Discover more from Polemology Positions
Arts of the Siege: Volume II
An annotated link post
Poliorcetics is the art of attacking and defending cities and fortresses. This is an annotated link post of my writing on artwork depicting the poliorcetic past. Vol. I is linked at the bottom.
Despite the destruction, the French garrison refused to surrender and a bloody storming operation loomed. Deliberate flooding slowed progress, yet pioneers were reportedly just finishing their second approach trench when the siege was raised. This is not a bad performance for a siege train in the 17th Century, and for Prussia it was an impressive one, but it was still not enough.
Fire ought to appear in more siege paintings than it does. Just about every siege in history has involved things on fire, but so many otherwise terrific siege scenes lack so much as a candle-flame, let alone a real inferno. Smoke is sometimes used to darken the background, and Suchodolski did that too sometimes, but here he has used it to brighten the scene up, even cheer it on.
As seen in the illustration — which, again, was drawn to the order of an emperor with high standards and an eye for detail — the cannons are not being fired from the backs of the camels. Rather, the camels have been used to bring the light cannons to a firing position where they can be dismounted and aimed at upward angles for firing.
One story, perhaps apocryphal, says that during this abysmal first campaign, a company of soldiers lay siege to a single, well-located diao for weeks. Arrows and stones kept them at bay whenever they tried to climb the steep hillsides. Only when they captured a woman trying to draw water one night did they learn that she had been the sole occupant of the tiny fortress that whole time. Joke or not, the anecdote resonates with the embarrassments of the First Jinchuan War.
Although Twain describes the effects of ball ammunition in vivid prose, the missing roofs and chipped masonry were characteristic of bombardment with explosive shells, but this is not why the city lay in ruins. Twain saw the aftermath of an artillery opera that had lasted nearly a year. The greatest bombardment damage occurred during two of the six major artillery battles, the first by sea and the last by land, at the opening of the siege and then at its end — a stirring overture and triumphant climax of destruction. But this is still not what ruined the city, either.
Ashurnasirpal II really liked his siege engines and included them in the bas-reliefs lining the walls of his palace at Nimrud. Every room was filled with elaborate scenes carved onto gypsum from a local quarry and painted in brilliant colors.
Padua, the city of Dante Alighieri, is defended by the heavenly intercession of Mark the Evangelist (patron saint of Venice, left) and Anthony of Padua (patron saint of Padua, right). But the real-world story is also included in the visual telling.
It is a striking view of how “trench warfare” emerged during the 19th century industrial revolution — a kind of transitional fossil, a primary source account of the mass fire revolution, when positional battles started to resemble sieges.
Baqet joined Thebes and helped reunite the kingdom in a rapid military campaign that likely included storming walls defended by fellow Egyptians with assault parties made up of Libyans or Nubians or Sherdens. From the perspective of an Egyptian general, this approach would have seemed the least costly in terms of Egyptian blood and treasure.
When he left left after “three fruitless weeks,” in the words of Ruth Putnam, his army was broken along with his nearly-perfect winning streak. Thereafter, Charles the Bold made increasingly bad decisions and suffered embarrassing defeats until his own soldiers finally ended him. He had met a woman, they say — a mighty fury of a French woman — and he was never the same after that. PAYWALLED.
The ‘Napoleonic complex,’ in which short men become more aggressive to make up for insecurity about their height, did not apply to the real Napoleon. His soldiers referred to him as ‘the little corporal’ out of affection, not description. This lasting falsehood is instead a legacy of Cruikshank and other British cartoonists of the period drawing caricatures of Napoleon. They reduced his size in order to highlight his real megalomania. PAYWALLED.
Polemology Positions is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.