Janalyn Voigt's Reviews > Medieval Sieges & Siegecraft

Medieval Sieges & Siegecraft by Geoffrey Hindley
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's review
Sep 03, 2010

really liked it
bookshelves: medieval-research

Geoffrey Hindley covers the mechanations, psychology, rules, art and finally -- the horror -- of medieval siege warfare in MEDIEVAL SIEGES & SIEGECRAFT. The writing, although sometimes cumbersome, is not dry. Geoffrey's passion for his subject comes through and the text is enlivened with examples and quotes taken straight out of history. Even those who dislike reading about war may find interest in the story of an earl's son forced to swim across a lake in his nightshirt, the woman whose husband refused to take her back after her captives released her, and the invaders who dressed in female garb and followed the town's women from a well located at the edge of town back through the gates.

A chapter covers the various tools of war and provided interesting information. For instance, siege towers were huge and might reach a height of 60 feet. One gigantuan siege tower even capsized the boat meant to transport it. Of interest, too, were the various incindiary weapons, especially Greek fire, which I'll use as an example of the detail in this book. A secret formula of combustibles perfected by the Byzantines ignited upon contact with water. It was used primarily in naval warfare (although it did show up in castle sieges). It burned with ferocity, even as one account claims, beneath the water. One eyewitness account of a lighted barrel catapulted toward a besieging army describes it as a fireball with a long tail that lit up the night as if it were day and roared like a dragon. Not surprisingly, its deployment ended more than one siege. The formula for Greek fire has been lost in the mists of time. While some believe it contained naphtha or petroleum in some form, and also oils and resins, no one today knows for certain what was in it.

The book covers both the strengths and vulnerabilities of castles and names the measures taken by miners and masonry sappers to topple towers and bring down walls. We learn of the formalities, the trickery employed and, yes, even the chivalry found in medieval warfare. Sadly, too, we learn of man's inhumanity to man. A chapter discusses the surprising role of women in medieval warfare. Another chapter deals with the problem of logistics.

Illustrations scatter throughout the book, and a more-organized section of photographs enliven the center pages. Color illustrations and photographs would be preferable than black-and-white, however the scope and execution of this amazing resource redeems this flaw.

I recommend this book for adults who enjoy reading nonfiction historicals written in a personable style.
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