Frankish Military Organization and Siege Logistics in the 6th Century

Small magnate retinues or “warbands” that fought for glory and plunder, then, can hardly have provided an adequate basis for the 6th-century Frankish armies that fought over fortifications on equal terms with their neighbors. The size of armies is the first issue. The individual siege not only required overwhelming force on the part of the besiegers, but in many cases, several sieges were conducted at the same time, while other forces protected supply routes, garrisoned forts and cities, raided enemy territory, and shielded against relieving armies. Gregory provides many interesting figures for late 6th century Merovingian armies, most ranging from garrison forces of 300 professional troops guarding the gates of Tours, around 4,000 for garrisoning a number of fortifications on the Visigothic border, to field armies numbering 10-15,000 on a single campaign. Bachrach has used the latter numbers to extrapolate individual field armies on the scale of 20,000 men during serious inter-kingdom conflicts, but this is beyond what many scholars are willing to accept, and many opt for much lower numbers.

East Roman estimates of Frankish strength provide a useful check on these numbers. Diplomatic correspondence shows that in 538, Justinian asked for a Frankish mercenary division of 3,000 men from Theudebert of Austrasia when the Romans were hard pressed in Liguria. The Romans only had 1,000 men in the whole province at the time, and 300 were besieged at Milan along with her citizens. The force requested was only a fraction of the troops available to the Austrasian king, as it was to be sent as an auxiliary force to serve under Roman command, in solacium Bregantini patricii, who was in charge of the local defenders at Milan. It was not an army that would operate independently during joint operations, as in the late 6th century: the Romans only needed to strengthen their garrisons in Liguria until reinforcements could arrive, and did not want to give the Franks the opportunity to exploit the situation. This is nevertheless what happened. Theudebert politely excused himself to Justinian for the current campaigning season, blaming the late arrival of the Roman ambassador. However, he surreptitiously had 10,000 Burgundians join the Goths at Milan, and openly sent his own army the next year.

Procopius provides the highly improbable 100,000 men for Theudebert’s army in 539, but it nevertheless destroyed an Ostrogothic as well as a Roman army in the course of a single day. It must have been quite large to take on such a challenge with confidence and win so spectacularly. Since the Roman army that had moved into the area at the time numbered close to 10,000 men, and the Goths were presumably as numerous, we can estimate that the Franks matched them combined, i. e. forming a total of 20,000.

Agathias claims that an army of 75,000 men invaded Italy in the 550s, and 30,000 of them were defeated by Narses at Volturno in 554. This force appears far too large at first, but an inspection of Frankish activities shows that it was actually on a similar order of magnitude. If Agathias’ figure of the Roman army at Volturno, 18,000 men, is correct, the Frankish army was about the same size or slightly smaller, i. e. 15-20,000 men. Leutharis’ army would have been about the same size or smaller. Thus perhaps about 30,000 men for the whole raiding force would be a reasonable estimate (which is given by Agathias as the number of Franks at Volturno), but this may have included some Goths who joined on the way. There were still enough Frankish troops in the north to hold fortifications; a smaller force of around 10,000 would suffice including some Gothic and other local assistance. A reasonable, conservative estimate of the Frankish force, then, would be 30,000 soldiers from north of the Alps, including a large number of Alaman clients. These were in addition assisted by (a guesstimate of) up to 10,000 local Italian troops of indeterminate nature such as Goths and disaffected Italians.

Finally, considering the extensive regional responsibility and large personal military resources of the Frankish duces, the Frankish army that was sent to aid the Romans in 590 under 20 duces could hardly have numbered less than 20,000 men. In light of these rather consistent numbers, we must conclude that the Austrasian Franks could raise expeditionary armies in the range of 20-30,000 men across the Alps without excessively taxing royal resources. It is impossible to say whether these numbers included the camp followers who helped with logistics and construction, or whether such individuals came in addition. That would of course add to the grand total. Hazarding to guess that the very large figures given in East Roman sources were in fact sober diplomatic estimates of the total potential manpower resources of one or more of the Merovingian kingdoms at different times.

While such numbers explain the extent of Frankish activities in Italy, they are in serious conflict with much current historiography, and beg two important questions: on what basis were they raised, and how were they supplied? The Frankish armies of Clovis and his sons were dominated by professional troops settled between the Rhine and the Loire, who were the direct descendants of Roman legions, in large part of Frankish stock, as well as other categories such as laeti and federates. For reasons of supply and political control, they were widely distributed on estates belonging to the Merovingian ruling families and their close allies. While opulent villa centers were abandoned in the 5th century in northern Gaul, this may only indicate a shift in patterns of exploitation that were related to the needs of the army, similar to common 5th century developments in (informal) East Roman and (formal) Visigothic military organization, where estates had a significant role. In fact, Aetius had a strong position in northern Gaul due to his great estates there, and after his successor Aegidius broke with Rome in 461, all fiscal lands would have fallen under local military control. He also had to maintain large forces on the Loire in order to face his Roman enemies and their Visigothic allies. Personal wealth combined with former fiscal lands provided much of the power of the lesser rulers Syagrius, Paul, Arbogast and Childeric in the late 5th century.

When the latter’s son, Clovis, gained full control over the north, he also gained all of these resources, in addition to at least some elements of the traditional form of taxation for remaining land. 81 Direct taxation by the government is in fact well attested throughout most of the 6th century, especially in the Loire and Seine valleys-indicative of the distribution of troops requiring support-and was only gradually suppressed and became obsolete by the early 7th century. Within this framework, Roman unit structure survived in recognizable form in the early 6th century. Procopius’ famous description of recognizably Roman units in the Frankish army confirms that the Merovingians were also quite conservative in their military administration. The soldiers who served the early Merovingians were nevertheless called Franks, and had tax exempt status in return for their military service. A “Roman” in Salian law was whoever still paid taxes, but in the course of the 6th century, the extension of military service among “Romans” and complications caused by property acquisition by “Franks” blurred the distinction, and Frankish identity (and military service associated with tax exempt status) became universal north of the Loire. The Merovingians also absorbed Visigothic and Burgundian military organization, and in the course of the 6th century gained control over a wide belt of client kingdoms east of the Rhine and along the upper Danube (Thuringians, Alamans, Saxons) that added to their potential manpower.

At a certain point in the early 6th century, trusted officers and cadet lines of the Merovingian dynasty began to organize these Franks within the framework of their personal households, but the process is highly obscure. We have an early example in Sigisvult, a royal relative who was sent to garrison Clermont (524) with his familia. Otherwise, the transition from a tax-based army to an estate-based conglomeration of military followings is hard to trace, and can only be established with the hindsight provided by Gregory of Tours, whose information is most detailed for the last decades of the 6th century. This process, and the constant divisions and reshuffling of territory of the divided Frankish kingdom, resulted in the structure familiar from the later 6th century. Within the royal household(s), by far the largest and most widespread, there was a distinction between at least two categories of royal troops, analogous to the doryphoroi and hypaspistai in East Roman military followings. Some of these were called antrustiones, of higher status, while the bulk of soldiers in the king’s obsequium were simply called pueri regis, “the king’s boys.” Both were maintained by the households of the kings and their families (i. e. living off the proceeds of any one of a large number of estates, or taxes still collected). To ease the supply situation outside the campaigning season, they were probably settled or garrisoned in very small groups such as those attested in contemporary Egypt. The troops within the royal household were administered by his maior domus, who took direct control during regencies and became more prominent during the 7th century.

Royal troops in outlying districts were led by regional military commanders, duces, who “bear a close resemblance to the duces found at this same time in Lombard and Byzantine Italy or Visigothic Spain.” In the north and east, the duces led fixed districts (e. g. Champagne, Burgundy) that probably reflect late or sub-Roman military organization; otherwise, their commands could fluctuate depending on changes in the political geography or served as extensions of the royal household. The early duces may in fact have had humble backgrounds as officers in the early Merovingian military establishment or the royal household (cf. the high prevalence of Germanic names among them), but soon became synonymous with the high aristocracy. When not in charge of a division of the royal household troops, late-6th-century duces with estates of their own had substantial military followings in their own right, which may have numbered several hundred men. This came in addition to their official commands, which included subordinate counts, who were in charge of the civitas and its military resources. Counts are normally believed to be of “Roman” origins and also had their own followings, which may also have numbered in the hundreds. Aquitaine and the immediately surrounding civitates preserved a military organization that was taken over from the kingdom of Toulouse, strongly based on private military followings. During the 6th century but probably a survival from the gradual transition to Visigothic rule a century earlier, troops were organized civitas by civitas due to the political divisions of the day. Merovingian kings often only held scattered city territories in the south and southwest, and regional commands were only created when a large number of cities could be grouped together.

The exact composition of individual Merovingian armies is often difficult to determine, as in most cases they are only referred to as an exercitus, army, of a region or kingdom. At a lower level, Gregory refers to the homines, men, of a particular civitas. A close analysis of the narrative sources reveals that the lower-level civitas-organization had two tiers. The largest group consisted of able-bodied poor civilian men (pauperes), organized by the landowners or royal officers upon whom they depended. This group was essential for logistical purposes and could also provide extra manpower for defending cities and fortifications, but did not normally fight. The revolt of Munderic at Vitry in 524 was accompanied by throngs of the common people, presumably his personal dependants mobilized in this fashion. The (far) narrower group, and the basis for expeditionary forces, was formed by professional troops, homines proper, who served in the retinues of local magnates, sometimes supported on campaign by sections of the general “militia” for logistical purposes. Gregory gives us a hint of this composite structure: when Guntram ordered the homines of various cities to attack the Bretons in 584, most of the men of Tours seem to have taken part (such as the troops under the count’s authority). However, the `poor citizens’ (pauperes) and the `young men’ (iuvenes) of the cathedral failed to show up for the campaign, citing the traditional exemption from expeditionary duty. The “young men” were clearly the military members of Gregory’s familia, while the pauperes provided support functions. Merovingian armies, then, consisted of conglomerations of military followings and divisions of the royal household troops.

The retinues of bishops and lay magnates are mostly extras and props in Gregory’s drama (they were the ones who actually exercised “aristocratic” violence), but they accompanied their lords in all their affairs, and are thus ubiquitous in all his writings. They were hence a large and important social group. They must be regarded as professional, full-time soldiers, because they never seem to be involved in any other sort of business; indeed, they seem to have been more engaged in fighting (due to internal conflicts and aristocratic feuds) than most Roman soldiers normally were. In the narrative and legal literature, they go under a vast array of names, including pueri, vassi, satellites, antrustiones for individuals, but as groups were known as trustis, contubernium, obsequium, familia. The size of such followings is in most cases difficult to gauge, but as we have seen, several hundred seems to have been normal for the most powerful dukes and counts; in effect, they were the same size as the military followings of East Roman generals, but far more ubiquitous because all magnates, officeholders and most bishops had such followings.

According to Halsall, large armies were impossible to sustain because few cities in Gaul had more than 5,000 inhabitants, and many villages only around 50. What is often forgotten in such arguments, however, is that a very large number of these villages belonged to much larger estate complexes, whose cultivators paid dues and/or performed services for their lord (cf. thepauperes), depending on the nature of the estate organization. The diversity of the estate economy, even in northern Gaul, is clear from two documents from the early 6th century: the testament of St. Remigius and the Pactus Legis Salicae. Remigius willed his personal property, which at his death consisted of the portions of four estates and other scattered holdings inherited from his father, a typical medium-range northern Gallic landowner of the mid-5th century. It is sometimes pointed out that Remigius’ holdings were rather small, but as a cleric, he may already have disposed of much of his property long before the will was drawn up, and at any rate it was only a portion of a substantially larger complex that still functioned, but had been shared with his relatives. It will be recalled that Genovefa kept Paris (490) supplied from her estates for over ten years; similar logistical abilities were common around 500. The Pactus Legis Salicae confirms the image of a medium-sized, but quite diversified estate economy in northern Gaul, which only became more complex and largescale the further south one looks, and far better attested in the 7th century.

Since soldiers were dependents of a lord, they were supplied through the estate structure of their patrons in peacetime. However, on campaigns, it was the personnel and agricultural surplus from villages and estates near the marching route that provided for an army’s logistical needs. Foodstuffs could be assembled in advance, and were levied from the general population as a tax. This was immensely unpopular, at least in Gregory’s presentation, but seems to have been fairly routine in the 6th century. The vast throng accompanying princess Rigunth (4,000 of the “common people” plus her personal escort and the retinues of prominent officers who accompanied her) was supplied at depots. An alternative was to shift produce from the royal, aristocratic and ecclesiastic estates whose forces were directly involved in a specific campaign (and presented as the proper alternative by Gregory) instead of burdening them on the people, who had immense labor obligations anyway. There is good evidence that foodstuffs were prepared in advance for ambassadors and their retinues according to detailed lists, ordering what should be stored in specific quantities at specific locations. Estate managers had assembling and shifting supplies as their regular daily business, and are known to have supplied cities in preparation for sieges (Convenae 585). Since troops were scattered in small numbers and only occasionally brought together for specific purposes, such as hunts, valuable for training, or publicae actiones to provide security and enforce the law (or, of course, squabble with political rivals), the logistical operations were quite simple considering the scale of estate organization, and rarely noticed by any texts. On a larger scale, armies were preceded by officials who went about collecting necessary foodstuffs, which could be deposited in granaries; from the tone in Gregory, it seems clear that they were zealous going about their business. A final alternative, however, was to buy supplies.

Early Frankish engineering was much more sophisticated than commonly thought, and was possible thanks to the ability to organize labor on a massive scale. The Franks were quite adept at building field fortifications, such as the one built at Volturno, or in Burgundy for stopping Saxon and Lombard invasions. They could also bridge rivers, a particularly difficult task that required highly trained specialists in the East Roman Empire. Civil engineering was quite substantial; the course of rivers were diverted on several occasions, one known example to protect the city from being undermined by the current, the other to provide extra protection during a siege. There was clearly an ability to build stone fortifications; thus bishop Nicetius of Trier had a heavily fortified residence built in the mid-6th century, while Gregory of Tours marveled at the fortifications of Dijon. Chilperic, when threatened with an invasion by his brother in 584, ordered his magnates to repair city walls and bring their relatives and movable goods inside. He recognized that their lands and immovable goods risked being destroyed during an enemy invasion, and therefore guaranteed that they would be reimbursed for any losses. There was thus an obligation to repair city walls on the part of the landowners, who could again draw upon their dependants to perform these tasks. It was also in their self-interest, since power struggles among magnate factions often involved military action.

