Thursday, 26 January 2023

The Siege in the Ancient World

Bloody Romans

A few random musings (and a little bit of bollix) from the Flaxen Haired One

Directly quoted from the lesser-known Ferret's Bible of 1843 (Book of Eric)

Woe unto the Tiptonites!

And the Dudleyites raised a loud noise, ran about a bit, and played the tuba, badly. Then did the walls fall over a bit as they had been made by a shonky builder. And the people rushed in and started looting Aldis, Poundland and other stores of note. All was destroyed and the Tiponites were utterly vanquished. All men, women, kids, dogs, and Fred the tortoise were put to the edge of the sword. Only Shagger, the ferret survivedeth. 

Sometime, perhaps 10,000 years ago, a group of hunter-gatherer folk decided that the nomadic existence was without further merit and a change in lifestyle was required.

It was a simple life. The clan would range far and wide partaking in the fruits of the land and hunting prey. This suited small populations and the tribe had to migrate and exploit large areas of land. Successful tribes began to wax great and when the population exceeded the land's carrying capacity, a conflict between competing groups became inevitable.  

Due to a confluence of environmental factors, various locations become suitable for a novel form of existence/subsistence. Where large rivers meandered and the climate deemed moderate, folk started to harvest the wild grains and began to select for, and control, stolid and placid (eventually) livestock. This combination became irresistible and favoured populations began to thrive. Tis at this stage we see the kernels of the Nile, Levant and Indus civilisations. No longer would folk have to range far and wide to gain sustenance. Crops could be cultivated and animals harvested. However, a static lifestyle came with problems, akimbo. Lesser folk on the periphery began to envy the settled way of life. Settled communities prospered and a surplus of food encouraged specialisation and social stratification. However, most of the folk had to work hard to till the land and slaughter the sheep. And, inevitably, a  minority of society emerged that lived off the fat of the labour and land and became priests, diviners, chieftains and other useless folk. They did bugger all and profited akimbo, akimbo. This remains the same to this very day. 

The hunter-gatherers became covetous of the settled folk's possessions and reasoned that they should take from the settled community as was their wont. Obviously, this provoked a response and the engrained folk began to build fortifications around their communities. A ditch and a mud 'wall' sufficed at first, but the aggressive interlopers found ingenious ways to assault and overcome. Mud brick walls were succeeded/surpassed by a glacis and curtain walls fashioned from stone- woe to the nomads!    

Every action has a reaction and this is particularly the case when it came to fortifications. For the aggressors, the problem was a technical one and the brave staunch warrior took a back seat to the engineer. There were a number of solutions that could be manufactured and cunningly applied. Scaling ladders allowed access, but defenders could easily defeat this method of ingress. And of course, the walls could be constructed to such a height that the technical problems of employing/applying a ladder became insurmountable. Walls over 20 metres were impervious to this form of penetration. The solution: sappers could undermine a section of wall. A breach would form below the surface and the hole braced with wood. At a suitable moment, the wood would be set ablaze and the wall would tumble down. All the better if the breach occurred under a tower. The counter solution: The defenders generally became aware of the tunnelling operations from the beginning and thus counter tunnelling and the construction of a secondary wall were undertaken. Battering rams tipped with bronze assaulted the high walls. Covered moveable carts added mobility and provided protection from missiles raining from above. 

Gates represented a weak point in the fortified wall. Gates attracted the attention of the besiegers and in consequence, great effort was expended in 'buttressing' this impediment. Double gates, fronted with iron combined with flanking towers proved very effective. If the offenders managed to penetrate this gate they would be assaulted by warriors atop bristling high balconies that proceed in parallel array to a second similarly fortified entrance. Between the gates was a narrow killing zone where defenders hurled arrows, rocks, boiling fluids, javelins, and on some occasions vocal obscenities (ouch). 

Woe to the vanquished

Treachery was oft employed. The Greeks and Romans were great exponents of this technique. If a citizen, or a clique, could be persuaded to betray their fellow citizens an easy conquest was usually assured. If all failed the besiegers could settle down for a long haul. The city would be encompassed with fortifications and with no external relief forthcoming the city would be totally reliant on its own resources. Sieges could last years if a city was well-provisioned. The attackers could decide to find easier fruits elsewhere or succumb to disease. Relieving troops might appear over the horizon to provide succour and challenge the investment. A long siege might prove difficult and unpredictable. Perhaps negotiation might be deemed advantageous to both parties. A long siege is a costly affair, in men, materials and gelt. Years may pass before the besieged are in dire straights due to famine. Under these circumstances 'the holders of the keep' have little choice but accept unconditional surrender. In those circumstances the best that can be hoped for is enslavement. Therefore, citizens of the stronghold might be tempted to negotiate and treat for a 'favourable' outcome from the start. Terms of the treaty would often be sworn by invoking the appropriate god(s) that preside over such matters. This was a serious matter and would be considered inviolate in the Greek and Roman world. Piety favoured the attackers and favourable terms, at best, would allow the citizens to keep their lives and perhaps those goods that could be carried. They would be left unsullied and allowed to settle anew. The city would then be given up to the sack. That said, there were occasions when the attackers defaulted on their promise and fell on the fleeing defenders with wild abandon (see actions of the Romans: Hannabalic war).

In antiquity, once a city was breached, men, women and children faced a grim reality.  The rules of war (if they ever existed) did not apply in these instances. The Romans were particularly barbaric during the sack. All would be indiscriminately slaughtered without mercy, with no favour for age, sex or status. It has been documented that even the dogs of the city were cruelly destroyed. At such times the victor would cast aside considerations of kindred humanity and atavistic feelings aroused to a fever pitch would culminate in a primitive urge/surge to destroy. Innate horrors are unleashed and man's true nature becomes manifest in an orgy of doom.

We create a wasteland and call it peace. 







1 comment:

  1. Yeah Flax, history is important, interesting, entertaining and... very flexible! Surprisingly I could witness a many historical "facts" changing diametrical during my years on this strange planet. Example: in 20th century it was always taken for sure, that the gizeh-pyramids was built by cruelly forced slaves. (see Asterix and Cleopatra)

    Today (while it is not political correct anymore, to blame foreign cultures in anyway - even not the ancient ones) same buildings was built same time not by the same people anymore - they somehow changed into well paid and treated professionals....
    The Ministry of Truth is in full swing
    cheers man, josh
    ("life of brian": what have the romans ever done for us...