Necessary Bulwarks: The Theory and Practice of Siegecraft in the Civil War

Engravings of siegeworks from Stone’s Enchiridion of Fortification (1645). The chevaux de freis is noted as E on picture.

As Englishmen went to their storehouses and churches to dust off their pikes, muskets, and corslets when the Civil War broke out in 1642, they also grabbed shovels, picks, and axes for use in building siegeworks. In the early days of the war, and for much of the next four years, citizens and soldiers in towns across the country set to work digging bulwarks and trenches. Old town walls and medieval castles were given modern bastions made of earth, wood, and stone, while pioneers followed the two armies and constructed sconces and batteries at strategic points across England. The most extensive earthworks were constructed in the first year of the war around London. In October 1642, work began on eighteen kilometres of ditches and twenty-eight sconces that were built along the trench line. In A True Declaration and Just Commendation of the Great and Incomparable Care of the Right Honourable Issac Pennington (1643), Pennington, London’s mayor, was lauded for his efforts in “advancing and promoting the Bulwarkes and Fortifications about the City and Suburbs.” According to the pamphlet’s author, who we know only as W. S., Pennington had soothed the Londoners’ fears by quickly “fortifying the City on every side,” saving the capital from the “malignant party.” The construction work, which also included inner and outworks, began under the direction of Philip Skippon, who was now in command of the London trained bands. Known for his talents as an infantry commander, Skippon knew a thing or two about siege warfare, having gained his experience in the art of building defences after serving at the sieges of s’Hertogenbosch and Maastricht in 1629 and Breda in 1637.

Veterans could choose from an array of titles, both domestic and foreign for guidance in laying out defensive perimeters and devising earthen bastions at key crossroads and towns. In the first years of the war, treatises by Ward and Hexham as well as Norwood’s Fortification or Architecture would all have been available for officers to peruse. Another, Ball’s Propositions of Fortifications was printed in 1642, and though no extant copy exists, it most likely laid out the methods for constructing continental-style bastions. Add to these titles the large number of foreign treatises on siegecraft that could be purchased from booksellers and it becomes evident that if Englishmen required instructions in the art of siege warfare, they need not necessarily wait for the arrival of a foreign expert.

In the first two years of fighting, there was a rush to build bastion defences and sconces across England and the work was often carried out by local engineers. In 1643, Charles I employed 5000 civilians to ring Reading with bulwarks and outworks. Exeter, Gloucester, Bristol, Newcastle upon Tyne, and Plymouth all shored up their existing medieval walls with ditches and bastions in the first months of the war, while sconces also were built at Worcester and outside York. Smaller towns like Newark and Newport Pagnell, soon become strategically important to the struggle, resulting in the building of elaborate defences of interlocking sconces and batteries close to each. At a number of castles and manors work also was carried out to add ditches and bastions to create strongholds capable of withstanding artillery. Earthen bastions and palisades fortified Wardour Castle in Wiltshire and bastions were added to the corners of Cambridge Castle in Cambridgeshire to improve its defences. Basing House, Lathom House, and Highnam House were all encircled with ditches and earthworks that proved highly effective in withstanding assaults during the war.

The reports from sieges during the war describe practices that would not have been out of place at Ostend or Breda, though on a much smaller scale. At Gloucester, the Parliamentary governor, Edward Massey, improved the town’s defences by building sconces and using fire to destroy a number of houses outside the walls so as to provide clear fields of fire for the defenders. A published letter written by John Dorney, a clerk from Gloucester, reported the activities of the Royalist army as they began to lay siege to the town in August 1643. Following the establishment of a camp about a half mile from the town, the Royalist pioneers began trenching and “making of a redoubt in a field neer Lanthony towards Severn; making a breest-work from it to Lanthony wall crosse the causey. And we perceiving by their Canon Baskets they placed in their Square redoubt in Gawdy Green that they intended a battery there.”Later the Royalists mounted three artillery pieces on the newly constructed battery and opened fire on the town with demi-cannon and culverins in an effort to batter the walls and open a breach for infantry and cavalry to exploit. Their efforts were eventually thwarted by the arrival in September of a Parliamentary relief army under the earl of Essex who advanced on the Royalist lines and forced the King’s forces to give up the siege.

At York in 1644, Royalist cannon duelled with four Parliamentary guns in a battery on a hill overlooking the town. An anonymous spectator described skirmishes between sallies by men in the Royalist garrison against Parliamentary troops entrenched about the town, and against the pioneers outside the walls who were constructing galleries and a bridge of boats across the Ouse. At the siege of Basing House that same year, the hardy Royalist defenders of the marquis of Winchester’s stately manor house held out against Parliamentary cannon shot and fire weapons, including the “sending of [a] Crosse barre, shot Loggs bound with Iron hoops, Stones, and Grenades.”

Though once again it is difficult to fully measure the influence that printed books may have had on the construction of bastion defences or in the production of fire weapons, there is evidence that home grown English engineers turned to treatises for assistance. As I have noted, there were a number of works printed just prior to the Civil War, and new editions of older works, as well as new titles, appeared in press between 1643 and 1645. In 1643, new editions of Smith’s Art of Gunnery, Bourne’s The Art of Shooting in Great Ordnance, and Norton’s Art of Great Artillery were printed. Just as the war was reaching its conclusion in 1645, two new treatises dedicated to fortification design and siegecraft, Nicholas Stone’s Enchiridion of Fortification and David Papillon’s A Practical Abstract of the Arts of Fortification, were printed in London.

Both of these works suggest that at the war’s end, military architecture had undergone a significant transformation in Britain as a result of the fighting, though continental engineers still believed that the English had much to learn about the subject.

In 1642, Nicholas Stone was a well-respected English architect and sculptor who had had a long and prosperous career. He had established his name working on royal architectural projects at Windsor and in London in the 1620s and through his sculptures that graced the estates of nobles. He continued his loyalty to the monarchy when the Civil War erupted, a decision that was to cost him his estate and his career. He never had the opportunity to put his services to use in the field for the Royalists, owing to his imprisonment by Parliament at the beginning of the war. Stone appears to have spent some of the time during his imprisonment writing his Enchiridion of Fortification. In the dedicatory poem that opens the treatise, he found the opportunity to chastise his captors, offering the book only to

. . . assist the Good.

If the Bad doe chance to draw

Thee to help them, ‘gainst the law:

(As they may doe, tis no doubt;

For what’s a Handfull, ‘gainst a rout?)

Stone’s work as a master mason and architect did not necessarily mean that he had any experience with the construction of trace italienne defences and for this reason his treatise might best be described as following in the manner of Edward Cooke or Gervase Markham, with much of the it based on the work of others, in this case Hexham’s translation of Marolois’s Fortification ou Architectvre militaire (1631). Stone claimed that he took the “choice flowers . . . gathered out of the great nursery of Martiall discipline, by Samuel Maralois & others of great skill there in, and profound Mathematicians.” Like Cooke and Markham, Stone also attempted to simplify the process of constructing bastion defences, writing for gentlemen who are “not very skill’d in the Mathematicks, nor of great knowledge in Geometry.” Stone’s plates and diagrams were taken from Marolois and his study of the various types of polygonal fortresses was complemented by brief instructions on the construction of siegeworks, including the building of approaches and turnpikes and equally brief descriptions of artillery and siege weapons, such as petards and grenades. Stone’s instructions, however, could not have been too helpful to gentlemen soldiers, especially those who lacked education in mathematics and geometry. Enchiridion of Fortification was short on details and analysis, undoubtedly the result of Stone’s limited access to other sources and possibly to his own lack of experience.

David Papillon’s A Practical Abstract of the Arts of Fortification was a better manual for soldiers. Papillon was a supporter of Parliament who was also an accomplished mason and architect. He was highly critical of Stone’s work, as well as a number of other books on siegecraft written in the 1630s. Papillon, a French Huguenot who came to England as a boy in the 1580s, was able to put his talents to use for the Parliamentary army, assisting in the construction of the bastion defences at Leicester, Gloucester, and Northampton. The defences at Leicester were composed of a series of hornworks, fortifying the eastern and southern approaches to the town, while Papillon’s work at Gloucester involved the building of a number of bastions along the existing medieval walls of the town. Papillon advised rather than helped the Parliamentarian engineers to build Northampton’s fortifications, a town that already had well-constructed defences when the war began. When Papillon wrote A Practical Abstract in 1645, the war was coming to an end, and he believed that after the war, garrisons would still be required to protect towns and that these should be given strong, bastioned defences. In his dedication to Thomas Fairfax, (dated January 1, 1645/46) Papillon offered the general of the New Model Army directions “for the future of the Works of our garrisons; and for the double intrenched Camps, that we are necessary to make use of, if we intend to give (by the gracious favour of God) a speedy and ablest period to the miseries of this poor and desolated Kingdome.” By the end of 1645, the country had witnessed at least 200 sieges, and commentators like Papillon had no doubts that siegecraft was now an essential part of the military arts in England. But Papillon still felt that Englishmen needed more study, and he decried the English defences constructed in the war, which were, in his opinion, “insufficient.” He hoped that Fairfax would see to it that the stronger bastions were built along the lines of continental fortifications. This would mean eventually replacing the earthen defences that sprang up so rapidly during the war with stone fortifications. The earthen defences were apparently the “object of derision to Forrainers that see them,” and Papillon suggests that this might be perceived as a sign of national weakness, beckoning invaders from Europe. He went on to heap much of the responsibility for the state of those defences on the heads of local engineers and townspeople who helped to construct the fortifications that now dotted the land. Yet, his attacks suggest that while the defences that were built could hardly be compared with the massive stone fortifications in the Low Countries or France, English “mechanicall Artificers and Shop-keepers” had done their fair share to assist local authorities and Royalist and Parliamentary forces in constructing these bastions. Papillon did not lay all the blame on those who had done the building; he also took a jab at his fellow military writers, notably Ward, Cruso (for his Castramentation or the Measuring Out of the Quarters For the Encamping of an Army, 1642), and Stone. Papillon described these works as having “encreased the ignorance of [the] meane capacities” of their readers, rather than improving “their knowledge in the practice of these Arts.” He also reports that in discussions with some of these men, he found them poorly versed in the field of military architecture.

