Archaeology Odyssey 7:1, January/February 2004

Under Siege!

How the Ancients Waged War

By Paul Bentley Kern

Siege warfare was the most arduous and terrifying form of war in the ancient world. For the attacked, defeat threatened not only their warriors but their women and children. For the attackers, a siege meant long weeks in a filthy camp, short rations and backbreaking labor under extremely hazardous conditions. Massacre, enslavement and rape often followed a siege—as starved, angry troops sacked the city in a wild, bloody frenzy.

From the beginning, human beings have built fortifications to protect themselves from attack. Ancient Jericho built massive fortifications as early as 7000 B.C.E. The town’s defensive wall, 10 feet thick and 13 feet high, enclosed a settlement of perhaps 2,500 people. Even with primitive flint tools, the citizens of Jericho were able to hack a large moat out of the bedrock at the base of the wall to make access to the wall more difficult.

At about the same time, the residents of Catal Hoyuk in Turkey were building contiguous houses, so that the outer walls served as fortifications. These houses had no doors; people exited through a hole in the roof and moved about the city on the rooftops. If an enemy broke through the wall of a house, he found himself in a room with the defenders waiting for him on the roof.1

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