5 Infamous Military Sieges in History

Military sieges in history

Greatest Military Sieges in history | Image: The siege of Tripoli by the Mamluks in 1289.

Laying siege to a town or city is probably as old as time. And even to this modern era, it is not uncommon for armies to impose blockades on cities thereby forcing the inhabitants of the besieged city to lay down their arms. In ancient times, sieges were often followed by slaughtering of the inhabitants of the besieged nation.

In some cases, the women and children are spared horrific deaths only to be enslaved by the victors. It is very rare for the besieged nation to turn things around and repel the invaders. As recent as World War II, Adolf Hitler’s Nazi Germany laid devastating sieges to Soviet cities such as Leningrad and Stalingrad.

In the article below, World History Edu presents 5 infamous sieges of all time.

The Siege of Carthage (149-146 BCE)

Siege of Carthage

How a Roman siege engine was used during  the siege of Carthage in the Third Punic War (149-146 BCE)

The Carthaginians were a very powerful and wealthy empire with huge maritime presence in the Mediterranean Sea. Around the second century BCE, the Carthaginians found themselves in conflict with not just the Berber tribes of North Africa but also the Numidians. They were also in a bitter struggle with a rising Roman Empire over what is now Sicily.

In 149 BCE, Rome sent a sizable number of forces to Utica in North Africa. Realizing that they had no fighting chance against the Romans, the Carthaginians surrendered most of their weapons to the Roman soldiers. In spite of this, the Romans wanted more; they went ahead to besiege Carthage. Carthaginians had no option than to rearm themselves and defend their city.

Initially struggling, the Romans were given a boost after the election of councilman Scipio Aemilianus. As commander of the troops in northern Africa, Scipio successfully brought the city of Carthage to its knees.

During Scipio’s final assault in 146 BCE, the city suffered unimaginable losses and destruction. Only about 50,000 of a pre-siege population of 450,000 were “fortunate” enough to be taken prisoners; the remaining Carthaginians perished at the hands of the Romans. Following the siege, Rome built a new city on top of the ruins of the city of Carthage.

Siege of Candia (1648-1669)

The city of Candia

Carried out by the Ottoman Empire in the 17th century, the Siege of Candia lasted for more than two decades. It was part of the Ottomans’ desire to completely bring the entirety of Crete into their control, reinforcing their broad goal of expanding into the western Mediterranean.

By 1648, they had successfully occupied most of Crete. The siege also coincided with the waning of Venice’s hold in the Mediterranean.

Venetian forces and the Knights of Malta bravely fought and held the Ottoman forces for a while before capitulating in 1669. The Knights of Malta launched a pre-emptive attack on the Ottomans, who were making their way from Alexandria to Constantinople. Much of the treasures in the Ottoman convoy were seized, including the Sultan’s harem (wives, female servants and concubines of the Sultan).

The Ottomans responded by sending 60,000 troops – led by Yussuf Pasha – to besiege the Venetian city of Crete. As part of their preparation to capture Candia, the Ottomans successful conquered La Canea and Rettimo in just two months.

Starting around May 1648, the Ottomans began cutting water supply to Candia. They also tried to impose a blockade on the city’s sea lanes. Venice responded by imposing a blockade on the Dardanelles in order to starve the Ottoman troops off vital supply lines.

After the deaths of top Venetian military commanders in 1655/1656, western European nations banded together and provided aid to the Venetians. The tides started to turn in favor of the Venetians until 1664, when the Turks received further reinforcements. The Venetian forces’ attempt to wrestle La Canea from the hands of the Turks was met with failure.

Finally, on September 27, 1669, the Venetian Captain General Francesco Morosini surrendered to Ahmed Köprülü, a high-ranking official of the Ottoman Empire. A month prior to that, the French had realized that defending Candia was a lost cause; leaving just under 4,000 men to defend against the overwhelming Ottoman forces.

After the siege, the victors gave safe passage to all Christians in Candia. The Ottomans also allowed them to carry as much property that they could carry out of Candia.

The fall of Candia may have contributed to the death of Pope Clement IX. The pope is believed to have taken ill upon hearing the news. He died two months later on December 9, 1669.

Did you know: The cause of the Venetian forces was dealt a huge blow following the defection of Venetian Colonel Andrea Barozzi to the Turks in 1667?

The Siege of Tripoli (1102-1109)

Siege of Tripoli

Siege of Tripoli | Fakhr al-Mulk ibn Ammar capitulating to Bertrand of Toulouse | 1842 painting by Charles-Alexandre Debacq

In the early 12th century, the Lebanese city of Tripoli had become very attractive to Crusaders from the West. The siege of Tripoli came right after the First Crusade (1096-1099). Lasting from 1102 to 1109, the siege was led by Raymond IV of Toulouse – a prominent noble from southern France.

Wanting to suffocate the city of Tripoli, Raymond built fortifications just outside Tripoli. He called one of those structures Mons Peregrinus (Pilgrim’s Mountain).

