Wednesday, August 3, 2011

Battle of Casilinum -- AD 554

Under the Emperor Justinian, a Byzantine Army under the General Narses was provided the earlier lacking funding, and the army marched to recover Italy for the Empire. Narses’ army was a combination of Roman regulars , and the elites of he tribes of Germany, Lombards, and Heruls. Narses proceeded into Italy along the well-known invasion route from the Northeast. Narses’ engineers demonstrated their skills at siege tactics and field engineering by the construction of bridges across the mouths of rivers and the relieving of the garrison at Ravenna.

The Italian-Gothic King Totila attempted to stop Narses with a massive charge of his cavalry on the Via Flaminia (near Ravenna) and was defeated. At this point the Goths invited the Franks to enter the contest and take Italy for themselves. King Theudebald of the Franks dispatched two dukes; Lothar and Butilin to undertake this task.

Early in 554 the Frankish dukes divided their army, went around Ravenna, and moved South, down the peninsula, taking booty and prisoners as they moved. In the early Autumn Butilin moved toward Rome. He was on the trail of Narses, whom he needed to bring to battle. His army was suffering from dysentary and a victory was needed while he still had the force to make it happen. He arrived in Compania along the North bank of the River Casilinus (River Volturno) and constructed a fortified camp with earthworks and a bridge across the river guarded by a tower. It was at this point that Narses arrived on the scene. The Byzantine drove in the German foragers, burnt the tower, and captured the bridge. Butilin was now faced with the inability to forage for food and thus was forced into a battle with the Byzantines.

The Battle:--

Narses set out with a defensive blocking force of infantry and dismounted cavalry. In the center were the “antesignani” (1) and on their flanks the other heavy infantry. Behind the infantry were slingers and bowmen, ready to fire over head into the advancing enemy, and a body posted as rear guard. If Narses followed the same practice as at Taginae (battle) the rearguard was composed of cavalry, and not (as depicted in some reconstructions) an infantry line. The Herul troops were in dispute with their general at the time, one of their number having murdered a servant and been executed by Narses order. The Heruls were near mutinous, but were calmed by Sindual, their leader, and were marching up to fill a gap left for them, possibly behind the “antesignani.”

Narse arrayed his cavalry on both flanks. He took post at the tip of the right wing. This was probably to control it and perhaps to take advantage of the good view provided by the rising ground. On the lft flank he concealed the cavalry in a wood with orders to emerge only when the enemy was in contact with the center. The plan was to hold the German charge and then turn the flanks with cavalry.

Butilin formed his men into a line with a “Boar’s Head” (wedge) formation in the center, with unit echeloning back either side. The whole formation was like an inverted “V” with the strike force at the head. The Alamans charged yelling their battle-cry as they advanced. The byzantines braced themselves while shooting their bows and slings at the onrushing wall of shields. When the Germans crashed into the Byzantine line shield battered against shield, the din would have been terrific. In the center where the Heruls should have been, the Byzantine infantry broke under the force of the German “Boar’s Head” charge, the dense wedge pushing past the rearguard headed towards the advancing Heruls.

Narses then advanced the Roman Cavalry on both wings so they could shoot their bows at the unprotected rear of the Germans on their flanks. While the Roman infantry held back the bulk of the German army, the Heruls counter-charged the wedge, which had attempted to turn and take the Byzantines in the rear. Butilin was surprised by this fresh force, because previous intelligence from Herul deserters had suggested that their tribe would not fight. The wedge broke, as the Heruls forced their way into the gap left for them in the line. Narses then released his cavalry to sweep around the wings and take the german force in the rear. This disposed of the wings that were still fighting. Surrounded, the invaders were massacred, with only a handful making it back to their homes cross the Alps.

“antesignani” -- heavy armed foot, wearing cavalry armor of long mail coats, and some with spear, javelins, and long spiked shield;

Matthew Bennett, et al, “Fighting Techniques of the Medieval World, AD 500 - AD 1500, Equipment, Combat Skills, and Tactics,” Amber Books Ltd., New York, 2005, pges 12-13, (ISBN 0-312-34820-0)

Respectfully Submitted;

Marcus Audens

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Early Greek Ship

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In this drawing the major rigging elements for a vessel under sail are clearly shown:

and the double steering Oars. This ship design probably dates from the fourth century BC or earlier.


--A. Cowley (trans.)" Jewish Documents of the Time of Ezra, #26 (translated from the Aramaic)," Bodley's Librarian, 1919.