Despite his attacks, Papillon reveals an intersection between the theory found in the works on siegecraft and the practice of constructing bastions and bulwarks during the Civil War. Though English defences were not up to the standards of continental trace fortifications, the speed at which they were constructed across the country in the first years of the war, their close resemblance to Dutch models, and the sheer number of siege works built indicate that the English were either quick studies or they were already keenly aware of the art of constructing siege defences before the war broke out. Archaeological research undertaken over the course of the last two decades has uncovered earthworks throughout England, Wales, and Scotland revealing a much more developed art of siegecraft in the English Civil War than historians have described. Though foreign engineers and veteran soldiers played their part in advising local citizens and soldiers in the construction of bastion defences, the influence of English and European military books cannot be overlooked as another means by which the English obtained knowledge of the art of siegecraft.

The gentleman soldier in early Stuart England could hardly call himself a “complete soldier” if he knew nothing of the art of siege warfare. The treatises and manuals on siegecraft and military architecture inherited from the Tudors, as well as pamphlets, siege histories, and analytical treatises devoted to the subject that were printed in the Jacobean and Caroline periods, gave English soldiers a window into a world that was once the preserve of the engineer and the gunner. In fact, the first half of the seventeenth century witnessed an important stage in the development of siegecraft in Britain. While the Parliamentary army would destroy or dismantle most of the fortifications constructed during the Civil War, and the English would once again come to rely upon their natural defences for protection, the sieges undertaken during the conflict had helped to complete the education of soldiers. This education had begun in the trenches of the Low Countries with Vere, Maurice, and Spinola and ended at Basing House, Pontefract, and Colchester. Along the way, complete soldiers turned to books and treatises to augment their studies of siegecraft, providing them with direction in the construction, defence, and storming of these “necessary bulwarkes.”


Greek Sicily

The Athenian siege of Syracuse, 415-413 BC. The scene is from 414 BC, when the Athenians bad established a fort at Syca (‘the fig tree ‘) on the Epipolae plateau above Syracuse, and embarked upon their usual strategy of periteichismos [encirclement]. Specialist masons and carpenters appear to have accompanied the army to Sicily, and tools for construction work were a normal part of their equipment.

One consequence of this broad diaspora is that there are as many superb Greek sites in Italy, Sicily and Asia Minor as there are in the area we now know as Greece. The greater part, inevitably, has been lost; and yet, in Sicily alone, at Selinunte—formerly Selinus—there are at least seven temples of the sixth and fifth centuries B.C. in tolerable states of preservation, though most of those still standing do so only thanks to a long and ambitious program of reconstruction in the past half-century. Of the nine at Agrigento, five are more impressive still and, particularly around sunset, quite astonishingly beautiful. Loveliest of all is Segesta, set in a fold of hills an easy drive from Palermo (but just out of sight, thank God, of the motorway). It is actually unfinished—the projecting bosses used for shifting the blocks of stone were never filed away—but the general impression is one of quiet perfection, everything a late-fifth-century B.C. Doric monument ought to be. There is also, high on the opposite hillside, a beautifully preserved third-century theater, from which one can look down on the temple and marvel that such a sublime building should have survived virtually intact after two and a half thousand years.

Finally, the cathedral of Syracuse, one of the only cathedrals to have been built five centuries before the birth of Christ. Its splendid baroque façade gives no hint of what lies within, but the interior tells a very different story. The columns that support the building are those of the original Doric temple of Athena, erected by the tyrant Gelon to celebrate his victory over Carthage in 480 B.C. and famous for its magnificence all over the ancient world. Under the Romans, its greatest treasures were stolen by the unspeakably corrupt Governor Verres, against whom Cicero so famously thundered. The Byzantines converted it for the first time into a Christian church; the Arabs turned it into a mosque. Normans and Spaniards both made their own contributions; a series of earthquakes did their worst; and there was a major reconstruction in 1693 after the collapse of the Norman façade. Those ancient columns, however, survived all their tribulations, and still stand to prove once again that most curious of historical-religious phenomena: that once a place is recognized as holy, then, regardless of all changes in the prevailing faith, holy it remains.

But who, you may ask, was this tyrant Gelon, who started the whole thing? Of all the tyrants—those men who ruled their cities as virtual dictators and who played all too large a part in Greek-Sicilian history—Gelon could boast the most distinguished parentage. Herodotus claims that his ancestors had founded the city of Gela. The prototypes of these tyrants first make their appearance in the early sixth century B.C.—Panaetius in Leontini, Phalaris in Acragas and one or two others. About Panaetius we know next to nothing, and of Phalaris very little except that he greatly enjoyed eating babies and small children, and that he possessed a huge, hollow bull of bronze in which he tended to roast those who displeased him. We are a good deal better informed about Pantares of Gela, whose four-horse chariot was victorious in the Olympic Games of 512 or 508, and whose sons Cleander and Hippocrates ruled successively after him. It was on the death of Hippocrates in 491—killed in battle with the Sicels on the slopes of Mount Etna—that Gelon, his former cavalry commander, seized power. He ruled in his native city for six years, then in 485 moved to Syracuse, taking more than half its population with him. The move was sensible, if not inevitable. Gela, as we have seen, had no harbor; but no one beached ships anymore if they could avoid it, and in all the Greek world there were few harbors more magnificent than that of Syracuse.

But Syracuse was more than its harbor. It also possessed an island, separated from it by no more than a hundred yards, which could serve as a huge, self-contained fortress. It was here that the first Greek colonists founded their city, which they called Ortygia after one of the epithets of Artemis. Almost miraculously, the island possessed a seemingly inexhaustible spring of freshwater at the very edge of the sea; this they dedicated to Arethusa, one of the goddess’s attendant nymphs.

Over the next few years Gelon transformed his new conquest into a powerful and prosperous city. In this he was greatly aided by an idiotic attack on Syracuse by another Greek city, Megara Hyblaea, some ten or twelve miles up the coast. Herodotus tells us the story:

[Gelon] brought to Syracuse the men of substance, who had instigated the war and therefore expected to be put to death, and he made them citizens. The common people, who had no share in the responsibility for the war and therefore expected to suffer no evil, he also took to Syracuse and there he sold them into slavery for export outside Sicily….He did this because he thought the commons were the most unpleasant to live with.

It was not long before Gelon, with his ally, the immensely rich Theron of Acragas, had extended his power across the greater part of Greek Sicily. Selinus and Messina alone managed to preserve their independence; and it was Anaxilas of Messina who took what appeared to be the only course open to him if he and his people were to escape absorption. He appealed to Carthage.

At this point—and before we go any further—it might be a good idea to say something about Carthage. It was originally Phoenician, and the Phoenicians—the Canaanites of the Old Testament—were a very curious people indeed. Unlike their contemporaries in Egypt, they seem to have made little or no attempt to found a single, coherent state. The Old Testament refers to the people of Tyre and Sidon, and we read in the First Book of Kings how Hiram, King of Tyre, sent King Solomon timber and skilled craftsmen for the building of the Temple in Jerusalem. His people had developed one memorable home industry: gathering the shells of the murex—a form of mollusc which secreted a rich purple dye,worth far more than its weight in gold.*2 But their principal interest lay always in the lands to the west—with whom, however, they traded more as a loose confederation of merchant communities than as anything resembling a nation. Today we remember them above all as seafarers, a people who sailed to every corner of the Mediterranean and quite often beyond, setting up trading colonies not only in Sicily but in the Balearic Islands and along the shores of North Africa. Beyond the Strait of Gibraltar they had important settlements on the Atlantic coast of Morocco and on the promontory of Cádiz; they probably even crossed the English Channel in search of Cornish tin.

As for Carthage, it had gained its independence around 650 B.C., and by the fifth century it had developed into a formidable city-state, by far the most important and influential of all the Phoenician settlements in the Mediterranean, occupying the site of what is now Tunis. People are always surprised when they look on the map to find that Tunisia is not south of Sicily but due west of it, and that the distance between the two is barely a hundred miles. Carthage was highly centralized and efficiently governed. It was not, in short, a presence that could be taken for granted. It responded to Messina’s appeal—and on a scale far beyond anyone’s expectation or, indeed, understanding. The response was not immediate, but that was simply because the Carthaginians meant business. They were not interested in just helping out small-time tyrants in distress; they were aiming at something a good deal more ambitious. They spent the next three years amassing a huge army, not only from North Africa but from Spain, Corsica and Sardinia, while building up an equally massive fleet; and in 480, under the command of their Chief Magistrate Hamilcar, they landed at Palermo. From there they advanced eastward along the coast to Himera, and attacked.

What happened next is almost as incomprehensible as the size and scale of the expedition itself. Theron—Gelon’s principal ally—who had been carefully following the passage of the Carthaginian fleet and was now standing ready to resist the invaders, at first found himself hopelessly outnumbered; but he was able to hold the situation until the arrival of Gelon from Syracuse, with an army comparable in size to that of Hamilcar but infinitely better equipped and trained. Meanwhile, to their bewilderment, the Carthaginians found themselves entirely alone. Of Anaxilas and his Messinans—who had invited them in the first place—there was not a sign; nor was there any help from Selinus. In the desperate encounter that followed Hamilcar was killed—or, as some say, took his own life by leaping into a blazing fire; his ships, drawn up defenseless on the beach, were burned to cinders. Vast numbers of prisoners were enslaved, and Carthage was obliged to pay an immense indemnity, of which Gelon made excellent use, building not only his great temple of Athena but two lesser temples in a developing quarter of Syracuse, dedicated to Demeter and Persephone—the goddess of fertility and the harvest, and her daughter, queen of the dead.

After the Battle of Himera—which, Herodotus tells us, was fought on the very same day as the great Athenian victory against the Persians at Salamis—it was as if the Carthaginian expedition had never been. Carthage retired to lick her wounds; she made no attempt to take her revenge or resume hostilities, remaining quiet for the next seventy years. Anaxilas was allowed to continue in Messina as before; indeed, he felt secure enough to travel to Olympia, where he won a not very exciting race for mule carts at the Games. He seems gradually to have reconciled himself to Syracusan hegemony; a year or two later he married his daughter to Hiero, Gelon’s younger brother and successor. As for Gelon himself, he died in 478 B.C. For many years he had been the most powerful figure in the entire Greek world—perhaps in all Europe. Despite Herodotus’s nasty little story above he had shown himself, for a tyrant, unusually just and merciful; we are told that, as one of the conditions of the peace treaty, he insisted that the Carthaginians should give up their traditional practice of human sacrifice—which they somewhat regretfully did. It was not only in Syracuse, but in many other cities of Magna Graecia, that Gelon was deeply and genuinely mourned.