Indeed, Merovingian kings had the same mechanisms available as Valentinian III, Theoderic and Anastasios to impose burdens of military logistics. The well-known labor requirements that descended from ancient munera had become the traditional seigneurial obligations of the dependant agricultural population, mobilized by their patrons on royal orders. While the “Franks” vociferously protested against taxation, providing military and logistical service was not an issue. As demonstrated by 7th-century immunities granted to monasteries, common obligations required by the king, administered through his officers and landowning subjects, included transportation and bridge-building. Civitates and castella are specifically mentioned as places where such labor was normally called out. No immunities were given for repairs of fortifications, however. The exact method of organizing repairs must have been the assignment of pedaturae to the landowners in question, as was the case with Ostrogothic possessores or East Roman social units and corporate bodies. Although labor obligations were also universal, in e. g. Roman Mesopotamia and Ostrogothic Gaul, as we have seen, extraordinary burdens or expenses were sometimes defrayed through tax relief or cash payments. The decline of direct taxation in Gaul meant that magnates had to shoulder far larger military burdens in the form of retinues, expeditionary service, and garrison troops whenever called upon, as well as routinely supplying labor for logistics and engineering. Thus, while military service and the burden of repair was mandatory on landowners (and apparently not an issue), Chilperic had to make sure that they would support him even if their estates were being ravaged. If they risked losing their economic basis, a negotiated settlement with his rival would soon become more attractive, as we saw above.

During the Merovingian era, most cities still had economic activities useful for military purposes, and were also the homes of at least part of the familiae of kings, bishops, counts and sometimes other magnates. Where their craftsmen and specialists actually resided is more problematic and probably varied from case to case. As early as the Pactus Legis Salicae, the Franks highly valued their dependent labor: not only were there detailed punishments for stealing or damaging a wide range of crops and livestock, it also lays down heavy fines for the theft of skilled slaves. Indeed, the range of craftsmen available and degree of specialization under the Merovingians is rarely addressed by military historians, whatever their views, but they are in fact quite ubiquitous in the original sources, while recent archaeological surveys show that their skills in many key crafts were neither inferior to, nor more narrowly distributed than, those of Roman craftsmen.

All of these groups have actual or potential military applications, and could be summoned at will by their lords whenever their services were needed. A certain number of craftsmen joined any major expedition as camp followers to perform various tasks as need arose, forming a specialized segment of the pauperes (noted earlier in this section). Thus Mummolus had his servant faber (probably one of several-he was only mentioned by Gregory for being so huge) brought from Avignon (583) to Convenae (585). In addition to destructive traps, the defense may also have involved artillery. Bishop Nicetius of Trier’s large fortified estate center was defended by a ballista. These were complex machines requiring specialist operation (tekhnitai or ballist(r)arioi in Greek sources), and unless imported from East Rome, they were trained in a local tradition. It just so happens that Mummolus had been commander of a region that had extremely strong Roman traditions, and that craftsmen there could maintain military skills over several generations. We can recall the artifex at Vienne in 500 who played a vital role during the siege. Nicetius, in turn, was bishop in the region that had one of the highest concentrations of Roman arsenals and fabricae during the early 5th century, and where selfconsciously Roman officers were still active until at least 480. It is possible that Franks had picked up ballista-operating skills on an Italian expedition. If this is the case, it reveals that once in Gaul, the experts would have to be maintained by a magnate’s household, which basically proves its suitability as a valuable form of military infrastructure. Indeed, in the Epistulae Austrasiacae there is preserved a letter from bishop Rufus of Turin to Nicetius, explaining how he finally has the opportunity to send the portitores artifices that Nicetius asked for. The combination of terms seems to be highly unusual, but they were presumably boat (barge) builders, as Nicetius’ estates were on navigable Rhine tributaries. Another explanation is that military skills survived along with military organization, and was gradually reorganized according to political developments, with more and more of the logistics and resource allocation devolving on great magnates in return for tax exemptions and immunities.

Forts Maxim Gorky I & II

Armored Coastal Battery-30 and Armored Coastal Battery-35

German soldiers take cover on the battered concrete face of Fort Maxim Gorky below the burning armored cupola with its two 12-inch naval guns, now crippled and askew. At battle’s end, shattered chunks of the fort’s concrete bulwark testify to the fierceness of the attack. When resistance ended, the Germans found only fifty Russian survivors, all severely wounded, in the bowels of the stronghold.

The fortress of Sevastopol on the Crimea with its ring of forts and coastal batteries covered a circumference of about 10 to 12 km. Six heavy coastal batteries, two located north of Severnaja Bay, reinforced other coastal positions such as three old coastal forts on the north side of the position and three on the south side. Coastal Battery Shiskov, completed in 1912, mounted four 120-mm guns on pivots mounted on concrete platforms. Naval Battery Mamaschai (Coast Battery #10), completed in 1930 and one of the newer positions, mounted four 203-mm guns with gun shields on an open concrete platform similar to most of the other coastal batteries. Coast Battery #18, completed in 1917, and Coast Battery #19, completed in 1924, mounted four 152-mm guns each, and Coast Battery #3, two 130-mm guns. Fourteen new or reconditioned old forts, most of them north of the bay, and 3,600 concrete and earthen positions supported by about 350 km of trenches and thousands of land mines, completed the fortress in early 1942. Trenches and tunnels linked many of the positions. In the Sapun Mountains, at the base of the peninsula where Sevastapol was located, natural and man-made caves in the high, almost perpendicular, bluffs of the Tshornaya River were turned into formidable defenses.             

In addition, the Maxim Gorky I and II (Coast Batteries #30 and #35), each had a pair of gun turrets: the first with twin gun turrets located east of Ljabimorka (north of the bay) and the second with a set of similar turrets situated on the south-western end of the peninsula where Sevastopol stood. Battery Strelitzka mounted six 254-mm guns. Fort Stalin and Fort Lenin included a battery of four 76.2 anti-aircraft guns. Other forts, such as Fort Volga, served as infantry positions. Finally, the old strong point of Malakoff was turned into an artillery and infantry position with two 130-mm guns with shields. Besides the normal anti-infantry and anti-tank obstacles, the Soviets employed a “flame ditch,” a concrete lined ditch where fuel funneled through a pipe was ignited, creating a fire barrier.      

Although it was not actually a coastal defense sector, the isthmus linking the Crimea to the mainland was defended by the Perekop Line, consisting of permanent works forming two continuous lines. In the low lying treeless plain, every rise over 10 meters dominated the area. The 15 km wide northern belt included the outpost of Perekop. The main defensive area, the 400 year old Tartar Trench, cut through the isthmus and served as a moat supported by two dams. The ditch was about 9.0 meters deep, 20 meters wide and was filled with water. The southern position, which crossed the isthmus taking advantage of the local lakes and canals, was supported further to the south by the Tshetarlyk River. Numerous bunkers covered barriers of steel anti-tank rail obstacles, tank traps, and mine fields. Unlike many of the positions on the border, these were already camouflaged and difficult to detect.

Coast Artillery:   Range (meters)

355.6-mm (14´´) 31,000

305-mm (12´´) 24,600 to 42,000

234-mm 24,000

203-mm (8´´) (German) 33,500

181-mm*152-mm (6´´) 14,000 to 18,000

130-mm* (5.1´´) 19,600 to 25,400

105-mm and 152-mm (old weapons) 15,000 to 18.000

75-mm (3´´)(French Canet) 8,000

*These may be the weapons identified as 185-mm and 132-mm weapons by Germans.

Fortifications     

152-mm Howitzer 1938 12,400

122-mm Howitzer 1938 12,100

107-mm Cannon 1940 M-60 17,450

76.2-mm Cannon 1936 13,500

45-mm Anti-Tank 1932, 1937 4,670 to 8,800

120-mm 1938 5,700 to 6,000

82-mm Mortar 1936 3,100

50-mm Mortar 1940 800                

7.62-mm Light Machine Gun(Maxim 1910)                                               

76.2-mm Light Machine Gun (Degtiarev 1928)         

*Sources are inconsistent with regard to the figures and the type of shell used

According to German documents, the so-called 76.2-mm Fortress Cannon on a special ball mount in a gun casemate, replaced the older 76.2-mm gun used in fortifications and had a faster rate of fire. The mount included a funnel that carried the used shell into the fossé in front of the gun position. The older gun positions on the Stalin Line did not have this type of funnel, but included an embrasure cover that dropped in front of the gun.   

The mortars and most of the artillery were placed in field fortifications made of earth and logs. Many of these positions were probably not prepared until after the invasion in 1941.             

In addition to these weapons, there were also small flame throwers, static weapons buried into the ground with only their nozzles exposed and ignited electrically or by trip wire. They were placed in front of the defensive position or among the obstacles. According to German sources, the Soviets used a 1941 design, which means that it is not likely that they were in the Stalin Line. However, they may have been placed in other positions such as the Minsk to Moscow highway or the Mozhaisk Line.

World War II      

The Germans, who invaded the Soviet Union on June 22, 1941, were not fully aware of the defensive positions that faced them. They estimated that 40% were completed, but had no drawings showing exact locations or composition of Russian installations, except for those located right on the border. 

The staff of the German 8th and 29th Divisions had little knowledge of the condition or existence of Russian fortifications behind the Popily and Niemen Rivers. They planned to deal with any fortifications they encountered with massed artillery bombardment from twenty-nine heavy batteries, including eleven 210-mm mortar batteries.

The Germans easily overran the first bunkers, which were empty, poorly camouflaged, exposed in open terrain, and devoid of obstacles. The Germans smashed the bunker embrasures with anti-tank guns and destroyed many with flame throwers and demolition charges. The 8th Division quickly overcame most opposition on its front with these methods. Grodno fell on June 23 after all the bunkers in front of it had been eliminated. The 28th Division simply bypassed many Russian fortifications at Dorgun on the first day and moved to the Niemen. This division was later ordered to take the strongest border defenses in the area, the Sopockinie fortifications, which it had previously bypassed. After bitter fighting, Sopockinie was taken on June 24. Troops in a three-level bunker resisted for seven hours in the face of the German troops and engineers who detonated several hundred kilograms of explosives. The Germans attributed their success to insufficient Soviet troops in the area and to the incomplete state of the defenses, which lacked obstacles, minefields, and camouflage.               

The old fortress of Brest-Litovsk, located on four islands with wide moats and old walls, was put back into service by the Russians soon after they occupied it in 1939. The German 45th Division attacked it, supported by huge 210-mm howitzers and two 600-min mortars. After a river assault, the German troops encircled it, but it took them seven days of intense fighting to take the citadel, since they had under-estimated the strength of the old works.     

Further to the south, the Germans attacked the Sokal defenses on the Bug River where the Soviets had completed and camouflaged many of the bunkers. On the first day, the Germans methodically eliminated each position, leaving an engineer battalion behind to complete the work the next day. On June 25 twenty two- and three-level bunkers, which were still incomplete, went back into action. Even though they lacked camouflage, they managed to resist for a considerable time. One of the bunkers with a cloche proved particularly difficult to disable. The Germans used demolition charges to eliminate many of them. The procedure required engineers to advance under cover of flame-throwers and place demolition charges in the ventilation shafts, blasting the entrances.    

The URs of Kiev gave stiff resistance from July to August 1941 with the city of Kiev holding off several assaults until August. Further north on other parts of the Stalin Line, many of the URs such as Slutsk, were little more than skeletons, of little use to the Soviets despite Zhukov’s pre-invasion efforts.             

The defenses on the Dniestr extended up to 10 km in depth. Along the east bank of the Dniestr the Germans encountered elements of the old Stalin Line. The defenses near the river lacked an outpost line. Two- and three-embrasure light bunkers for machine guns and a few gun emplacements, stood 400 to 2,000 meters apart in the Yampol sector (UR of Novogrod-Volynski) and were reinforced by field fortifications.             

Elements of the German Eleventh Army in pursuit of Soviet troops retreating from the Pruth River, encountered these works in mid-July. Two infantry divisions attacked across the defended river crossings on July 18 at Cosauti and General Poetash. The Germans successfully forced a crossing at both points. Assault engineers eliminated the bunkers at Porohy with the use of flame-throwers and pole charges placed against the embrasures. Heavy explosive charges reduced the remaining bunkers. Russian troops continued to fight desperately even when out flanked and in a hopeless position, not knowing that the high command had already sacrificed them before the invasion began. German reports indicate that the Soviets reoccupied abandoned positions in places where local resistance was strong. In some instances, however, the troops turned out to be raw recruits forced to defend bunkers unfamiliar to them and they surrendered quickly.         

A heavily fortified area of the Stalin Line at Dubossary, containing many bunkers, artillery batteries, and other supporting positions, finally fell at the end of July. German engineers and infantrymen, supported by anti-tank and anti-aircraft weapons, engaged in close combat, finally overcoming Soviet resistance.     

In September, the Germans penetrated the position they called the Leningrad Line and struggled on. The Mozhaisk Line, the defenses in front of Moscow, was still incomplete and fell quickly in October. For the most part, the Soviets failed to use effectively the fortifications between the border and Moscow, partly because most were incomplete and not fully manned. Odessa, which had only field fortifications and no permanent landward fortifications, resisted until November 1941.   

After the Germans overran the Perekop Line on the isthmus leading into the Crimea in October 1941, it was only a matter of time before Sevastopol fell. It held out for twenty-eight days in a battle that ended in July 1942. At Sevastopol the Germans deployed their super heavy artillery, including the 800-mm rail gun Dora, to destroy key points like Maxim Gorky I. On June 6, heavy German guns and mortars fired on Maxim Gorky I and scored direct hits that destroyed one of the gun turrets and damaged the other. Additional artillery fire and air bombardment failed to eliminate the Maxim Gorky damaged turret, which was finally put out of action by assault engineers on June 17. The battle for the battery continued as the Russians fought from its battered positions until July 1. The 800-mm monster rail gun inflicted little damage beside landing three rounds on Fort Stalin on June 5, and fifteen rounds on Fort Molotov on the next day. German heavy artillery concentrated on Fort Stalin on June 11-12. The four 76.2-mm guns of the fort had special shelters and remained in action until June 13 when an infantry assault finally took the fort. By early July, the Germans had fired over a million rounds. They had taken over 3,500 fortified positions, 7 armored forts, 38 bunkers built into the rock, 118 bunkers of reinforced concrete, and another 740 built of earth and stone. On July 4, after taking the Sapun positions, and the final assault that took Maxim Gorky II, the campaign against the last major pre-war fortified position came to a close. Soviet methods of fortifications began to change as the war progressed.

The German Siege 1942

Between 2 and 6 June, the Eleventh Army fired a total of 42,595 rounds equivalent to 2,449 tons of munitions. Some nine per cent of Eleventh Army’s ammunition stockpile was expended in the preparation phase. German divisional artillery fired 19,750 rounds of 105mm and 5,300 rounds of 150mm ammunition in the five-day bombardment. Infantry guns fired another 4,200 rounds of 75mm and 150mm ammunition, plus 5,300 81mm mortar rounds. The corps-level Nebelwerfer battalions remained silent during this phase, not firing a single rocket. Two-thirds of the super heavy artillery rounds fired in the prep phase were from the four 240mm H39 howitzers and 16 305mm Skoda mortars.

