2005-11-10

Siege!

OK, I have this situation, and I am seeking some technical advice:

I have a big army on the Western bank of the Nile river at Memphis. I have a big army inside Memphis, which will be eventually sieged, and which will resist the siege for several years, which include several Nile floodings, harvest, etc... I also have a huge attacking fleet of 200 Greek triereis, plus several native ships of different kinds. I may have, initially, a defending fleet, but it would be eventually destroyed or set to sleep, though all these years.

I need a way for the defenders to keep their control of the Nile, so they can get help and fresh water and food from their Eastern Delta and Upper Egypt allies. Assume the Western bank of the river is taken and the defenders are the only ones in there, everybody else is an attacking force.

I have guessed that the defenders had some support army on the Eastern bank which would be too big a hassle for the attackers to defeat, therefore the Eastern bank is the defenders'.

Now, the questions: which weapon or tactical, or strategical, movements could make the sieged, defenders' army, to keep the attackers away from their food and water supplies, for so many years?

I am guessing some sort of weapon like catapults or "ballistae" that could destroy any attacking fleet on the river before they could make their attack effective. However, my understanding is that most of the war machines that we know, all come from later times... From a National Geographic article: "The origins of the catapult are unknown. They appear in the historical record as early as a 9th-century B.C. relief from Nimrud in modern-day Iraq. Early Greek catapults were large bows that included winches able to draw the weapon for firing." Thus I guess it's safe to assume they, at least, had catapults to defend the harbors...

Please, share your hoplological knowledge, as I can obviously ignore the precise setup and simply say that they couldn't move the huge, all-powerful fleet inside the town because some sort of war machines in the town, but it's an uneasing feeling not being able to know more precisely...

I'd also love a plan map of Memhis, or that White Castle, to be able to understand how they could resist rams and other siege machines for that long. I mean, even Tyre fell! I'm afraid, however, that no such plan maps exist. But any help with descriptions (while I explore Herodotus, and other ancient sources) and reconstructions based on them will be really helpful.

Thanks a bunch!

Kallisti!

3 comments:

Pacal said...

Well its been a while since I dropped you a line. So I'll give you my two cents worth.

First I tried to find a map of Memphis at about this time and what I found out was that apparently all maps are basically conjecture.

however the following may be of use.

First the persdians and their Egyptian allies were besiged in the "White Walls" or "Castle", which was the citadel of Memphis which was apparently located on a hill in the southern part of the city. How well fortrified Memphis itself was is subject to debate. It is suspected that ther walls were in poor condition at this time and the persians withdrew for that reason, not just lack of numbers into the Citadel. The citadel was apparently located near the river and probably had its own port faciities. I don't think it was a "harbour" merely docks on the river, but with the walls looming right behind, which would make direct attack difficult.

Now has I mentioned Upper Egypt did not revolt against the Persians. Yopu might want to work in a bit of a Upper versus Lower Egypt angle in here. (There is also the possibility of some Libyan versus Native Egyptian stuff here also). Now remember that Triremes basically had to land an beach if not every night, although that was preferred, very frtequently certainly doing that in country dominated by the enemy, Esspecially if he had calvery forces rather dangerous. To say nothing of making foraging for food difficult.

So it is possible for the Persians to have retained control above Memphis, in my opinion, without signifigant / or any, naval forces.

I like the idea of an outside army harrasing the Greeks and their allies, certainly the Persians had garrison forces in Upper Egypt. The one I know most about is the garrison at Elphantine, which had a large Jewish component. With that and their Egyptian allies I suspect the Persians could harass the Greeks and their Egyptian allies. THe Persians could also have sent forces to Upper Egypt through ports on the Red sea.

The Greeks had an additional problem getting past Memphis which is that the current of the Nile is against them. This is partly offset by the fact that the prevailing wind is south, but still going south is more difficult than going north on the Nile.

Completly blockading a city was difficult for a ancient army. Just look at the Spartan difficulty in besiging Platea, (The Peloponnesian War) with its small garrison, it took over two years to take. The Plateans had most of the time no truly serious problem with supplies and getting them was not most of the time impossible. Much of the time it was difficult though.

I suspect that the garrison may have had some of Persia's excellent cavalry. If thats the case it would have inhibited the Greeks and Egyptians from completly closing the seige. An example is the difficulty created for the Athenians when they tried to besige Syracuse before they got calvery.

During the annual Nile flood a large section of any seige works would have been flooded and rendered porus to sending supplies in to the besiged. Added to this an outside army harrasing them and
the Citadel holding out becomes explicable.

Now ships going past Memphis for much of the year would have had to endure arrow storms and sudden attacks from Ships in the docks rather dangerous. Now the seige engines of this time did not seem to include large stone throwers but fire arrows would be used. I am not sure about small scale stone throwers (catapults).

It has been suggested that across from Memphis was a fort. If the Persians occupied the fort and they errected a bridge of boats and fortrified it. Your problem is solved. And without the bridge of boats such a fort would make the trip past Memphis much more hazardous.

The fact is going past Memphis without taking it was dangerous because you risked being trapped south of Memphis, if the wind died, for example, or they built a bridge of boats at Memphis, or being surprised in Enemy controled territory.

Ships cannot easily storm a fortrified citadel, if at all. And from what I understand the "White Walls" waqs both large and massively fortified. That the Greeks and their Egyptian allies could not take it is not a surprise.

