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Siege of Tyre by Sébastien Mamerot (1493) (Public Domain)

Ancient Engineering: The Art Of Siege Warfare

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The word ‘siege‘ conjures up imagery of high wooden towers attacking thick stone castle walls, but in the ancient world sieges also required extreme engineering prowess. Innovations in attack catapult technology and in the building of military blockades around defending cities promoted the arts of conducting and resisting sieges. Historians and archaeologists refer to this as ‘ siege warfare ‘ or ‘siege craft‘. During the Medieval period sieges most often ended after a few months with the defenders generally starving or dying of diseases, but in ancient history sieges sometimes lasted for several years. Among the earliest ever recorded sieges, three of them represent unique military-engineering amalgams where innovations on both sides changed the entire shape of world history.

Assyrians using ‘siege ladders’ attacking an enemy town during the reign of Tiglath-Pileser III 720-738 BC, carved in his royal palace at Kalhu (Nimrud). (Mary Harrsch/ CC BY-SA 4.0)

Assyrians using ‘ siege ladders attack ing an enemy town during the reign of Tiglath-Pileser III 720-738 BC, carved in his royal palace at Kalhu (Nimrud). ( Mary Harrsch / CC BY-SA 4.0 )

Siege of Megiddo

Inhabited since around 7000 BC Tel Megiddo (Tell of the Governor) is a hilltop archaeological site at the ancient city of  Megiddo, in northern Israel, about 30 kilometers (18.64 miles) south-east of Haifa. Megiddo is historically, geographically and theologically most well-known by its Greek name, Armageddon, and this is the legendary location identified in the Bible where the last battle between angels and demons would be fought at the End of Days. Located at the northern end of the Wadi Ara defile pass through the Carmel Ridge, and overlooking the rich Jezreel Valley from the west, according to writers Richard Ernest and Trevor Nesbit in their 1993,  The Encyclopedia of Military History from 3500 BC to the Present, Megiddo was an exceptionally important Bronze Age Canaanite city-state. During the Iron Age it became a royal city in the Kingdom of Israel. The site is now protected as the Megiddo National Park and declared a World Heritage Site.

Tel Megiddo is the site of the ancient city of Megiddo which is best known by its prophetic Greek name - “Armageddon”. (AVRAM GRAICER/CC BY-SA 3.0)

Tel Megiddo is the site of the ancient city of Megiddo which is best known by its prophetic Greek name - “ Armageddon”. ( AVRAM GRAICER /CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Megiddo strategically guarded the western branch of a narrow pass on the Via Maris, the most important trade route of the ancient Fertile Crescent linking Egypt with Mesopotamia and Asia Minor, which meant it was the site of several battles including the first recorded military engagement in history, the ‘Battle of Megiddo’ in the 15th century BC.

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Ashley Cowie  is a Scottish historian, author and documentary filmmaker presenting original perspectives on historical problems, in accessible and exciting ways. His books, articles and television shows explore lost cultures and kingdoms, ancient crafts and artifacts, symbols and architecture, myths and legends telling thought-provoking stories which together offer insights into our shared social history .   www.ashleycowie.com.

Top Image: Siege of Tyre by Sébastien Mamerot (1493) ( Public Domain )

By Ashley Cowie

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