--Henry B. Culver, Gordon Grant (Illus.), "The Book of Old Ships, From Egyptian Galleys to Clipper Ships," Dover Publications, New York, 1992, (ISBN 0-486-27332-6 [pbk.])

Respectfully Submitted;

Marcus Audens

Battle Map of Casilinum -- AD 554

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The German army under it's Commander, General (Duke) Burilin having raided Campania, now found General Narses, Commander of the Roman-Byzantine army astride his path to the South of Italy.

General Narses deployed his forces carefully in preparation for the
coming conflict. He dismounted the vast majority of his troops, this allowing for mutual support and also the most effective use of missile fire. The infantry supported by the dismounted cavalry were deployed in the center of his line, while his remaining cavalry forces were deployed on both flanks, largely hidden by the surrounding woods.

Burilin's German troops formed up for a great rush against the enemy center with the intention to rupture it and push back the Roman. Initially, this strategy seemed to have work well, as the center of the Roman-Byzantine line buckled under the ferocity and power of the nobles led German "Boar's Head" wedge formation. Then the Roman-Byzantine allied Herul troops , which had been "held in reserve" came into the battle line just in time to blunt the German attack and restore the situation that had given way to the German attack.

General Narses now cut off the German retreat by manuvering his cavalry into outflanking positions which surrounded the German army. The Roman infantry wings had held firm and the Germans were consequently massacred. This ended the German Campaign through Italy.


Matthew Bennett, et al, "Fighting Techniques of the Medieval World, AD 500 -- AD 1500 ...,"

Respectfully Submitted;

Marcus Audens

Map of Constantinople, 1451 -1481

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Thursday, July 28, 2011

Infantry / Cavalry Square

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A Byzantine military manual of the middle of the 10th century depicts this' square infantry formation keeping the cavalry inside' which enabled the two arms to cooperate to best effect. The text is usually associated with the soldier--emperor Nikephoros Phokas II, who, led the revival of imperial fortunes from the 950s until his assassination in 969.


Matthew Bennett, et all, "Fighting Techniques of the Medieval World, AD500 - AD1500," Amber Books Ltd., St. Martin's Press, New York, 2005, Page 11 (ISBN 0-312-34820-7)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

The Ship In Medieval Economy 600 - 1600 -- Part 2 (Roman-Greek Ship Design)

The Romans did not contribute much to ancient ship design, being satisfied with simply using the designs which had been handed down through the years from the Hellenistic Greeks and utilizing designs which the Greeks had last seen fit to use. Both the Roman warship and merchant ship construction seems to have resembled greatly those designs which were last embodied by the Greek shipbuilders centuries previously, and then only when the Roman world was forced by happenstance to utilize fleets to carry out their military plans. Since there have been more pictures of Roman ships which have survived the ages than Greek pictures, it is common to think of the Roman ship designs as having been a later set of ideas. This is currently believed to be a wrong view of shipping design in the ancient times.
Two sources of Greek ship design come down to us. The first being a set of verses (passage) from the “Odyssey” by Homer (V, 228-261). The second is a vase-painter by the name of Exekias, who did an illustration on a cup which has been dated to the sixth century BC*. This boat was shown to be a vessel which could be either rowed or sailed. It was an illustration of a pirate vessel. The ship described in the “Odyssey” could be used as a sailing vessel only. Figure (1) is based on the picture featured on the cup with a few details added to it which come from some additional smaller period references.
The surprising thing about both of these references is the degree of technical information given in each one. In the story of the “Odyssey,” the hero was kept on an island by the nymph Calypso for some long period of time. When he is at long last permitted to leave the island, he is given both tools and a location of timber suitable for ship construction, rather than summoning a vessel by magic. It is shown that the hero (Odysseus) is not only a warrior and a seasoned explorer, but he is also a master of ship construction and design, in which, clearly, the author made the assumption that his readers would understand these ideas with little difficulty.
Exekias, in creating a scene of fantasy, did so in a very detailed manner . He was careful to draw the vessel in a careful design reflecting many of the ship’s design aspects and a detailed view of it’s resulting operation.
In later discussions we will move from oared vessels to sailing vessels but first we must address a major difference in all types of Roman and Greek vessels as compared to modern wooden ships. This difference, while not obvious in the pictures of these ships, is made quite obvious both in Homer’s account of the ship construction as well as from many archaeological findings in the recovery of ancient shipwrecks.

