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Siege warfare and Steppe Armies
#1
Hi all,

I am interested in siege techniques and tactics  of steppe armies from Scythians to Avars. Could anyone please point me out some books and articles?

Thanks in advance.
posted by Semih Koyuncu

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#2
Hi, Semih

Thanks for posting all the great weapon illustrations on Facebook. Wink

I have studied the Alans (and "Sarmatians"), also the Saka and Xiongnu, extensively; but I have found no references to siege warfare by them. I think perhaps the first steppe army to conduct sieges may have been Attila's, maybe at Orleans... which was defended by the Alans. You are certainly aware the Mongols used siege warfare. So, I can't help but hope other RAT members can give you some valuable input. Shy
Alan J. Campbell

member of Legio III Cyrenaica and the Uncouth Barbarians

Author of:
The Demon's Door Bolt (2011)
Forging the Blade (2012)

"It's good to be king. Even when you're dead!"
             Old Yuezhi/Pazyrk proverb
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#3
Leif Inge Ree Petersen's Siege Warfare and Military Organization in the Successor States (400-800 AD) has a chapter on Hunnic, Slavic and Avar siege warfare.

A section of the bit on Avars is available online here (with part of the section following giving a list of Avar siege operations).
Nathan Ross
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#4
 If you have access to Priscus he wrote about the siege of Naissus and it seems that Attila had access to bridging equipment and siege engines. Excerpts from Priscus 6,2 in paragraph below. Other cities taken by the Huns were Viminacium, Singidunum & Sirmium. So possibly Attila had captured engineers for siege artillery as for bridging equipment I don't think any of the great steppe tribes had much trouble crossing wide rivers from the Volga to the Danube. Sarmatians specialized in winter raids & campaigns using the frozen rivers & island hopping although the Huns and Avars may have had more sophisticated river crossing techniques as alluded to by Priscus.

 Since the citizens did not dare to come out to battle, the Scythians bridged the river from the southern side at the point it flowed past the city and brought their machines up to the circuit wall. They brought up beams mounted on wheels, upon which men stood who shot across at the defenders on the ramparts. At the other end of the beams stood men who pushed the wheels with their feet and propelled the machines wherever they were needed so that one could shoot successfully through the openings made in the screens. In order that the men on the beam should fight in safety, they were sheltered by screens woven from willow covered with rawhide and leather to protect against other missiles and whatever fire darts might be shot at them. When in this manner a large number of machines had been brought up to the wall with the result that the defenders of the battlements gave in because of the clouds of missiles and evacuated their positions. The so-called rams were then brought up as well as men with ladders.  Smile
 Regards
Michael Kerr
Michael Kerr
"You can conquer an empire from the back of a horse but you can't rule it from one"
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#5
@Alanus, I am merely an amateur and anxious to share interesting aspects of history. I was aware of Hunnic siege operations but literal evidences are all scattered. It seems I need to read more and more for finding anecdotes. Smile

@Nathan Ross, Thanks for pointing out that great book. It has limited but quite well written section about Avars.

@Michael Kerr, Thanks for very interesting passage. Never heard of such a device. Such light siege pieces are favored by nomands. For example; it was recorded that a kind of light weight battering ram used by Sabir Huns. Smile
posted by Semih Koyuncu

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#6
This post on DeReiMilitari.org has a great bit on the introduction of the Traction Trebuchet by the Avars, and mentions Hunnic siege warfare in the Mid-5th Century.

http://deremilitari.org/2014/06/byzantin...trebuchet/
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#7
Do the Greuthungi Goth's count as a Steppe Tribe, taking into account they lived in close proximity to the Alans and Huns?
Adrian Coombs-Hoar
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#8
Hi, Adrian

I'd say the Greutungi would be considered a steppe tribe, having intermarried and associated with the Alans. The Tyrfingi also might be considered a steppe tribe, having adopted some aspects of Alan/Taifali religion. These are cultural connections, but there are others-- such as the absence of nomadism. We are discovering many steppe tribes were not actually nomads ("wanderers") but lived a sedentary life when conditions permitted. The Yuezhi and Alans would be perfect examples, the former living along the Altai periphery for half a millennium (where they cultivated millet, wheat, coriander, and marijuana); and the Alans settled in the Caucasus where they remain today. I don't see where the Greutungi and Tyrfingi were any different, basically living on the steppe along the edge of the forest zone. This specific location-- forest plus steppe-- was the ideal area to conduct hunting and farming.

Speaking of Alans, I don't have full details... but in 336 AD, the Alan king Sanesan used battering-rams during his siege of the Armenian capital. Wink
Alan J. Campbell

member of Legio III Cyrenaica and the Uncouth Barbarians

Author of:
The Demon's Door Bolt (2011)
Forging the Blade (2012)

"It's good to be king. Even when you're dead!"
             Old Yuezhi/Pazyrk proverb
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#9
Thanks Alan. The reason I enquired about this is because the Goth's used siege equipment during the 'Crisis of the Third Century' and took a number of Roman cities by storm due to this. Rather oddly a hundred years later they appear to have forgotten about their former siege equipment and are not mentioned as using any such siege engines etc when they crossed the Danube in 376AD.
Adrian Coombs-Hoar
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#10
Nor are they mentioned using siege equipment in the various wars with Aetius. They were attempting to starve out Narbona in 436/437 and Arles in 452.
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