The immense popularity and respect in which Gelon was held should have rubbed off on Hiero, but it somehow failed to do so. Hiero meant well enough, but he possessed little of his brother’s ability and intelligence. Some basic insecurity led him to establish a formidable secret police, which had little effect other than to make him more unpopular still. Like Gelon, he was a great mover of populations, transporting the people of Naxos and Catania to Leontini, and actually refounding Catania under a new name—Etna—and populating it with immigrants from the Peloponnese. He was ambitious too: in 474 B.C., in response to an appeal from Cumae, he sent a fleet across to the Bay of Naples, where it inflicted a crushing defeat on the Etruscans.

Perhaps his most attractive feature was his love of the arts: Pindar and Simonides, together with many other lesser poets and philosophers, were welcomed to his court at Syracuse, as was the tragedian Aeschylus, but somehow the old magic was gone. It is the inherent weakness of autocracies that their success depends entirely on the character and strength of the autocrat. Hereditary monarchy can take the occasional weak ruler in its stride; tyranny collapses. Hiero, alas, was found wanting. He survived long enough to win an Olympic chariot race in 468 B.C., but died the following year. He was briefly and ingloriously succeeded by two more of his brothers, who were thrown out one after the other.

At this point it was certainly on the cards that some new, unrelated adventurer might have seen his chance and staged a coup d’état; for some reason, however, tyranny suddenly dropped out of fashion. It was not only Syracuse—by far the most important city in Sicily—that reverted to a form of democracy, but almost all the petty tyrannies (whose fortunes we have no time, space or reason to follow here) across the island. This change of heart raised its own problems: so many local populations had been uprooted and transported to other cities that it was almost impossible to determine who deserved a vote and who did not, and the result was half a century of considerable confusion. It was this, perhaps, which in 415 B.C. emboldened the Athenians to launch against Syracuse what Thucydides described as the most splendid and costly fleet ever to have sailed from a single Greek city—more than 250 ships and some 40,000 men.

For reasons not entirely clear, Athens had been showing a faintly sinister interest in Sicily since the 450s, when she had most improbably signed a treaty of friendship with Segesta—a diplomatic coup comparable, perhaps, to a pact today between China and Paraguay. A number of similar treaties followed, and when in 427 Leontini appealed for help in resisting an attack by Syracuse, the Athenians immediately sent twenty ships. This might have seemed generous enough at any time; during the fourth year of the Peloponnesian War, when Athens was fighting for her very existence, it was little short of astonishing. Thucydides claims, not very convincingly, that their object was to prevent the dispatch of grain to their enemies.

The Peloponnesian War—which was basically a struggle between Athens and Sparta—had had little effect on Sicily until 415; in the previous year, however, hostilities had flared up—not for the first time—between the two western cities of Segesta and Selinus. Segesta, being by far the weaker of the two, having appealed in vain for help to Acragas, Syracuse and Carthage, finally in despair sent an embassy to Athens. Athens was still technically at war, but warfare had given way to a period of uneasy truce and she had large numbers of bored fighting men who needed employment. She also had a dazzling young senator named Alcibiades—a former ward of the great Pericles—who enthusiastically championed the idea of a large-scale expedition to Sicily. He had no very high opinion of the Sicilians; and in a long speech to the Senate, he explained why:

Although the Sicilian cities are populous, their inhabitants are a mixed multitude, and they readily give up old forms of government and receive new ones from outside. No one really feels that he has a city of his own….They are a motley crew, who are never of one mind in counsel and are incapable of any concerted action.

The Athenians believed him, and launched their expedition.

Almost immediately, the plight of Segesta seems to have been forgotten; the Athenians had bigger fish to fry. They may well have had in mind the subjection of all Sicily, but it was clear that their first objective must be the island’s most important city, Syracuse. To Syracuse, therefore, they sailed; but the army had hardly landed before its commanders began to quarrel. Alcibiades, who was by far the ablest of them, was recalled to Athens almost at once to answer charges of profanation, and played no further part in the fighting; had he done so the expedition might have ended very differently. None of his fellow generals seems to have had any overall plan of attack; for weeks they shilly-shallied, giving Syracuse plenty of time to prepare a firm resistance—and to appeal for help. Sparta with its superbly trained army and Corinth with its magnificent navy were swift to respond, and the Athenians soon found that the conquest of Sicily, or even only of Syracuse, was by no means to be the walkover that they had expected.

Moreover, unlike Athens, Syracuse possessed a superb commander. His name was Hermocrates. He is described by Thucydides as highly intelligent, experienced in war and of conspicuous courage, and by Xenophon as thorough, diligent and, as a general, unusually accessible to his men. In 415 he had been among the first to warn his countrymen of the Athenian danger, and had made a determined attempt to unite all Sicily—together with Carthage—against Athens while there was still time. In this he had failed, being by some written off as an alarmist, by others reviled as a warmonger; and more than a vestige of these suspicions seems to have remained, as the Syracusans absolutely refused to entrust him with supreme command, electing him instead as merely one of three generals who would share the executive authority between them. This asinine arrangement meant that, to a very considerable extent, his hands were tied.

The fighting continued for two full years, and on at least two occasions the Athenians had the city almost within their grasp. In 414 a major slave revolt was narrowly averted, and later the same year Hermocrates was obliged to open peace negotiations; only the timely arrival, with substantial reinforcements, of the Spartan general Gylippus saved the situation. Gylippus was not initially popular in Syracuse, but he soon showed himself a thoroughgoing professional and Hermocrates, swallowing his pride, accepted him as his superior officer. It was these two men together who were ultimately responsible for the Athenian defeat—a defeat which Athens was to take a long time to live down.

But there were other causes as well. As time went by the Athenian soldiers became ever more homesick and demoralized, and thus increasingly vulnerable to epidemics, particularly of malaria—unknown in Athens but rampant in Sicily. At last the Athenian commanders accepted that they had failed and gave the order to withdraw. But they were too late. The Syracusans and their allies launched a sudden last-minute attack; the Athenian fleet was trapped inside the harbor and annihilated. What followed was little short of a massacre. After it, the two principal Athenian generals, Nicias—despite being seriously ill—and Demosthenes, were executed, while some 7,000 of their men were captured and forced to work in those fearsome limestone quarries that can be visited just outside the city. The marks of their pickaxes can still be seen. In the next few months many of them were to die of cold and exposure. Countless others were branded on the forehead with the mark of a horse and then sold into slavery. (Plutarch’s claim that a few lucky ones were set free because they could recite a chorus or two of Euripides can, alas, be discounted.) Thucydides summed it up: “the victors earned the most brilliant of successes, the vanquished the most calamitous of defeats.”

Sicily was victorious and, for the moment, safe from foreign invaders; but the Peloponnesian War was by no means over and Hermocrates, now unemployed, assumed command of a fleet of twenty triremes to fight for Sparta in the Aegean. For two years all went well; but in 410 fate turned against him. Perhaps he was less gifted as an admiral than he was as a general; at any rate, in the course of a grim battle off Cyzicus on the Sea of Marmara every one of his ships was destroyed by an Athenian fleet. He returned to Sicily, only to find the gates of Syracuse firmly closed against him—perhaps because, despite his excellent past record, the citizens mistrusted his obvious ambition and feared that he might make himself a tyrant. Their fears were probably well justified, but we shall never know: in 407, while making a determined bid to force his way into the city, he was surrounded and killed.

Fort William Henry 1757 I

The Siege of Fort William Henry L. F. Tantillo

The most ominous problems were taking shape in New York, where Loudoun had left the defense of the lake frontier in the palsied hands of General Daniel Webb, the man who in 1756 had responded to rumors of a French advance down the Mohawk Valley by destroying Fort Bull, blocking Wood Creek with trees, and ordering a retreat to German Flats. Webb’s continued position as Loudoun’s third-ranking officer owed principally to the undiminished confidence of Webb’s patron, the duke of Cumberland, which left Loudoun little choice but to entrust the command to him. Although in one of the last letters he wrote from New York before departing for Louisbourg, Loudoun had urged Webb to establish an advanced post at the north end of Lake George and if possible to besiege Fort Carillon, Loudoun probably realized that he could be expected to do no more than defend New York against invasion. This was only in part because the commander in chief lacked confidence in the “timid, melancholic, and ‘diffident’ ” Webb, with his regrettable tendencies to panic and overreact. Loudoun’s desire to make the Louisbourg expedition an all-redcoat show had made him willing to allot Webb only two regular regiments to augment the questionable fighting capacities of 5,500 untrained provincials. Most of all, however, offensive action was realistically out of the question because Fort William Henry, the British post guarding the main approach to the upper Hudson Valley at the south end (or head) of Lake George, had already been damaged by a surprise attack.

In mid-March a force of fifteen hundred Canadians, French, and Indians under the command of the governor-general’s wiry, sawed-off younger brother, François-Pierre Rigaud, had approached the fort over the frozen lake and harassed its small winter garrison for four days. The raiders had come equipped only with scaling ladders, not cannon, and therefore stood little chance of actually seizing the fort unless they could surprise or stampede its commander. As it happened, Fort William Henry that winter was under the highly competent command of the man who had designed it, Major William Eyre; and Eyre made no mistakes in directing its defense. Before the raiders withdrew to Ticonderoga, however, they burned all of the fort’s outbuildings (including a palisaded barracks, several storehouses, a sawmill, and a hospital), its exposed bateaux, and the half-built sloop that stood on stocks near the lake.

Although its defenders had suffered only a handful of minor casualties and its wood-and-earth walls had been untouched by anything heavier than musket balls, the damage to Fort William Henry as a strategic outpost had been grave. The valuable supplies that would have to be replaced from Albany and the external buildings that would take weeks to rebuild were the least consequential losses. More serious by far was the loss of the fort’s bateaux, without which troops could not be moved down the lake against Fort Carillon; but most damaging of all was the loss of the sloop, which left the fort with only one serviceable gunboat to launch in the spring. As the winter’s experience showed, Fort William Henry was safe from attackers who lacked artillery. Unless the British could dominate Lake George with armed vessels, however, they could not prevent an invading French army from bringing siege cannon from Fort Carillon. It would take weeks of labor, once shipwrights had been brought in from New England, to construct a replacement for the lost sloop. In the meantime, Fort William Henry would be vulnerable to any siege the marquis de Montcalm cared to mount.