The heaviest weapons, the Karl mortars and ‘Dora’, only played a minor role in the opening bombardment. One Karl mortar fired two registration rounds on 2 June, but the battalion then was not committed until 6 June. After an immense engineering effort, ‘Dora’ was finally installed at Bakhchysaray 25km north-east of Sevastopol and was ready for firing on 5 June. At 0535hrs, ‘Dora’ fired one of its 7-ton shells at Fort Maxim Gorky I’s Bastion I, and then proceeded to lob eight rounds at the minor Coastal Battery 2 near the harbour entrance. Accuracy was poor, with most rounds missing by 300m or more. Six rounds were then fired at Fort Stalin, with the closest round landing within 35-40m of the target and most impacting 130-260m away. On 6 June, ‘Dora’ opened fire in the evening and fired seven rounds at Fort Molotov; one round struck within 80m of the target, three rounds within 165-210m, one round within 310m, one round 500m off and one round 615m off. ‘Dora’ was then directed against a cleverly camouflaged ammunition dump named White Cliff on the northern side of Severnaya Bay and fired nine rounds with no effect.

It was more difficult for the Germans to employ the clumsy and shortrange Karl system, but on the late afternoon of 6 June the men of the 1st Battery/833rd Heavy Artillery Battalion were able to manoeuvre the 600mm mortar known as ‘Thor’ up onto a hill just 1,200m from the nearest Soviet positions of the 95th Rifle Division. From this location, ‘Thor’ had a clear line of sight to Fort Maxim Gorky I 3,700m to the south, and at 1700hrs it started lobbing 16 of its 2-ton concrete-piercing shells at the target. One of the shells hit Turret No. 2, severely damaging the weapon and causing casualties among the crew. ‘Thor’ was less effective against Bastion I, which contained the fort’s communications and range-finding equipment, but a Stuka attack succeeded in knocking out the cable trunk. All told, Coastal Battery 30 suffered about 40 casualties among its 290 naval gunners during the air and artillery bombardment, but neither ‘Thor’ nor ‘Dora’ had succeeded in destroying the installation.

Although the use of super-heavy weapons such as the Karl mortars and ‘Dora’ may have undermined the morale of the Soviet troops on the receiving end of multi-ton shells, these weapons actually failed to make a significant contribution commensurate with their cost. Primary responsibility must rest with General der Artillerie Zuckertort, the commander of the 306th Army Artillery Command, who violated the cardinal rule of artillery support in that he allowed these expensive weapons to fire too few rounds at too many targets, resulting in none of them actually being destroyed. ‘Dora’ had only 48 rounds available but Zuckertort used them against eight different targets, including only nine rounds against the primary target of Fort Maxim Gorky I. Furthermore, the super-heavy artillery of 420mm or larger all ran out of ammunition early in the offensive and it was the less-celebrated Czech-made 305mm mortars and 240mm howitzers that made the greater contribution and continued to fire from the first day of the offensive to the last.

The Soviets held back most of their artillery during the period 2-6 June because of limited ammunition supplies and concern about exposing their few heavy weapons to enemy counterbattery fire or Stuka attack. At the start of June, the SOR had about 200-300 rounds for each of its howitzers and 600-700 rounds for each mortar. Yet Soviet observers were vigilant and when they could confirm the location of a German artillery unit, they would call upon a few designated ‘sniper batteries’ that could shoot and then re-position. During the period 2-6 June, the Soviets destroyed three German artillery pieces, including a precious 280mm howitzer.

On 7 June 1942, after five days of bombardment, the Soviets expected an imminent ground assault. On the evening of 6 June around 2300hrs, Soviet artillery supporting Defensive Sectors III and IV began shooting harassing fires against suspected German troop assembly areas. In spite of this, at 0315hrs the 306th Army Artillery Command began a massive one-hour ‘destruction fire’, concentrating on the area between Haccius Ridge and Trapez. Both ‘Odin’ and ‘Thor’ joined the bombardment, firing a total of 54 rounds against Coastal Battery 30’s turrets [ Maxim Gorky I] and Bastion I, as well as against targets around Belbek. Infantry guns and mortars fired for effect against the front-line trenches in the Belbek Valley, while Nebelwerfer hit the second-line positions and 305mm mortars worked over key targets such as the Olberg. Unlike the previous five days, the German artillery fired at nearly maximum rates of fire and did not pause to assess damage. The effect on the forward Soviet positions around the Stellenberg (Hill 124) was stunning as infantry fighting positions were pounded mercilessly. Long-range guns went after targets in the Soviet rear, particularly reserves and known artillery positions. The Soviet 7th Naval Infantry Brigade, sitting in reserve well behind the line, was particularly hard hit and lost most of the 200 replacements that had just arrived to a combined air and artillery attack. However, ‘Dora’ continued to waste rounds firing against the White Cliff ammunition dump – which prompted an angry rebuke directly from Hitler to stop misusing the weapon against such targets. Although the Germans claimed that ‘Dora’ destroyed the dump – a claim that may be exaggerated – it is clear that it had failed to neutralize Fort Maxim Gorky I, which continued to fire periodically throughout 7 June.

1761 Colberg I

At Colberg 1761, the Swedish and Russian enemy’s interminable delay had given the defenders time to prepare their positions. Eugene of Württemberg had erected great entrenchments between the fortress and the enemy, now distant only some eight miles from Colberg. The defenders had also constructed a second wall round the first, but, although the landward defenses were being capably handled, the approaches from the seaside had been curiously neglected to a large degree. This is rather odd, as the Swedish and Russian fleets had controlled the Baltic ever since the defeat of the little Prussian squadron in 1759. And so it went.

Lt.-Gen. Peter Rumyantsev’s Russian force encountered a small Prussian force over by Belgard under cover of the darkness of June 14–15. A short attack was met by a blistering fire from the bluecoats, who were not prone to leave their post. The Russians fell back, but the timely arrival of reinforcements caused the attackers to be unleashed a second and then a third time. Over the course of the surprisingly vigorous little skirmish, the Russian force gradually built-up to over 700 strong.

This detail finally muscled the bluecoats back, and Rumyantsev’s progress continued. The first inkling Eugene of Württemberg had of the newly arriving Russian force was at the village of Varckmin, where one of his outposts was surprised and overwhelmed by a force of Russian Cossacks.

Rumyantsev’s force gradually linked up with the established detachment of Totleben. This rendezvous immediately formed a formidable core of greencoats in Eastern Pomerania. This body most directly threatened the bluecoat hold on Colberg. Rumyantsev promptly forwarded a note to General Jacob Albrecht von Langtinghausen, with the Swedes over in Western Pomerania, which suggested that the Swedes and the Russians should work together with a united purpose. A nice concept, indeed. Nothing came out of this, though, for Langtinghausen accountably declined to lend any assistance to the greencoats. There is no doubt this was due to the various flaws under which the Swedish army during this period always operated in the field: weak provision arrangements; poor supplies; no engineering and/or bridging equipment, etc.

Rumyantsev’s position was still further complicated, almost compromised, by the treachery of Colonel Gottlob Heinrich Friedrich Totleben, which was finally betrayed to the general light of day through a courier of the latter’s, Sabatko. Totleben was ordered home, and Buturlin dispatched some reinforcements from camps at Posen to help strengthen Rumyantsev with as much brevity as possible. The newcomers totaled a little over 4,000 strong, under General Nieviadomskii. The overall quality of this latter force was only marginal for the most part, but joining all of the Russian forces in the region together did provide a potent strike force to wield in the name of the Empress, nearly 18,000 strong.

Still, Rumyantsev did not deign proceed with a siege of Colberg itself until he had the support of the naval forces. This in the form of a powerful little Russian fleet, under the charge of Admiral Polanski, hailing out of Danzig (July 11–12). The ensemble numbered 23 warships and 44 transport/support ships carrying nearly 8,000 men, 42 guns, and ample stores of provisions of all kinds. The Russians were making their best effort to seize Colberg from its Prussian garrison. This included making sure that Rumyantsev’s men had everything they required to seize Colberg from the foe.

Polanski put his cargo and passengers ashore at and about Rügenwalde at the end of July, and the section of men brought by water advanced to form a juncture with Rumyantsev’s soldiers; which had, of course, advanced themselves by land.

August 17, six Russian ships-of-war arrived off the port, three had moved in towards Colberg and shelled some of the men working outside of the fortress on the entrenchments, with no more than nil success. But one thing was clear: the seaward approaches were now open to the Allied fleets. By August 24, the two allies had an impressive 54 ships anchored offshore, 42 of these being frigates, the rest Sail-of-the-Line. That evening a bombardment was commenced against the Prussian works from the ships’ batteries and the long-range land guns of Rumyantsev. It was an awesome display of power all right (for the total number of shells spent numbered over 3,000), but in truth the damage actually inflicted was likely minimal at best, and certainly nowhere near commensurate with the effort expended. A prolonged effort did serve to keep the garrison always on the alert and thus off-balance around the clock. So there was a psychological aspect to it all.

Meanwhile, Rumyantsev began creeping closer against the enemy works. August 18, after a questionable degree of preparation, Rumyantsev’s men, divided into two separate formations to expedite movement, pressed from Nosowko and Massow towards the enemy lines over near Colberg. Colonel Drewitz and his dragoons pointed the way in this latest endeavor. Colonel Bibkoff, at the moment, rolled towards Wyganowoff, while, at the van of the second column, Colonel Gruzdavtsiev moved on Körlin. Prussian resistance to this enterprise was spotty at best, so the greencoats were able to wrestle Körlin and Belgard away from their foe by August 19. Two days after, Russian spotters made it to Degow. Prussian resistance to the intruders gradually stiffened at this point, and the Russians, while pausing for a moment or two at Stockau, now resolved to put Colberg under yet another siege.

Rumyantsev was nonplused; by September 4, he had Eugene’s entrenched encampment under siege and was starting to shell Colberg from big ordnance on his end of the line. On September 5, shelling very early in the morning commenced. A total of “236 shells were lobbed at Colberg; 62 [of which] landed and exploded there.” About September 11, word filtered through to the garrison that Bevern (from Stettin) had gathered a force to move to Colberg’s relief and that this formation was already on its way. Learning that the newcomers were scheduled to be at Treptow on September 13, preparations were put in place to meet them. The Duke of Württemberg decided to send one of his best to the rescue, Werner with his 6th Hussars—one of the largest cavalry units, boasting 1,500 men and 120 non-commissioned officers. Under cover of the night of September 11–12, Werner pressed a small force towards Treptow. The last time that Werner had been unleashed against the rear of the Russian army, during the previous year’s campaign, he had brought their siege of Colberg to utter ruin. For a time, it looked like he might be able to do a repeat performance. But only for a while this go round.

Once joined with the new arrivals, Werner planned to attack one of Rumyantsev’s entrenched works—which had been prepared on that side of the line. On September 12, his Prussians reached Treptow, but unfortunately the enemy were waiting for Werner; at dawn, his men were suddenly attacked by the Russians as they were decamping. The bluecoats made a good show of the matter, but Werner was captured while leading a charge in which his horse was shot from under him. However, with the greencoats “distracted” by Werner, the incoming convoy and reinforcements got rerouted and so successfully—and belatedly—reached Colberg. But the loss of Werner was still a serious blow to his country.

In the meantime, Swedish General Stackelberg and his force, deployed about Neubrandenburg, had outposts in close proximity to the bluecoats of Belling. Prussian scouts overran the forward posts, very early on August 22. This served to alert the Swedes of the nearness of Belling’s men. The Swedish Plathen now embarked upon a timely attack which pressed against Belling. Initially, the Prussian horse thereabouts faltered, but this actually proved to be more of a trap than anything else. In the event, a prolonged advance by the onrushing cavalry came crashing to an abrupt halt when they met a solid wall of prepared Prussian infantry, backed up by gunners with well-sited batteries. The resulting effect was immediate.

As the combined fire of the bluecoat infantry and artillery shredded the formation of the startled Swedish riders, the reformed Prussian hussars slammed into the by now wavering enemy cavalry, sending them reeling. It was over in mere minutes. For some 50 casualties, Belling had cost the enemy some 300 casualties and inflicted yet another severe check upon the Swedish designs for a prolonged offensive.

With the threat of a Swedish advance temporarily nullified, Belling withdrew on Woldekg, while Ehrensvard continued a program to slowly build up his forces on the Northern Front to make any renewed offensive effort more viable. Meanwhile, having been reinforced from Stettin, Belling descended again upon Neubrandenburg (August 28), but found it evacuated by the enemy. Next, pursuing Stackelberg, the Prussians moved on Treptow, but the Swedes were too well dug in to attack thereabouts.

Belling, with his options basically reduced to one until he could receive reinforcements, withdrew posthaste to Teetzleben (August 29), but the arrival of the new formations of Stutterheim, getting to the scene of action on September 1, fundamentally shifted the bluecoats over into launching a counteroffensive against Ehrensvard’s forces. This effectively surrendered the initiative to the Prussians for the balance of the main campaign.

The Russians, for their part, were not prepared to let up before Colberg. Encouraged by the success of his force in capturing Werner, Rumyantsev on September 19 suddenly attacked the most accessible of the Prussian works (known as the Green Redoubt) about 0200 hours. The surprise stroke was at first successful, the Russians carrying the redoubt initially, but a determined counterattack at length repelled the intruders with the loss of 3,000 men of all arms, including some 800 dead. The Prussians lost 71 dead, 281 wounded, and 187 prisoners. This repulse induced the Russians to give up trying to take Colberg by a direct assault. Events beyond Colberg impacted the proceedings. After the adventure at Gotsyn, General Platen had detached Thadden to take the captured booty and the prisoners, not to mention the wounded, back to the Prussian lines.

Platen had unbuckled the busy Ruesch Hussars to proceed as quickly as possible to Posen, under the charge of Colonel von Naczimsky, to overturn the Russian supply arrangements thereabouts as completely as possible. The enemy reaction had been low key, although a Russian force under Major-General Gustav Berg was alerted to the possible arrival of Platen’s force hard about Driesen. When that scenario failed to materialize, Russian scouts probed for and finally located Platen’s men—between Neustadt and Landsberg (September 19). Berg sent a force of some 250 men under Suvarov to Landsberg (September 21). By this time, the bluecoats of Platen had ridden to Birnhaum and had even detected the movements of the enemy force towards Czerpowa. Platen finally entered Landsberg on September 22 with little fanfare, and, after a brief altercation with Suvarov’s men, and with no practical way to wreak further havoc upon the Russian supply lines, sped off for Colberg. Berg tried to launch a pursuit, but could not catch up with the wily Platen. Platen was able to throttle the enemy pursuit before he reached Arenswalde (September 26).

