When we think of siege warfare, most of us probably think of medieval castles surrounded by a large attacking force. Siege towers, archers and catapults hurling large stones are probably a part of that vision.
But sieges didn't end when people stopped holing up in castles or started using giant cannons. It just morphed into another battlefield tactic, where a large force surrounds an enemy position, cuts off supply and escape routes, and then either attacks or forces an enemy surrender through attrition.
Although there are many significant sieges in military history, there are also a few standouts worthy of mention, because the battle, the outcome or the aftermath were so consequential. Here are a few of those incredible sieges.
1. Battle of Megiddo
Egypt vs. Canaan, 15th-century BC
Megiddo wasn't the first time masses of humans gathered around to kill one another, but it was the first time anyone wrote down what happened during the battle and how many people died.
Led by Pharaoh Thutmose III himself, the Egyptians completely chariot-whipped the Canaanites, who fled to the safety of the city walls. The first recorded battle quickly turned into the first recorded siege, as the Egyptians besieged the city for seven months. The battle itself must have been pretty brutal, because it's remembered even today by its other name, Armageddon.
2. Battle of Vienna
Ottoman Empire vs. Holy Roman Empire, 1683
The Ottoman Turks had been trying to capture Vienna for hundreds of years. This time, they were pretty sure they had it -- and they almost did. The Battle of Vienna is significant for two reasons: how the siege was broken and what happened the centuries following the battle.
Defenders of Vienna used a Polish spy to gather intelligence on the Ottoman forces and coordinate the battle with a Polish relief force. As the battle raged on, Polish King Jan III Sobieski led the largest cavalry charge in history, routing the Turkish forces and ending the Ottoman threat to Europe for good.
3. Siege of Ceuta
Kingdom of Spain vs. Morocco, 1694-1720
Moroccan Sultan Ismail bin Sharif consolidated power in North Africa by using well-trained and loyal slave and professional armies rather than conscripted tribesmen. With these, he expelled Europeans and Ottomans from Moroccan ports. Then he set his sights on the fortified Spanish city of Ceuta.
The first siege of Ceuta lasted 26 years and is still the longest siege in history. The Moroccans eventually took the city in 1720, but it was recaptured when Spain brought in thousands of reinforcements. When Ismail bin Sharif died in 1727, the Moroccans simply gave it up.
4. Siege of Vicksburg
Union vs. Confederate Armies, 1863
The Union victory at Vicksburg is often overshadowed by the Union victory at Gettysburg, which happened the day before. Separately, the battles were both critical to winning the war. Together, they marked a turning point, from which the South never recovered.
Since the beginning of the Civil War, the Union had hoped to cut the Confederacy in two, and capturing Vicksburg was the key. For 40 days, the Union Army of the Tennessee laid siege to the city. When it fell on July 4, 1863, it gave control of the Mississippi River to the Union and set the stage for the collapse of the Confederacy.
5. Siege of Paris
German Confederation vs. France, 1871
In 1870, France was concerned it would lose its dominance over Europe if the German states were to form one large German country. The Germans formed an alliance anyway, which caused France to declare war. It did not go as well as the French hoped. Within two months, the Germans were surrounding Paris.
The end of the resulting four-month siege led to everything France had hoped to avoid. The German Confederation became the much larger German Empire, the French government fell and German supremacy was on the rise. French resentment toward Germany led to World War I, which led to World War II. The Siege of Paris was an early step in the creation of the modern world.
6. Siege of Leningrad
Soviet Union vs. Nazi Germany, 1941-1944
When Germany launched its invasion of the Soviet Union in June 1941, one of its primary targets was the industrial center at the former imperial capital of Leningrad, which is today St. Petersburg. German forces with Finnish allies reached Leningrad within three months, encircling the city and cutting it off from the outside world.
For 872 days, the defenders of the city held out in any way they could. A trickle of supplies did not reach Leningrad until January 1943, and the city itself would not be relieved until January 1944. The systematic destruction of the siege was the costliest siege ever, in terms of both human lives and destruction. An estimated 1 million civilians and another 1 million Red Army troops were killed, captured or missing by the end.
7. Battle of Sadr City
United States and Iraq vs. Mahdi Army, 2008
When the U.S.-led Coalition Provisional Authority tried to close a newspaper controlled by Shia cleric Muqtada al-Sadr, violence broke out between American forces and al-Sadr's militia, the Mahdi Army. For the next few years, violence defined the area of Baghdad that was al-Sadr's power base, Sadr City.
The Sadr City neighborhood became the source of insurgent attacks on U.S. forces and on the fortified International Zone of Baghdad, also known as "The Green Zone." To stem the attacks, the U.S. employed a reverse siege, building a wall around the neighborhood to keep enemy fighters in. For a month, Mahdi Army militia fought the U.S. 3rd Infantry Division, the 4th Infantry Division, the 10th Mountain Division and the 25th Infantry Division, along with U.S. and Iraqi Special Forces.
The nonstop assault brought the Mahdi Army to the negotiating table. The U.S. agreed to stay out of Sadr City, the Mahdi Army ended its attacks on American forces and the Iraqi Army occupied the Sadr City area of Baghdad.
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