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Ianastasija Omoore
Ianastasija Omoore

Medieval Siege Weapons: ''Byzantium, The Islami...

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While some historians have described the counterweight trebuchet as a type of medieval super weapon, other historians have urged caution in overemphasizing its destructive capability. On the side of the counterweight engine as a medieval military revolution, historians such as Sydney Toy, Paul Chevedden, and Hugh Kennedy consider its power to have caused significant changes in medieval warfare. This line of thought suggests that rams were abandoned due to the effectiveness of the counterweight trebuchet, which was capable of reducing "any fortress to rubble".[85] Accordingly, traditional fortifications became obsolete and had to be improved with new architectural structures to support defensive counterweight trebuchets. In southern France during the Albigensian Crusade, sieges were a last resort and negotiations for surrender were common. In these instances, trebuchets were used to threaten or bombard enemy fortifications and ensure victory.[86] On the side of caution, historians such as John France, Christopher Marshall, and Michael Fulton emphasize the still considerable difficulty of reducing fortifications with siege artillery. Examples of the failure of siege artillery include the lack of evidence that artillery ever threatened the defenses of Kerak Castle between 1170 and 1188.[87] Marshall maintains that "the methods of attack and defence remained largely the same through the thirteenth century as they had been during the twelfth."[88] Reservations on the counterweight trebuchet's destructive capability were expressed by Viollet-le-Duc, who "asserted that even counterweight-powered artillery could do little more than destroy crenellations, clear defenders from parapets and target the machines of the besieged."[89]

Constantinople could now be easily resupplied by sea and the city's fishermen went back to work, as the Arab fleet did not sail again. Still suffering from hunger and pestilence, the Arabs lost a major battle against the Bulgars, who killed, according to Theophanes, 22,000 men. The sources are divided on the details of the Bulgar participation in the siege: Theophanes and al-Tabari report that the Bulgars attacked the Arab encampment (likely because of their treaty with Leo), while according to the Syriac Chronicle of 846, it was the Arabs who strayed into Bulgar territory, seeking provisions. Michael the Syrian on the other hand mentions that the Bulgars participated in the siege from the beginning, with attacks against the Arabs as they marched through Thrace towards Constantinople, and subsequently on their encampment.[41] The siege had clearly failed, and Caliph Umar sent orders to Maslama to retreat. After thirteen months of siege, on 15 August 718, the Arabs departed. The date coincided with the feast of the Dormition of the Theotokos (Assumption of Mary), and it was to her that the Byzantines ascribed their victory. The retreating Arabs were not hindered or attacked on their return, but their fleet lost more ships in a storm in the Sea of Marmara, while other ships were set afire by ashes from the volcano of Santorini, and some of the survivors were captured by the Byzantines, so that Theophanes claims that only five vessels made it back to Syria.[42] Arab sources claim that altogether 150,000 Muslims perished during the campaign, a figure which, according to the Byzantinist John Haldon, "while certainly inflated, is nevertheless indicative of the enormity of the disaster in medieval eyes".[43]

In the Western world a crossbow known as the gastraphetes was described by the Greco-Roman scientist Heron of Alexandria in the 1st century AD. He believed it was the forerunner of the catapult, which places its appearance sometime prior to the 4th century BC during the Classical period.[4] Other than the gastraphetes, the only other evidence of crossbows in ancient Europe are two stone relief carvings from a Roman grave in Gaul and some vague references by Vegetius. Pictish imagery from medieval Scotland dated between the 6th and 9th centuries AD do show what appear to be crossbows, but only for hunting, and not military usage. It's not clear how widespread crossbows were in Europe prior to the medieval period or if they were even used for warfare. The small body of evidence and the context they provide point to the fact that the ancient European crossbow was primarily a hunting tool or minor siege weapon. An assortment of other ancient European bolt throwers exist such as the ballista, but these were torsion engines and are not considered crossbows. Crossbows are not mentioned in European sources again until 947 as a French weapon during the siege of Senlis.[5] From the 11th century onward, crossbows and crossbowmen occupied a position of high status in medieval European militaries, with the exception of the English and their continued use of the longbow. During the 16th century military crossbows in Europe were superseded by gunpowder weaponry such as cannons and muskets. Hunters continued to carry crossbows for another 150 years due to its silence.[6]