So, meanwhile, the defenders of Colberg received an unexpected, but timely, reinforcement. September 27, General Platen marched to join Eugene of Württemberg, raising Prussian strength to 15,000 men; although Buturlin similarly stiffened the besiegers with reinforcements (under the command of Dolgoruki), bringing them to 40,000 men. With the campaign in Silesia having gone sour again, Buturlin brought his main force to be in closer proximity to the fortress/port.

As soon as he reached the area, Buturlin reiterated the belief that Colberg could not be taken by direct assault, even though the task may have been manageable with the large influx of Russian troops in the vicinity occasioned by Buturlin. There was just no chance from a psychological perspective. With his army low on provisions and the expedition to Silesia a snub, the Russian commander turned about and, on November 2, headed for home.

It was a decision for which Buturlin would face tough scrutiny from an upset Elizabeth, who fired off a testy communiqué to the marshal. She and her court, upon receiving word of Buturlin’s backward hitch, wrote him “that the news of your retreat has caused us more sorrow than the loss of a battle would have done.” Elizabeth followed up, not mincing words, by ordering the marshal to march towards Berlin without delay and perforce levy a large contribution to help defray the campaign costs for the Russian army in this campaign, while, at the same time, seeking out an engagement with the enemy, should they threaten to intervene. As it turned out, Buturlin did not pounce upon the Prussian capital, but continued his progression back into Poland; basically ignoring the by now dying Empress. Rumyantsev was left with his force to finish the job before Colberg. An additional force of 15,000 Russians under Fermor was left to keep the roads from Stettin to Colberg closed and to prevent a repetition of the reinforcements just sent from Bevern at Stettin.

As for Platen, he continued to operate in the area beyond Colberg, riding into and decimating a Russian detachment at Cörlin (September 30), after which the Prussian commander made for Spie and Colberg. The enemy, not oblivious to his march, made a futile effort to bar Platen from the port, but the latter, yet again, was just too fast moving to be intercepted.

Frederick, far away near Strehlen in Silesia, ordered Bevern to prepare additional troops to be sent to the relief of Colberg. Could the blocked roads be opened, though? Prussian attempts to do just that read like an exercise in futility. October 13, “Green” Kleist and his dragoons tried to break through, but got repulsed. With this situation very bleak, the bluecoats forthwith dispatched Platen to try to bring some supplies in for Colberg.

General Platen had a full 42 squadrons of horse with just eight full battalions of infantry with him. He pressed off from Prettmin (about 0700 hours on October 17), with about 4,000 men. Prettmin was right near Spie, where General Knobloch was in charge of a small detachment. Platen, as was usual with the man’s character, made quick work of a march. His men rolled into Gollnow on October 18, and by the next day they were at Schwentdehagen.

Lt.-Col. Courbière was unleashed (October 20) with his force consisting of the Free Battalion Courbière, the Grenadier Battalion 28/32 of Arnhim, the III./ Belling Hussars, along with the apparently tireless Ruesch Hussars, and six pieces of ordnance, including one 7-pounder howitzer; a total of some 1,350 men. Courbière immediately proceeded with his mission. He was instructed to probe at the enemy positions in the immediate vicinity and to do all in his power to gather badly needed supplies for the hard-pressed garrison of Colberg. His men pushed across the Wolczenica River, and immediately occupied Zarnglaff.

The greencoats were close by in strength, over by Naugard, around 5,000 strong, including about 3,500 horse, led by General Berg. This generous allotment of cavalry allowed for a number of reconnaissance parties. It did not take long for the presence of Courbière’s Prussians to be discovered, and Berg drew up a scheme to deal with the intruders.

Early the next morning, the Russians pushed off, heading for a showdown in short order with Courbière. The latter sent off word to Platen that he needed some help against the much more numerous greencoats of Berg. The warning was correct, but it was far too late to send a rescue. The Russian wave advanced and in a very short fight, lasting less than 3/4 of an hour, compelled the bluecoats to lay down their arms, except for a small force of about 400 cavalry which did manage to wiggle free from the enemy’s grasp.

Platen, moving out from Colberg again, attempted in his own right to break up enemy concentrations from his side, while Kleist and General Thadden endeavored to do the same from the opposite end. Both attempts were unsuccessful. The Russians were making an effort to bag the whole of Platen’s corps. They were simply too inadequate to corner Platen. His troopers slipped past the greencoats through the Kautrek Forest, and rolled into Gollnow, despite their foe’s best efforts. Reinforced by a detachment under our old friend Fermor, Berg attacked and wrestled Gollnow from the unpleasantly startled Prussians. The bluecoats, nothing daunted, then marched, and countermarched, up and back the country roads and lanes north and northeast of Stettin, with no real chance to break through the enemy web by now encasing Colberg. These were the last undertakings at sending in supplies and reinforcements, and they were all abject failures, in spite of every well-intentioned goal having been made in advance, Eugene rose and, moving rapidly around and through the country between his lines and Rumyantsev’s, managed to evade the Russians by a series of skillful maneuvers.

The Russians, for their part, were making progress as well. Dolgoruki came rolling across the Persante (October 20), following which, his men occupied Gammin. Meanwhile, the Prussians were also settling in. Knobloch had pulled his forces back to consolidate at the vantage point of Treptow. While this was going on, Russian scouting parties laid hold of Przecmin and Sellno; at the latter, small bluecoat patrols in the area roamed around, while more significant bodies of Prussians were present just across the Persante.

The greencoat forces of General Brandt, deployed to Sellno to provide an anchor of sorts for their arms in that vicinity, could work in conjunction with Dolgoruki. Knobloch was left at Treptow, near where an enemy force appeared just after dusk on October 21, issuing from Gammin and vicinity. Prussian scouts calmly—and promptly—informed General Knobloch about the arrival of the Russian forces, and, nearly simultaneously, of the appearance of another greencoat detachment, hailing from Gabin. Before another 24 hours had elapsed, Rumyantsev himself was standing before Treptow, preparing, if necessary, to put the place and thus Knobloch’s command under siege.

Siege of Massilia 49 BC

THE ROMAN MUSCULUS

A particular type of shelter known as the musculus appears only rarely in ancient writings. Vegetius describes it as a small machine, reminiscent of the Hellenistic ditch–filling tortoise in its role of protecting men as they brought forward building materials (Veg., Epit. rei mil. 4.16). However, he is surely mistaken. From Caesar’s description of the musculus in action during the siege of Massilia in 49 BCE, it is clear that it was an enormously robust gallery, constructed when the standard vineae and plutei failed to stand up to the defenders’ formidable artillery; its name, meaning ‘little mouse’, is surely another example of soldiers’ humour. The extra protection was required by men moving up to the enemy wall for undermining work. In other words, it was the Roman equivalent of the Hellenistic ‘digging tortoise’. Caesar’s version was 60ft (18m) long, 4ft (1.2m) wide, and 5ft (1.5m) tall, with a pitched roof. It was built out of 2ft–thick (0. 6m) timbers, and entirely covered with a fireproof layer of tiles and clay, followed by a waterproof layer of rawhide, to foil any attempts at dissolving the clay (Caes., BCiv. 2.10). It was perhaps unusual to mobilize such a structure; at any rate, the defenders were taken by surprise when it was suddenly advanced to the wall on sets of rollers normally used to transport ships. With the musculus in place at the wall foot, the defenders were powerless to prevent the Romans from undermining one of the city’s towers.

VINEA: COVERED GALLERY

Like the musculus, but open along one side, was the vinea. This is especially used to shield soldiers when they were undermining the city’s walls by driving tunnels under them, or prizing out the stones at the base with sharp iron tools called terebrae.

CAESAR

Roman law specifically prohibited generals from bringing their legions into Italy proper without the express approval of the Senate. On the Adriatic coast, the border was marked by the Rubicon River south of Ravenna. Yet on January 10 or 11 (sources differ), 49 BCE, announcing that “the die is cast,” Caesar defied the Senate and crossed the small Rubicon with his army into Italy proper. Although Caesar had only one legion immediately with him, he retained eight other battle-tested legions in Gaul. His total force thus numbered some 40,000 men, plus 20,000 auxiliaries. Ranged against Caesar, Pompey and his allies in the Senate could call on two legions in Italy(with eight more being raised there), seven in Spain, and substantial military resources in Greece, the East, and North Africa.

Caesar hoped to counter this formidable imbalance by the decisive approach that had brought him victory in Gaul. Moving swiftly south along the Adriatic, he collected additional forces and recruits. Pompey declared that Rome could not be defended, and he and most of the senators abandoned the city to Caesar in order to buy time to gather additional resources in southern Italy. The only setback for Caesar to this point was the news that Labienus, a former lieutenant of Pompey, had defected to him. All of Caesar’s other key subordinates and legions remained loyal.

Because Pompey was slow both to react to the threat posed by Caesar and to mobilize his own legions, he and 25,000 men and most of the senators who had fled to the south withdrew to Brundisium (Brindisi). Pompey also rejected calls from Caesar that they end the fighting and restore their former alliance, Pompey claiming that he was Caesar’s superior.

Pompey was confident of ultimate victory. He expected to raise substantial forces in the eastern Greek provinces and, with control of most of the Roman Navy, institute a blockade of the Italian coast. In March 49 BCE Pompey and a number of his senatorial allies sailed from Brundisium for Epirus.

Before Caesar could contemplate proceeding against Pompey in Greece, he had to eliminate the threat to his rear posed by Pompey’s sizable army in Spain. Leaving Marcus Aemilius Lepidus as prefect in Rome and Mark Antony in charge of the rest of Italy, Caesar marched for Spain. Gaius Antonius held Illyria for Caesar, while Cisalpine Gaul was under Licinius Crassus. Caesar sent Gaius Curio with other troops to secure Sicily and North Africa.

Pompey supporter Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus landed by sea at Massilia (present-day Marseille) with a small number of men and persuaded its leaders to declare for Pompey. Caesar, having sent most of his army ahead to secure the passes over the Pyrenees that would give him access to Spain, invested Massilia in April with three legions. Caesar then hurried on to take charge of operations in Spain, leaving Gaius Trebonius to continue the siege operations by land and Decimus Brutus to raise a naval force and blockade Massilia from the sea. The siege continued during the entire time of Caesar’s operations in Spain, although Brutus won a naval victory off Massilia against a joint Massilian-Pompeian force.

Taking advantage of Pompey’s absence from the Italian mainland, Caesar moved quickly. In June 49, his legions secured the vital Pyrenees passes just in advance of a large force of 65,000 men loyal to Pompey and commanded by Lucius Afranius and Marcus Petreius. Frustrated by their inability to reach and secure the passes first, the two Pompeian generals awaited Caesar’s arrival in Spain. Two additional Pompeian legions and about 45,000 auxiliaries under Vebellius Rufus and Marcus Terentius Varro held the remainder of Spain.

Both sides engaged in extended maneuvering in what is known as the Ilerda Campaign. Caesar was anxious to avoid pitched battle because of his considerable inferiority in numbers. His opponents were equally reluctant to engage because of Caesar’s military reputation. Finally, through adroit maneuvering and rapid movement, Caesar cut off the withdrawal of the two legions and surrounded them, securing their surrender at Ilerda on August 2, 49. Following his victory, Caesar disbanded the two legions, gaining recruits in the process. He then marched to Gades (Cadiz) to overawe all Spain. Then, leaving a small force to complete the pacification of Iberia, Caesar returned to Massilia, which surrendered on September 6. Domitius escaped by sea.

MASSILIA

An example of aggressive siegecraft is provided by the attack on coastal Massilia by Caesar’s deputy, Caius Trebonius, in 49 BCE. He began to construct two embankments at different points on the landward side, but was severely hindered by the town’s ballistae, which had allegedly been engineered to discharge 12ft (3.5m) iron–pointed spears instead of the usual rounded stone balls. The legionaries’ standard wickerwork shelters (vineae) could not stand up to such punishment, so Trebonius arranged for the workers to be protected by galleries made out of timber 1ft thick (30cm). In addition, he had a 30ft—square (9m) brick refuge built close to the town, so that the workers could shelter within its 5ft–thick (1.5m) walls; but he quickly realized how useful a tower would be in this location, and again exploited the legionaries’ engineering skills to raise the structure, under constant threat of enemy missiles, until it had six storeys. This opened up new possibilities, and Trebonius ordered a massive gallery to be built, 60ft (18m) long, stretching from the brick tower to the town wall. Realizing the danger posed by the gallery, the Massiliotes tipped blocks of masonry and blazing barrels of pitch onto it from the battlements above. But they were driven back by the artillery in the brick tower, and their improvised missiles were easily deflected by the gallery’s 2ft–thick (60cm) gabled roof, with its coating of padded rawhide over clay. Then, concealed within the gallery, Trebonius’ legionaries undermined the town wall, whereupon the townsfolk lost hope and surrendered.

TREBONIUS (died 43 BCE)

C. Trebonius illustrates perhaps better than any other figure of the Late Republic the independence of the “everyday senator” from any “party affiliation” in ancient Roman politics, as compared, for instance, with the modern American political scene. Characterized by scholars as vacillating between political factions (particularly, the factions of Julius Caesar and Pompey the Great), Trebonius, in reality, did as many Roman senators, searching out the best advantages for himself and sticking with one powerful leader or another only as long as he considered their goals appropriate and personally beneficial.

Trebonius emerges from the ancient sources for the first time in 60 BCE, when he held the office of quaestor (financial magistrate) in Rome. During his term, he was one of those politicians who opposed the intentions of P. Claudius Pulcher (commonly known as Clodius). Clodius had developed an intense hatred for one of Trebonius’s good friends, the famous orator Cicero; he intended to utilize the office of plebeian tribune (the powers of which he considered ideal for the purpose) to destroy Cicero’s life. To become tribune, however, Clodius had to relinquish his status as a patrician (a member of Rome’s most blue-blooded families) and apply for adoption into a plebeian family. He had this all arranged, but Trebonius, along with the consuls of 60 (Afranius and Metellus Celer) and other magistrates, opposed and prevented the adoption, since they understood its true purpose.

In the following year, though, Clodius got his way in all things, with the strong backing of Julius Caesar and his associates, Crassus and Pompey, the so-called First Triumvirate. Trebonius apparently continued to resist Clodius, however, endangering his own life against such a loose cannon in the efforts launched to recall Cicero, who had been exiled, thanks to Clodius.

