Book Review: Medieval Siege & Siegecraft

Medieval Siege & Siegecraft, by Geoffrey Hindley

As someone who is deeply interested in fortifications and siege warfare [1], it is little surprise that I would find a book about medieval sieges to be interesting and worthwhile.  And so it is.  This particular book is focused on the Middle Ages, and it should be of little surprise to anyone who is aware of the warfare during this period that sieges were of particular importance, in large part because battles were extremely chancy and the relationship between rulers and cities and towns during this period was especially fraught with disagreement and conflict.  In addition to that, the importance of holding castles to be seen as a person of importance during the Middle Ages and the issue of unlicensed castles that aided revolts and discontent against rulers certainly made fortifications and defended places areas of particular importance during the entire Middle Ages to a degree seldom seem in the history of the West.  For these reasons, among others, this book does a good job at informing the reader of various aspects of the siegecraft of the Middle Ages, something that should be of interest to those who find castles interesting.

After an introductory discussion of the importance of siegecraft in the warfare of the Middle Ages, the author begins this book with a discussion of fortified towns and cities (1).  He notes that sieges often dealt with strong points in a landscape (2) that were often fortified to increase their power, and that these castles were designed and built by well-paid professionals (3), even if that payment was in tokens.  The author looks at aspects of siegecraft like war machines (4), fire weapons, including Greek fire (5), and artillery (6) that could be used on both the attack and the defense.  There is a discussion of attack and defense (7), logistics (8), issues of psychology and morale and deception (9) as well, showing the author’s interest in making the book as complete as possible.  The book closes its main contents with chapters on women at war (10), the rules of engagement (11), and the horrors of total war (12) before closing with an appendix on Vegetius and his role as the writer of the classic medieval text on warfare, as well as a glossary of technical terms, notes on sources, bibliography, and index.  All told, the book is just a bit more than 150 pages, making it a relatively quick read.

One very intriguing aspect of this book is the way that it manages to take out a great deal of the romance of siege warfare in the Middle Ages–or at any other time–without assuming that the people involved were total hypocrites.  The rules of war, such as they were, were very harsh when it came to sieges, and engaging in logistical warfare is a commitment to making ordinary civilians feel the pain of the follies of their political leaders, one of the reasons why I have always been so fond of that particular warfare as a student of military history myself.  Even if sieges lack the excitement that battles tend to have for most students of military history, the importance of taking and holding land and strongpoints means that anyone who wants to understand the military history of the Middle Ages needs to take sieges and siegecraft seriously.  Since this is not the sort of subject that draws a lot of attention from many writers, it is definitely worthwhile that this book serves as a helpful introduction to the matter, where readers can take advantage of the sources included for further and deeper reading about the subject, for those who are interested.

[1] See, for example:

About nathanalbright

I'm a person with diverse interests who loves to read. If you want to know something about me, just ask.
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