The conquest of Constantinople and the fall of the Byzantine Empire was a watershed of the Late Middle Ages, marking the effective end of the last remains of the Roman Empire, a state which began in roughly 27 BC and had lasted nearly 1500 years. Among many modern historians, the fall of Constantinople is considered the end of the medieval period.[17][18] The city's fall also stood as a turning point in military history. Since ancient times, cities and castles had depended upon ramparts and walls to repel invaders. The Walls of Constantinople, especially the Theodosian Walls, were some of the most advanced defensive systems in the world at the time. These fortifications were overcome with the use of gunpowder, specifically in the form of large cannons and bombards, heralding a change in siege warfare.[19]

The capture of Constantinople on April 13, 1204, in the Fourth Crusade was one of the epochal events of medieval history. The siege of Constantinople and the looting and burning of the city only deepened the intolerance between the Eastern and Western Christians. It also influenced the creation of the states that emerged in the territory of the Byzantine Empire.

The city of Constantinople (modern Istanbul) was founded by Roman emperor Constantine I in 324 CE and it acted as the capital of the Eastern Roman Empire, or Byzantine Empire as it has later become known, for well over 1,000 years. Although the city suffered many attacks, prolonged sieges, internal rebellions, and even a period of occupation in the 13th century CE by the Fourth Crusaders, its legendary defences were the most formidable in both the ancient and medieval worlds. It could not, though, resist the mighty cannons of the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II, and Constantinople, jewel and bastion of Christendom, was conquered, smashed, and looted on Tuesday, 29 May 1453 CE.

To take Constantinople, an army would, then, need to attack by both land and sea, but all attempts failed no matter who tried and no matter what weapons and siege engines they launched at the city. In short, Constantinople, with the greatest defences in the medieval world, was impregnable. Well, not quite. After 800 years of resisting all comers, the city's defences were finally breached by the knights of the Fourth Crusade in 1204 CE, although the attackers got in through a carelessly left-open door and not because the fortifications themselves had failed in their purpose. Repaired and rebuilt by Michael VIII (r. 1261-1282 CE) in 1260 CE, the city remained the most difficult military nut to crack in the world, but this reputation did not in any way deter the ever-more ambitious Ottomans.

At the time, Mehmed was racked by indecision over Constantinople. The city was the ultimate prize; it would provide a fitting capital for the Ottoman Empire, and its capture was the subject of ancient Muslim prophecies, attributed to Muhammad himself, that predicted great honor for its eventual conqueror. However, Constantinople had repulsed repeated Muslim assaults from the 7th century onward. Its triangular site made it all but impregnable: Two sides were surrounded by sea, and the third landward side was commanded by the great Walls of Theodosius, a defensive line four miles long, the greatest bastion in the medieval world. In a thousand years the city had been besieged some 23 times, but no army had found a way to crack open those land walls.

Mehmed had succeeded where all previous Ottoman attempts had failed, and it was the big guns that made the difference. The fall of Constantinople symbolized the end of outmoded medieval techniques of castle construction and siege warfare and opened a terrible new chapter in military history. The use of massed artillery bombardment would prevail all the way to the battlefield of the Somme and beyond.

The walls of Constantinople are the greatest surviving example of European medieval military architecture in the world. They withstood numerous sieges until being finally overcome by the artillery of Mehmet the Conqueror in 1453, and exist today as a time capsule of Byzantine and Medieval history. This book examines the main defensive system protecting the landward side of the city, which consisted of three parallel walls about 5 miles long. The walls defended the city against intruders, including Attila the Hun, before finally being breached by European knights during the Fourth Crusade in 1204 and, ultimately, destroyed by Turkish artillery in 1453. 59ce067264


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