Sieges are a part of war and are usually unavoidable. Throughout the history of warfare, it has been shown that sieges are necessary (and way cheaper) rather than assault directly. Although it also has some drawbacks, such as it can take a longer period of time to get an enemy surrender. This is a reason why some wars take years to finish – just like the Hundred Years War.
Sieged areas would have no choice but to be on defense. However, without the proper supplies and weapons, soldiers and civilians will suffer due to starvation and disease. This often leads to cannibalism.
This is also the reason as to why sieges have more civilian deaths than military casualties, such as what happened during World War II.
There are a lot of sieges which have occurred in various countries throughout history. Here are the top five deadliest siege:
The Nuremberg Siege of 1632
Number of deaths: 40,000 – 50,000
Nuremberg was one of the great Protestant cities in the word during that time. It was also the place where one of the bloodiest sieges that happened during the Thirty Years’ War.
In 1632, Gustavus Adolphus of Sweden ordered a tactical retreat in the city of Nuremberg; instead of facing the superior Imperial army under the command of Albrecht von Wallenstein.
Wallenstein’s army then started to invest Nuremberg and laid siege to the city, waiting for starvation and sickness to do its work throughout the people. It was also difficult for him to maintain the siege because the city was so large and it needed a large force. In Wallenstein’s camp, there were at least 120,000 soldiers, 15,000 women, another 15,000 servants, and at least 50,000 horses. Adolf had 30,000 more soldiers than Wallenstein, but because he neglected to bring necessary supplies to the city, he couldn’t get more supplies outside due to the blockade.
But the thing is, even Wallenstein didn’t bring enough necessities. Both armies suffered from hunger and disease, especially Typhus. This type of disease has a deadly history. Bacteria which are transmitted to humans from vectors such as lice and fleas are the main cause for this.
Before the 80th day of the Siege, Adolf tried to break the line in the Battle of the Alte Veste, or old fortress. But it failed and so they went back to the city, knowing his men were starving to death.
After the siege, almost 40,000 to 50,000 soldiers from both sides perished. Although it is to note that a lot of them were killed by disease than in fighting.
The Ostend Siege of 1601 – 1604
Number of Deaths: 65,000
Ostend, now located in Belgium, was once home to one of the longest sieges known in history. It was also the bloodiest battle during the Eighty Years’ War.
The siege was the combined forces of the Dutch and English forces under General Francis Vere as the defenders versus the Spain and Archduke Albrecht. It began on the fifth of July, with the defenders having at least 50,000 men at their command. On the other hand, the Spanish had 30,000 more.
As the siege went on, both sides began to do perfidious acts just so to end the siege. Albrecht was almost successful in convincing a traitor to help persuade soldiers against Vere but unfortunately, this treachery was found out and he was whipped out of town. Vere was accused of leading the Spaniards unto a false negotiation peace.
Ostend was supplied through the sea, and as a result, it was able to hold the siege for three years.
After a long tiring bloody siege, the Dutch and the English forces surrendered on the 20th of September. Albrecht proudly entered the city with his weeping wife Isabella, who felt pity for the civilian casualties.
Shortly, diplomacy was introduced and a 12-year truce was established.
The Sevastopol Siege of 1854 – 1855
Number of Deaths: 200,000
A siege which took place during the Crimean War, the Sevastopol siege was a combined force of the British, Turkish, and French against the Russian army. This siege lasted for at least 11 months and both sides had to endure starvation and struggle for survival.
Once the Russians realized that they could not defeat their enemies in an open battle, they invested in the city and changed to a defensive position. During the day, the battle rage went on. They were taking damage through bombardment but kept reinforcing their army each night.
The siege occurred during the winter, which was unfortunate for the siegers and the besieged. Diseases such as Dysentery and Cholera became rampant and affected a lot of the French army.
The Russians forcefully left and retreated after the defenders were successful. The war ended shortly.
The Jerusalem Siege of 70AD
Number of Death: 1,100,000
The Romans decided to thwart the population of the Jews after the Jewish rebellion in 66AD. Titus Flavius along with 70,000 soldiers went to siege the city. The Jews had at least 40,000 soldiers ready to defend.
The Romans surrounded the city with four legions. In February, Titus tried to negotiate by sending a Jewish historian Josephus to talk to the leaders. However, Josephus had an arrow wound, and so negotiations were put to a halt, proceeding with the siege.
The population of the city slowly starved due to the Roman blockade. They had to resort to eating leather and from sewage. People even turned to cannibalism, that even a mother killed and ate her own baby just to survive.
Being stronger, the Roman army eventually breached the wall. They pursued during the night and slaughtered every citizen as they marched through the city. Survivors were sold into slavery, and the city became officially under Roman control.
The Leningrad Siege of 1941 – 1944
Number of Deaths: 1,100,000 to 2,500,000
Another long and deadly siege is the famous Leningrad Siege which took place in the Eastern Front during WWII. It was a battle against the German and the Russian army. The siege began on the 8th of September. This was hard especially on the civilians due to the successful blockage of the Germans. Food became scarce and by the end of the siege, soldiers were rationed of only a quarter of a load a day.
Although the defenders were being starved to death, they persisted and kept their defense. They got lucky when over the winter, the lake Ladoga froze. This enabled supplies to be brought into the city. This also became an exit to evacuate the sick and the elderly and the lake eventually came to be nicknamed as ‘Road of Life’.
The Russian forces were able to push back the Germans and lift the siege of Leningrad. Casualties were estimated to have reached between a million or two.
Sieges are definitely scary!
One thing is to conclude here for sure. Sieges are really scary! Unlike in an upfront battle, sieges affect everyone and does not discriminate. It is sad that this became a tactical strategy for battles. However, one knows that during this time, men will fight to conquer, and won’t hesitate to kill anyone in their path.