There was one other critical way in which Rigaud’s raid had put the British in New York at a disadvantage: the loss of intelligence. At the beginning of the winter Eyre’s garrison at Fort William Henry had included about a hundred rangers under Captain Robert Rogers. But Rogers had led them on a disastrous scout against Fort Carillon in January that had cost nearly a quarter of that number, and he had sustained a wound of his own that required treatment at Albany. He would not recover and return to the fort until the middle of April. Given these circumstances the rangers could not have ventured far from the fort even if conditions had favored them. But following Rigaud’s raid, the woods around Lake George grew thick with French-allied Indians. Word of Rogers’s defeat and of Rigaud’s adventure brought hundreds of Ottawa, Potawatomi, Abenaki, and Caughnawaga warriors to Fort St. Frédéric and Fort Carillon in the spring of 1757. From April through June, under the leadership of their own chiefs and of Canadian officers like Charles Langlade (who had directed the destruction of Pickawillany in 1752 and helped defeat Braddock in 1755), they raided English outposts and ambushed supply trains in the woods between Fort Edward and Fort William Henry. So effectively did the Indians and Canadian irregulars confine the rangers to the vicinity of the British forts that General Webb and his senior officers were deprived of virtually all intelligence concerning French preparations for the coming campaigns. If they had known what was coming Webb and his subordinates might conceivably have prepared more vigorously for the summer, but as late as the beginning of June the garrison at Fort William Henry had not undertaken repairs.

What Webb and his officers did not know was that since late in the summer of 1756 the most successful recruiting drive in the history of New France had been under way among the Indians of the pays d’en haut, the upper Great Lakes basin. The combination of Governor-General Vaudreuil’s enthusiasm for using Indian allies and the widespread reports of French victories at the Monongahela and Oswego attracted warriors from a vast area to serve in the principal campaign planned for 1757: a thrust against Fort William Henry. Montcalm, still unhappy with the uncontrollable behavior of his Abenaki, Caughnawaga, Nipissing, Menominee, and Ojibwa warriors after the surrender of Oswego, entertained more reservations than ever about relying on Indians, but these were overborne by the sheer numbers who presented themselves at Montréal and the Lake Champlain forts between the fall of 1756 and the early summer of 1757. Stories that the Ojibwas and Menominees carried back home to the Great Lakes after the fall of Oswego had “made a great impression,” Montcalm’s aide-de-camp noted; “especially what they have heard tell of everyone there swimming in brandy.” Of equal importance, perhaps, was the news that Montcalm had been willing to ransom English prisoners from their Indian captors after the battle. At any rate, the Indians came in numbers that exceeded even Vaudreuil’s fondest hopes and included warriors who had traveled as far as fifteen hundred miles to join the expedition.

By the end of July nearly 2,000 Indians were assembled at Fort Carillon in aid of the army of 6,000 French regulars, troupes de la marine, and Canadian militiamen that Montcalm was preparing to lead against Fort William Henry. More than 300 Ottawas had come from the upper Lake Michigan country; nearly as many Ojibwas (Chippewas and Mississaugas) from the shores of Lake Superior; more than 100 Menominees and almost as many Potawatamis from lower Michigan; about 50 Winnebagos from Wisconsin; Sauk and Fox warriors from even farther west; a few Miamis and Delawares from the Ohio Country; and even 10 Iowa warriors, representing a nation that had never been seen in Canada before. In all, 979 Indians from the pays d’en haut and the middle west joined the 820 Catholic Indians recruited from missions that extended from the Atlantic to the Great Lakes—Nipissings, Ottawas, Abenakis, Caughnawagas, Huron-Petuns, Malecites, and Micmacs. With no fewer than thirty-three nations, as many languages, and widely varying levels of familiarity with European culture represented, problems of control were magnified even beyond their usual scope. Since Montcalm realized that “in the midst of the woods of America one can no more do without them than without cavalry in open country,” he did what he could to accommodate, appease, and flatter his allies. But as he knew better than anyone else, he could not command them. Montcalm could only rely on the persuasive abilities of the missionary fathers, interpreter-traders, and warrior-officers like Langlade whom he “attached” to each group in the hope of gaining its cooperation.

In the spring Lieutenant Colonel George Monro had brought five companies of his regiment, the 35th Foot, to Fort William Henry to relieve Major Eyre’s winter garrison. Together with two New York independent companies and nearly eight hundred provincials from New Jersey and New Hampshire, Monro’s command numbered more than fifteen hundred men in late June when two escaped English prisoners brought the first reliable intelligence of the eight-thousand-man force that Montcalm was gathering at Fort Carillon. Monro—“an old Officer but [one] who never ha[d] served” in the field—dispatched several ranger patrols over the next several weeks to observe the French and Indian buildup at the foot of the lake. None succeeded, and the lack of serviceable boats prevented Monro from mounting a reconnaissance-in-force until late July. It was only on the twenty-third that he finally hazarded five companies of New Jersey provincials under Colonel John Parker in a raid intended to burn the French sawmills at the foot of the lake and to take as many prisoners as possible. Traveling in two bay boats under sail and twenty whaleboats—virtually all of the vessels available at Fort William Henry—Parker’s command made its way north down the lake toward Sabbath-Day Point. They did not know until the next morning that more than five hundred Ottawas, Ojibwas, Potawatomis, Menominees, and Canadians were waiting for them. According to Louis Antoine de Bougainville, Moncalm’s aide-de-camp,

At daybreak three of [the English] barges fell into our ambush without a shot fired. Three others that followed at a little distance met the same fate. The [remaining] sixteen advanced in order. The Indians who were on shore fired at them and made them fall back. When they saw them do this they jumped into their canoes, pursued the enemy, hit them, and sank or captured all but two which escaped. They brought back nearly two hundred prisoners. The rest were drowned. The Indians jumped into the water and speared them like fish. . . . We had only one man slightly wounded. The English, terrified by the shooting, the sight, the cries, and the agility of these monsters, surrendered almost without firing a shot. The rum which was in the barges and which the Indians immediately drank caused them to commit great cruelties. They put in the pot and ate three prisoners, and perhaps others were so treated. All have become slaves unless they are ransomed. A horrible spectacle to European eyes.

In fact, four of the boats escaped the trap, but three-quarters of the Jersey Blues on the expedition were killed or captured. The arrival of the panic-stricken survivors offered the first tangible evidence of a large enemy presence at Fort Carillon, and it thoroughly rattled General Webb, who was making his first visit to Fort William Henry when the remnants of Parker’s command appeared. Webb ordered Monro to quarter the garrison’s regulars within the fort and directed him to have the provincials construct an entrenched camp on Titcomb’s Mount, a rocky rise about 750 yards southeast of the fort, to prevent the enemy from siting cannon on its summit. Then, promising to send reinforcements, he beat a hasty retreat to Fort Edward.


Fort William Henry 1757 II

Monro needed the promised men badly. When Webb left on July 29, Fort William Henry’s garrison consisted of only about eleven hundred soldiers fit for duty, together with sixty carpenters and sailors, about eighty women and children, and a handful of sutlers. Since its total complement of vessels on the lake now consisted of five whaleboats and two armed sloops (one in need of repair), Monro knew that he could not prevent the French from investing the place with artillery. The larger the number of men in place at the fort on the day the siege began, therefore, the better the chances would be that they could resist the attackers.

And yet Webb, fearful of stripping the defenses of his own post, Fort Edward, persuaded himself to dispatch only about two hundred regulars of the Royal American (60th) Regiment and eight hundred Massachusetts provincials under Lieutenant Colonel Joseph Frye. They arrived on the evening of August 2—the same night that lookouts spotted three large fires on the western shore of the lake at about seven miles’ distance. Two scouting boats were dispatched to investigate. Neither returned.

At dawn the next morning, observers on the ramparts of William Henry could begin to make out shapes on the dark surface of the lake: there, beyond cannon range, bobbed nearly 250 French bateaux and at least 150 Indian war canoes. To officers surveying the scene through field telescopes, the growing light revealed that more than sixty of the bateaux had been joined together catamaran-style by platforms of planks; these rode low in the water, borne down by the weight of the siege guns they carried. “We know that they have Cannon,” Monro wrote to Webb, in one of three pleas for help he sent that day. If anyone had entertained any lingering doubts, it was now unmistakable that the second siege of Fort William Henry would be conducted in the European style.

The three bonfires that sentries at the fort had seen the night before had been kindled by an advance party of six hundred regulars, a hundred troupes de la marine, thirteen hundred Canadians, and five hundred Indians under Brigadier François-Gaston, chevalier de Lévis, Montcalm’s second-in-command. They had been toiling south through the woods “in heat . . . as great as in Italy,” since July 29. Montcalm’s main army, numbering more than four thousand men, needed only a day to traverse the same distance by boat. Unlike the overburdened advance party, they had made the trip in a festive mood. Perhaps the beauty of the lake—a drowned valley between mountain ranges, its waters studded with “a very great quantity of islands”—animated those who rowed and rode in the dark, stolid ranks of bateaux; or perhaps it was the sight of scores of birch-bark canoes in the vanguard, gliding like a cloud over the lake’s blue surface, that lifted their spirits—for, as Bougainville wondered, “who could imagine the spectacle of fifteen hundred naked Indians in their canoes?” Whatever the cause, not even Montcalm’s strict orders for silence could restrain the gaiety his soldiers felt, and they fired musket salutes, beat rolls on the drum, and sounded hunting horns as their flotilla made its way up the lake. Disapproving of the breach of discipline and yet stirred by the fanfares that echoed between the mountains, Bougainville believed that these must have been “the first horns that have yet resounded through the forests of America.”

Lévis’s advance party fired the first shots at the fort’s defenders on August 3. Even before the main body had landed its artillery and supplies, Montcalm ordered Lévis to circle through the woods behind the fort and cut the road leading southward to Fort Edward. This task his Indians and Canadians quickly accomplished, driving a guard of Massachusetts provincials back to their camp on Titcomb’s Mount and seizing virtually all of their livestock—about 50 horses and 150 oxen, most of which the Indians slaughtered to supplement the scanty rations they had been receiving from the army. Meanwhile, as Indian sharpshooters began sniping at the defenders of William Henry from the main garrison garden—a seven-acre plot lying just fifty or sixty yards from the western wall of the fort—Montcalm brought the main body up from the landing place and surveyed the shoreline for a position from which to begin his entrenchments.

