Michael from the Greek word “ballistes” meaning to throw

Michael Pittman

Mrs. Speer

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English 4

18 January 2018

 

Weapons
and Battle Tactics used in Siege Warfare

 

            The Middle Ages was an extremely violent era in history
including battles in both Europe and the Holy Land. The quest for power led to
invasions of lands and territories, which had to be fought for. The Middle Ages
was when great medieval castles were built as a power base for the medieval kings,
lords, and knights. A new type of warfare came about during the Middle Ages
called siege warfare. Siege warfare was waged to win a castle or a walled town
or city. Siege warfare was a frequent occurrence during the Middle Ages. Siege warfare
during the medieval era called for a variety of different siege weapons and
siege engines. Siege warfare was a medieval military operation involving the
surrounding and blockading of a town, castle, or fortress by an army in the
attempt to capture it.

            When a siege attack was put in place they used many
weapons to overcome the target. Siege weapons were very expensive and a great
business to be a part of. Each weapon was hand crafted and were constructed
carefully for that specific battle. Weapons such as the ballista, mangonel, trebuchet,
battering ram, siege tower were all used to conquer the enemies fortress,
castle, or city. The word “ballista” came from the Greek word “ballistes”
meaning to throw (“Medieval Weapons”). The ballista was a weapon similar to the
crossbow, but bigger and used tension. Arrows or darts shot out of it at high
speeds on a straight trajectory which could skewer through several enemies at
once. The word “mangonel” came from the Latin word “manganon” which means “an
engine of war” (“Medieval Weapons”). The mangonel was similar to a catapult
which worked by using force or weight. It fired heavy projectiles from a
bowl-shaped bucket at the end of its arm. The mangonel was used for aiming
missiles at castles, fortresses, and cities. This type of catapult was easy to construct,
and wheels were added to the design to ensure maneuverability. It was not as
accurate as the ballista, but it was able to throw missiles further than a trebuchet.  The word “trebuchet” is derived from the Old
French word “trebucher” meaning to throw over (“Medieval Weapons”). The trebuchet
was similar to a catapult, which was used for hurling heavy stones to smash
castle or city walls. Medieval engineers worked hard on the design of the trebuchet
to ensure that this siege weapon would have the greatest effect. The force of this
weapon could reduce castles, fortresses, and cities to rubble. The battering
ram was one of the most famous of all medieval weapons. Closely related to the Viking
raids it was also used in siege warfare of the Middle Ages. The battering ram
was used to batter, pound, punch and shake down gates, doors and walls of medieval
castles, fortresses, and towns. They were constructed out of tree trunks and were
often fitted with a metal head and supported by metal bands (“Siege Warfare”).
The siege tower was designed to protect attackers and their ladders while
attacking a weak area of the castle wall. The tower was usually rectangular
with four wheels and a height equal to that of the wall, or sometimes even
higher. Catapults are siege engines that use an arm to hurl a projectile a great
distance. Technically, any machine that hurls an object can be considered a
catapult, but the term is generally understood to mean a specific type of
medieval siege weapon. Originally, “catapult” referred to a
dart-thrower, while “ballista” referred to a stone-thrower, but ironically
over the years, the two terms eventually switched meanings (“Medieval Weapons”).
The castle was often equipped with large, wall-mounted crossbows, which were so
powerful they needed to be drawn by a pulley. These had a long range and could
be used to counter the attacks of siege engines, by shooting the “gynors”
operating them (“Medieval Weapons”).

            For larger battles, planning consisted of a council of
the leaders, they would discuss a truce or surrender. The decisions were
determined by the church and formulated for religious purposes not military
reasons (“Siege Weapons and Warfare”). The defending troops would be allowed to
march away unharmed, often retaining their weapons. However, a commander who
was thought to have surrendered too quickly might face execution by his own
side for treason. Once the negotiations for truce had failed they had prepared
their weapons for battle. Sometimes the battle would last days, weeks, months,
even years. They would collect all the supplies they would need to withstand
the attack. An attacker’s first act in a siege might be a surprise attack,
attempting to overwhelm the defenders before they were ready or were even aware
there was a threat (“Siege Weapons and Warfare”). Battlefield communications
before the invention of strict lines of communication was difficult.
Communicating was done through musical signs, audible commands, mounted
messengers, and visual signals. Fire beacons were used in many places where
there was a network of towers or castles visible one from another. It took a
whole heap of preparation and communication to pull off a siege attack (“Siege
Weapons and Warfare”).

A
successful siege combined sophisticated science with specific standards of
conduct, but not always practiced by the participants. Medieval lords, knights
and their siege engineers identified the weakest parts of the castle or town
that they needed to attack and planned the design of the siege weapons and
engines accordingly (“Medieval Warfare”). Siege dominated medieval warfare for
as long as the castle dominated the social and political order. A siege attack
was more complicated affair than just rushing into a breach. There was more
involved such as: assembling and paying the army, gathering supplies, and
hauling them to the siege site. The costs for constructing a siege attack were
so high that the commander never rushed into an attackMP1 .
The commander would have to come up with a strategy and consider from where
they could find the best archers, skilled carpenters, blacksmiths, sappers, and
engineers (“Medieval Warfare”). They also had to consider how much timber,
lead, tools, nails, food, drink, livestock, and other provisions were required
for the duration of the siege and where they could be acquired.

It
was possible to destroy a castle’s walls from above the ground using trebuchets
and mangonels, but it is also possible to bring castle walls crashing down from
beneath the ground which is called undermining (“Medieval Siege Tactics”). Undermining
has a great advantage over the enemy, and can be a reason for a successful
attack. The besiegers hired skilled miners who could construct tunnels starting
from their camps and ending in the enemies’ walls. Under a section of wall, the
miners would remove a piece of the foundation stones and replace it with wooden
props. Once enough of the wall has been removed a fire was lit beneath the
wooden props and the miners escaped the mine. When the props burnt through
completely the castle or fortress would collapse. The corners were the weakest
part so that is where they would target. The castles defenders used a tactic
called countermining to defend against the attackers. Countermining involved
digging a tunnel from within the castle to intercept the attackers mine and
kill the enemy miners (“Medieval Siege Tactics”). Designers added buttresses
and extra projections extending from the walls of the castle. These gave the
walls a larger foot print and made them more difficult to undermine. Removing
sharp edges and angles from the castle design helped reduce the weak points in
the fortress.

Women
often engaged in medieval warfare. If the woman happened to be home while their
husband was away, and their castle was besieged, it was routine for her to
command the defenses. Women fighters were included in the ranks of many
mercenary and national armies. They were often greatly feared because they
appeared to have abandoned their natural maternal and loving instincts (“Women
in War”). Both men and women were expected to help defend a town or a castle,
should it be attacked. When the men of a town were away fighting, the women
were expected to take care of the homes. Men usually were the ones to attack
the castle or be a part of the hand on hand combat. During the Middle Ages men
were the ones to be in the professions such as: carpenters, blacksmiths,
sappers, engineers, and miners.

During
the Middle Ages there was never a long period of time without an attack. They
were never forced into going to battle. They could surrender before the attack
and save money, supplies, resources, and be completely unharmed. The main
purpose for a siege attack was to conquer land or territories. If you were not
prepared for an attack and caught by surprise you would not stand a chance
against the enemy’s army and would have no choice, but to surrender.

 

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