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Siege Warfare

Offensive and defensive strategies in the ancient Near East.

From very early times, people have found it necessary to build walls around their living spaces. For cities, these protective fortifications could be quite elaborate, including double walls systems with steep space between that provided a defensive advantage, moats, towers, complex gate structures, and thick wooden, metal covered doors. But just as people worked to fortify their cities, others worked to find ways of destroying them.

There were several ways of trying to compromise fortifications, but none was so dreaded than the most obvious: a siege. When an army would attack a walled city, they knew that this battle could last for years, and so it was an expensive, logistically challenging, physically, and mentally draining process for the attacking army. A siege essentially imprisoned the citizens of a walled city giving them two choices: surrender now, or face thirst, starvation, and death before we ultimately break in. Historically, when an invading army finally did break through the defenses of a walled city, major atrocities were committed. Sometimes years of anger, work and hatred had developed before the excited frenzy of success, resulting in mass death, abuse, and at best enslavement.

To imprison the citizens inside of their own walled city, an attacking army would set up a perimeter around the city using The army could dig ditches, and moats, and building walls and towers to secure the perimeter. The army would camp and live around these new fortifications. No one or thing could go to or from the city. The invading army would also look to cut off any water source from the city. And with these preparations complete, they would begin attacks against the fortifications themselves. These attacks were varied. Sappers would attempt to collapse walls by digging tunnels underneath using wooden supports, when they believed they were at the right location, they’d set the support beams on fire to cause the tunnels, and hopefully the wall to collapse. While the sappers were digging, others would attack the walls at strategic locations using rams with blades on the end to pry between bricks and stone. Fires could also be set against walls with the hopes that the great heat would eventually begin to crack and compromise them. Gates were also attacked with battering rams and fire, though once through a gate, the military would often have to deal with a tight winding defensive space and sometimes a secondary gate. Large ladders were also used to simply scale the wall, and while this was a dangerous business, when used all together, these strategies could be effective in breaching defences, and at least in lowering the resilience of the entrapped citizens.

As for defences, a city was largely reliant on its height advantage. From the wall they could shoot arrows, throw stones, pour hot liquid, try to set fires, try to dislodge battering rams with chain, but often what would stop a siege was out of the city’s control, a contagious sickness in the attacking army, a military emergency elsewhere that would draw their attention, or that the enemy would have overestimated their economic ability to last.

Corie Bobechko is a daily co-host, speaker, and writer of Bible Discovery. She also hosts a YouTube channel that shows how history and archaeology prove the Bible. Her heart for seekers and skeptics has led her to seek truth and share it with others. Corie also has a Bachelor of Theology from Canada Christian College.

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