At three in the afternoon Montcalm formally opened the siege by sending in a messenger under flag of truce, in accord with European custom, bearing a demand for the garrison’s surrender. “Humanity,” he wrote, “obliged him to warn [Monro] that once [the French] batteries were in place and the cannon fired, perhaps there would not be time, nor would it be in [his] power to restrain the cruelties of a mob of Indians of so many different nations.” With equal gravity Monro replied that he and his troops would resist “to the last extremity.” While the commanders exchanged their ceremonial courtesies, the Indians stood “in a great crowd in the space around the fort,” obeying the norms of their own cultures by hurling taunts at the defenders. “Take care to defend yourself,” shouted one Abenaki warrior in clear (though “very bad”) French to the soldiers on the ramparts, “for if I capture you, you will get no quarter.”

Although Fort William Henry was clearly in trouble on August 3, its position was far from desperate. The fort’s magazines held adequate if not ample stocks of ammunition and provisions; its batteries mounted eighteen heavy cannon (including a pair of thirty-two–pounders), thirteen light swivels capable of raking the wall faces and glacis with grapeshot, two mortars, and a howitzer. A stout stone-and-log breastwork enclosed the provincial camp atop Titcomb’s Mount, which had six brass fieldpieces and four swivels, as well as the small arms of its men, to defend it. The most immediate threat to the fort’s garrison was fire, and Monro soon minimized that danger by ordering the flammable roof shingles removed from the interior buildings and having all stocks of firewood dumped into the lake. The greater dangers were those of the longer term: that a portion of the fort’s wall would collapse under sustained cannonading, allowing attackers to rush through the breach and overwhelm the defenders, or (if the walls held up) that the garrison would be starved into submission.

Since time inevitably favored the besiegers, such eventualities could be prevented only if Webb dispatched a relief expedition to attack Montcalm before he had a chance to organize his own camp’s defenses. Hence the urgency of Monro’s three attempts to notify Webb that Montcalm was about to besiege (or, as he said, using the technical term, “invest”) the fort; for without reinforcement from below, Fort William Henry would be no more immune to prolonged cannon siege than Oswego or St. Philip’s Castle had been. Thus on August 4, as Montcalm’s engineers laid out the first line of entrenchments less than half a mile from William Henry’s north bastion and as his Canadian militiamen began to construct artillery emplacements opposite the fort’s western wall, Monro knew better than anyone that—barring a great mistake on his adversary’s part, the arrival of a relief column from Fort Edward, or a miracle—his garrison’s days were numbered.

Yet Webb, as Monro would not know until August 7, responded to Fort William Henry’s predicament by deciding not to send reinforcements until he himself had been reinforced by militia from New England and New York. As Webb saw it, to weaken Fort Edward’s garrison would expose Albany and the rest of upper New York to invasion. If Montcalm succeeded in seizing William Henry, after all, he would have not only a fort from which to launch further operations, but a splendid road to use in transporting siege guns against Fort Edward. In a letter of noon, August 4, Webb’s aide-de-camp therefore advised Monro that the general “does not think it prudent (as you know his strength at this place) to attempt a Junction or to assist you” at present. Indeed, in view of the eleven-thousand-man strength of the French force that Monro had reported, and the possibility that Webb “should be so unfortunate from the delay of the Militia not to have it in his power to give you timely Assistance,” Monro might well consider how (if worse came to worst) he “might make the best Terms” of capitulation possible. Monro would receive this message only on August 7 because one of Montcalm’s Caughnawaga scouts stalked the courier into the woods after he left Fort Edward and killed him, long before he could reach Fort William Henry. The bloodstained letter, cut from the lining of the dead man’s jacket, came to Monro under a flag of truce together with a polite note from Montcalm suggesting that he take Webb’s advice and surrender.

Colonel Monro declined Montcalm’s invitation on the seventh but knew how far his situation had deteriorated from the relative security of the third. In the intervening days, the chevalier de Lévis had posted his force opposite Titcomb’s Mount, and his Canadian and Indian scouts had made it all but impossible for the provincials to leave the entrenched camp. Indian war parties operating in the woods had cut all communication with Fort Edward. Despite harassing fire from Fort William Henry’s artillery, Montcalm’s sappers had quickly completed the first siege parallel and emplaced a battery from which his gunners had opened fire on August 6. On the morning of the seventh the French had brought a second battery into action and had driven an approach trench to within three hundred yards of the fort’s western wall. From this point, Monro knew, they would dig another parallel trench along which they would site one or more “breaching batteries”; and these guns, firing at point-blank range, would blast passageways through the wall.

When Monro received Montcalm’s message on the morning of August 7, Fort William Henry’s walls and bastions were still intact, which according to the elaborate etiquette of siege warfare meant that Monro could not—yet—honorably contemplate capitulation. But he also could not ignore the effect of the indirect, or high-trajectory, fire of the French mortars and howitzers, which had been raining shrapnel on his men and those in the entrenched camp for two days. Monro had been disturbed to learn that some of the solid shot recovered within the fort bore royal ordnance markings: proof that they, like the guns firing them, had been captured at the Monongahela or Oswego. Meanwhile the guns of his own batteries had been bursting at a fearful rate. Since the first shots had been fired at the French on August 4, more than half of William Henry’s heavy cannon had split from prolonged firing, often injuring their crews as they exploded.

By sunset on August 8, the relentless French bombardment had shattered the morale of Monro’s garrison, most of whom had not slept for five nights running. Already on the seventh Monro had felt compelled to threaten to hang cowards, or indeed anyone who advocated surrender, over the walls of the fort; now his men seemed “almost Stupified” with stress and fatigue, and there was no telling how they would react to an assault if the western wall, weak from sustained shelling, were to collapse.

Knowing now that Webb would send no reinforcements, Monro ordered one of his engineers to survey the damage and report the state of the fort’s defenses. What he heard was that the top three feet of the bastions most exposed to French fire had been shot entirely away; that the casements, or bunkers within them, had been heavily damaged; that all but five of the fort’s cannon were inoperable; and that stocks of ammunition had dwindled to near exhaustion. Nor were the reports he received from the entrenched camp any more encouraging. The Massachusetts troops stationed there had suffered even heavier losses from indirect fire than the fort. As their commander, Colonel Frye, reported, they “were quite worn out, & wou’d stay no longer, And [say] that they wou’d rather be knock’d in the Head by the Enemy, than stay to Perish behind the Breastworks. ”That same night the French completed a breaching battery of eighteen-pound guns within three hundred yards of the fort’s west wall. With so much discouraging information in hand, Monro summoned a council of war from among his officers for the next morning. They unanimously advised him to send a flag of truce to Montcalm and negotiate a surrender on the best terms possible terms.

Capturing Gibraltar I

Charles Holloway, the engineer, is amongst the principal officers recorded in the commemorative painting of the Siege of Gibraltar by George Carter.

Chevalier D’Arcon’s ‘floating batteries’ (Unknown 1781)

At the start of the siege in 1779, King Carlos III had asked for ideas on capturing Gibraltar. Of the sixty-nine replies, most were too outlandish to consider seriously. One that came to the fore was presented by Pedro Pablo Abarca de Bolea, the Count of Aranda, who proposed a massive Franco-Spanish invasion of England in order to force the British government to concede to various demands, including Spain taking possession of Gibraltar. This plan was received favourably, but shrank in size and scope after being discussed, amended and agreed with the French, resulting in the invasion attempt that had failed so dismally.

When the sustained bombardment of Gibraltar also failed to bring the garrison to its knees, the other plans were considered once again, and in July 1781 that of the forty-seven-year-old French military engineer, Jean-Claude-Eléonor Le Michaud d’Arçon, was chosen. His suggestion was for a combined attack from land and sea, relying especially on a bombardment from formidable floating gun batteries. There had been few previous attempts to build and use such vessels, and d’Arçon’s planned attack against Gibraltar would be the first to employ elaborately designed and constructed floating batteries as the main thrust of an attack. Warships were effectively floating batteries, because their main purpose was to carry as many cannons as possible to counter enemy warships, but they did not have a great deal of protection against cannonballs fired at them. At close range, solid shot could smash through both sides of a warship, and they were particularly vulnerable to red-hot shot, which might burn right through the bottom of a ship, set it on fire or ignite the gunpowder magazines. They could not withstand prolonged artillery fire from batteries on land and had no chance of making a dent in strongly built masonry defences, such as those on Gibraltar. D’Arçon therefore wanted to create gun batteries that floated on the sea, but had the resilience and firepower of land batteries.

By April 1782 he had been working on his plan for several months and had spent a considerable time surveying the coastline and defences of Gibraltar. From time to time suspicious activity was noticed, as on one occasion when Horsbrugh recorded: ‘At five in the morning the Vanguard and Repulse prames fired each a shot at a small boat they supposed to be sounding or reconnoitring.’ Using such a small boat in the dead of night, d’Arçon avoided being wounded or captured while he took soundings close to Gibraltar, but the surveying was only the beginning, because the major work was in the preparation of the floating batteries, which started in Cadiz and then shifted to Algeciras.

British newspapers also published other details they had learned about d’Arçon:

His plan has been adopted, and requires only 18,000 men. He is now at Algesiras, busy in the construction of boats, which are so formed as not to be overset or burnt. It is supposed that the principal attack will be made by sea, towards the New Mole … and the advanced works, which are daily encreasing, will unite in the general onset, the success of which, if not beyond doubt, appears at least very probable to those who are acquainted with the abilities of the engineer.

The attack on the Rock would be a battle between engineers: d’Arçon and his staff, who were devising novel methods of assault, pitted against William Green and his engineers, who were doing everything they could think of to defend Gibraltar.

News of d’Arçon’s scheme soon reached the garrison, and on 11 April one soldier wrote in his diary:

By letters from Portugal, by a boat this morning, we learn that the enemy are fitting up a number of ships, at Cadiz, intended for floating batteries to come against the walls: it is said they are to be lined with cork and oakum, and rendered shot and shell proof; that the Duke de Crillon is to have the command of the army in camp, and that, as soon as he arrives with the conquering troops from Minorca, the regular siege against this place will commence.

Having suffered so much for nearly three years, the soldier was appalled by the arrogance of the suggestion that, up to now, it had not been a proper siege. ‘In the name of all that is horrible in war,’ he raged, ‘what is meant by a siege, if bombarding, cannonading, and blockading on all sides … is not one?’ The idea that the French would now start a ‘regular siege’ probably emanated from their disdain for the Spanish military effort.

