View Full Version : medieval military tactics

03-22-2013, 02:33 AM
Hi, I was wondering if anyone knew of a website that detailed medieval European military tactics. The basics for this part in my story is that an army is attacking a walled city and I want to know what the common technique would have been for doing so.

03-22-2013, 03:10 AM
Starve them out...

Walled cities were very hard to take...

King Neptune
03-22-2013, 03:28 AM
Walls weere sometimes stormed, but that was not easy, and walls could be made high enough that anyone climbing up could be killed before getting to the top. Then there was the matter of tunnelling under and collapsing the wall. And finding out how long it takes to kill and eat all of the rats in a city is another thing. I wonder how long it took for the rats to get their numbers up to the pre-siege level.

03-22-2013, 03:38 AM
Is this pre or post gunpowder era?


03-22-2013, 04:06 AM
And where...

03-22-2013, 04:19 AM
This is pre gunpowder. The city isn't anywhere specific, just in a flattish area. what if the leaders of the city were over confident and marched their army out to meet the invaders? Is that something that was ever done? I really want to avoid the siege scenario.

03-22-2013, 04:20 AM
I should also say that I wanted some sorry of battle so some enemy troops could sneak into the city and kidnap the king.

King Neptune
03-22-2013, 04:30 AM
This is pre gunpowder. The city isn't anywhere specific, just in a flattish area. what if the leaders of the city were over confident and marched their army out to meet the invaders? Is that something that was ever done? I really want to avoid the siege scenario.

Yes, it was fairly common for the attacked city to send its army out to meet the enemy. It was one way to avoid a siege in the world as well as in a novel.

As for the enemy sneaking in, that was not unheard of. Postern gates were sometimes left unguarded, and some cities had secret tunnels that the enemy might learn about. It doesn't take many traitors to throw a city to the attackers. SAnd a real city had to have many gates, and there would have been suburbs outside the gates, and there might have been smugglers who made a tunnel from the suburbs into the city.

03-22-2013, 06:47 AM
Pre-gunpowder, the main ways of winning a siege were:

by knocking the walls down by force -- trebuchets, ballistas & other siege engines were designed to throw heavy objects at weak points in the walls and put holes in them or collapse them

by directly storming the walls and attacking with overwhelming force (usually in combination with use of the above siege engines)

by treachery, e.g. someone on the inside opens the gates and lets you in

by enforcing the siege and starving them into surrender (this was the longest way, but the most certain unless the town has allies who can break the siege from the outside)

by luring the defenders into coming out to attack, and defeating them in the field (this was often done when defenders either thought they would have the advantage in battle, or were desperate to avoid or end a siege)

Generally speaking, defense had the advantage over offense in medieval siegecraft -- even in terms of endurance, it was difficult enough to feed and equip a sizable army that many sieges had to be abandoned for lack of resources before the defenders were desperate enough to surrender.

03-22-2013, 03:47 PM
I, Clausewitz (http://l-clausewitz.livejournal.com/) has posted a lot about various medieval military tactics but they're mixed in with other military ramblings -- check out his tags list to find the ones you want.

Drachen Jager
03-23-2013, 01:09 AM
what if the leaders of the city were over confident and marched their army out to meet the invaders? Is that something that was ever done? I really want to avoid the siege scenario.

You know how Canada is English dominant, with French as a secondary language mostly relegated to one Province?

That's your answer.

General Wolf landed a force in the night and appeared on the doorstep of Quebec City in the morning. General Montcalm decided to go out and meet him head-to-head.

It wasn't a good choice.

This is gunpowder era of course, but yes, generals made stupid decisions all the time. In large part because the idea of selecting officers on merit rather than by birthright wasn't in common use until the 20th century. Hell, look at General Custer, leaving his heavy guns behind.

03-25-2013, 12:13 AM
As Sun Tzu said: attacking a fortified place is the last thing one should do. Attack another place that is so important that it must be protected, and annihilate the enemy when he comes out.

In Europe, it was common for besiegers to allow the garrison to leave in peace in exchange for turning over the castle. In one memorable instance, the besiegers refused to do this, but allowed the women to leave the castle with 'what they can carry.' So the women carried the men out.

If you want to attack a castle, you look for a weak point. In one instance a castle was stormed after the attackers climbed up the toilet shaft. In another case, a portion of the castle walls were incomplete, so the besiegers made a diversionary attack on a different place, and showed up at the low spot in the middle of the night, every soldier with a sandbag. They then built up a big ramp lickety split and stormed the castle. Another instance had the besiegers lay siege to a town, only to give up. The villagers left to gather firewood and other supplies that had been depleted during the siege, only to find the enemy was hiding in the woods.

The Romance of the Three Kingdoms is the best book to read for medieval military tactics.

03-25-2013, 02:29 AM
Castles were normally taken by subterfuge. There's also poisoning the water supply and flinging dead and diseased bodies over the wall.

03-25-2013, 02:46 AM
This is a decent site for general information on weaponry and siege engines. Middle Ages Site Map (http://www.middle-ages.org.uk/middle-ages-sitemap.htm) But it doesn't cover much in the way of battlefield tactics.

03-26-2013, 08:31 PM
Read some accounts. A good one would be to read how Alexander took Tyre. That was an epic siege. Another is Caesar at Alesia, or the Romans against the Veii. Medieval sieges are not nearly so interesting because medieval armies generally did not have the same staying power. Plus, most sieges were directed against castles rather than cities. Other good sieges include Antioch in the First Crusade and Constantinople in 1453.

If you want to sneak people in, one thing to remember is that many towns had some sort of water source--a stream flowing through. This means some kind of port of entry where you could sneak a small force, though of course they were always guarded. Honestly, most of the time it was simple betrayal. Somebody on the inside was bribed to leave a door open. Not much subtlety to it.

03-29-2013, 02:58 AM
You can find a lot of good information about medieval siege warfare on Google Books.

For a general overview of the subject with lots of pictures, I recommend the Osprey book Medieval Siege Warfare (http://books.google.ca/books?id=1zWBZkssi6gC&printsec=frontcover#v=onepage&q&f=false). You can see a few pages of it on Google.

Peter Purton's books A History of the Early Medieval Siege (http://books.google.ca/books?id=_vSjtwGLBiAC&lpg=PP1&pg=PA357#v=onepage&q&f=false) and A History of the Late Medieval Siege (http://books.google.ca/books?id=WaEaIsb1Y6gC&lpg=PP1&pg=PA396#v=onepage&q&f=false) discuss about a hundred different examples of attacks and sieges on castles and cities. The first book especially emphasizes the importance of human factors in sieges. The outcome of a siege often depended heavily on the morale of the attackers and the defenders in addition to the physical factors. Commanders often used political skills to recruit foreign and enemy engineers to build fortifications and weapons. They also persuaded nervous guards to open the gates and betray their fellow defenders in exchange for their own lives.

Another very readable book is Special Operations in the Age of Chivalry by Yuval Hariri. It has taken some flak from reviewers who point out that small-scale "special operations" were the norm rather than the exception in medieval warfare, but if you're looking for examples of small groups of people having an enormous impact on cities under attack, check out the chapters on Antioch (http://books.google.ca/books?id=-XqFQNa70MkC&lpg=PP1&pg=PA53#v=onepage&q&f=false) and Calais (http://books.google.ca/books?id=-XqFQNa70MkC&lpg=PP1&pg=PA109#v=onepage&q&f=false).