Napoleon Series Discussion Forum

Siege Warfare in Comparative Contexts

Civilians Under Siege from Sarajevo to Troy,
Alex Dowdall & John Horne (Editors)
Hardcover: 238 pages
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan; 1st ed. 2018 edition (December 15, 2017)
ISBN-13: 9781137585318

pp 83-105

"Siege Warfare in Comparative Early Modern Contexts: Norms, Nuances, Myth and Massacre During the Revolutionary Wars"
Fergus Robson


By the late eighteenth century, civilians across Europe were aware that, during sieges, unsuccessful resistance to a besieging army was liable to result in widespread death, destruction and loss for the inhabitants of the town or city. Soldiers were familiar with the formal system which had evolved to manage the tense and potentially ruinous situations all sides could find themselves exposed to during a siege. Practices existed which allowed for towns to be taken peaceably, while mitigating the damage caused by continued bombardment or assault and street fighting. However, if a negotiated capitulation was not reached and a town was taken by storm, the attacking army was understood to have acquired the right to pillage. It was in these circumstances that the worst happened. This system of managing sieges, its nuances, the ways it operated in different cases and the effectiveness or otherwise of its norms of behaviour are the subject of this chapter. This chapter focuses on the sieges of Mantua and Naples, where the notionally secular armies of revolutionary France encountered Catholic Austrian and Italian enemies, as well as Jaffa and Cairo, where they encountered Arab and Turkish Muslim armies. This array of religious and racial differences affords us valuable insights into the shifting collective and individual identities of soldiers and civilians in siege warfare. Furthermore, the rich comparative potential of the sieges in question permits us to study variations in the practice of siege warfare and to enrich our understanding of dynamics of violence in European and colonial contexts.