D’Arçon’s plan was to convert a number of merchant ships into floating batteries. The work had already begun at Cadiz, where the internal frames of each ship were strengthened and the hull covered with cork and oakum. The unpicked fibres from lengths of old rope were called ‘oakum’, while ‘junk’ was the old rope itself. On Gibraltar, the floating batteries were not only referred to as battering ships, but also as ‘junk ships’ because of the old rope used in their construction. Over this flexible layer of cork and oakum, a complete hull was built of new timber, resulting in a triple-thickness hull designed to absorb the impact of cannonballs, in the same way that worn-out rope made into mats was used by the garrison to absorb the impact of cannonballs fired at their gun batteries. In March one batch of ships had been brought to Algeciras for the next stage of conversion into floating batteries, and more arrived in early May, but Ancell heard that onlookers were not impressed: ‘The eight large ships that arrived over the way the 9th instant [9 May] are hauled close to the shore, and are unrigging, and those that arrived on the 24th March have proceeded to the Orange Grove. It is currently reported that they are lined with cork, and are to be converted into batteries, but most people think that they are more fit for fire-wood, than attacking a fortress.’

This work was taking place within sight of Gibraltar, and the progress of the ships was a subject of constant interest, with Horsbrugh recording what was happening only a few days later: ‘in the Bay of Algaziras they are begun to cut down the quarter deck and poops of the two ships lately hauled in shore, on which work a number of boats and men appear to be employed’. They were being prepared for one or two specially strengthened gun decks within the hull that could support large cannons. Towards the end of May, it became obvious that the ships were also being given additional protection. ‘This forenoon we had a tolerable good view of the Enemy at work on their shipping at Algaziras,’ wrote Horsbrugh. ‘They are covering their larboard [port] sides with timber or planks, which is no doubt intended as a defence against our shot &c.’ Speculation was rife, and another soldier commented: ‘The enemy have been fully employed these ten days past on two very large ships at Algesiras, thickening the larboard side with light materials. They have cut out eleven or twelve ports between decks, and shortened the larboard waist. I suppose they intend to make the upper deck splinter proof, as well as the sides shot proof. From every appearance, they will be snug batteries on the water.’

Because the starboard side was not being reinforced, the assumption was that the floating batteries were intended to fire only from their port side towards the garrison. They would therefore need to be towed into position by boats and be securely anchored, which would make them stationary targets. There was widespread scepticism, and Ancell remarked that ‘most of the garrison are of opinion, from their construction, that they will be found of very little use when they attack our walls, as they never will be able to tow them near enough to do any material execution, for should they daringly come on, their boats will be inevitably cut off by the grape shot from the garrison’.

Progress on the siegeworks slowed down while every effort was concentrated on the floating batteries. The Spanish firing also began to be aimed much more at the garrison’s upper batteries – including Koehler’s guns – that overlooked the isthmus, as Drinkwater saw: ‘The cannonade from the Enemy was now principally directed at our upper batteries. The rock-gun, mounted on the summit of the northern front, was become as warm, if not warmer than any other battery, and scarcely a day passed without some casuals [casualties] at that post.’ Most of the guns at the northern front were positioned on a series of terraces at the western side of the Rock, allowing gun batteries to be ranged in lines to face Spain. On the eastern side of Gibraltar at the north front, the terrain was too steep to establish many gun batteries. Although the sheer cliff face made an assault impossible, the lack of guns able to cover the eastern approach meant that the Spaniards could get very close this way. One legend is constantly repeated about the search for a solution:

the Governor, attended by the Chief Engineer [William Green] and staff made an inspection of the batteries at the north front. Great havoc had been made in some of them by the enemy’s fire, and for the present they were abandoned whilst the artificers were restoring them. Meditating for a few moments over the ruins, he said aloud, ‘I will give a thousand dollars to anyone who can suggest how I am to get a flanking fire upon the enemy’s works.’

At this point, Sergeant Major Henry Ince apparently proposed a tunnel, though there is no evidence that a reward was ever paid or even offered. After discussing such an idea in detail with Colonel Green, Eliott had in fact issued official orders for a tunnel a few days earlier than this supposed conversation, on 1 May: ‘To carry on a cannon communication by means of a souterrain gallery six feet high and 6 feet broad cut thro’ the solid rock beginning … above Farrington’s Battery, proceeding round towards the North East to a very favourable Notche in the Rock, nearly under the Royal Battery, in a commanding situation, being about 640 feet above the Isthmus, and will admit to form a level for a well shouldered establishment of two guns at least.’

The plan was to drive a tunnel eastwards, behind the cliff face, emerging at what they called ‘the Notch’ or ‘the Hook’, a projecting part of the rock face that was topped by an inaccessible platform nearly halfway up the cliff face, which it was hoped would be suitable as a gun emplacement, rather like a bastion, giving a wide field of fire over the area that they were currently unable to reach. It would then be possible, Eliott said in his orders, to respond to ‘any attack or approaches the Enemy may endeavour to push from the Devil’s Tower towards the pass of the Inundation at Lower Forbes, and will flank in an eminent degree any works they may advance towards the outer line … and may also command the access to, as well as the anchorage behind the mountain, all between the north east and south east quarters’.

It took until 25 May to start the tunnel: ‘This morning Sergt. Major Ince of the Artificer Company with 12 miners and labourers begun a new work at Greens Lodge above Willis’s to cut a dreft or subterraneous passage through the Rock to a declivity where a battery is to be made to annoy the enemy.’ Gibraltar nowadays has over 30 miles of tunnels and chambers, but tunnelling had never been attempted before Ince began his work. The mining was done using basic hand tools, with gunpowder for blasting, and the resulting debris was cleared away by hand. It would be a slow process, and time was pressing considering that an assault on the Rock was imminent.

D’Arçon’s plan was that after the floating batteries, gunboats and some warships had battered the garrison into submission, backed up by the gun batteries of the Spanish Lines and the advance works, thousands of troops would invade the Rock in several places, rather than a single massive assault against the strongest defences at the north end of Gibraltar. The attack would be supported by numerous warships of the combined French and Spanish fleet, as well as by every available smaller boat from the locality. Many of the troops were to be transported in small landing craft that had been specially designed by him so that they could attack weaker points in the defences to the south.

Capturing Gibraltar II

A projected assault upon Gibraltar.

The build-up of forces ranged against Gibraltar was increasing daily, and just as the tunnelling started, one soldier noted: ‘above ninety sail of Spanish transports arrived this evening, with a bomb-ketch, from the east, with troops and stores for the camp’. A few days later, he observed: ‘the number of vessels that have arrived at Algesiras exceeds a hundred: about ten battalions of troops have been landed from them’. Horsbrugh was more precise: ‘the enemy are pitching tents for a regiment in white to the right of the Catalan Camp on the south west face of the Queen of Spains Chair, and for the regiment in blue uniform on the west of Bona Vista Barracks’. This was a massive reinforcement of French forces who were no longer needed on Minorca.

The floating batteries were being monitored from Gibraltar, with increasing concern as more and more of the old merchant ships were converted. Although the garrison now had gunboats – some completed, others nearly so – to cope with the menace of the Spanish gunboats, it was difficult to see how they could withstand an attack by floating batteries. Spain was pouring everything into the scheme, and in Boyd’s journal it was acknowledged that Gibraltar’s inhabitants were in a state of terror: ‘The Enemy have now, about two hundred sail of vessels between Algaziers and the Orange Grove … This show of shipping before us puts our inhabitants and women in a great panic. They are hourly gathering up the little remains that devastation has left them, and carries it to caves, creeks and corners in the Rock, in order to save what they can of their remaining substances, as we daily expect a very heavy attack and storm both by sea and land.’ The inhabitants were still in makeshift huts and tents in the south, as were many of the soldiers, and after coming off guard duty, William Maddin from the 12th Regiment raised his musket, ‘making believe to shoot a girl in camp’. He had forgotten to unload his weapon and shot nine-year-old Maria Palerano, an inhabitant, through the head. She died instantly. Towards the end of May, Maddin was put on trial for murder and acquitted.

In spite of the anxiety of waiting for the attack, unexpectedly good health was recorded within the garrison at the start of June: ‘The Doctors reports does not show one man in the scurvy, and the fever brought here by the 97th Regiment is almost spent (as the men recovers very fast), neither has it been very fatal, so that we are at present, in general, in a much better state of health through the Garrison than we’ve been in since the Siege begun.’ It probably helped that supplies were managing to reach the garrison from Leghorn, Algiers and Portugal, and one Portuguese boat recently obtained thirty thousand oranges and a few casks of oil at Tetuan by the captain claiming the cargo was for Cadiz, then bringing it undetected to Gibraltar. Although the most effective remedy for scurvy was known to be fruit and vegetables, other ideas were still being pursued, and the Garrison Orders in early June said: ‘One quarter and half of a pint of vinegar to be issued to every ration, till further orders. The surgeons of the different corps are of opinion that this will be a great preventative in the sad effects of the scurvy.’

One asset to the garrison was the completion of the gunboats, with the final one being launched on 4 June, the king’s birthday. There were twelve in all, bearing suitable names such as Dreadnought and Vengeance. The day was celebrated with a royal salute of forty-four guns, the age of the king, all directed towards the Spanish siegeworks, while the ‘Governor honoured himself this morning with a captain’s guard and a standard of colours of the 73rd Regiment of Highlanders dressed in their tartan plaids’. There was also another glimmer of hope – that red-hot shot or heated cannonballs might deal with the floating batteries. Although known for decades as a theoretical technique, this dangerous procedure had until now been rarely used. It also required a great deal of fuel, which was in short supply. Solid cast-iron cannonballs were heated in a furnace and were fired by placing a cartridge into the gun, ramming down a well-soaked wad, followed by a heated cannonball. Another wet wad was rammed in on top of the red-hot shot if the cannon was to be fired while pointed downwards. Experiments at the beginning of the siege had established that a cannonball took about twenty-five minutes to heat and was still hot enough to ignite gunpowder after fifty minutes. On hitting the target, the intense heat made red-hot shot extremely difficult to deal with, and it set fire to anything combustible.

The technique of using red-hot shot was difficult to master. Early on, some equipment for heating shot had been set up, with Captain Paterson noting that ‘a detachment of artillery ordered to practise the motions of firing red hot shot daily’. These ‘motions’ were probably done with cold shot, but now that an attack was imminent, the gunners needed to be able to use the real thing. The red-hot shot furnaces, sometimes called grates or forges, comprised a strong iron framework to support a grid or rack to hold the cannonballs, with a fire of wood, coal and coke underneath. The heated shot was manhandled with specially made tools such as tongs and two-handled shot carriers, which were all made on Gibraltar by blacksmiths from the artificers.

