The Sieging of Castles (Siege Warfare)

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Siege of Cuzco by Francis Pizarro (14...

Over the centuries many different techniques were employed to siege castles. Here were some of the simpler (less technological) ways that castles were sieged. These techniques were used more often in the early centuries of castles. As technology improved and siege engines were developed the engines were more often used because they were quicker to bring about the fall of the castle.

Interested in Learning about one of the most famous castle sieges of all times? This was the siege of Richard the Lion Hearted Castles

  1. Deception: Spies were used to infiltrate the castle. They could, at night, open the castle gates or wreak havoc on the interior defenses of the castle. The most famous case of this tactic is the Trojan Horse.
  2. Treachery: Someone trusted within the power structure of the castle could give misleading information that would bring down the castle. He could for example report that there were many more troops sieging the castle than there actually were. This would induce the castle residents to either revolt or surrender out of fear.
  3. Starvation: This was a method used but it often meant many months, sometimes even a year or more. The sieging army would station itself around the castle and not allow any form of commerce. Eventually the inhabitants would surrender due to imminent starvation.
  4. Biological warfare: Yep that's right. A sieging force could launch the remains of rotting corpses into the castle causing outbreaks of life-threatening illness.
  5. Simple storm: The sieging force could carry on an all out attack at various points of the castle. This overwhelming would hopefully break through in some places causing a collapse in defenses.
  6. Mining: The sieging army would actually dig tunnels under the castle. The hope was not so much for an entry into the castle but for a way to collapse the castle defenses.

Medieval Siege : A nova SpecialThe Siege Arms Race - Castles, and how they were sieged developed over the centuries in a medieval style arms race. All of the siege tactics shown above were replaced by large medieval weapons. These weapons could bring down the fortress walls quickly and efficiently. But castles too adapted by building stronger, taller, and thicker walls. They even used concentric walls with walls inside walls. Once the art of explosives developed reasonably well and artillery became accurate and reliable castles fell out of favor in that they could not provide adequate defense. The castles then became more of a fortified place for royalty to live. NOVA: Medieval Siege

Technological Ways that Castles were sieged: Of course we are all familiar with some of the machinery that was used to siege a castle. Here is an overview of some of these machines of mass destruction.


Some of the Means of Sieging a Castle

Catapults - A catapult was a large machine used to throw objects, often rocks, arrows, pots of fire, or even spears, at a castle. This would destroy the castle walls and buildings. When we think of a catapult the one shown here is what we envision. But more often than not the catapults used for sieging didn't have the cup that you put the thrown object into. They usually had a sling. This sling could generate more force and throw the object further with more accuracy. This sling effect was later developed into the Trebuchet. Shown in picture: Schleich Catapult


Trebuchet - Similar to the catapult in that it was designed to throw large objects but it was more efficient than a catapult because it could be built faster and at less cost. Yet it could throw heavier objects even furhter. The basic theory of the Trebuchet was like that of a see saw. One end had a heavy weight. The other end extended much longer and had a sling where the thrown object was put. When the trebuchet was activated the heavy weight would fall and the swinging of the see-saw would propel the object. Medieval Siege Weapons (1): Western Europe AD 585-1385 (New Vanguard)


Battering Rams: They were large mechanical objects, often on wheels that were used to ram the walls and doors of a castle in an attempt to break them down. Often times battering rams were part of a siege tower. The image at left shows early roman era battering rams. They have wooden structures around them to protect the operators of the ram.

Siege Towers: Were wooden towers often built at the site of the siege. They were built to the height of the castle walls and were on wheels so they could be rolled up to the wall. Then the attackers could cross right over into the castle. Often times they had battering rams like the one shown here.

Counter Measures that Castles Took in defense against sieges

  1. Stronger and thicker walls were built. These walls could sustain more punishment from siege engines.
  2. Concentric walls were built around the castle. This made it more difficult for siege engines to hurl objects at the castle. If the outer wall was breached the siege engines had to be brought inside these walls in order to attack the inner walls. This made them very vulnerable to attack.
  3. Moats were built: A moat was a body of water that surrounded a castle. It served the purposes of making it difficult for enemy troops, enemy siege towers and enemy battering rams to get close to the castle walls. It also made it near impossible for the sieging army to dig a tunnel under the castle.
  4. Higher castle towers were built. It was a great advantage to have the castle towers higher than the siege towers that attacked. They could fire down on the enemy.

Make Your Own Siege Engine!

Medieval Projects you can build and make

  •  The Little Dragon Trebuchet - Build this table top Medieval siege weapon from materials found around the house. Without any tuning this trebuchet launches projectiles 30 feet. You can tweak it to hurl items much longer distances. It's a great project, easy to do and can be completed in one afternoon. This tutorial is complete with lots of pictures and even a video of my the completed trebuchet firing its projectile.
    The Little Dragon Trebuchet


  • The "Table Top Troll" Catapult! This project is done. You can build your own catapult with just a few pieces of wood, a rubber band and a couple of eye hooks. This tutorial has lots of pics and takes you through the complete process. the Table-Top Troll Catapult



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