After all this dust had settled, Trebonius teamed up with the Triumvirs. As plebeian tribune in 55 BCE, he proposed a law to grant provincial commands to Crassus (who received the province of Syria and oversight in the neighboring territories) and to Pompey (who received the provinces of Spain), each for a period of five years. In addition, the motion authorized each man to levy as many troops from both Roman citizens and allies, as well as to make war or arrange peace in their provinces, as each saw fit. Two of his colleagues in the tribunate, C. Ateius Capito and P. Aquilius Gallus, attempted to derail Trebonius’s measure; the young Optimate orator M. Favonius also spoke out in opposition, as did M. Porcius Cato, leader of the Optimates. Cato, at least, recognized that there was no way to prevent the measure with the coalition of Caesar, Crassus, and Pompey behind it, but he still made the best stand he could against it; by talking out his allotted time and forcing Trebonius to make a show of dragging him off the Speakers’ Platform and into detention, Cato gave the assembled voters a clear proof of the unjust power being exercised by the Triumvirs.

At this informal meeting (contio) of the People of Rome, so many private citizens took the opportunity to express their opinions on this heated matter that the two opposing tribunes did not even have a chance to speak their views. Gallus decided, therefore, to sleep overnight in the Senate House so that he could be the first one to ascend the Speakers’ Platform (located right outside) at dawn on the following day; Trebonius, however, locked him inside the building and did not let him out for hours. In the meantime, the latter’s supporters crowded into the assembly area (Comitium) outside; they tried to stop Capito, Favonius, Cato, and other opponents from entering, but these found clever ways to do so anyway. For instance, Cato and Capito climbed on the shoulders of those standing around the edge of the Comitium and, from his perch, Capito proclaimed a warning about bad omens, which normally would have necessitated dissolving the meeting.

In the event, however, the supporters of Trebonius, many of whom were soldiers Caesar had furloughed from his army, turned to roughing up opponents of the proposal, including Capito and Cato; many people were driven from the Forum in this way, many badly wounded in the confrontation, including Gallus, and a few even killed. Capito, however, incensed by the sight of his colleague all covered in blood, and building on popular disgust at this, soon stirred up renewed resistance to Trebonius. Pompey and Crassus, as consuls, then entered the scene with their bodyguards, restored order to the assembly, and compelled a vote on Trebonius’s motion. Not surprisingly, it passed into law. They followed this up with a law of their own to extend also the provincial command of Caesar for an additional five years and under the same terms as theirs.

For his efforts as tribune, Trebonius received a reward, a posting as legatus, a lieutenant commander, in the army of Caesar from the end of his term of office through 50 BCE. He accompanied Caesar on his second expedition into Britain, commanded forces against the Belgae (especially in the punitive operations after the rebellion of Ambiorix), and expertly countered the assaults of Vercingetorix’s troops during the famous Siege of Alesia (alongside Marc Antony).

Trebonius continued to serve Caesar when the Civil War broke out between the latter and Pompey. After the city of Massilia in southern Gaul (Marseilles, France) declared itself for Pompey’s side in the first year of the conflict, Caesar placed Trebonius in charge of ground forces to conduct the siege of the town, an ever-challenging business that ended in success for Trebonius after six months. In the following year, 48 BCE, Caesar welcomed Trebonius back to Rome with another reward, the office of urban praetor, which placed him just one rank below Caesar himself as consul and made him the chief judicial official over Roman citizens. This placed Trebonius at odds with another of Caesar’s supporters, M. Caelius Rufus, who had hoped for that appointment himself; even though Caesar gave him the next best thing, the peregrine praetorship (the judicial official over resident aliens and foreign visitors to Rome), Caelius resented it and lashed out at Trebonius by vetoing everything he did in office. Indeed, Caelius went further by opposing Caesar’s laws on loans and rent payments, attempting to foment a sort of social revolution in Rome of debtors and renters against their creditors and landlords; in this uprising, Trebonius almost lost his life (which is what Caelius really wanted) and barely escaped the city in disguise. The Senate and Caesar’s consular colleague, Servilius Isauricus, put a stop to all this within Rome itself; Caelius fled southward to try to stir up support for his cause but failed and was eventually killed by Caesar’s cavalry.

The rest of Trebonius’s praetorship appears to have gone smoothly and he proceeded in the next year to the governorship of Further Spain. Since the summer of 49 BCE, both Spanish provinces had come under Caesar’s authority, but his legions there and some of the local communities had grown restless and, in fact, mutinous. Part of Trebonius’s mission was to restore order; he had previous experience of the region, having fought against the lieutenants of Pompey there in the first year of the Civil War. However, the agents of Metellus Scipio, father-in-law of the now-deceased Pompey and acknowledged leader of the survivors of his faction, had come to Spain to reclaim it by inciting more trouble for Caesar’s side; chief among those agents was Pompey’s eldest son, Cnaeus Pompeius. Inspired by his arrival, the mutinous legionaries and rebellious locals eventually forced Trebonius out of the peninsula. Caesar then personally took up the campaign against the Pompeians in Spain. He apparently sent Trebonius back to Rome and, on his own victorious return in the fall of 45 BCE, appointed his loyal legate as suffect (“fill-in”) consul for the remainder of the year. Again, Trebonius had received his ample reward.

After all this, however, Trebonius turned against Caesar. In fact, he seems to have done so already before Caesar’s return from Spain; he even mentioned something to Marc Antony, who kept it secret instead of reporting it to Caesar. The reason, evidently, for Trebonius’s change of heart was animosity toward Caesar’s kind of dictatorship, which made everyone, including his old comrades, feel like pawns in a game played only by Caesar. In wartime, this might have been satisfactory, but it was not once peace resumed. Thus, many Caesarians participated in the Conspiracy of the Liberators to assassinate Caesar in 44 BCE. While other members of the plot attacked him during a meeting of the Senate on the Ides of March, Trebonius fulfilled his assigned task by keeping Marc Antony outside, engaged in conversation. Trebonius later expressed in a letter to Cicero his pride in the part he had played, the sense of achievement he felt in ridding Rome of a “tyrant.” Cicero had applauded the assassination, but he blamed Trebonius (and Brutus) for not eliminating Antony, too.

Before his death, Caesar had officially assigned Trebonius to govern the Roman province of Asia (western Turkey today), and under the turbulent conditions in Rome following the fallen dictator’s funeral, Trebonius literally had to sneak off to his province so as not to set off any further popular uproar against himself. Soon, the leaders of the Conspiracy, Brutus and Cassius, secretly contacted him, asking him to collect money and troops for the looming head-on confrontation with Antony. He did so, and went further in fortifying key towns in the province against possible attack.

The attack came, but not from Antony. Another adversary appeared, a much more cunning one, in the person of P. Cornelius Dolabella. He had served under Caesar for a number of years and the latter planned to reward him with a suffect consulship in 44 BCE; that is, if Caesar had left for his projected war against the Parthian Empire, he would have handed over the remainder of his own term as consul to Dolabella. Instead, Caesar was assassinated, but Dolabella still wanted that office; the other consul of that year, Antony, stood in opposition, however. Dolabella turned on Antony, posed as a friend of Caesar’s assassins and assumed the consulship anyway, receiving from the Senate a special appointment as governor of the province of Syria to boot.

This proved to be the undoing of Trebonius, who did suspect treachery from Dolabella, but not quite as much as he should have. Early in 43 BCE, when the latter passed through Asia on the way to his own province (engaging in wholesale plunder all along), Trebonius did not permit his entry into the important towns of Pergamum or Smyrna, but, out of respect for his office, he did allow him and his men to gather provisions from Ephesus. All the while, a detachment of Trebonius’s army followed Dolabella. Having done so until nightfall, and seeing no cause for concern in Dolabella’s actions, most of the troops returned to Smyrna, leaving only a few to keep watch on him.

Yet, Dolabella set an ambush for them, captured and killed them, and then turned around unexpectedly and arrived at Smyrna under cover of darkness. His men carefully scaled the walls of the city, secured it for themselves, and even captured Trebonius, sleeping in his bed. One of Dolabella’s centurions, on explicit orders, cut off the head of Trebonius rather than taking him alive and brought it to his commander, who put it on display the following morning on the chair from which Trebonius had delivered his official pronouncements. Dolabella’s soldiers took the rest of the body and furiously attacked it; they also played with his head as though it were a game ball in the streets of the city. A fitting punishment, as they saw it, for the man who had helped to kill Caesar by preventing Marc Antony from coming to his rescue.

The death of Trebonius and the mutilation of his corpse sent a clear signal to the other Conspirators; he was the first of their number to be punished for the killing of Caesar and each of them had to fear such an end now.

DOMITIUS AHENOBARBUS

The “bronze-bearded” (ahenobarbi) Domitii traced their distinguished lineage at least as far back in Rome’s history as the fifth century BCE. Not all of them possessed the greatest of virtues, but they did share a tendency toward obstinacy and temper and, like many others of the Roman elite, an exalted sense of dignitas. Certainly, these qualities characterized L. Domitius Ahenobarbus, who stood with the Optimates in the Senate against Julius Caesar, challenged the latter through much of his career, confronted him on his invasion of Italy, and fought against him across the empire from southern France to Greece.

According to the famous orator and statesman Cicero, Domitius, even as a young man early on in his political career, held to the moral standards of those senators who styled themselves Optimates. Little is known about that early career, aside from his testimony, in 70 BCE, against Verres, the corrupt Roman governor of Sicily. For this, Cicero praised Domitius as a distinguished young man, first among his peers.

By the summer of 61 BCE, Domitius joined up with the most prominent spokesman of the Optimates, Cato the Younger, to bring two proposals before the Senate regarding bribery. One motion declared as treasonable the sheltering or housing of those who distributed bribes (known as divisores in Latin) among the voters; the other authorized the searching of magistrate’s homes for such individuals. Undoubtedly, these motions targeted the chief adversaries of the Optimates at that time, who were also the men possessing the greatest wealth to spread around through bribery, that is, Pompey, Crassus, and Caesar. Ironically, Domitius’s own comrade, Cato, engaged the very next year in large-scale bribery of the voters to guarantee that his own son-in-law, Bibulus, would gain election to the consulship as a counterweight to Caesar. By the fall of 59 BCE, Domitius found himself implicated in an alleged plot to assassinate Caesar and Pompey, accused by the informer, P. Vettius, of conspiring with the consul Bibulus to do so; Vettius even claimed that the house of Domitius had served as the base of operations for the scheme. Fortunately for Domitius, few believed the accusations, which were probably trumped up by Pompey and Caesar themselves to discredit their opponents.

In the following year, Domitius attained some legal cover through his position as praetor and, together with his colleague Memmius, insisted on holding an inquiry into Caesar’s official misconduct while consul, his blatant disregard of customs and taboos. The Senate as a body refused to take up the matter, so Caesar ignored the praetors’ charges and left Rome for his provincial command. Other proceedings were instituted against him and one of his subordinates, likely all instigated by Domitius, but still these came to nothing.

In the summer of 58 BCE, Domitius attempted to get at Caesar again by standing up for M. Tullius Cicero; the latter had been forced into exile to keep him quiet through the efforts of Caesar and his associates. The plebeian tribune, Clodius, who had orchestrated Cicero’s downfall, found a constitutional means to order Domitius to be silent on the question of Cicero’s recall and the matter of the reconstruction of his house, which had been destroyed at Clodius’s orders.

Undeterred, though obstructed at every turn by the so-called First Triumvirate and its minions, Domitius campaigned relentlessly in 56 BCE for the consulship of the following year, hoping to utilize that office against the opponents of the Optimates. According to the Imperial historian Cassius Dio, Domitius was actively canvassing for votes right up to the very last day before the elections. Another Imperial historian, Appian of Alexandria, asserted that the intention of Domitius in all this was to challenge Pompey; this probably means that, even if Pompey obtained one of the consulships for the upcoming year, Domitius sought to obtain the other and use it as a check on Pompey’s actions and power within the state. Domitius also made clear his intention of removing Julius Caesar from his provincial command. In all this, he had the support of the Optimates in the Senate and especially of their leader, his brother-in-law, Cato.

Caesar had other plans. Pompey and their associate, Crassus, came to meet Caesar at his winter quarters in the town of Luca (modern Lucca) in northern Italy (what Romans referred to as the province of Cisalpine Gaul). Behind the scenes, the three men agreed to cooperate in squeezing Domitius out of the race and obtaining the consulships of 55 for Crassus as well as Pompey.

Even before dawn on the morning of the elections, Domitius arrived in the Campus Martius (Field of Mars) where Roman voters cast their ballots for consuls in the Popular Assembly known as the Comitia Centuriata (Assembly of Centuries). Pompey showed up at about the same time; both men, as was customary, came with a crowd of supporters around them. It did not take long for these hangers-on to begin quarreling, eventually brawling, with one another over their candidates; in the escalating confrontation, one of Domitius’s torch-bearers (recall that it was still dark out when all this took place) was attacked by a follower of Pompey with a sword. Legally, no one was supposed to enter the voting area with weapons, and the fact that one of Pompey’s men was armed suggested that more of them must have had concealed weapons; in fact, Cassius Dio recorded that Publius, the son of Crassus, had brought soldiers from Caesar’s army on furlough to vote in this election, likely secretly armed. Domitius’s entourage melted away and he himself barely escaped to his own home; Cato also escaped, but badly wounded in the right arm as he had tried to delay retreating while also protecting Domitius. Clearly, fair and free elections were not going to happen this time. When the voters assembled, Pompey and Crassus secured both consulships; indeed, they managed to secure many other elective offices for their cronies by the end of the year.

In the elections for the consulships of 54 BCE, however, despite the fact that Crassus and Pompey presided, they were unable to prevent Domitius from securing one of the two positions. His hostility toward Pompey never abated and he unleashed it especially against the latter’s key followers, such as A. Gabinius, who was brought to trial on various charges and forced into exile. Yet, he lost another election important to him thanks to the efforts of Caesar; the latter, despite being far away in his provincial command, worked together with others to deny Domitius the open spot in the priestly college of augurs. Winner of the election was one of Caesar’s chief lieutenants, Marc Antony, making Domitius’s loss an even greater insult. He raged against those who had orchestrated what he considered a travesty and an injustice.

The Optimate members of the Senate pushed for the recall of Caesar from his provincial command and clamored for Domitius to replace him. By this time, Crassus had died fighting the Parthians and Pompey had begun to distance himself from Caesar. When a letter arrived from Caesar insisting on retention of his provincial command until which time as Pompey also laid down his own (so that they would both retire into private life and not pose an imminent threat to one another), the Optimates got their wish; Domitius received the Senate’s mandate to take over Caesar’s provinces and he proceeded to gather forces for that purpose.