The loaded cannons had to be aimed and fired quickly before the shot burned through the wad and fired the gun prematurely, which is what occurred at a practice session in early June: ‘On the 7th, our artillery practised from the King’s Bastion with red-hot shot against the Irishman’s brig.’ A few weeks earlier, this brig had sailed towards the Old Mole, but ran aground when fired on by the Spaniards. After being rescued, the captain was severely rebuked, but he explained that before leaving Cork in Ireland he had heard about the successful sortie and was told that the Old Mole, his old anchoring place in peacetime, was open. The garrison gunners were now using his vessel for red-hot shot practice: ‘In the first round, one of the artillery-men putting in the shot, the fire by some means immediately communicated to the cartridge, and the unfortunate man was blown from the embrasure in some hundred pieces. Two others were also slightly wounded with the unexpected recoil of the carriage.’

By now, the tunnel being cut by Ince was progressing steadily, but on the same day as this accident, Horsbrugh said that two miners were injured: ‘two men of the 72nd Regiment had the misfortune to lose each a leg by the blowing up of a mine in the communication we are making through the Rock to get at the Notch on the North Front, and one of them died soon after being carried to the Hospital.’ Because they were mercifully rare, such accidents were more newsworthy than the commonplace casualties caused by the Spanish bombardment, but an incident a few days later, on 11 June, turned out to be the worst single day for casualties in the last three years. Garrison working parties were making considerable improvements and repairs to the defences while the Spaniards were focused on the floating batteries and their guns remained fairly quiet, but during a random episode of firing, a single shot caused havoc. An emotional description was set down in Boyd’s journal:

Between 10 and 11 o’clock this forenoon a large shell from the enemy fell in the door of one of the small magazines at Willis’s, on Princess Ann’s Battery (where a great working party were repairing the fortification there); the shell on its explosion blew up the magazine which contained about 96 barrels, or, 9,600 pounds of powder, killing 13 men and wounding 12 more. This has been the most fatal day since the beginning of the siege. How horrid and dreadful to behold the terrible blast and explosion! To feel the town and the Rock tremble, and to see men, stones, timber, casks, mortar and earth flying promiscuously in the dark smoky cloud far above the surface, in the air; and on their coming down are dashed to pieces on the craggy rocks, some thrown headlong down the dreadful precipice into the Lines, a most shocking exit! having not time to offer up to God a single prayer preparatory to their acceptance in an everlasting state.

The huge explosion was clearly visible to those at the Spanish Lines, who were heard cheering at the sight of the disaster. Their firing continued to concentrate on the same spot, in the hopes of another spectacular hit: ‘The enemy poured in shot and shells upon that part as thick as hail, so that it was night before all the killed and wounded were gathered up.’ Because a mixture of soldiers had been drafted into the working party doing the repairs, the final casualty list was thirteen rank-and-file soldiers and one drummer killed, with many more injured.

Over at Algeciras, tents were now visible for the workmen who were converting the old warships into floating batteries. Even with powerful telescopes, though, observations from the Rock could yield only a limited amount of information about what the Spaniards and French were preparing, and all kinds of rumours circulated. Definite information at last arrived on 21 June from two former Genoese inhabitants, who had been captured when bringing a cargo to Gibraltar from Algiers. They had been taken to Algeciras, from where they had just managed to escape in the prison-ship’s boat. From them, it was learned that French reinforcements had indeed arrived, that ten ships were being converted into floating batteries, though a shortage of carpenters was causing delays, and that the Spaniards were in high spirits.

On the same day, the French troops finished landing, and it was said that there were now thirty thousand men in the camp. The commander of the Minorca siege, the Duc de Crillon, had also arrived to take over command of the siege of Gibraltar, and the two Genoese, Drinkwater said, ‘informed us that the grand attack was fixed to be in September, but that all, both sailors and soldiers, were much averse to the enterprise’. If they were correct, then the garrison still had at least two more months to prepare.

Ada of Caria

Marble head, perhaps Ada of Caria. From Priene c.340 BC (Monopthalmos) by Monopthalmos.

Alexander the Great was not worried about what other people would think if he made a deal with a woman. It helped that the woman was very smart and knew how to benefit both sides by striking that deal. Ada of Caria negotiated with the Macedonian conqueror by making him her adoptive son and her heir. She got her power back and ruled for a total of nineteen years.

Ada came from a long line of rulers who included her grandfather, father, and four siblings. They were known as the House of Hecatomnus. She was born around 380 BC when her father, Hecatomnus of Mylasa, ruled Caria, a kingdom founded six centuries earlier in Asia Minor (present-day Turkey). We do not know who her mother was. In 545 BC the Persians had invaded and turned Caria into a satrapy. This was an administrative unit that made it possible to rule the huge Achaemenid empire by having a local noble collect taxes, manage local politics, and deal with uprisings.

When Ada’s father died in 377 BC, her brother Mausolus married Artemisia, their sister, as was customary among the Carians. They became the next satraps, and greatly expanded the power of Caria. They were able to do that because the Persian kings were busy fighting wars elsewhere. Like their father before them, they were fascinated by Greek culture and also worked hard to Hellenize Caria.

They moved the capital from Mylasa to the city of Halicarnassus (which centuries before had been the capital), where they built fortified walls that could ward off catapult attacks (catapults had recently been developed). But they are perhaps best known for the Mausoleum, one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. This was begun by Mausolus, who had amassed great wealth and spent it on the spectacular monument. When he died in 353 BC Artemisia finished it with the help of Greek architects and dedicated it to the memory of her husband and brother.

Artemisia continued ruling as sole sovereign of Caria for another two years and had to secure the power that she and Mausolus had acquired during the previous twenty years. She even became involved in military action against the people of Rhodes and, after conquering them in a brief engagement, she had a statue built to herself to commemorate the event. But in 351 BC she died, apparently of grief, after spending two years mixing Mausolus’ ashes in her daily drink. She was most probably buried with Mausolus.

Idrieus and Ada, brother and sister of Artemisia, succeeded as satraps, and also had to marry each other. During their joint rule they continued to increase Caria’s power and prestige. Together they signed official documents, including many decrees. They engaged in much building activity both in the capital of Halicarnassus and at Labranda. It is significant that several statues at shrines were dedicated to both Ada and Idrieus, since, at the time, portrait statues of women were rare, especially in that kind of setting.

In 344 BC, Idrieus died from some unspecified disease and Ada continued ruling on her own. But four years later, the youngest of the five siblings, Pixodarus, decided to overthrow Ada and become satrap. Ada left Halicarnassus and moved to the fortified Carian city of Alinda where she was well-liked and had many supporters.

During Pixodarus’ rule, the ancient world would change forever. Alexander the Great had just set out to follow up on his father’s expansion plans. One of the places that he wanted to conquer was the Persian empire, of which Caria was part.

Pixodarus only lasted five years as satrap, and he tried in vain to become an ally of Philip II of Macedon. On his death in 335 BC his son-in-law Orontobates received the satrapy of Caria from the Persian king Darius III. He may have been motivated by the fact that Orontobates was married to a daughter of Pixodarus. That meant that the Carians already knew him and the transition of power would be smooth.

This daughter of Pixodarus had almost married Alexander the Great. His father Philip II had initially agreed to make a marriage alliance between the Macedonians and the Carians by betrothing the girl to Alexander’s half-brother, Arrhidaeus, who had a mental disability. When Alexander’s mother found out, she managed to convince him that Philip II was trying to pass him over as heir to the throne in favour of Arrhidaeus. Alexander quickly sent a messenger to Caria, to offer Pixodarus a better deal: to have his daughter marry him. The satrap agreed, but Philip II talked sense into Alexander, and the marriage was off.

Not long after Orontobates became the Carian satrap, Alexander the Great arrived in Asia Minor, and captured Sardis and then Miletus. From there he planned to go to Caria (in 334 BC), and made the invasion of the city of Halicarnassus a top priority. It was there that the Persians were concentrating resources, and the satrap Orontobates was going to be assisted by Memnon, a commander appointed by Darius III.

Alexander planned to take Halicarnassus by siege, so he sent his equipment ahead of him, while he spent some time winning over the cities in Caria by treating them kindly. This was a golden opportunity for Ada, who asked to meet with Alexander.

Ada and Alexander the Great met at Labranda, the site of an important temple of Zeus, at which Alexander probably wanted to make offerings. She asked for his help in restoring her to her ancient position. In return, she would cooperate with him. Some parts of Caria were backing the Persians. Since these parts were held by her relatives, she would convince them to change sides. In addition, she gave him the fortified city of Alinda, where she had been living since being deposed. And last but not least, she adopted him as her son and made him her heir. That way, when she died, the government of Caria would pass to him with no difficulty.

Alexander the Great agreed to all of Ada’s terms. He became her adopted son, and he reappointed her as satrap. He accepted Alinda, but immediately returned it to her.

Ada set to work, and she easily got her relatives to stop backing the Persians and cooperate with the Macedonians instead. And since she was well liked by the people in the countryside, she won Alexander their loyalty.

Alexander the Great, followed shortly after by Ada, marched to Halicarnassus and besieged it. Mausolus’ walls were indeed strong, and Alexander’s catapults were not very effective at first. But after months of battering the walls, some parts were either weakened or fell down. The satrap Orontobates and the commander Memnon, who had been fighting the Macedonians and sending out sorties during the siege, which had lasted a year already, finally made a decision.

At midnight, they set fire to a wooden tower built to defend themselves against Alexander’s attacks. They also set fire to the sheds where they stored their weapons. It was a windy night, and the flames spread to nearby houses. Alexander stormed the city through the gaps in the wall and killed those who fought him and his men, but ordered that the people of Halicarnassus should be left alone.

So Halicarnassus was captured (and razed to the ground), but not the city’s acropolis. Knowing that Artemisia, Ada’s sister, had, during her rule as satrap, successfully engaged in military actions, he assigned the siege of the acropolis to Ada. She didn’t disappoint Alexander. In no time it was captured.

We know that Ada took her role as Alexander the Great’s mother seriously. At one point she started sending him choice cuts of meat and cakes. Then she offered to send him some of the best cooks and bakers. He refused, saying that he had better cooks, given to him by Leonidas, one of his tutors. For breakfast they served him “a night march,” and for supper they served “a light breakfast.” He had always boasted about his simple tastes.

