if it works… at least that is how they felt. This exploitation of the enemy’s architectural weakness ended up being significant enough that it cost the English the siege and King John was forced give into an inevitable surrender, as was the case for most defending parties of the time period.



Alchin. “Attacking a Castle in the Middle Ages.” n.d. Web. 17 April 2014. <>.

Contributors, Wikipedia. “Château Gaillard.” 7 April 2014. Web. 17 April 2014. <>.

Hamill, John. “Chateau Gaillard.” 2012. Web. 17 April 2014. <>.

“Medieval Warfare: How to Capture a Castle with Siegecraft.” June 12 2006. Web. 17 April 2014. <>.

Morris, J. E. “Mounted Infantry In Medieval Warfare.” Transactions of the Royal Historical Society (1914). Web. 17 April 2014. <>.

Rigord. Deeds of Phillip Augustus. 1204. Web. 17 April 2014. <>.

Viollet-le-Duc, Eugene. “A plan of Château-Gaillard.” 1856. Web. 17 April 2014. <>.

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Greek Naval Technology and The Battle of Salamis: The Trireme – Revised


The Trireme (triêrês or τριήρης – Three Rowerwas an ancient battle ship primarily used by Mediterranean Empires including the Greeks, Persians, and Romans. This great technological advancement was first documented c. a. 535 BCE by Herodotus when he refers to a conflict between Samos and Egypt which states, “Polycrates selected those citizens who he suspected were most likely to revolt and sent them off in forty Triremes…” (Herodotus, III.44) Evolving from the Bireme, the Trireme quickly became the Greek Navy standard often replacing other ancient ships such as the much smaller Pentekonter which only consisted of 50 oarsmen contrasted to the Trireme’s approximate 170 oarsmen. (Wood, 2013) These massive ships served a major role in the Greek’s ability to hold off the Persians in The Battle of Salamis. To understand that role better, let’s first consider its design.



Depiction of a sailing Trireme based on the modern Trireme recreation Olympias (Perseus Project)(


The basic architecture of the Trireme revolves around having three rows of rowers, as implied by the title, with one man per oar. The Engineers, through a process of trial and error, designed this warship to have adequate space to satisfy the large quantities of men required to operate it properly. As such, the dimensions of the sheds were approximately 37 meters long, 6 meters wide, and 4 meters tall. This provided just enough space for oarsmen to operate effectively or be altered to accommodate the rowers as necessary. The Trireme’s speed capability is approximated to have averaged around 5-8 knots (6-9 miles per hour) achieved by the use of sails, oars, and rudders to propel and direct its path. (Trireme, 2014) The oars were especially important in battle when great maneuverability and speed for ramming became vital, as the primary weapon utilized was a massive bronze ram heading the front of the ship near the surface of the water. The ram was the focus of Athenian Naval warfare because there was only little space for marines available, although they were carried in small quantities to defend the oarsmen who often could see very little while rowing. (Rankov, 2012)

The ships were constructed of available woods depending on location usually including: fir, Cedar, oak, and pine. These materials may have differed slightly from case to case as different areas constructed Triremes slightly different, but the basic design always remained constant. With the primary material being wood, the crews were required to beach the ships at night to ensure that the ship would not become waterlogged. The Trireme usually included around 200 men to operate, 170 of them being oarsmen, with a small crew and a few marines. (Trireme, 2014) This, again, indicates the importance of maneuverability as the Trireme required large quantities of man power to ram and sink enemy ships.

In The Battle of Salamis (c.a. 480 BCE), the Athenians utilized the Trireme and constricted waters to hold off The Persians. The Interesting thing about this battle is that The Persians and Greeks fought one another with similar technologies, the main material difference between the two was the volume of the fleets. (Lendering, 2008) Herodotus recorded the Athenians to have gathered 371 Triremes (Herodotus VIII,46), while the number of Persian ships is disputed, it is approximated to have been around 1200 triremes. The Persians relied on the Greeks being overwhelmed by their massive fleet, however the Greeks utilized the narrow strait between the island and mainland to effectively hold off the incoming fleet as they rammed and attacked, with a beneficial advancing breeze on their side (Taylor, 2012). By considering the Trireme’s remarkable design, The Persian’s inability to swim, and the geography of Salamis emphasizing Greek battle tactics, it is clear to see how the Greeks succeeded in effectively defending themselves in this great naval siege.



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Gabrielsen, V. 2012. Navies, Greek. The Encyclopedia of Ancient History

Greek Fleet of Galleys Based on Sources from The Perseus Project. 2008. Graphic. Web. 6   Feb 2014. <;.

Herodotus. Herodotus: The Histories. Trans. Robin Waterfield. New York: Oxford University Press, 2008. Book.

Lendering, Jona. “Naval Battle of Salamis (480BCE).” 17 July 2008. Web. 6 February 2014. <;.

Rankov, B. 2012. Trireme. The Encyclopedia of Ancient History.

Taylor, M. C. 2012. Salamis, island and battle of. The Encyclopedia of Ancient History.

“Trireme.” 4 February 2014. Web. 6 February 2014. <;.

Wallinga, H. T. (1990). The Trireme and History. Mnemosyne, XLIII. Retrieved April 11, 2014, from

Wood, Adrian K. Warships of the Ancient World: 5000-500 BC. Colchester: Osprey Publishing, 2013. Book.

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