What is siege warfare? A lot of people use the term, but surprisingly few know what it actually means. If you've seen the Lord of the Rings trilogy, you probably have the general idea. The Battle of Minas Tirith is reasonably good example of a classic siege, one featuring many of the medieval siege weapons and tactics you'll find in notable sieges throughout history.
The basics of the thing are pretty simple: surround an enemy's fortification, cut off all food, water, and supplies, then wait for the fort or city's inhabitants to starve, turning their fort into a prison with no escape. Along the way, invaders maintain constant pressure and constant harassment, breaking the enemy's will to fight with bombardment, fire, disease, and general unpleasantness.So, what are the most iconic siege weapons of all time? You'll find them all here and you can vote up the weapons most associated with successful sieges throughout the history of warfare.
Trebuchets were the big guns - the heavy artillery of catapult warfare. Capable of launching huge projectiles over long ranges, trebuchets were often the biggest weapons on the field. Really massive trebuchets required crews of a hundred men or more. Instead of rope torsion, these weapons relied on a huge counterweight to send the long arm upward and sling projectiles far into the distance. It's said that the first sonic boom ever heard by man came from the trebuchet projectiles.
Cannons and big guns completely changed the rules of siege warfare almost overnight, altering the course of history almost as quickly. In 1453, the Ottoman Empire used its advanced casting and metal-working technology to produce ridiculous behemoths like the one pictured. Mehmet II used guns like this to break down the walls of the Christian Byzantine city of Constantinople, which were thought to be unbreakable for more than a thousand years.
Ballistas were effectively giant crossbows, working on the same torsion principles as onagers. The big difference was that ballistas were meant to fire straight ahead at enemy walls instead of up and over them. Loaded with stone "cannon balls" as often as they were with the iconic "arrow" bolt, ballistas specialized in hammering enemy walls to pieces - but they could just as easily be fired into advancing soldiers.
Of all the cool or iconic weapons used in siege warfare, nothing beats the pure shock and awe value of massive trebuchets launching giant freaking fireballs. Sometimes, these fireballs consisted of standard projectile stones wrapped in hay, itself soaked in tar, oil, or pitch. That wasn't entirely ideal, though, since it reduced the weight of the projectile and had a habit of setting the catapult on fire.The alternative: filling a large barrel with a flammable substance such as "Greek Fire," a napalm-like incendiary whose exact recipe has been lost to history. A flaming rope wick would ignite the substance when the barrel broke, making these weapons more like giant Molotov cocktails than the fireballs we're used to seeing in movies.