10 deadly sieges

Sieges have often taken surprising turns and given rise to myths. Here are 10 bloody examples.

A siege is more than just a military confrontation. In addition to the battles for the city itself, human tragedies take place.

The civilian population has to deal with hunger and disease, and the military leadership takes incomprehensible decisions. Sieges are often characterised by surprising developments and later give rise to myths.

1. Was the Trojan horse an earthquake?

There are historians who believe that a huge battering ram in the shape of a horse was used.

Others believe that an earthquake during the siege around 1200 BC destroyed the city walls and that the horse, city mascot and symbol of Troy, was made up.

2. Requirements after capitulation led to new war

It was only in the spring of 146 that the Romans managed to take the city, but they had to fight every house. The 50,000 survivors were sold as slaves, while the Romans razed Carthage to the ground.

3. Heroes or fanatical scum?

The story of Massada has become one of the great hero stories in history. But firstly, modern archaeologists have only found 30 skeletons on Massada and, secondly, they seem to have been religious fanatics who had themselves been driven out of Jerusalem by the Jewish population because they wanted to start a hopeless rebellion against the Roman occupying forces.

4. The poor have been thrown out.

Towards the end of the year, the population survived on dogs, cats, rats and mice and Commander Alain Blanchard took the unusual decision to throw the 12,000 poorest out of the city. Starving, they spent the following month on the edge of the city canal, where many did not survive the cold winter nights.

When Rouen fell on 20 January 1419, the rest of the population was so angry with the French authorities that they pledged unconditional allegiance to the King of England.

Alain Blanchard was beheaded after the capitulation.

5. Rewarded with herring, white bread and a university

Spanish troops besieged the city, where supplies quickly ran out. The leader of the uprising, William of Orange, decided to cross the dikes so that he could sail into the city with a small fleet of flat-bottomed boats and drive the Spaniards out of the wet landscape.

But first William of Orange fell ill and then the wind was wrong. All in all, it took three months before the plan could be carried out in a strong westerly wind.

When William invaded the city, which had been ‘two months with and one month without food’, the liberation was celebrated with herring and white bread. As a reward for his symbolic stamina, he founded a university, which is the oldest in the Netherlands.

Celebrating inhabitants of Leiden after liberation

6. The harem of the sultan

The following spring, an Ottoman army of 60,000 men began to occupy the island, which was under Venetian rule, and by May 1648 only Candia had not yet been conquered.

However, the siege of the city lasted 22 years, 4 months and 6 days, making it one of the longest-lasting sieges in history. At the capitulation on 27 September 1669, only ruins remained.

History makes no further mention of the harem’s fate, but the loss of Candia was a decisive factor in Venice’s downfall as a naval power.

7. Bandage on the wound

The war in North America ended in defeat and led to the independence of the United States, but the garrison in Gibraltar lasted until peace was established in 1783.

It was the 14th time that Spain attempted to conquer Gibraltar militarily. The defence of the enclave made Commander George Augustus Elliott a national hero; he was the man who put a bandage on the wound after the loss of the transatlantic colonies.

The English managed to hold out against the Spanish siege of Gibraltar.

8. Plague killed soldiers

But the local ruler, Jezzar Pasha — a cruel man nicknamed The Butcher — knew how cruelly Napoleon had taken action against the people of Jaffa and refused to surrender the city.

In the end, however, what killed the powerful French army was the plague. The soldiers walked into the swampy landscape around Acre and Napoleon was forced into a humiliating retreat after a month and a half and had to give up hope of becoming Emperor of the Levant.

9. Victory contributed to defeat at Stalingrad

Sebastopol finally came under German command, but because the entire 11th Army and virtually all heavy Eastern Front Artillery was stationed there, General Paul and his 6th Army had to postpone the attack on Stalingrad and the German campaign ended in one of the bloodiest defeats.

German soldiers distributed food to the inhabitants of Sebastopol after the fall of the city on 29 June 1942.

10. Probably the most violent occupation

While German bombardments devastated the city, the urban population tried to survive on rations of initially 500 grams of bread a day, but by 1942 these were limited to 125 grams.

All the birds, rats and pets in the city would have been eaten by hungry civilians that year and tens of thousands of people froze to death during the occupation, as the city was also hit by three extremely cold winters in a row.

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