How Canons Change Siege Warfare | Happy Student Education ™

How Canons change Siege Warfare

Published May 23, 2021

Siege Warfare

How Canons change Siege Warfare in the medieval ages. The relationship between fortifications and siege warfare changed greatly over time. From the time of the mighty Roman Empire through the Medieval and Early Modern periods, there was a significant change. Many factors play a role in the development of fortifications and siege weapons.

We will explore and see how strong fortifications were to a city and a Kingdom and how irrelevant fortifications became after the invention of Gunpowder and Cannons.
Ottoman Canons in the 15th Century

We will go deep into this period. To see how strong fortifications affected the population of a city and the psychological effect on the populace. We study the legacy of Constantinople and its super-strong fortifications that repel many assaults for over millennia.

According to the Medieval world by Thomas F. Madden Medieval fortifications such as; Castles, city walls, Fortresses, and Citadels first developed from the fear of raids from the Vikings and many other invasions and eventually fortifications were established as a symbol of authority by the Nobles during the Feudal system. During the medieval period, Nobles owned Castles as their personal property and had the Peasants work the farms for a living.

The Vikings

In contrast, during early periods fortifications were used to protect cities from external threats. During the Second Islamic invasion, the Magyars, and Vikings brought devastation to Europe. This helped change the minds of Europeans on fortifications. Europeans became frustrated with the fear of the Viking raids, for example. At one point you were cultivating the crops the second you were killed by a Viking or a Magyar.

How Canons change Siege Warfare
Viking Warfare

English King Alfred the Great is an important monarch of the period, he was credited with the development of strong fortifications in Europe, after defeating the Vikings King Alfred decided to build many fortifications to protect his Domains.

The creation of the Castles brought a gradual end to the Viking raids and a beginning to the development of siege warfare in medieval times, although the Magyars were decisively defeated by the Franks.

For example, according to Crusades! By Thomas F. Madden siege warfare changed drastically during the era of Castles; stead of assaulting the walls, which was very difficult, the attackers would rather starve out the populace until they would surrender or come out and fight.

The Trebuchets

The use of Catapult and Trebuchet was a great addition to siege warfare, however, not many armies could afford to build these weapons, and to transport them was even harder, they were mostly built on the spot, Trebuchets were often used to fire dead cattle into a castle to start diseases.

Nevertheless, even with technological advances in siege warfare, there were still several impenetrable defenses such as the walls of Constantinople and the walls of Rome at some point.

The Trebuchets
The Trebuchet

These defenses would withstand many attacks and suffer minimal damage. Of all the great defenses of the medieval period, the walls of Constantinople are the most formidable of the period in my opinion and widely believed by many historians.

These defenses helped the Byzantine Empire survive for many centuries; they survived attacks from the Huns, the Parthians, the Sassanid, and numerous times against the Turks.

According to the Empire of Gold by Thomas F. Madden the Byzantines survived for so long because its capital Constantinople was strategically located by a coast accessible to supplies while under siege. In other words, to efficiently siege Constantinople, you needed sufficient resources to use warships and troops on land.

In addition, the walls of Constantinople were massively built over centuries of technological development and often enhanced by many Byzantine Emperors. They were so massive and very well built that many sections still survive to this day. During the medieval period, fortifications symbolized more than just strong defenses, there was a symbol of security for the populace.

How Canons change Siege Warfare

When Rome fell in 476 AD the Roman aristocracy fled to Constantinople where they felt secured and willing to settle, thus making Constantinople a great city for investment and development. 

(Empire of Gold) In addition, the fact that Constantinople was seemed impenetrable made it flourished and very diverse, people from all over Europe travel to the “City”, the most important reason this city was ideal to settle was its massive fortifications that had a psychological effect on its citizens as well as any attacker.


Constantinople’s massive fortifications were never bridged for over millennia, however, eventually, new tactics and the development of Gunpowder in the 13th century would Make any fortification in Europe and the East seem useless.
The Fall of Constantinople 15th Century

With the introduction of Canon to the West, warfare in the medieval period was gradually changing in tactics and defenses; Castles and Citadels were no longer massive very well-protected defenses but rather walls that easily collapsed with a hit of a Canon.

Constantinople survived many attacks by many nations; however, the Ottoman Turks were never discouraged to attack and capture Constantinople for religious and political reasons. In addition, when Sultan Mehmed II secured power in Asia Minor he was determined to take Constantinople and make it his Capital. Nevertheless, this was not an easy task due to the city’s strong fortifications.


With the development of Gunpowder and the use of Canons Constantinople fortifications were no longer impenetrable. In 1453 Constantinople the great Capital of the continuation of the mighty Roman Empire fell to the Ottoman Turks, Mehmed II finally conquered the Byzantine Empire and made Constantinople his Capital. This was accomplished by sheer determination, tactics, and the use of siege warfare effectively.

I believe that the relationship between fortifications and siege warfare had its pinnacle during the medieval period with the use of Castles, many of which still stand today, and Trebuchet; however, during the beginning of the early modern period fortifications gradually became irrelevant and siege warfare changed transcended and use strategically.


Madden, Thomas (2005). Crusades: The Illustrated History. Ann Arbor: University of Michigan

Madden, Thomas (2008). Empire of Gold: A History of the Byzantine Empire

Madden, Thomas (2009) the Modern Scholar: The Medieval World I: Kingdoms, Empires, and War

Course PowerPoint: King Alfred the Great (Prof. Carey. 2011)

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