Before anyone expected it, however, Caesar had moved with a relatively small force into Italy proper and was on the march toward Rome. By then, Pompey had been selected by the Senate as supreme commander against Caesar’s invasion, but he had retreated from Rome to gather supplies and recruit troops in southern Italy. Domitius had the task of confronting Caesar first. He did not maneuver against him but instead took up position in the town of Corfinium, strategically located on the Via Valeria, a major Roman highway in southern Italy, and at the best crossing for the River Aterno (Aternus). Here, Domitius hoped to halt Caesar and provide Pompey the time he needed to rise up against Caesar.

Caesar could have bypassed Corfinium altogether on his march against Pompey, but he chose not to; he could not allow Domitius to hold such a defiant position against him, one which could have been utilized as a base for enemy operations behind his own line of advance. Domitius’s forces slightly outnumbered those of Caesar, but the latter’s were battle-hardened veterans, while the former’s were fresh recruits from the citizenry of the region. These facts did not deter Domitius, however. He sent some of his troops to destroy the bridge over the Aterno so that Caesar could not use it to cross; the latter’s advanced forces prevented this and chased Domitius’s men back to town. While Caesar’s army camped outside Corfinium, Domitius detailed his troops along the walls, complete with artillery emplacements, and tried to rouse his men to imagine the rewards of victory, to take heart, and to stand firm.

Domitius hoped desperately for military assistance from Pompey, who was only about sixty miles away, and the orator Cicero, in his letters from those days, reveals how he and many other senators hoped for the same. They expected Pompey to concentrate his forces together with those of Domitius and others at Corfinium for the showdown with Caesar. Pompey sent word, however, that he disagreed with Domitius’s strategy of holding Corfinium against Caesar (no matter how brave or patriotic that might have seemed to be), that he had never ordered him to do so, and that he would not now trap himself in that town, too; he criticized Domitius roundly not only for allowing himself and his own force to get stuck but also for not sending on two legions of reinforcements he (Pompey) had requested from Domitius. Pompey urged Domitius to withdraw from Corfinium before it was too late (even if that meant laying open to Caesar the estates of their wealthy comrades in the process) and work toward joining forces in Apulia (modern Puglia). This terribly disheartened Domitius because by waiting for the “hero” Pompey, in whom he had reposed great confidence, he had allowed Caesar the time to flank Corfinium with two military camps, surround it with a rampart and forts, and double the size of his force with new reinforcements. In writing to his friend Atticus on the matter, as news came to him of it, Cicero described Domitius as a fool for having trusted Pompey and criticized the latter for basically deserting the former.

Domitius dared not let on to his own men that they were being abandoned by Pompey to their own devices; the only possible escape, as he saw it, was for himself and those few senators close to him, and he kept this idea secret. The plan was discovered by his troops, however, and after a heated discussion and argument, they decided to hand their untrustworthy commander over to the enemy. A day later, the town of Corfinium received Caesar peacefully and he pardoned all of Domitius’s troops, allowing them to join his own army if they wished; he also permitted Domitius and the other senators with him to go free.

Domitius could have gone into peaceful retirement at that point, but he chose instead to continue the fight against Caesar, his next theater of operations being the defense of Massilia (modern Marseilles) in Gallia Transalpina (modern Provence). In other words, he now proceeded to the provincial command he was supposed to have assumed from Caesar in the first place. An excuse for doing so presented itself in the appeals from the nobility of Massilia, who declared their allegiance to Pompey’s side; the great wealth and powerful fleet of that maritime city could prove tremendous assets in the Civil War and could not be allowed to fall into Caesar’s hands.

The Massiliotes kept Caesar at bay with false negotiations for neutrality until the arrival of Domitius; the oligarchy of the city then handed over its defense to him. Under his orders, they gathered a large store of food and other necessary supplies and commandeered all the vessels in the area for military service. Massilia prepared for a long siege by land and blockade by sea, with which Caesar soon obliged them.

Domitius made his first target the enemy fleet, under the charge of Brutus Albinus, one of Caesar’s most trusted lieutenants. They engaged in difficult and bitter combat in two naval encounters, both sides attempting to maximize their advantages either in maritime skill or fighting prowess. Pompey, finally, came through for Domitius, sending him reinforcement warships all the way from Greece. Domitius also had the full support of the Massiliotes; he called upon every able-bodied man to serve, whether aristocrat or commoner. The remainder of the population did their part as well, by praying to the gods for the success of their fleet. The latter did cause great damage among the enemy vessels, even sinking the flagship of Brutus Albinus (who managed to escape) but were deserted by Pompey’s reinforcements and suffered too many losses of their own to break the blockade.

In the meantime, Caesar’s ground troops, under the command of another of his trusted lieutenants, Trebonius, conducted the siege of Massilia by land. As they erected various devices for that purpose, the Massiliotes, directed by Domitius, attempted to drive the enemy away with artillery fi re and assaults by Gallic warriors armed with firebrands. After some time of this sort of fighting, Trebonius’s sappers undermined and brought down a portion of the defensive wall of Massilia; out of the opening streamed civilians who begged Trebonius for a chance to negotiate peace with Caesar. An uneasy truce ensued, punctuated by skirmishes of differing sorts, until the Massiliotes decided it was, indeed, time to surrender.

Domitius had learned of this decision a few days earlier and prepared ships for his escape. He hoped that inclement weather would deter Brutus Albinus from trying to stop him but that was not the case. Of his three vessels, only his own escaped. Having arrived in Greece, he joined up with Pompey’s main force.

Almost a full year later, Pompey and Caesar fought their major battle at Pharsalus in northern Greece. Up to that moment, Pompey’s three leading lieutenant commanders, Domitius, Metellus Scipio, and Lentulus Spinther, fully expected to destroy Caesar and his army; they had even wasted their time bitterly quarrelling over which of them would succeed Caesar in the post of Pontifex Maximus, the most prestigious priesthood of Rome. Domitius went further in his imaginings about the future; he suggested that, after their victory, the senators who fought on their side should pass judgment on those who stayed out of the conflict or proved useless in it, either exonerating them of wrongdoing, ordering them to pay a fine, or condemning them to death.

Pompey assigned Domitius to command the left wing of his army as it stood to face Caesar’s. The Battle of Pharsalus did not go as Pompey’s side expected. In the turmoil following the victory of Caesar’s troops, Domitius fled the battlefield and headed into the nearby hills for safety. Some of Caesar’s cavalry took off in pursuit and, eventually, captured and killed him.

Having been the first official defender of the Republic against Caesar, Domitius Ahenobarbus carried that duty through to the end of his life. His entire career, in fact, epitomized the determined resistance of the Optimates to the rise of any one senator too far above the others.

Further Reading Carter, J. 1996. Appian: The Civil Wars. New York: Penguin Publishing. Carter, J. 1997. Caesar: The Civil War. Oxford, UK: Oxford University Press. Foster, H. B. 2010. Dio’s Roman History in Six Volumes. Alvin, TX: Halcyon Press Ltd. Graves, R. 2007. Suetonius: The Twelve Caesars. New York: Penguin Publishing. Greenwood, L. H. G. 1988. Cicero: The Verrine Orations. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. Gruen, E. 1974. The Last Generation of the Roman Republic. Berkeley and Los Angeles: University of California Press. Syme, R. 1939. The Roman Revolution. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press. Wiseman, T. P. 1985. Roman Political Life 90 B. C.-A. D. 69. Exeter, UK: Exeter University Press. Seager, R., and R. Warner. 2006. Plutarch, Fall of the Roman Republic. London and New York: Penguin. Shackleton Bailey, D. R. 1978. Cicero’s Letters to Atticus. New York: Penguin Publishing. Shackleton Bailey, D. R. 1978. Cicero’s Letters to His Friends. New York: Penguin Publishing. Syme, R. 1939. The Roman Revolution. Oxford, UK: Clarendon Press. Wiseman, T. P. 1985. Roman Political Life 90 B. C.-A. D. 69. Exeter, UK: Exeter University Press.

Fall Of Constantinople – Ottoman Superguns

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Ottoman superguns

It is not without some irony that bombards, all but abandoned as obsolete by most European powers by 1453, played a critical role that year in the fall of Constantinople, the last Christian stronghold in the East. For centuries the Byzantine capital’s great walls and defenders had repulsed invaders, including an earlier 1422 attempt by Sultan Murad II (r. 1421–1451). Although Murad had employed bombards against the city, they were rather ineffective, and he subsequently withdrew. His successor, however, Mohammad II, sometimes known as Mehmed II (b. 1432; r. 1444–1446, 1451– 1481), and also known as Muhammad the Conqueror, possessed an innate appreciation for artillery and its use in siege craft.

Muhammad, lacking technical experts among his own subjects, subsequently obtained the services of Christian gun founders to design and build cannons especially suited for the siege. Among these was reportedly a famed Hungarian cannon maker known as Urban. Urban (or Orban) had previously been hired by the Byzantines but had deserted their cause after they failed to meet his fees. Muhammad, unlike the Byzantines, appreciated Urban’s considerable, although mercenary, talents and “welcomed him with open arms, treated him honorably and provided him with food and clothing; and then he gave him an allowance so generous, that a quarter of the sum would have sufficed to keep him in Constantinople” (De Vries, X 356).

Urban quickly established a gun foundry at Adrianople where he oversaw the casting of both a number of large iron and bronze guns. These included at least one huge bombard of cast iron reinforced with iron hoops and with a removable, screw-on breech. Typical of such large breechloading cannons, the gun was fitted with slots around the breech’s circumference to accept stout wooden beams. For loading and unloading, these beams were inserted in the slots to act as a capstan and provide the leverage to unscrew the heavy powder chamber. Weighing more than 19 tons, the gun was capable of firing stone balls weighing from approximately 800 to 875 pounds. The sheer size of the bombard, known as Basilica, required forty-two days and a team of sixty oxen and a thousand men to traverse the 120 miles to its firing site at Constantinople.

Muhammad began preparations for the siege in February and ordered the positioning of fourteen artillery batteries around the city. As a further preparation, he ordered his navy, also equipped with artillery, to cut Constantinople off from the sea. For his part, the Byzantine emperor, Constantine XI (b. 1409; r. 1449–1453), did possess some artillery, but it was for the most part obsolete and numerically insufficient to reply to Muhammad’s forces. The Byzantines had long lost the technological superiority they had held in previous centuries, and they soon found themselves reckoning with their shortsightedness in snubbing Urban the Hungarian.

Muhammad began the bombardment of the city on 6 April 1453. With a keen eye for the city’s weaknesses, he concentrated his guns against its most vulnerable points, including the Gate of St. Romanus, where they affected a breach on 11 April. His success was short lived, however, as the defenders counterattacked and repaired the damage. Muhammad also faced other setbacks when Urban was killed when a cannon he was supervising exploded, and when his giant bombard cracked after a few days of firing, necessitating repairs. The sultan, however, proved his own resourcefulness in the use of artillery and made much better use of his smaller guns—weapons that were capable of a much higher rate of fire than Basilica’s three rounds a day and were also more maneuverable. These included eleven bombards capable of firing 500-pound shot and fifty guns firing 200-pound balls.

The Ottoman barrage continued day and night, wearing down both the city’s walls and its defenders. A witness described its effect:

And the stone, borne with tremendous force and velocity, hit the wall, which it immediately shook and knocked down, and was itself broken into many fragments and scattered, hurling the pieces everywhere and killing those who happened to be nearby. Sometimes it demolished a whole section, and sometimes a half-section, and sometimes a larger or smaller section of tower or turret or battlement. And there was no part of the wall strong enough or resistant enough or thick enough to be able to withstand it, or to wholly resist such force and such a blow of the stone cannon-ball. (ibid., X 357–358)

Finally, on 29 May 1453, the walls on either side of the St. Romanus Gate collapsed, and the Turks stormed the city. The Emperor Constantine fought valiantly in the defense of his city, but he was killed as overwhelming numbers of Turkish troops rampaged through the city for three days, killing, looting, and raping. With the fall of its capital, the Byzantine Empire collapsed, and with it the last vestiges of the Roman Empire.

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Constantine the Great established the city of Constantinople as his capital in 323. He occupied the former city of Byzantium, which for centuries controlled the straits separating Asia and Europe. It lies on the Sea of Marmara, flanked to northeast by the Bosphorus and to the southwest by the Dardanelles, two narrow passages linking the Mediterranean and the Black seas. The only direct route from Europe into Asia Minor is at Constantinople, so it has been an extremely strategic possession for land and naval warfare and trade.

Constantinople became the seat of the Eastern Roman, or Byzantine, Empire. It not only was the political capital of much of the Mediterranean and Middle East, but also the seat of the Greek Orthodox Church, rival to the power of the pope in Rome for the souls of Christians everywhere. In the end it was that religious rivalry that spelled Constantinople’s doom.

In the seventh century Muhammad the Prophet founded Islam. By coincidence (or divine intervention) he appeared in Arabia just as the two major Middle Eastern powers, Persia and the Byzantine Empire, had fought each other to an exhausted standstill. He therefore conquered a massive amount of land hand in hand with the spread of his faith. Both Persia and the Byzantines suffered major territorial losses as well as major losses of converts to Islam, who found it less oppressive than the ultraconservative Orthodox Church.

For seven hundred years the forces of Islam and Orthodoxy struggled, with both sides trading ascendancy. By the fifteenth century, however, the Byzantine Empire had shrunk to almost nothing: Constantinople and a handful of Aegean islands. An earlier Islamic threat to the city resulted in the Crusades in the twelfth century, but that too ended in further alienating the Catholic and Orthodox churches. When in 1452 Sultan Mohammed II, son of Murad II, decided to attack Constantinople, European responses to pleas for help were almost nonexistent. England and France were just winding down the very costly Hundred Years War; Germanic and Spanish princes and kings offered aid but sent none. Genoa and Venice, however, did not want to see Constantinople fall into the hands of Arab merchants, and Rome promised aid if the Orthodox Church would submit to papal will. The emperor did all that he could to prepare for the siege. Envoys were sent to Venice, Genoa, the Pope, the Western emperor, the kings of Hungary and Aragon , with the message that, unless immediate military help was provided, the days of Constantinople were numbered. The response was unimpressive. Some Italians, embarrassed at their government’s impotence, came as volunteers. Reluctantly Emperor Constantine XI Paleologus agreed to Rome’s demand, but it netted him a mere 200 archers for his meager defenses as well as the hostility of his people; many claimed they preferred Turkish domination to Roman.

