Who doesn't love a beautiful siege?
Records of kings and battles are among the very first art and writing of the human race. Mayan, Egyptian, and Mesopotamian kings all wanted their combat glories to be remembered as their civilizations emerged. Power has thus always shaped the historical discourse about its own exercise of violence. History, Keith Jenkins tells us, is really the story of what was going on in historians’ minds; for most of human history, the minds of Royal Historians were focused on the peculiar politics of their particular court, not the details of fortification warfare.
When Francis Malthus wrote his Treatise of Artificial Fireworks in 1629, it was a very new thing in the world for an individual person to create a widely-seen work of art depicting a siege without some sort of political intent behind it. His pineapple-like grenado is not as fanciful as we might think. The previous century had seen rapid experimentation and development of artillery technology, with tools like the quadrant in the upper left corner becoming standardized equipment. It is not surprising at all that someone would want to maximize the shrapnel effect of the charge, or that their fusing system would be primitive.
Compare this to the earliest depiction of a siege that I know about, Pharaoh Ramesses II’s siege of Dapur circa 1269 BC as seen on the wall of his temple at Thebes. Ramesses is overlarge, a hero in his chariot, while the investment and assault of the hill city takes place on the right third of the depiction. We see ladders, the original siege technology, used in escalade (the assault on the walls), with supporting fire from archers (because artillery will not be invented for another millennium). There appear to be sappers working at the bottom, perhaps. Any siege during the Bronze Age probably looked very much like this.
However, the priests who painted this scene were not concerned with accurate portrayal of a particular event. Rather, this is meant to serve as propaganda for the reign of Ramesses. By the time this art was created, Dapur had long since tossed out their Egyptian garrison and returned to the Hittite fold. Ramesses had in fact reached the absolute limits of Egyptian imperial power. So this art is a “Mission Accomplished” banner, a claim of perfect victory fluttering over what had already become a military and diplomatic fiasco. The temple priests overemphasized Ramesses to inflate his reputation for all time. Malthus has set aside the man and wants us to examine the machine of his time.