The Top 5 Most Epic Sieges

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Laying siege – be it to a city, fortress, compound or the like – is a tactic of total warfare. It is about the most destructive type of “combat,” because the ultimate goal is to achieve victory either by breaking down the opponent, utterly draining their will and their resources, or both. That goes for both the besieged and the attacker: A well-stocked city might be able to hold out for months while the surrounding army, far from its homeland and supply chain, withers and ultimately withdraws. Usually, though, once you end up surrounded by enemies who lay siege to your redoubt, you must turn to the Ancient Greeks for the following words of wisdom: “Sucks to be you.”

5 Stalingrad

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In what was arguably the most ferocious fighting of WWII, The German Wermacht and the Soviet Red Army (not to mention the Luftwaffe and Red Air Force) battled over Stalingrad, AKA Volograd, AKA Tsaritsyn, from August of 1942 until February of 1943. Between the cold, combat, illness and lack of food, almost two million people were killed, wounded or taken prisoner of war. And most of those POWs ended up dead. The German siege of the city and its surrounding areas was dogged and ruthless, and failed only because of the frigid winter and the Soviet’s ability to sustain massive loss of life.

4 Vicksburg

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The Union siege of the Confederate-held city of Vicksburg, MS, is one of the purest examples of siege warfare terminating an enemy’s ability to fight. The siege, overseen by Gen. Ulysses S. Grant, lasted from mid-May to early July of 1863. Grant turned to siege tactics after several direct assaults on the Rebel lines led to high casualties. By keeping the Confederates trapped in the city and preventing supplies from traveling to them either overland or on the water, Grant’s forces slowly but surely choked off the Rebel ability to resist.

3 Jerusalem

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In the year 1099, at the height of the First Crusade, thousands of Christian knights proved themselves to be as murderous and cold-blooded as they were holy. That’s because after laying siege to the city of Jerusalem, which was being held by Muslims of the Fatimid Caliphate, the knights killed the ever living hell out of just about everyone they saw – man, woman or child. Historical note: Jews and Muslims fought side by side against the Christians during this 40-day siege and in the final battle on July 15.

2 Masada

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By the middle of the first century A.D., Rome was growing ever more powerful, and ever less tolerant of people who did not want to be assimilated by the Roman Empire. Thus it was that when the “Great Jewish Revolt” began in the year 66, the Romans were having none of it; after a group of Jews known as the Sicarii took over the fortified mountaintop citadel at Masada, the Romans were determined to get it back. Their full siege began in 72 A.D. and would last nearly two years, during which more than 10,000 Romans tried to defeat and remove fewer than 1,000 Sicarii. Eventually the Romans managed to build a huge ramp which would have allowed them direct access to the fortress, but by then all the remaining Sicarii – which numbered in the hundreds – had killed themselves in one of history’s largest mass suicides.

1 Troy

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For centuries, the Trojan War was thought to be the stuff of legend. We knew of it from Homer’s epic poem “The Iliad” and from a handful of other mythic accounts. In the 19th century, however, German archeologist Heinrich Schliemann led a team that discovered ruins on the coast of present day Turkey that might have been those of “mythic” Troy. Regardless of the fact vs. fiction of it all, the siege of Troy remains arguably the most epic of all sieges in our collective human story. Even without the intervention of gods and demigods, or the use of huge wooden horses snuck through gates, the years-long war pitted two hated enemies against one another in a fight to the very end.

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