Civilization began with the creation of cities, the congregation of people for mutual support. By their very decision to assemble and collect resources, cities became targets for raiding populations that found taking someone else’s possessions easier than producing their own. The need for defense meant that the towns soon built walls around their perimeters to keep the raiders at bay. The desire to overcome those defenses to acquire what was inside resulted in siege warfare.
As the above definition states, a siege is not necessarily a complete encirclement of a target; indeed, many if not most sieges are of positions not completely cut off from outside contact. Thus, protracted warfare with steady pressure on a target position or city falls under the definition. Because the nature of dealing with fortifications is so different from dealing with an opposing army in the field, siege warfare has been both a proving ground and a source of inspiration for engineers throughout history. Building defenses and overcoming those seemingly impregnable has been a major segment of warfare since earliest times and has no less importance today.
This work discusses both types of siege throughout history, from the first recorded siege in 1405/1406 b.c. to the most recent in 1996. We have attempted to include topics from across the span of time, as well as from as many places around the world as possible. Thus, many sieges covered here will be completely unknown to most readers, but with effects nonetheless for local and area populations. As it seems most of the world’s wars have been ethnic, religious, and political struggles in and around Europe, sieges from this region necessarily dominate. Every effort has been made to keep this focus from being exclusive.
I would like to thank the historians who have contributed to this work: Tom Davis, freelance historian, Brandy Durham of St. Mary’s University, Major Michael A. McClain, USA (Ret.), and Allen Lee Hamilton of St. Philip’s College, all in San Antonio.