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ANCIENT WARFARE: SIEGE RAMPS

 

Nimrud stone relief showing earth siege ramp leading up towards the city of Lachish

Wall relief of the siege ramp at Lachich, which forms as platform for
a battering ram pounding the city walls

The Assyrians were so successful at warfare that small nations like Judah developed extensive fortifications to repel them.

To little avail, since the Assyrians developed the art of siege warfare. They used various techniques:

  • siege ramps and battering rams
  • breaching walls and gates
  • scaling ladders
  • tunnelling, undermining the walls so that there were cave-ins that destabilised the foundations
  • psychological warfare.

RAMP DESIGN

In a siege, the attackers built a causeway of piled and rammed earth and rubble, strengthened with wood. These ramps or earthen bridges filled any obstacle, such as moats, so that the attackers could traverse the gap and apply scaling ladders and rams to the walls. The siege ramp was a path to the vulnerable walls.

The attackers then brought up a battering ram. Typically it was a metal-tipped wooden ram inside a framework shielded by a leather covering. It was pushed forward on wheels until it reached the wall of the city under siege, then it pounded the walls, smashing down any weak part.

THE BATTERING RAM

Where did they aim the battering ram? The lower part of the wall was the most accessible, but if the ram could be aimed higher, the crumbling wall would dislodge the battlements and its defenders. Moreover, the fallen debris could be used to widen the ramp, making it suitable for a second, third or fourth battering ram.

FIGHTING BACK

How could the defenders of the city fight back? They would try to set fire to the rams by pouring hot oil on them and then throwing flaming torches, but this was not usually successful, because the Assyrians had already built devices into their battering rams, to douse the flames with water.

Excavations at the Assyrian siege ramp

The man-power needed to build these ramps was enormous, but during a siege the invading army had little to do except wait. The idle soldiers made an excellent workforce, and at Lachish they did their job particularly well.

We know this because the siege ramp they built is still intact after thousands of years.

Cross view of the Assyrian siege ramp as it appears today

Above: remains of the siege ramp at Lachish

This ramp gave the Assyrians success when Sennacherib's troops made an assault on the city in 701BC. The broke through the city's defenses, then slaughtered or captured all its inhabitants.

The Assyrians gained a reputation for invincibility. This rested not only on the ability of their armies to fight well, but to overcome their enemy's defenses, whatever these were.

Most cities, faced by the prospect of war with Assyria, simply gave in. Lachish did not, to its cost.

   

 

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