Also found in: Dictionary, Thesaurus, Medical, Legal, Financial, Acronyms, Idioms, Wikipedia.
siege,assault against a city or fortress with the purpose of capturing it. The history of siegecraft parallels the development of fortificationfortification,
system of defense structures for protection from enemy attacks. Fortification developed along two general lines: permanent sites built in peacetime, and emplacements and obstacles hastily constructed in the field in time of war.
..... Click the link for more information. and, later, artilleryartillery,
originally meant any large weaponry (including such ancient engines of war as catapults and battering rams) or war material, but later applied only to heavy firearms as opposed to small arms.
..... Click the link for more information. . In early times battering rams and bores were employed to break down the walls and gates of a fortified place (see castlecastle,
type of fortified dwelling characteristic of the Middle Ages. Fortification of towns had been in practice since antiquity, but in the 9th cent. feudal lords began to develop the private fortress-residence known as the castle.
..... Click the link for more information. ) if deception, treachery, starvation, or storm could not carry it. To protect the attackers from missiles, hot oil, and incendiaries launched by the defenders, a shelter was constructed, usually from huge wicker shields covered with wood or hide (mantelets). Mounds and movable wooden towers were built by both besieger and besieged in a race to attain heights from which the adversary could be assailed. Engines of war, such as the catapultcatapult
, mechanism used to throw missiles in ancient and medieval warfare. At first, catapults were specifically designed to shoot spears or other missiles at a low trajectory (see bow and arrow).
..... Click the link for more information. , were brought into play by both sides to hurl stones, spears, pots of fire, and arrows. It was also common for besiegers to build a wall (circumvallation) around their objective to prevent sorties and a second wall (contravallation) around their own army as security against relieving forces. Mining was employed by the assailants from earliest times, and the besieged dug countermines in defense; such tactics greatly increased in effectiveness with the introduction of gunpowder. Artillery that could breach high walls made it necessary to lower and extend medieval fortifications and mount defensive artillery. Many sieges became artillery duels. The development of tanks, aircraft, and missiles in the 20th cent. has given the besieger a great advantage in firepower and mobility. The starvation of civilians as a siege tactic is now banned under the Geneva Conventions. Some notable sieges of history include those of Syracuse (415–413 B.C.), Jerusalem (A.D. 70), Acre (1189–90), Constantinople (1453), Quebec (1759–60), Sevastopol (1854–55, 1941–42), Vicksburg (1863), Port Arthur (1904), Malta (1940–43), Leningrad (1941–43), Dienbienphu (1954), Khe Sanh (1968), and Sarajevo (1992–96).
See C. W. C. Oman, Art of War in the Middle Ages (2d ed. 1924, repr. 1959); S. Toy, A History of Fortification from 3000 B.C. to A.D. 1700 (2d ed. 1966); V. Melegari, The Great Military Sieges (1972); I. V. Hogg, Fortress (1975); C. Duffy, Siege Warfare (2 vol., 1979–85).
a method of combat for capturing a fortress or other fortification.
The siege was used from very ancient times when a city or fortress could not be taken by sudden attack or by storm. A siege consisted of encircling the fortress with troops, building around it siege fortifications (called lines of countervallation and circum-vallation), setting up fortified camps, establishing a blockade, and, if necessary, mounting a gradual or accelerated attack that usually ended in a storm. Part of the forces of the besieging troops protected the siege fortifications, preventing sorties of the besieged and enemy attacks from without, while the main forces conducted the actual siege. Sometimes, after establishing the blockade, the besiegers waited for the besieged to run out of ammunition and surrender. Such a siege could last months or even years.
To approach the walls of the fortress, the besiegers used enclosed movable galleries, called vineae, and, after the invention of firearms, open-ground approaches, parallels, saps, and other earthen structures, as well as underground passages to penetrate the fortress or destroy a section of its walls. In a gradual attack, the besiegers tried to destroy the walls with battering rams, windlasses, hooks, and throwing engines (such as catapults and ballistae), as well as siege towers (helepoles), ladders, and fascines. With the appearance of gunpowder and the development of artillery, buried land mines and artillery bombardment were used to breach the walls of the fortress. Siege artillery came into use in the 17th century (in Russia in the early 18th century). In the 17th century the French military engineer A. Deville and later the Marquis de Vauban systematized and improved the methods for the gradual attack on fortresses. The methods remained essentially unchanged until the early 20th century.
In the 18th through early 20th centuries, siege armies were created to besiege fortresses. Such armies were formed by the Japanese at Port Arthur in 1904 and the Germans and Russians in World War I (1914–18) for the siege of Liege, Namur, Mau-beuge, and Przemyśl. The term “siege” went out of use after World War I.