In the spring of 1452 Mohammed II sent 1,000 masons to the Bosphorus to build a fort to protect his army while crossing the straits. Constantine could do little more than lodge a protest. Among his populace were a mere 5,000 native and 2,000 foreign soldiers. The Venetian colony in Constantinople and many citizens in Pera, opposite Constantinople, also stayed, as did Orhan, the Ottoman pretender with his Turks. Some 30,000 to 40,000 civilians who rendered valuable service by repairing the 18-mile-long walls of the city before and during the siege. He had tradition on his side, however, for the triple walls that blocked the city from the landward side had survived twenty sieges, even though at this point they were not in good repair. As of January 1453, he also had the services of Italian soldier of fortune Giovanni Giustiniani, who brought 700 knights and archers. Giustiniani was well known in Europe for his talents in defending walled cities. Mohammed also had some European assistance in the form of a cannon maker named Urban from Hungary, who provided the Muslim army with seventy cannon, including the “Basilica,” a 27-feet-long canon that fired stone balls weighing upwards of 600 pounds. It could only fire seven times a day, but did significant damage to anything it struck.

As part of the Ottoman military preparations, some 16 large and 60 light galleys, 20 horse-ships and several smaller vessels were constructed in the Ottoman arsenal of Gallipoli. The sultan’s army of 80,000 to 100,000 men was assembled in Edirne, the Ottoman capita l, In the Edirne foundry some 60 new guns of various calibres were cast. Some of them threw shots of 240, 300 and 360 kg (530-793 lb), The largest bombard that the Hungarian master Urban made for the sultan fired, according to the somewhat contradictory testimonies of contemporaries, stone balls of 400 to 600 kg (800-1,322 lb), It was transported to Constantinople by 60 oxen.

A single wall that ran the circumference of the city’s seaward sides defended the rest of Constantinople. Mohammed sent his men across the Bosphorus north of the city, so the southern approach to the Mediterranean was open. A chain boom protected the primary harbor, the Golden Horn, across its mouth supported by twenty-six galleys. Thus, if anyone sent relief, the route was open.

Mohammed II arrived on 6 April 1453. He led 70,000 regular troops and 20,000 irregulars called Bashi-Bazouks, whose sole pay was the loot they might gain if and when the city fell. The premier troops were the Janissaries, slave soldiers taken captive in their youth from Christian families and raised in a military atmosphere to serve the sultans. They were heavily armored and highly skilled, and at this time they were beginning to use personal firearms. Mohammed first seized the town of Pera, across the Golden Horn from Constantinople. At first this action was little more than symbolic, but it had serious ramifications later. He then deployed his forces on the city’s western face and began the siege. A single wall near the imperial palace protected the northern end of the city. It was there, the Blachernae, that Constantine placed most of his men.

For twelve days the Muslim cannon pounded the city walls, and on 18 April Mohammed decided that had softened up the defenses sufficiently. The Byzantines easily defended a narrow breach in the walls, killing 200 attackers and driving off the rest without loss to themselves. On the 20th, four ships approached from the south: three Genoese transports with men and supplies from Rome and a Byzantine ship hauling corn from Sicily. After a hard fight with the Muslim fleet they broke through, cleared the boom, and entered the Golden Horn. Mohammed decided he had to control the harbor. He could not pass the chain boom, so he ordered ships dragged overland, through the town of Pera, to the harbor. It was a monumental engineering feat and on 22 April thirty Turkish ships were in the Golden Horn. An agent of the sultan betrayed the Byzantine counterattack, which managed to destroy only a single Turkish ship. In spite of this Turkish accomplishment, it had little effect on the siege.

Mohammed continued his cannonade against the walls. By 6 May it had opened a breach at the Gate of St. Romanus, where the Lycus River enters the city. Giustaniani built a new wall just behind the breach, rather than trying to repair the wall while under fire. The Turks attacked on 7 May but their 25,000 men were thrown back after three hours of fighting. On the 12th another force assaulted a breach in the wall at Blachernae; only quick reinforcement by Constantine and the Imperial Guard stemmed the tide. Mohammed then tried mining the walls. Constantine’s engineer Johannes Grant managed to locate each of the mining attempts and either undermine the mines or destroy the attackers inside with explosives, flooding, or the incendiary Greek fire. None of the fourteen mines succeeded.

Mohammed then determined to scale the walls. His men built a siege tower and rolled it into place before the Charisius Gate, the northernmost opening in the city walls. Muslim artillery fire had destroyed one of the defending towers, and the siege tower was able to provide covering fire for Turks filling in the moat. Constantine’s call for volunteers to attack the siege tower produced spectacular results. The sally surprised the Turkish guards and the Byzantines broke pots of Greek fire on the wooden siege tower. Meanwhile, their compatriots spent the night rebuilding the city wall and its destroyed tower. The next morning Mohammed saw the charred remains of his assault machine smoldering before the newly rebuilt tower in the city wall.

In both camps officers debated the progress of the siege. The defenders were exhausted and running out of supplies. In Mohammed’s camp, some factions wanted to end the siege before a rumored rescue fleet could arrive. The sultan favored those who counseled continuation and decided to launch one more attempt before withdrawing. As the most serious damage to the walls had been inflicted along the Lycus River entrance to the city, it was there he proposed to launch his final assault. Constantine learned of the plan from a spy, but could his dwindling force survive another battle? The Bashi-Bazouks began hurling themselves against the Byzantine defenses at 0200 on 29 May. For two hours the Byzantines slew them with arrows and firearms, but grew increasingly tired in the process. With the first attack repulsed, Mohammed threw in a second wave before the defenders could recover. Even though these were regular troops with better discipline and equipment, the narrow breach provided the defenders with less area to cover and they threw back that assault as well.

After another two hours of fighting the Byzantine troops could barely stand. Mohammed sent in the third wave, made up of Janissaries. Constantine’s exhausted troops managed to repulse them as well. During this fighting, a small band of Turks discovered a small open gate and rushed a handful of men through before it could be closed. They occupied a tower near the Blachinae and raised the sultan’s banner, and the rumor quickly spread that the northern flank had been broken. At the same moment, Giovanni Giustiniani was severely wounded. Hearing of his evacuation, coupled with the report from the north quarter, the defenders began to fall back. Mohammed quickly exploited his advantage. Another assault by fresh Janissaries cleared the space between the walls and seized the Adrianople Gate. Attackers began to pour through.

Constantine XI led his remaining troops into the Turkish onslaught, dying for his city and his empire. Almost all his co-defenders as well as a huge portion of the civilian population joined him, for the Turks went berserk. Mohammed II limited very little of the pillage, reserving the best buildings for himself and banning their destruction. He claimed and protected the Church of St. Sophia, and within a week the Hagia Sophia was hosting Muslim services. Thirty ships of a Venetian fleet sailing to Constantine’s relief saw the Turkish flags flying over the city, turned around, and sailed home.

The looting finally subsided and the bulk of the population that was not killed, possibly 50,000 people, were enslaved. The bastion of Eastern Christianity fell after more than 1,100 years as Constantine the Great’s city. Mohammed II proceeded to conquer Greece and most of the Balkans during the remaining twenty-eight years of his reign.

Western Europe, which had done so little to assist Constantinople, was shocked that it fell after so many centuries of standing against everyone. In Rome, the Catholic Church was dismayed that they would now have no Eastern Christians to convert, for they were all rapidly becoming Muslim. The Eastern Orthodox Church survived, however, for Mohammed allowed a patriarch to preside over the Church. It remained a viable religion, now far from the reach of the Catholic Church’s influence. As such, its survival encouraged others who resented the Catholic Church. Within sixty years Martin Luther led a major protest against the Church, starting the Reformation.

The trading centers of Genoa and Venice feared having to deal with hard-bargaining Arab merchants who now controlled all products coming from the Far East. The major cities of eastern Europe began to fear the Turkish hordes approaching their gates, and for the next 450 years Austria and the Holy Roman Empire carried on the European/Christian struggle against the Ottoman Empire. The Ottoman Turks established themselves as the premier Middle Eastern Muslim power, controlling at their height almost as much as had the Byzantine Empire: the Balkans, the Middle East, much of North Africa, and the eastern Mediterranean.

The flood of refugees from southeastern Europe, especially Greece, brought thousands of scholars to Italy, further enhancing the peninsula’s Renaissance. Italian merchants, shocked at the prices the Muslims charged for spices and silks from the East, began to search for other ways to get those goods. Certainly the age of European exploration came much sooner because of Constantinople’s fall.

 

 

CHATEAU GAILLARD

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In March 1204, Chateau Gaillard fell to the army of King Philip Augustus, and with the loss of the castle the English lost their claims to Normandy.

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Plan

Chateau Gaillard, Les Andelys, France. Richard the Lion Hearted claimed to have built his “cocky castle” on the border of Normandy in only a year, but no one believes he did. The walls, towers, and courtyards of the huge castle cover the narrow hill top, creating a system of barricades known as a defense in depth. An independent fortification at the left blocks access to the main structure, whose great tower still rises above the walls at the right. The area is roughly the size of two modern football fields.

Richard the Lion Hearted, who became king of England in 1189, had inherited Aquitaine (western France) from his mother Eleanor and Normandy and Anjou—and England—from his father Henry. As Duke of Normandy and Anjou, Richard was a vassal of the king of France, but he controlled more land in France than did the French king. Although Richard had been an ally of Philip Augustus in the Third Crusade, in 1192 he went to war with the king over his French lands. Richard built Chateau Gaillard (he called it the “cocky castle”) on a cliff above the Seine north of Paris to defend his claims to Normandy. He began his castle in 1196 and boasted that he finished it in a year (in fact it may never have been completely finished). Having experienced the advantages and defects of the great crusader castles, Richard put all his expertise to work in the design of his Norman fortress.

Richard chose an excellent site, in the territory of the archbishop of Rouen, who objected strenuously until Richard paid him a handsome sum for the land. The site is a narrow plateau, about 600 feet long and at most 200 feet wide, surrounded by deep ravines leading down to the river Seine. On one side a narrow spit of land links the site to its hinterland. A walled town (Les Andelys) stood at the base of the cliff, and Richard also built a tower on a small island in the river. Dams and obstacles in the water inhibited an enemy’s approach from the river, while during peacetime these river defenses enabled the castle’s commander to support the garrison by levying tolls on the river traffic. Richard also raised money by selling rights of citizenship to residents of the town.

The castle consists of three separate units along the plateau. An attacking army had to approach the castle along this land route, capturing one fortification after another. First, a walled outer bailey, which was built like an independent castle, blocked the approach. Huge round towers defended its curtain wall. From this outer bailey, a bridge with a drawbridge over a very deep moat led to the gate into the middle bailey. Again a curtain wall with one rectangular and three round towers enclosed a large area where Richard built his inner bailey with its tower. This fortress within- a-fortress became a concentric (double-walled) castle with a wall that resembled a series of round towers. Rising at one side of this “corrugated” wall and commanding the river side of the castle was the great tower. This tower had massive walls about sixteen feet thick and a battered base that made mining virtually impossible. Its massive pointed keel also deflected blows, and inverted buttresses supported a fighting gallery.

As long as Richard was alive to command and reinforce it, the castle stood securely. But Richard died in 1199, and his brother John was not an effective general. Philip Augustus moved to the attack, laying siege to the castle in the summer of 1203. The constable of the castle was Roger de Lacy of Chester, who had sufficient supplies and a large garrison of about 300 men to hold the castle for King John. Roger expected to hold out for as long as a year, while the English king gathered resources to relieve the castle.

The town and the river fort soon surrendered to the French king, and the siege of the castle began in earnest in August. About 1,500 civilians from Les Andeleys fled to the safety of the castle and added to the strain on the provisions. Aware that he probably could starve the castle into submission, Philip built ditches, walls, and timber towers around the castle to prevent supplies from entering. These fortifications were beyond the defenders’ arrow range, so they could not destroy or even harass the attackers. With nothing to do but stand guard, the castle garrison undoubtedly suffered from a loss of morale during the long winter.

Two months into the siege, Roger de Lacy realized he could not feed all the people who had taken refuge within the castle walls. He evicted the oldest and weakest who could not help in the defense, and the French army permitted them to leave. But later when de Lacy had to expel the rest of the town, the French closed their lines. When the people tried to return to the castle, they found the gates locked. Trapped between the opposing forces and forced to live in the ravines around the castle walls, they slowly starved.

The final attack on Chateau Gaillard began at the end of February in 1204. First the French had to take the outer bailey. They used stone throwing machines to keep up a barrage while they filled the castle ditch so that they could haul in a siege tower. But the French troops were so eager to attack that they did not wait for the tower. Instead they used scaling ladders to climb from the bottom of the ditch to the base of the main tower whose foundations they mined, causing the tower to collapse. With the outer walls breached, the garrison had no choice but to withdraw to the middle bailey.

Again a deep ditch prevented further attack. As the French studied the castle walls, one man, named Peter the Snub Nose, saw a weak point and a possible way in. The arrangement of windows high on one wall suggested there might be a chapel and well-appointed living quarters, which would have garderobes. Peter and his friends searched the base of the wall until they found the place where the drain from the garderobes emptied. In a daring sneak attack, the men climbed up the drain and emerged under a large window where they boosted each other into the castle. Once inside they made so much noise that the castle guard thought a large force had entered. The defenders started a fire hoping to burn up the invaders, but the wind shifted carrying the flames back through the building, and the defenders had to retreat to the inner courtyard. Peter and his men escaped the flames and opened the doors for their comrades.

The end was near. The English had about 180 men left. The attackers smelled victory. They brought in a “cat”—a mobile, roofed gallery— for protection and began to mine the gate. The English cut a counter mine and drove the attackers back, but the double mining operation weakened the base of the wall. The French brought in their stone throwing machines, and the volleys of rocks combined with the weakened foundations caused the wall to collapse. Still the English fought on—with only 36 knights and 120 other men. They moved into the tower, but to no avail. In March 1204, Chateau Gaillard fell to the army of King Philip Augustus, and with the loss of the castle the English lost their claims to Normandy.

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626 AD Avar Siege of Constantinople

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Avar khagan Haganos laid siege to the city, an advance guard of some 30,000 men forced the Byzantine army guarding the wall to fall back to the protection of the Theodosian Walls.

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Very important events took place in the Balkan Peninsula after the death of Justinian, although unfortunately present knowledge of them is limited by the fragmentary material that appears in the sources. During Justinian’s reign the Slavs frequently attacked the provinces of the Balkan Peninsula, penetrating far into the south and threatening at times even the city of Thessalonica. These irruptions continued after Justinian’s death. There were then large numbers of Slavs remaining in the Byzantine provinces, and they gradually occupied the peninsula. They were aided in their aggression by the Avars, a people of Turkish origin living at that time in Pannonia. The Slavs and Avars menaced the capital and the shores of the Sea of Marmora and the Aegean, and penetrated into Greece as far as the Peloponnesus. The rumor of these invasions spread to Egypt, where John, bishop of Nikiu, wrote in the seventh century, during the reign of the Emperor Phocas: “It is recounted that the kings of this epoch had by means of the barbarians and the foreign nations and the Illyrians devastated Christian cities and carried off their inhabitants captive, and that no city escaped save Thessalonica only; for its walls were strong, and through the help of God the nations were unable to get possession of it.” A German scholar of the early nineteenth century held the theory, discussed at length later, that at the end of the sixth century the Greeks were completely destroyed by the Slavs. Studies of the problem of Slavic settlement in the Balkan Peninsula depend greatly upon the Acts of the martyr Demetrius, the protector of Thessalonica, one of the main Slavonic centers in the peninsula.

