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Roman Siege Warfare

Josh Levithan

Publication Year: 2013

Roman siege warfare had its own structure and customs, and expectations both by the besieged and by the attacking army. Sieges are typically sorted by the techniques and technologies that attackers used, but the more fruitful approach offered in Roman Siege Warfare examines the way a siege follows or diverges from typical narrative and operational plotlines. Author Josh Levithan emphasizes the human elements—morale and motivation—rather than the engineering, and he recaptures the sense of a siege as an event in progress that offers numerous attitudes, methods, and outcomes. Sieges involved a concentration of violent effort in space and the practical challenge posed by a high wall: unlike field battles they were sharply defined in time, in space, and in operational terms. Chapters examine motivation and behavior during a siege and focus on examples from both the Roman Republic and the Empire: Polybius, Livy, Julius Caesar, Flavius Josephus, and Ammianus Marcellinus. Levithan examines the “gadgetary turn,” during which writers began to lavish attention on artillery and wall-damaging techniques, fetishizing technology and obscuring the centrality of the assault and of human behavior. This volume speaks to classicists and historians of all stripes. All passages are translated, and references are accessible to nonspecialists. Military historians will also find much of interest in the volume, in its treatment both of Roman military conduct and of wider military practice.

Published by: University of Michigan Press


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p. C-C

Title Page, Copyright, Quotes

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pp. i-vi

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pp. vii-viii

This book derives from my dissertation, “Siege Warfare and Combat Motivation in the Roman Army.” It is primarily an attempt to describe Roman siege warfare as it was practiced and experienced; it also advances the idea that some general understanding of the usual course of a siege is necessary to a full comprehension of any single ancient account....


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pp. ix-xi

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-21

Roman warfare has drawn scholarly and popular attention for a very long time. This attention has usually been focused on major battles, despite the insurmountable difficulty of providing a comprehensible narrative of open-field battle. The siege, defined as much by the presence of a wall as a battle is by open country, has attracted far less attention. When a siege does become the object of study it is usually as a discrete historical ...

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2. The Moral Contexts of Siege Warfare

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pp. 22-46

Maps adorned with colorful blocks and sweeping arrows, the firm persuasion of force strengths and distances, the eye-popping dimensions of military hardware—these traditional metrics of warfare are tangible, concrete. Beside them, mere morale seems ephemeral. Certainly, highly motivated soldiers must have fought better than unwilling ...

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3. The Siege Progression

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pp. 47-79

Ancient warfare was usually fluid, but a siege was contained, confined, and circumscribed. The beginning and end were easily recognized as such, and so the siege was experienced as something like a finite narrative: it began, and tension built steadily toward a clear conclusion. The longer and more difficult a siege the greater the motivational challenge, and the...

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4. The Republic

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pp. 80-118

A siege is not an event so much as a process, its extension in time as essential as its fixedness in space. Roman siege warfare emerges into history only when a historian fashions a siege narrative, a story of particular actions transpiring against a backdrop of generic expectation. Moreover, we can only be confident in a historical reading of this story when we...

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5. Siege Warfare in Caesar’s Commentaries

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pp. 119-141

Throughout the last decade and a half of his life, Julius Caesar made war almost unceasingly. Although he was unusually successful in forcing—and winning—open-field battles, Caesar also directed something like seventeen sieges in person. He campaigned against the tribes of Gaul, Germany, and Britain from 58 to 51 BCE, and then moved into the civil ...

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6. Josephus and the Siege of Jerusalem

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pp. 142-169

A Roman army under another Caesar—the title bestowed on Titus as son of the reigning emperor Vespasian—laid siege to Jerusalem in the spring of 70 CE. It took nearly four months of hard fighting for it to reach, capture, and destroy the temple, and a further month elapsed before the entire city was taken. Tens of thousands of starving survivors were...

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7. Siege Warfare in Ammianus Marcellinus

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pp. 170-204

For three centuries after Josephus we have no informed, detailed narratives of Roman sieges. Rome made few new conquests, so fewer sieges took place—but it is the historian we lack more than the history. The early books of Ammianus Marcellinus, who knew siege warfare and wrote gripping history, do not survive, and so the second and third centuries can ...

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Epilogue: The Sack

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pp. 205-228

At the end of the siege came the sack. As an event, a trope, and a narrative object it needs separate treatment. Here we will consider the sack as the closing act of the siege narrative, a necessary part of the siege story yet not a part of the siege event. The sack is an epilogue, but one long anticipated—the complementary unspooling of the siege progression....


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pp. 229-238


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pp. 239-248

E-ISBN-13: 9780472029495
Print-ISBN-13: 9780472118984

Page Count: 280
Publication Year: 2013