Warfare involving laying sieges to cities and fortresses has existed since antiquity. However, during the medieval period, siege warfare took an all-new meaning thanks to the rapid development of technologies and weapons specifically meant for sieges.
While sieges in the early medieval period used more conventional siege weapons, those in High Middle Ages had become to use typical weapons such as huge catapults which could bring down thick curtain walls. By the late medieval period, gunpowder weapons had revolutionized every military aspect and sieges mostly involved heavy gunpowder weapons such as the cannons.
Following are some of the most famous sieges during the medieval period.
Siege of Rome
In the 6th century, the center of Roman might was the Byzantine Empire while the Western Roman Empire based in Italy was at the mercy of the Germanic tribes. In 546, the Byzantine Empire tried to stay the decline of the Western Empire by regaining control of Rome.
The Ostrogoth responded soon by laying a siege to the city which lasted for nearly one year. After a year, Rome capitulated, possibly as a result of collusion between members of the imperial garrison and the Ostrogoth.
The aftermath of the siege was rather peaceful with a handful of deaths occurring in the city and the city suffering limited plundering.
Siege of Constantinople
The siege of Constantinople by the Omayyad Caliphate took place in 717. Omayyad’s had defeated the might of the Byzantine Empire in a number of confrontations by this time and had reached Constantinople where it laid siege to the city.
An Arab naval force also tried to impose naval blockade on the city but this attempt failed when the superior Byzantine navy destroyed the Arab fleet.
This eventually proved decisive in demoralizing the Arabs who could no longer receive troops or supplies through sea.
Two further fleets sent to reinforce the Arabs were destroyed as well and by 718, Arabs were forced to lift the siege of the city, postponing the Muslim conquest of Constantinople for many centuries.
Siege of Syracuse
The Aghlabids had reached Sicily in early 9th century at a time when North Africa had already fallen to Muslim hands and Moorish influence was spreading across Mediterranean shores.
An initial siege laid to the strategically significant city of Syracuse by the Aghlabids had already failed in 827.
In 877, the Aghlabids again laid siege to the city and were able to blockade maritime communications of the city as well, defeating the few Byzantine vessels who attempted to come to the city’s aid.
After nine months of withstanding the siege, Syracuse finally fell to the Arabs in May, 878 when the Arab army was able to exploit a breach in the city walls.
A large number of the city’s inhabitants were consequently killed and the city was turned to ruins. The success of the Arab army marked the increasing influence of the Arab-Berber Muslim rule over Sicily.
Siege of Paris
Vikings began raiding Western European shores in late 8th century and by the 9th century, they were posing a serious threat to England and the Carolingian Empire among other regions.
The West Frankish Empire under Charles the Bald was undergoing civil unrest by the middle of the 9th century and it was at this time that the Vikings launched an invasion of Paris in 845.
The Viking force comprised of some 120 ships which carried thousands of men. Charles tried to mount an effective resistance but Vikings quickly defeated the Frankish army before laying siege to Paris.
Paris fell to the Vikings who then went on to plunder and occupy the city. It was only when Charles agreed to pay a hefty ransom in gold and silver that the Vikings agreed to leave the city, plundering other coastal settlements on their way back.
Siege of Antioch
The siege of Antioch was a part of the First Crusade in the 11th century. The Crusader forces laid siege to the city in October, 1097 while the city was still under Muslim control. Given the highly strategic location of Antioch, Crusaders wanted to ensure control of the city before proceeding to Jerusalem.
The siege of the city lasted from October 1097 to June 1098 during which the Muslim garrison inside launch unsuccessful sorties to relieve the siege. Two relieving Muslim forces sent to the aid of the city were defeated by the crusaders and the siege continued unabated until June 1098 when the city fell to the Crusaders.
A larger Muslim army was dispatched to confront the Crusaders but the Crusaders defeated this army as well, securing control of Antioch and surrounding territories.
Siege of Acre
The siege of Acre took place as part of the Third Crusade in late 12th century. By 1189, Saladin had already scored a number of decisive victories over the Crusaders and had established his control over most of the territories around Jerusalem. He also gained control of the city of Acre with its highly significant port.
The Crusader forces then began to consolidate their troops near the city of Acre which was besieged beginning in August 1189. Saladin, in turn, besieged the Crusader camp and a number of confrontations between the Crusaders and Saladin’s forces proved indecisive.
It was finally in 1191 that Richard the Lion-heart of England King Philip of France reached Acre, reinforcing the besieging Crusader force. The city was finally compelled to surrender although Saladin outside the city walls with his force and would continue to harass the Crusader armies.
Siege of Calais
The siege of Calais took place as part of the Hundred Years’ War between the French and the English.
After engaging French forces in a number of battlefields, Edward III of England decided to seek out reinforcements and supplies for his troops. He needed a suitable port on the mainland where English ships could securely reach him and Calais suited this perfectly.
The port of Calais featured formidable fortifications and a highly defensible structure.
English forces under Edward laid siege to the city in September 1346 and gained access to the city only in August 1347 when the citizens surrendered due to the lack of provisions inside city walls. Calais became a highly prized possession of England in the subsequent centuries and remained under English control until 1558.