At the end of the sixth and the beginning of the seventh century the persistent southward movement of the Slavs and Avars, which Byzantine troops were unable to stop, produced a profound ethnographic change in the peninsula, since it became occupied largely by Slavonic settlers. The writers of this period were, in general, poorly acquainted with the northern tribes and they confuse the Slavs and Avars because they attacked the Empire jointly.

The Avars were probably the amalgamated remnants of the Juan-juan with those of the White Huns after both were driven west by the Oak Turks. They conquered the Kutrigur and Utigur remnants of Attila’s Huns, now mixed with the Sabir and Onogur and calling themselves Bulgars, the Gepids and many of the Southern Slavs, incorporating them into their army and sending them to lead the attack! After their failed attack on Constantinople in 626, the Avars lost face and were deserted by many of their subjects The Bulgars revolted in 631, but some became allied again from 675 until eastern Avarria was attacked by Krum’s Bulgarian empire in 805. The Avars are described by Maurikios as dishonest, cunning and very experienced in military matters, preferring to win not so much by force as by deceit and surprise He says that unlike other nomads “they concern themselves with military organisation, and this makes them more powerful in pitched battles”, which suggests regular status. Maurikios says that they wore armour and most were double-armed with both lance and bow, the horses of the most important also being totally armoured There is no evidence for shields They often used more than three commands and separated them widely Their baggage consisted of tents and vast horse herds. They did not use wagon laagers.

While the Emperor was absent leading the army in distant campaigns, the capital became exposed to very serious danger. The Khagan of the Avars broke the agreement with the Emperor and in the year 626 advanced toward Constantinople with huge hordes of Avars and Slavs. He also formed an agreement with the Persians, who immediately sent part of their army to Chalcedon. The Avaro-Slavonic hordes besieged Constantinople to the extreme apprehension of the population, but the garrison of Constantinople was successful in repelling the attack and putting the enemy to flight.

The extent to which siege towers were employed remains unclear. They appear in several sixth-century accounts of siege machinery (for example, the Roman siege of Amida in 503, the Persian siege of Martyropolis in 530, and Belisarius’ siege of Rome). Twelve such towers are reported to have been constructed by the Avar besiegers of Constantinople in 626, and they appear again at the Avaro-Slav siege of Thessaloniki in the period 616-18.

As soon as the Persians heard of this repulse, they withdrew their army from Chalcedon and directed it to Syria. The Byzantine victory over the Avars before Constantinople in 626 was one of the main causes of the weakening of the wild Avar kingdom.

Ottoman Siege of Vienna 1683

The relief of Vienna on September 12, 1683. In the decisive battle at Kahlenberg, the united imperial army succeeded in liberating Vienna after two months of siege at the hands of the Turkish army.

Plan of Vienna, with the Turkish approaches.

In June 1683 the Ottomans were at the gates of the city of their European dreams-Vienna. They had been battling the Habsburgs for centuries for dominance in the region, and Vienna was a strategic and cultural plum they had tried to take once before, in 1529. Now, with Vienna again under siege, an Ottoman draftsman recorded his own vision of the Imperial City-along with the offensive and defensive lines. As in 1529, the city had forewarning of the Ottoman advance, and Leopold I, Holy Roman Emperor, had assembled an allied army of Habsburg, Polish-Lithuanian, Roman, and smaller regional forces. By mid- September, they were outside Vienna. On the heights of the Kahlenberg, in the Vienna Woods, the allies clashed with the army of Kara Mustafa Pasha. At one point Polish king John III Sobieski launched 18,000 horsemen at the Ottomans-the largest cavalry charge in history at that time. The Battle of Vienna not only freed the city, it stopped the Ottomans from advancing farther west, and it established Habsburg dominance in Central Europe.

In February 1683 Quartermaster-General Haslingen drew up a complete list of Leopold’s troops and of the areas in which they were stationed. He counted seventy companies in Bohemia, forty-five in Moravia, and forty-eight in Silesia—with a complement, in theory, of 7,600 foot and 10,000 cuirassiers and dragoons. There were seventy-five companies in western Hungary and thirty-eight in Upper Hungary, although a comparison with another of his memoranda seems to show that he was here counting some regiments and companies twice over; nor could he, or anyone else, rely on the estimates of men serving in the various types of Hungarian militia. In the Inner Austrian lands (Styria, Carinthia and Carniola) Haslingen enumerated forty-three companies—5,600 foot and 1,200 horse; in Upper and Lower Austria forty companies—4,000 foot and 1,600 horse; and in the empire eighty companies of foot and one of horse—16,400 men. His figures for the number of companies were correct (except, no doubt, for Hungary); but on the premise that the full complement in foot and mounted companies was 200 and 80 men respectively, the grand totals of 44,800 infantry and 17,600 cavalry were no more than the roughest of guides to the size of the whole Habsburg force. They much exceeded the actual number of effective soldiers. However, the quartermaster could soon hope to add to it the bands of irregulars to be raised by Magyar magnates, three mounted regiments which Prince Lubomirski was commissioned to bring from Poland, and also the new regiments of the patentees nominated by Leopold during the winter.

The immediate problem, for the War Council, was to decide how many men could be safely moved east from the empire, in spite of Louis XIV’s aggressive policy, in order to reinforce the contingents sent south from the Bohemian lands, building up by this concentration the strongest possible force in Hungary to oppose the Turks. The decision involved some of the best regiments at Leopold’s disposal; it had also to take into account the treaty recently agreed with Max Emmanuel of Bavaria, which obliged the Emperor to leave 15,000 men always available for the defence of the Empire. In fact, about 7,500 infantry from the old regiments were finally ordered to march from the western front to a rendezvous at Kittsee, near Pressburg, to join there the great majority of the regiments recently quartered in Bohemia and the various Austrian duchies. In due course, 5,000 men from the new regiments were also available for the campaign in Hungary.

It was soon realised that one miscalculation had already been made. The troops, especially those in the Empire, took much longer than expected to make the long journey to the eastern front, and the date for the rendezvous at Kittsee had to be altered from 21 April to 6 May. Sixteen days were thus lost, and the chance of taking the initiative before the Turks could arrive dwindled fast.

Another difficult point was the appointment of a commander in the field. Leopold, unlike his father, unlike such militant contemporary rulers as Max Emmanuel and William of Orange or John Sobieski, never imagined himself a victorious commanding general. He had always to choose a deputy, after taking into account the ticklish animosities of the military and political grandees of his court. In the last war against France, Montecuccoli, by combining the presidency of the War Council with the supreme command in the field, had caused them the greatest offence. Enemies and critics of Baden, the new President, were determined to deny him the same monopoly of power and they relied on the pledge, previously given by Leopold, to appoint Charles of Lorraine commander-in-chief if war broke out again. This could not bind the Emperor. Circumstances alter cases, Charles had often been ill in recent years, while Herman of Baden certainly disliked and perhaps under-estimated him. In 1683, in spite of counter-intrigues, Lorraine’s party at the court persevered and finally triumphed, so that he was instructed to be in Vienna by 10 April in order to discuss the strategy of the coming campaign.

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Money without manpower was useless. Lorraine and Ernst Rüdiger von Starhemberg, military governor of Vienna from 1680, had immediately agreed that the infantry regiments marching up the Danube from Pressburg should move at once into Vienna. On 10 July, troops of the vanguard first appeared. More arrived on the following day, and on the 13th the mass of Leslie’s command completed their long journey from Györ; the great majority of his infantry regiments were sent over the river with the utmost despatch. Early that day, therefore, Starhemberg commanded 5,000 men. By evening he had some 11,000. The prospects were at least less dismal than the week before, when the Turks were expected to invest or storm a city held by no more than the ghost of a garrison.

Yet the foremost Ottoman raiders now appeared, and in the distance the smoke of burning villages in the neighbourhood rose skywards. Starhemberg did not dare delay in performing one of his most disagreeable duties: the speedy and forcible clearing of the glacis. Since earlier demolition orders had not been obeyed, he began—on 13 July—to burn down everything in the area outside the counterscarp which would obviously hamper the garrison. Most of all he wanted to clear the ground west of the city, where suburbs came closest to the moat. More smoke rose skywards. The sparks flew. They flew over the walls as far as the roof of the Schotten monastery by the Schottengate, where a fire broke out in the afternoon of Wednesday, the 14th; and it almost altered the course of history. The wind blew sparks against the neighbouring buildings, an inn, and from the inn to a wall of the Arsenal, where supplies of every kind were stored, including 1,800 barrels of powder. Nearby, other powder magazines adjoined the New-gate. If the defence-works here were seriously damaged by explosion, or the stores lost, resistance to the Turks was hardly thinkable. The flames moved along a wooden gallery into the Arsenal. Townsmen and soldiers gathered, there was a muddle about keys which could not be found, but soldiers broke through a door and cleared the points of greatest danger. A hysterical mob, looking on, smelt treason at once and lynched two suspects, a poor lunatic and a boy wearing woman’s clothes. It also destroyed the baggage which an inoffensive mining official from Hungary, then in Vienna, was trying to get out of a second inn near the Arsenal; and it panicked at the sight of a flag flying unaccountably from a roof close to the fire, fearing some kind of a signal to the enemy. More effectively, the wind then veered. Flames swept towards and into aristocratic properties on the other side, away from the Arsenal, and proceeded to burn out the Auersperg palace where the ruins went on smouldering for days. The crisis had passed before the arrival of the Turks; but the danger of yet more fires, set off by Turkish bombs or by traitors and spies inside the walls, was to be a constant nightmare in Vienna later on.

Starhemberg very properly ordered the municipality to requisition cellars for the storage of powder. It took over a number of crypts or cellars under churches and convents for this purpose.

On the same day, the 14th, Lorraine began pulling his cavalry out of Leopoldstadt and the islands. Breaking down the bridges as they went, they crossed right over the Danube and took up a new position on the north bank. Only the final bridge was left intact, guarded by a small force. Leslie’s infantry continued to move into the city. Stores, coming downstream by boat and raft, were still being unloaded by townsmen and units of the garrison.

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Kara Mustafa completed his investment of Vienna on July 15, 1683, and then commenced a heavy bombardment of the bastions, curtain, and town. The Ottoman bombardment continued for two months, which was longer than a comparable shelling by a European army would have taken because, after leading in siege artillery for generations, the Ottomans had finally fallen behind the European powers in the quality and hitting power of their siege guns. The Viennese replied with their more numerous wall and bastion cannon, but counter-battery and harassing fire against Ottoman sappers was severely limited by a shortage of powder and shot. Many batteries were ordered to fire only a few times per day, in order to conserve shot and conceal their location until the final assault by Janissaries and berserkers. Ottoman miners were highly skilled, and their saps steadily approached the town walls. On August 12th mines were detonated and Ottoman infantry broke through Vienna’s outer works. On September 2 they overcame several outer ravelins. Four days later engineers blew a huge mine beneath the “Burg bastion.” This cratered a section of wall, leaving a ten-meter gap. Into this Mustafa poured crack Janissaries. They were met by improvised barriers and lines of pikemen, behind which Austrian musketeers poured volley after volley into the Janissary ranks, driving them out of the breach. As these events were occurring, the Allied relief army approached and assembled northwest of Vienna. Some 40,000 assorted Germans joined 20,000 Imperials and 16,000 Poles, the latter led personally by their king. The Tatar light cavalry screen and other Ottoman scouts failed to detect this relief army or block it from transiting key mountain passes and river crossings. The fight that ensued marked the first time in history that a European army outnumbered an Ottoman army in a major field battle.

On September 12, the German, Imperial, and Polish armies, jointly led by Sobieski, destroyed the Tatar and Ottoman cavalry at Kahlenberg, in front of Vienna’s walls. Mustafa made the critical error of leaving most of his infantry in the siege trenches, sending 28,000 unsupported horse and insufficient field artillery (just 60 light guns) to meet the enemy in the field. That is the number most often cited by historians of the Ottoman military, possibly underestimating the extent of the defeat suffered in the baking heat that day. Similarly exaggerating the scale of the “Christian victory,” some European sources claim that as many as 50,000 Ottoman cavalry fought at Kahlenberg. In either case, the fight began at dawn, with heavy action first on the Christian left, where Charles of Lorraine commanded the Imperials and Saxons. The Bavarians and Franconians soon joined this attack on the Ottoman right, which spread to the center as the two armies fully engaged. Sobieski’s Polish cavalry and dragoons needed until 1 P. M. to traverse broken countryside as they approached the Ottoman left. But when they emerged and charged into the Tatars, they pushed them back in hard cavalry-on-cavalry fighting. Around 3 P. M., a massed Allied infantry and cavalry assault began against the Ottoman center, behind which Kara Mustafa looked on in disbelief at his misfortune and the size of the enemy army he faced. Fighting continued until about 6 P. M., when the Ottoman lines were wholly shattered and all their positions overrun. Christian troops moved over the battlefield as the sun set, sabering and shooting wounded sipahis and Tatars while Allied cavalry hotly pursued fleeing survivors. When it was over, 10,000 Ottoman and Tatar dead lay in the fields, with more bodies strewn across abandoned siege lines around the city and in overrun camps.

Kara Mustafa was forced into a desperate and disorderly retreat, following what had become a decisive rout. The Allies even captured part of the Ottoman baggage train that had been left behind in their haste to depart. The grand vezier’s retreat took him and the remnants of the siege army across mountainous and river-crossed Hungary just as the weather turned truly nasty in mid-October. Heavy rains slowed the withdrawal and cost the lives of more men, along with most of the remaining siege guns, pack animals, and supplies. The worst episode came while crossing the Leitha River, widened and swollen with flash runoff from the mountain rains. During the night of October 19-20, hundreds of draught animals became mired in mud along the river’s banks and nearly all remaining baggage was lost, including all tents. Along the way, Mustafa executed officers who were openly critical of his leadership. It did not avail: when he arrived in Belgrade, news of the catastrophe had preceded him, and he was strangled to death by order of the sultan. Mehmed survived in power for four more years, until deposed as part of the wider political aftermath within the Ottoman Empire of the catastrophe outside the walls of Vienna and at Kahlenberg.