The Crusaders’ fortifications prevented food and other vital supplies from entering the city. In spite of Tripoli’s strong resilience, the Crusaders simply could not be pushed back. It all got worse for Tripoli when the Crusaders received troop reinforcements and set about laying the ground works for the County of Tripoli.

In September 1104, Raymond got injured. Before his death in February 1105, the Count of Toulouse is believed to have gone into some negotiations with the city’s leaders.

However, those agreements were scrapped off after the death of Raymond. His successors proceeded to make a final push into the city in July 1109, defeating the Muslim leaders of the city of Tripoli.

As it was common back then, the inhabitants of the city suffered gruesome punishments, with many of the women raped or killed by the Crusaders.

The County of Tripoli, whose first Count was Bertrand of Toulouse, would remain in the hands of the Crusaders until 1289, when the Muslim Mamluks of Cairo, led by Sultan Qalawun, incorporated the Count of Tripoli into their empire.

The Siege of Thessalonica (1422-1430)

Siege of Thessalonica

Siege of Thessalonica | Image: what is left of the famous city walls surrounding the city of Thessaloniki from the Middle Ages to the late 19th century,

Greek city of Thessalonica was one of the cities that fell to the Ottoman Empire shortly before the collapse of Constantinople in 1453.

In 1422, the Ottoman Emperor Sultan Murad II besieged the city of Thessalonica. The sultan hoped to take full advantage of the declining influence of Venice and the Byzantine Empire in the region. The Ottomans were hoping to wrestle back the city, which was lost to the Byzantines during the Battle of Ankara. Another thing that triggered Murad to attack was due to the fact that the Byzantines supported Murad’s arch rival Mustafa Celebi.

Due to political arrangements between rulers of Constantinople and Venice, the defense of Thessalonica was entrusted to Venetian troops in September 1423. Further enraged by this handover, Sultan Murad II intensified the siege on the city. Murad’s forces starved the city’s inhabitants, forcing majority to abandon the city.

In a bid to get some respite, some civilians in the city started colluding with the Ottomans.  Those that supported the city’s surrender gave vital information to the Ottomans, allowing Murad to completely take the city by late March 1430.

Once in Thessalonica, the Ottomans did not hold back; they plundered, raped and enslaved the civilians that were left in the city. To add insult to injury, they also forced those that survived to convert to Islam.

Magnificent cultural monuments, manuscripts, books and other works of art of the city were destroyed by the invading Ottomans. It was as if the invaders wanted to wipe clean the culture of the vanquished.

Following Thessalonica’s capitulation at the hands of the Ottoman Empire, Venetian rulers signed a peace treaty with the Turks. The city of Thessaloniki remained firmly in the hands of the Ottomans until 1912, when Greece captured it during the Balkan War of 1912.

Did you know: Primarily due to how brutal the Siege of Thessalonica only about 2,000 of Thessalonica’s pre-siege population of about 42,000 were left standing?

Siege of Ceuta (1694-1727)

The Siege of Ceuta

The Marquis of Lede directing the attack on the besiegers.

Also known as the Thirty-Year Siege, the Siege of Ceuta occurred when a group of Moroccan forces (the Moors) engaged in more than three decades of conflicts with the Spanish enclave of Ceuta.

Ceuta, which is found in between the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean, was in fact a Portuguese enclave before it came to be dominated by Spain during the Spanish-Portuguese union (1580-1640). Spanish presence in the area roused a lot of resistance from Moroccan forces, who were led by Moorish leader Muley Ismail. Inspired by their military successes in Larache, Arcila and La Mámora, the Moors felt really good about conquering Ceuta.

The first military blockade on the Ceuta began in October 1694. The Moors made sure that they had adequate provisions that would last all throughout the siege. They built structures and planted crops in the surrounding lands.

After inhabitants of Ceuta appealed to Madrid for support, Spanish and Portuguese forces were sent to Ceuta. However, the Portuguese troops went back due to fears that Portugal would use the siege to take back Ceuta.

In the coming months, the sections around the city walls switched hands between the Moroccan troops and the Spanish troops. This would continue for the next thirty or so years.

The besieged city was dealt a huge blow after English and Dutch troops conquered Gibraltar – Ceuta’s main supply channel.

In 1720, the arrival of 16,000 soldiers under the leadership of the Marquis of Lede helped tip the scale in favor of Ceuta. Lede and his forces successfully drove the Moroccan forces to Tetuán. Lede chose not to pursue the besiegers any further due to an outbreak of plague in 1721.

Upon Lede’s departure, the Moroccan forces successful conquered Ceuta. However, the besiegers’ reign in the city proved very short as infighting among the sons of Muley Ismail forced them to abandon the city.

In addition to the destruction of several buildings in the city, the Portugal’s presence and culture in the city started to fade away. This made way for the complete dominance of Spanish language, currency and culture.

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