I hope this helps.

Pierre

Pacal said...

I forgot to mention in reply to an earlier post. You mentioned about Persian diplomacy trying to "bribe" Sparta to attack Athens. (One of the Megas) Most accounts I've read claim it failed and then go on to mention that the Spartans invaded Attica and won a battle at Tangara. Maybe its just me but it seems to have been a success. Now the "bribe" was probably at least sold has a subsidy to help the Spartans do it. After all this seems to been at the same time that Sparta had crushed or was in the process of finish crushing a Helot revolt, (that lasted about 10 years). So they probably could use the money. Since the Spartans retired after the battle and the Athenians then defeated the Beotians at One..., and conquered most of Boetia. The problem wasn't that the Persian diplomacy failed, but that it backfired.

Just some thoughts.

Pierre

Excalibor said...

Pierre, as always your contribution is most valuable!

I didn't know about that fort in the Eastern bank of the Nile. It makes most sense, though, from a hoplological point of view. As for the Cidatel itself, my initial take was that the riverside had big walls to keep the Nile at bay when flooding... Extending them as defensive walls is only a logical step.

I had the Eastern army mobile in the Easter bank to allow supplies and men to arrive from Pelusion (which my Delian League visited but didn't conquer), Bubastis and other Eastern cities in the Delta, and to allow for Upper Egypt supplies to have a place where to discharge their barges with food, weapons and whatnot.

Having a fort on the Eastern bank will make this much easier, and it will force the Greeks to disperse their numbers throughout all the Delta just to keep the Egyptians and Persians at bay. I don't expect large numbers of Persians in the Delta cities per se, although labourers and merchants are a certain thing. My view is that most Persian forces not deployed on the Phoenician fleet that attacked Kanopos and Naukratis, which had to be postulated due to archaeological evidence of Samian victories, despite Ktesias's account, --and not levied in situ--- would be concentrated in Pesulion, where a large garrison of Persian and mercenaries would be stationed to defend the Path of Horus and trading routes along the coast with Arabia, Judea and Syria; and where the Egyptians lost their country to Kambises in 525 BCE.

Thus, and despite the loss of the warships, blockading the Pelusian branch of the Nile would have taken a great deal of effort, added to the Eastern bank army, which, as you say, would have made "beaching" the triremes a hazardous task, with cavalry attacks along the riverside.

For me, all this means that the rebels had absolute military control of the Western bank of the Nile and the Western Delta from Memphis and Leontopolis to Mareia and Pharos, including the major sites, as Sais, Naukratis, Kanopos, but weren't able to effectively control the Eastern cities like Bubastis, Tanis/Djane or Pelusion. This must have forced them to keep clear of certain re-supply lines, and of possible sources of insurgence, in their own territories.

That's why I don't think a Persian army in the Western side of the Nile is really necessary. Being unable to cross over the river, must have been enough a trouble, and the Cidatel could have planned cavalry raids at certain surprise moments, with low military, but huge psychological impact. Or they simply crossed some cavalry to make such raids (although cavalry crossing water is always a very hard task, remember Marathon).

Additionally, I now have a huge army which sums up to, easily, 80,000 men, plus animals, that must be fed and must drink water. (*) While in the following year I will have some little towns built around the sieging army, which was fairly typical of those times --Xenophon talks about the merchants and whores army that followed them when marching with Cyrus the Young, and it was a common thing in Roman armies as well--, the present year will be a difficult one: the flood is only three or four weeks away (current events are happening at the end of May) and the Egyptians and Persians of Memphis have already done the harvest, and torched everything else, closing water wells and agitating all the creepers around Memphis, which would be very upset at the arrival of the army, when the flood is so close (naturally, the animals that lived in the Nile must have adapted to the annual floods, and 80,000 competitors for food, water and dry soil must have been really inconvenient, specially if the Greek started to hunt them down).

Therefore, my initial reaction is that, whichever military actions they may want to do at Memphis, it must be done either in a rush (and therefore badly), or after careful calculations, after securing food, water and soil.

Your comment about the Nile ruining most of any siegeing works (like ramps, and digs) rings certainly truth.

My dilemma, right now, is thus: will they attack before the flood, or will they wait to the following Egyptian season? I have to check Thukidides, I seem to recall they did try to attack when the siege was done, but it looks like a terrible tactical move. OTOH, it's easier to see when you have far greater hoplological knowledge than they had at the time, and you know what happened later... *cheating* :-)

I'll let you know when I make my mind, after checking sources, and the logic of the situation. Ancient historians could be wrong, or neglect some considerations as second class matters for their readers, but we must remain true to the abilities and intelligent of our ancestors: if it's such an easy to see error, they wouldn't do it, they were primitive (in some ways) but not stupid at all.

Again, thanks a bunch for your help!

Kallisti!

(*) note about army size: there must have been about 42,000 Greeks between triremes crews and soldiers, and support merchant, ships; and the rebel army, which should be sized at about 10,000 infantry of different types, plus some cavalry, and maybe even some onager or horse chariots, for effect, not tactical value. The numbers for combatant troops are about 10,000 heavy infantry (mostly the greek epibatai) and 5,000-8,000 light infantry --and about 30,000 non-combatant rowers, I am actually arming some thousands as light infantry for the marshes operations that must have happened during those four years, camp and harbor watch, etc--, plus aidees, slaves, women, etc...