*Arias-Kirmer-Shefton, “A History of Greek Vase Painting,” (Thames & Hudson, London, 1962), plate XVI. (See;

Reference:--J.G. Landels, “Engineering In The Ancient World,” (Univ. of Calif. Press -- Berkley, Los Angles, & Oxford -- 1981) Pages 135-36; [ISBN 0-520-04127-5]

To be continued :--

Respectfully Submitted;
Marcus Audens

Monday, July 4, 2011

Siege Warfare In the Medieval Period

Of all of the warfare that involved sieges against fortified places the group that inspired
the worst fear in those who faced them were the Mongols. The Mongols it seems had
no limitations to what they thought proper in a siege from catapulting the heads of their
prisoners into the fortified place from using captured children as shields on their siege
engines. In respect to brutality and genocide, it appears that they had no equals save
for perhaps the ancient Assyrians.

In this history of the most violent of those who used siege warfare Vlad the Impaler (Count Dracula) is mentioned as the second of those so feared. The Prince of Wallachia used the device of impalement for the masses of his captured men and women whether they were either Christians or Turks. These tactics as cruel and horrendous as they were, successfully kept the enemy at bay through a campaign of intimidation.

In third place, surprisingly were the Vikings who struck terror to the hearts of those who
lived on virtually every coast-line of Europe and North Africa. Their trails of looting and
pillage remained as a burning memory to all those who had endured such a campaign.

In the history of siege warfare the worst destructive elements of this style of battle was:

--Disease or pestilence: Because this was not fully understood, use of this element
could easily cause defeat of either the attacker or those being besieged;

--Starvation: Without adequate stored supplies of food this element usually affected the
defender more than those engaged in the attack;

--Lack of water: This was probably the most effective element in warfare unless the
besieged had access to a well, cistern, or some other water source. One of the first
things a besieger wanted to do was to cut off or poison the water supply of the

--Time: This was usually determined by supplies or by rescue. If the siege extended a
long time the besieger was more likely to raise the siege. If the defenders were rescued
by forces friendly to the defender, this was also possible in raising the siege. However,
if the defender ran out of supplies (food, water, military supplies, etc.) the defender was
faced with surrender.

Of all of the weapons used in siege warfare, the following were the most effective:

--The Trebuchet: This is essentially a catapult that used a counterweight in order to gain
more power and a longer distance of throw. It could launch a wide variety of projectiles
and could with proper use inflict significant damage on walls and the inside of the castle,
fort, or city.

--The crossbow and long bow: The defender benefitted more from these tools of warfare,
allowing his to target and hit the enemy from behind fortifications.

--The Belfry: The belfry was a tower which in most cases allowed the attacker to reach
the summit of the fortifications and thereby dominate the walls. The problem was in
moving the machine into position over ditches, and other ground defenses.

--Mining: It was an effective way to bring down a wall or tower if the besieger had time on
is side. It could be defeated by countermining on the part of the defenders.

--The Cannon: In the latter part of the medieval period, the cannon was able to take
down walls that were weak and also had the ability to generate a great fear in the

Respectfully Submitted;

Marcus Audens

Siege Warfare In the Medieval Period

Sunday, June 19, 2011

Hitite City (Under Siege)

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This drawing provides some information in regard to the construction style of the period, and apparently those on the fortification are opposing the attackers with bow and javelin.

Friday, June 17, 2011

Ogrodzieniec Castle, Poland

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(original sketch by Lizbeth Lauta)
(Re-Sketched by Marcus Audens)

Troky Castle

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Troky Castle, Lithuania

(Original sketch by Lizbeth Lauta)
(Resketched by Marcus Audens)

Elements of Gates

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A. Portcullis (wooden);
B. Cross-section (sample gate construction);
!. Drawbridge;
2. Portcullis;
3. Murder Holes.
C. "Organs," (Similar to a portcullis and made popular by Vaughban well after the Middle Ages).

Friday, June 10, 2011

Castle Towers -- Tower Typology

1.  Masonry Towers;
2.  Stone and wood towers;
3.  Wood towers.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Ogrodzieniec Castle, Poland

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1. Gatehouse;
2. Stables and coach house;
3. Lower Castle;
4. Tower;
5. Tower gate to upper castle;
6. Original Keep;
7. Walls;
8. The chicken foot bastion;
9. Small courtyard;
10. Lower courtyard.

