There is a danger that the excavators might have misinterpreted the archeological evidence to fit the literary material, 5 5 E.
Dobson on Adolf Schulten at Numantia. There is thus a paradox that, despite the intellectual efforts invested over a millennium and a half, the classical cultures made only two significant advances in siege warfare: the invention of torsion artillery in the fourth century bc and the introduction of traction artillery in the sixth century ad , and the latter was not an indigenous creation but was adopted indirectly from the Chinese cultural sphere.
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The very exuberance of the literary fantasies might have put off those who saw themselves as realists, discouraging innovation and inducing complacency. In the first century ad , Frontinus thought engines of war had long since reached their limits, and he saw no hope of improvements Strat.
The Greeks and Romans liked to think of an epic siege near the start of their histories. For the Greeks, this was ten years camped before Troy.
For the Romans, most suspiciously, this was another ten years, this time besieging the Etruscan town of Veii. In reality both were slow to develop the techniques of siege warfare. Although at times they built massive defensive walls, 7 7 Frederiksen makes a good case that Archaic Greek defenses were more common than previously thought. When the combatants turned to assault either of these fortified positions it was in the most primitive way.
Three times the god Apollo beat back Patroclus as he tried to climb the angle of Troy's wall, before the hero abandoned his fourth attempt Il.
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In book 12 of the Iliad , when the Trojans attack the Greek camp, they either try to climb the palisade e. When they return to the attack in book 15, Apollo kicks in the Greek ditch before wrecking the defenses like a small boy smashing sand castles with his hands and feet — Notoriously, in the end Troy falls to a trick. These were no new experiments. The Persians had inherited them from the Assyrians, who had brought these techniques together in the s bc. The Greeks had increasing contacts with the Near Eastern world from the s bc and some of the Greek peoples were directly attacked by societies with high siege capacities: from the east by the Persians and from the west by the Carthaginians, both beginning in the late s.
On meanings of mechanai see Van Wees : Various factors can be canvassed to explain this slow technological uptake by the Greeks. First was manpower.
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Siege warfare called for large numbers. The Persian empire could deploy almost limitless numbers of subject levies. Carthaginian forces being mainly mercenary, they could deploy as many as that wealthy city could pay. The second factor in the slow technological progress of the Greeks was the acceptability or otherwise of the high rates of casualties inevitable when attempting to storm a city.
The same did not necessarily apply when the Persian king of kings surveyed his expendable subjects or a Carthaginian general considered his less valuable mercenaries. Third was logistic capacity. Persia and Carthage had the ability to supply armies running into tens of thousands. Before the second half of the fifth century bc , no classical city had the resources or the infrastructure to do the same.
The fourth and final factor was, as so often in classical battle, the influence of the poetry of Homer. A feeling always remained that sophisticated siege techniques, in contrast to open battle, were somehow unfair, not a true proof of courage and manhood which, of course, were really the same thing! It is probably no accident that the first Greeks that we hear of using mechanai against walls were the Athenians in bc.
Military force based around a fleet made logistics easier it was always easier to move bulk goods by water than by land. Thucydides puts a famous funeral speech for the Athenians who died in the first year of the Peloponnesian War into the mouth of Pericles 2. On one level it mourned the dead; on another it regularized war casualties and may to some extent have readied the Athenians for more of the same.
The most significant innovation in siege technology that occurred between bc and ad was part of the process that removed the gap between the classical cultures and the Near Eastern ones in what are sometimes called poliorcetic endeavors. Sometime around bc, probably at the court of Dionysius I, the Greek tyrant of Syracuse in Sicily, artillery was invented.
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The next step probably was made some 50 years later at the court of Philip II, king of Macedon, the father of Alexander the Great. In essence the same basic type of torsion artillery could be designed to shoot arrows or stones. It is no surprise that the two steps forward most likely happened at the courts of expansionist monarchs. Dionysius and Philip had the wealth to attract the innovative engineers to design the weapons and the manpower to make and utilize them. The first manuals designed as guides to siege warfare appear in the fourth century bc.
The Romans were forced to become sophisticated in sieges in the course of the First Punic War — bc as they struggled with Carthage for control over the island of Sicily. Although arranged on an ad hoc basis by individual generals, they retained this ability throughout the rest of the republic. As part of his complete reorganization of the armed forces, the first emperor, Augustus 31 bc—ad 14 , ordered that each now permanent and professional legion should have its own engineers and artillery.
This system lasted until Constantine the Great ad — rearranged Rome's forces. Henceforth, although supplemented by local manufacture where needed, artillery was intended to be provided by specialist state factories and may have been primarily employed by specialist artillery legions. While there is truth in this, some classical habits of mind make it hard to decide how much.
Conversely, the deeply engrained ideology that barbarians were stupid, irrational, and incapable of change encouraged historians to ignore any advances, technological or otherwise, made by other cultures, and thus to write any real barbarian siege engines out of history. Modern scholars seem to stress the first of these literary trends while seldom mentioning the second. In the late empire barbarians took lots of Roman towns. This is usually explained in a variety of ways.
The towns were taken by surprise, trickery, or treachery or they were starved out.
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They were not defended. They did not really fall, only the suburbs being sacked. Barbarian siege weapons beyond simple rams and ladders, if they are not dismissed as a classicizing fantasy, are seen as occasionally being built by Roman deserters and then inefficiently used by their barbarian owners. This overlooks certain things. Odd as it seems to us, there were always Roman deserters, some even into besieged Jerusalem in ad Josephus says that the Jews at Jerusalem were unskilled at first but that practice made them proficient. On ease of use of artillery see Elton : n.
On Jewish artillery, Jos. The gap in siege expertise between Rome and its enemies seems to some degree to have closed in the late empire. From the third century ad, Roman armies no longer built marching camps or walls of circumvallation. From the early fourth century ad, legions no longer had their own artillery. Vegetius complained that in his day late fourth or fifth century ad troops no longer carried entrenching tools Mil. By the sixth century the use of torsion artillery may have become quite rare. On the other hand, barbarians very occasionally were innovators.
Wars 8. Inhabitants of the Roman empire were happy with the idea of a complete technological gulf between them and the outside world. Herodian ludicrously claimed that it was not until Roman deserters taught them how that the Parthians learned to fight hand to hand 3. It may be that barbarian relative inadequacies at siege warfare had less to do with expertise than a lack of the strong political control necessary to mobilize large numbers and vast amounts of material. It may be significant that the barbarians, who it is accepted were often successful in besieging towns, were the autocratic empires of the Huns and the Avars—empires that had both wealth and large numbers of expendable subject levies.
Other barbarians may have been in a position similar to the Archaic Greeks: lacking in logistics and manpower and having a culture where openly risking large numbers of casualties was unacceptable. There were three ways to get into a defended town: over, through, or under the walls. There were two main methods of attack under the walls. Setting fire to the pit props was meant to bring down the defenses and create a breach through which troops could enter the city. In this case it did not work. The defenses merely dropped about a yard or so vertically as the earth embankments on either side held them, preventing them from toppling over.
Yet another mine no. It stops short of the wall where a Roman countermine enters it.
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