Before setting out to the East in order to continue with his campaign, Alexander placed 3000 soldiers to guard Caria. Then he gave orders to make Ada queen of Caria. She ruled the whole country until her death in 326 BC. She had ruled three times: first as satrap with her husband (351 to 344 BC), then alone as satrap (344 to 340 BC), and finally as queen (334 to 326 BC).

Ada, like her brother Mausolus and her sister Artemisia before her, and unlike the satraps in other parts of the Persian empire, was always true to the ancient local cults. She never sacrificed to Ahura Mazda, the Persian supreme god, and, despite Greek influence in Asia Minor, never worshiped Greek gods.

Ada was buried in a royal tomb, although it was not as spectacular as her brother’s Mausoleum. She was buried in a rich garment decorated with gold and blue glass appliqués, and a gold myrtle wreath was placed on her head. Her sarcophagus was then placed within a burial chamber, and surrounded by much gold jewellery, including necklaces, rings, and earrings.

Alexander was quick to recognize a windfall, however unusual, and received her with respect. Through Ada, he could appear to the Carians as protector of their weaker local interests against Persia; support for a member of their hellenizing dynasty would fit with his liberation of the resident Greeks. His adoption was popular. Within days, nearby cities of Caria had sent him golden crowns; he ‘entrusted Ada with her fortesss of Alinda and did not disdain the name of son’: his new mother hurried home delighted, and ‘kept sending him meats and delicacies every day, finally offering him such cooks and bakers as were thought to be masters of their craft’. Alexander demurred politely: ‘he said that he needed none of them; for his breakfast, his preparation was a night march; for his lunch, a sparing breakfast’; it was a tactful evasion of Asian hospitality, and his mother countered by renaming her Carian fortress as an Alexandria, in honour of her lately adopted son.

Siege of Halicarnassus

Culinary matters were not Ada’s only concern. She confirmed the ominous news that Memnon and Persian fugitives from the Granicus had rallied again at Halicarnassus, the coastal capital of Caria; Memnon had been promoted by order of royal letter to the ‘leadership of lower Asia and the fleet’ and as a pledge of his loyalty, he had sent his children inland to Darius’s court. With ships, imperial soldiers and a strong hired garrison, he had blockaded Halicarnassus, trusting in the circling line of walls and the satrapal citadel which had been built by Ada’s eldest brother; Alexander, therefore, should expect a serious siege. The necessary equipment was carried by ship to the nearest open harbour and the king and his army marched south to meet it by the inland road.

The siege of Halicarnassus is a prelude to one of the major themes of Alexander’s achievement as a general. Nowadays, he is remembered for his pitched battles and for the extreme length of his march, but on his contemporaries, perhaps, it was as a stormer of walled cities that he left his most vigorous impression. Both before him and after him, the art was never mastered with such success. Philip had been persistent in siegecraft without being victorious and it is the plainest statement of the different qualities of father and son that whereas Philip failed doggedly, Alexander’s record as a besieger was unique in the ancient world. Though a siege involves men and machines, a complex interaction which soon comes to the fore in Alexander’s methods, it is also the severest test of a general’s personality. Alexander was imaginative, supremely undaunted and hence more likely to be lucky. At Halicarnassus, he did not rely on technical weaponry of any novelty and his stone-throwers, the one new feature, were used to repel enemy sallies rather than to breach the walls, probably because they had not yet been fitted with torsion springs of sinew. He was challenged by the strongest fortified city then known in Asia Minor, rising ‘like a theatre’ in semicircular tiers from its sheltered harbour, with an arsenal to provide its weapons and a jutting castle to shelter its governor. As the Persians held the seaward side with their fleet, Alexander was forced to attack from the north-east or the west where the outer walls, though solid stone, descended to a tolerably level stretch of ground. The challenge was unpromising, especially as the enemy were masters of the sea, and it is not easy to decide why he succeeded, even after doing justice to his personal flair.

Two descriptions of the siege survive and they match each other most interestingly; the one, written by Alexander’s officers, again minimizes his difficulties, confirmation of the way in which the myth of his invincibility was later developed by contemporaries; the other, probably based on soldiers’ reminiscences and Callisthenes’s published flatteries, rightly stresses the city’s resistance and notes that the defenders were led by two Athenian generals with the stirringly democratic names of Thrasybulus and Ephialtes, whose surrender Alexander had demanded in the previous autumn; though spared, they had crossed to Asia to resist the man who was supposed to be avenging their city’s past injustices. A third leader, it was agreed, was a Macedonian deserter, probably the son of one of the Lyncestians who had been killed at the accession; they made a strong team, but neither of the histories makes it plain that their main defence was to last for two months, including the heat of August.

At first, Alexander skirmished lightly, probably because his siege engines had not yet laboured their slow way by road from the harbour some six miles to the rear, the one port unoccupied by the Persians’ fleet. He encamped on level ground half a mile from the north-east sector of the wall and busied his men first with an unsuccessful night attempt to capture a sea-port some twelve miles west of the city which had falsely offered surrender, then with the filling of the ditch, 45 feet wide and 22 feet deep, which had made the north-east wall of Halicarnassus inaccessible to his wheeled siege towers. Diggers and fillers were sheltered by makeshift sheds until their ditch was levelled out and the siege-towers, newly arrived by road, could roll across it into position; thereupon catapults cleared the defenders, rams were lowered from the siege towers on to the walls, and soon two buttresses and an appreciable length of fortifications had been flattened. Undaunted, the defence sallied forth by night, led by the renegade Lyncestian; torches were hurled into the wooden siege engines and the Macedonian guards were unpleasantly surprised in the darkness before they had time to put on their body-armour. Having made their point, the defenders retired to repair the hole in their outer wall and build a semicircular blockade of brick on hilly ground. They also finished a sky-high tower of their own which bristled with arrow-catapults.

The next incident is unanimously ascribed to the heartening effect of drink. One night, two or more soldiers in Perdiccas’s battalion, flown with insolence and wine, urged on their fellows to a show of strength against the new semicircular wall. The ground was unfavourable, the defenders alert and amid a flurry of catapults, Memnon led such a counterattack that Alexander himself was forced to the rescue of his disorderly regiment. But though the defenders retired, they did so as they pleased: Alexander had to admit defeat and ask for the return of the Macedonian dead, the accepted sign that a battle had been lost. In his history, King Ptolemy recorded the start of this drunken sortie, knowing that it discredited Perdiccas, the rival with whom he had fought after Alexander’s death, but he suppressed the defeat which followed, unwilling to reveal a failure by his friend Alexander; it thus went unsaid that within the city, the Athenian exile Ephialtes had urged his fellow defenders not to return the enemy bodies, so fervent was his hatred of the Macedonians.

Anxious at this setback, Alexander battered and catapulted as furiously as ever. Again the Persians sallied, and again, covered by their fellows from higher ground, they came off well. That was only a prelude. A few days later, they planned their most cunning sortie, dividing themselves into three separate waves at Ephialtes’s bidding. The first wave was to hurl torches into Alexander’s siege-towers in the north-east sector; the second was to race out from a more westerly gate and take the Macedonian guards in the flank, while the third was to wait in reserve with Memnon and overwhelm the battle when a suitable number of opponents had been lured forward. According to the officers, these sorties were repelled ‘without difficulty’ at the west and north-east gates; in fact, the first two waves did their job splendidly and Alexander himself was compelled to bear the brunt of their onslaught. The entry of the third wave into the battle startled even Alexander, and only a famous shield-to-shield rally by a battalion of Philip’s most experienced veterans prevented the younger Macedonians from flinching and heading for camp. However, Ephialtes was killed, fighting gloriously at the head of his hired Greeks, and because the defenders shut their gates prematurely, many of his men were trapped outside at the mercy of the Macedonians. ‘The city came near to capture,’ wrote the officers, ‘had not Alexander recalled his army, still wishing to save Halicarnassus if its citizens would show a gesture of friendliness.’ Night had fallen and presumably Alexander’s men were in some disorder; if he had thought he could attack successfully, citizens or no citizens, as at Miletus, he would have done so.

That night the Persian leaders decided to abandon the outer city: the wall was broken, Ephialtes was dead, their losses were heavy and now that their garrison had dwindled, perhaps they feared betrayal by a party within the city. ‘In the second watch of the night’, about ten o’clock, they set fire to their siege-tower, their arsenals and all houses near to the walls, leaving the wind to do its worst. The satrap Orontobates decided to hold the two promontories at the entrance to the harbour, trusting in their walls and his mastery of the sea.

When the news reached Alexander’s camp, he hurred into the city, giving orders, said his officers, that any incendiaries should be killed, but that Halicarnassian citizens in their homes should be spared. When dawn showed him the extent of the damage, he ‘razed the city to the ground’, a detail recorded in both versions but evidently exaggerated as the city’s famous monuments remained unscathed. Probably, Alexander only cleared a space from which to besiege Orontobates’s two remaining strongholds, for some 3,000 troops were ordered to continue the siege and garrison the city. As Halicarnassus had been stubborn, there was no reason to give her a democracy or call her free. She was a Greek city, but she was not Ionian or Aeolian and had been promised nothing; her promontories were to hold out for another whole year and serve the Persian fleet as a base of supply. But Caria, at least, had fallen; mother Ada was named its satrap and given troops under a Macedonian commander to do any work that might prove too strenuous for an elderly woman. Thus, under a female eye, Alexander’s principle of a province split between a native satrap and a Macedonian general was introduced for the first time.

The siege of Halicarnassus leaves a mixed impression. Alexander had persevered, and personally he had fought with his usual courage, but his victory, and that only within its limits, was not due to bold ingenuity or mechanical subtlety so much as to outnumbering an enemy who had sallied repeatedly. None the less, an important point of supply for an Aegean fleet had been breached, if not wholly broken, and as autumn was far advanced, most generals could have been forgiven for relaxing. Typically, Alexander did nothing of the sort.

Before advancing, he gave orders that all Macedonians who had married ‘shortly before his Asian campaign’ should be sent back home to Macedonia to spend the coming winter with their wives. ‘Of all his actions, this earned Alexander popularity amongst his Macedonians’, besides helping their homeland’s birthrate and encouraging more reinforcements. Led by the husband of one of Parmenion’s daughters, the bridegrooms bustled homewards, and Alexander thinned out his forces, detailing Parmenion to take the supply wagons, the Greek allies and two squadrons of cavalry back by road to Sardis and thence to await him further east on the Royal Road. The siege equipment was despatched to Tralles, and ever inexhaustible, Alexander announced that he would head south to the coast of Lycia and Pamphylia ‘to hold the seaboard and render the enemy useless’.