Rock Formations at three corners of the wall and around the castle structure itself.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Towers / Keeps

In ancient time when the fortress curtain wall was made of earth excavated from a ditch in front of the wall, towers, if they were used, were constructed of wood.  Previously we have seen different styles of towers, open backed, accessed only over small drawbridges in the curtain wall from the walkway or Allure.  They were also constructed attached to buildings inside the fortification, or built standing alone, or constructed as solid towers supporting the curtain wall.  Often they were used to defend the corners of the castle wall as well as to lend support the defenders with the use and housing of heavy artillery as well as an ammunition store. As this skill in castle building developed the problems with certain aspects of tower construction were brought to the fore and solved by the master-builders of the day.  Square towers created "dead angles"  which left the towers open to the enemy's mines, .  The Roman engineers had already made this determination and we see round and "D"-shaped towers often incorporated into their fortress designs.  These kinds of towers which sometimes projected out from the curtain wall were known as "flanking towers." These flanking towers, allowed the fighting men to cover the "flanks" or sides of the curtain wall easily.  Use of towers along a curtain wall, including the style, shape, and spacing; all were determined to a great extent by the geography and terrain on which the castle / fortress was constructed.  

The material of the early towers was of wood which, of course, is easily subject to fire, and so it was not long before stone was used in their construction over the raw animal hides that covered wooden towers.  This took a longer period of time to build, but was a more lasting medium with which to build.  Tower design often revealed the amount of money available to build such fortifications, and the design also depended greatly upon the master-builder or designer who laid out the plans for the fortifications.

A special note about a feature adopted by European castle designers which originated in the Middle East. This was the "plinth" (a thickening and outward sloping base to the tower) which was a stabilizing factor for the tower as well as making it more difficult to engage in mining under the towers.  This idea was, in later castles, also adapted to the curtain walls as well as the towers.

The Keeps (a massive chief tower in ancient or medieval castles / fortifications) often were used as residences with floors inside the keep and stairways inside the walls for access.   Towers were an important part of castle design from Roman times through to the 13th and early 14th centuries.     

Friday, June 3, 2011

Ruins of Aqua Claudia

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Ruins of the Roman Aqueduct, Aqua Claudia.

Frontinius, Charles E. Bennett (trans.), "Aqueducts of Rome," Loeb Classical Library, Harvard University Press, Cambridge, MA, 1997

Towers and Keeps

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A. Typology of Towers:

1. Mural Tower;
2. Free Standing Tower;
3. Tower Attached to a House;
4. Gate Towers.

B. Examples of Residential Keeps;

1. Square Keep at Lesparre-Medoc;
2. Rectangular Keep of Beugency;
3. Circular Keep at Chinon;
4. Beak shaped Keep at Chateau Gaillard;
5. Keep at Ortenburg.


Kaufman and Kaufmann, "The Medieval Fortress,"De Capo Press, Cambridge, MA, 2004

Saturday, April 9, 2011

The fortified half-round city of al-Rafiqa.

A.  This city was founded by the caliph al-Mansur around AD 772, soon surrounded by additional suburbs and palace complexes, most of which remained unfortified. (after N. Hagen et al.)

1.--fortified wall surrounding al-Rafiqa, with a moat all around except outside the southern wall overlooking the Euphrates River;

2.--North Gate;

3.--Bab al Sibal, East Gate;

4.--Bab Baghdad, south-eastern gate;

5.--West Gate;

6.--main mosque;


8.--surviving grid pattern of streets;

9.--Qasr al-Banat small palace;

10.--main palace of the caliph Harun al-Rashid;

11.--"Ayyubid citadel, late 12th or early 13th century;

12.--suburb of 9th or 10th century;

13.--suburb o al-Raqqa al-Muhtariqa;

14.-- 15.--irrigation and drainage canals;

16.--defensive wall built by Tahir ibn al-Husayn.

B. North Gate of al-Rafiqa (after N. Hagen et al.)

Towers with a rear open face.

In some cases the back of the tower was left open to make it easier to haul up supplies and projectiles from the ground level to the fighting platforms above.  In addition, the open back prevented the enemy from taking the tower and using it against the defenders.  Drawing by Marcus Audens.

Rashid (Rosetta)

The medieval fortifications at the port city of Rashid (Rosetta) illustrated by H. Boot in the 19th century, showing a gate and flanking towers that have since disappeared.  In Egypt, Sultan Baybars (1260 - 1277)was credited with repairing the walls of Alexandria and adding a moat, as well as building a tower at Rashid (Rosetta).  Towards the close of the Mamluk period the fortifications of Rashid were strengthened yet again.  Drawing is by Marcus Audens.

Roman Warship -- Trireme

Drawn by Marcus Audens

Deserted Oasis of Ayn Umm al-Dabaqi in Egypt

A remarkably complete, mud-brick fortress which probably dates from between he 10th and 12th centuries. It certainly includes features that are more advanced than those seen in pre-Islamic desert forts. (author's photo). Drawing by Marcus Audens.


David Nicolle, Saracen Strongholds AD 630 - 1050. the Middle East and Central Asia, Osprey Pub., Fortress 76, 2008

Harlech Castle

A plan showing the use of circular towers to command the corners and approaches.  Source: Philip Warner, Sieges of the Middle Ages, (London:Bell, 1968).

Citadel of Baykand (Paikend), Uzbekistan

B--Plan of the upper floor.

Fortifications of Central Asia -- Tower 2 of the second Citadel (shahristan)

A-B-- Baykand (Paikend) in Uzbekistan, pre-Islamic but remaining in use until the 9th century AD (after A.R. Mukhamedkhanov et al.)

A--Isometric reconstruction of the tower;

B--Plan of the upper floor.

Balkh, Afganistan

C--isometric reconstruction of a section of the brick citadel in the 7th and 8th centuries AD (after E. Elsin)

North Gate, al-Rafiqa

C --plan of upper chamber

D -- restored section through the gate

Saturday, March 26, 2011

Bastions and Associated Works

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Bastions and Associated Works, the "trace italienne system" of fortifications, source : Geoffrey Parker, "The Military Revolution," page 11 ---- Traced by Marcus Audens


I. A. Corfis, and M. Wolfe, "The Medieval City Under Siege," Boydell Press, Rochester, N. Y., 1995.

Eric McGeer, "Byzantine Siege Warfare In Theory and Practice," --The Medieval City Under Siege--, pp 123 to 129.

al Rabadhah, Saudi Arabia

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Fortified structure with a complex. One of several fortified buildings at al-Rabadhah, Saudi Arabia, on the Darb al-Zubaydah pilgrim road between Iraq and Mecca, late 8th to early 10th centuries AD (after S. Ibn Abd al-Aziz al-Rashid).


D. Nicolle, "Saracen Strongholds AD 630 -- 1050," Fortress 76, (Osprey Pub.-2008), P. 48.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Ukhaidir (Desert Castle)

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Southwest of Baghdad in the Iraqi desert stand the two "desert castles" of Atshan and Ukhaidir. The former might be Umayyad, but Ukhaidir is generally believed to have been built for the "Abbasid prince Isa Ibn Musa after he went into internal exile around AD 776. Ukhaidir is particularly interesting because it combines poor masonry with a very advanced design, and as such, was typical of many aspects of medieval eastern Islamic fortification. The large fortified enclosure is approximately 170 m along each side, the intact parts of the outer wall including the wallhead reaching 17 m. Round towers stand at each corner, with ten half-round towers and split or quarter-round towers flanking three of the gates. The outer surfaces of the walls are not flat, but have two pointed blind arches between each tower. The towers themselves are solid, but at the wallhead was a covered walkway that opened into a chamber at the summit of each tower, and had slits in the floor, which enabled a garrison to defend the foot of the wall.

The drawing is of the North side of the court of honor in Ukhaidir before the massive restoration of recent years. It led to the Main Gate which was itself set between massive rectangular towers. The drawing is based on an Iraqi Ministry of Tourism photograph.


David Nicolle, Adam Hook (illust.), "Saracen Strongholds AD 630 - 1050," Fortress 76, Osprey Pub. Oxford, UK, 2008, P. 30.

Thursday, March 17, 2011

Rumeli Hisari (Ottoman Fortification on the Bosphoros)

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Key for the Main Picture:

1. Saruca Tower;

2. Dag (Mountain) Gate;

3. Dizdaz (Sentries) Gate leading to the Barbican;

4. Halil Pasa Tower;

5. At the time of the sinking of the Venetian blockade-runner, the fortifications of the barbican were apparently not yet complete and the heavy guns were simply lined up along the shore;

6. The huge stone cannon ball that sank the Venetian blockade-runner was probably not the first shot, the guns fixed positions suggesting that they were fired in sequence;

7. The doomed Venetian ship was a three-masted merchant galley, not a speedy war galley;

8. The vessel would have tried to sail down the middle of the strait to keep as far as possible from the guns of both Ottoman Fortresses;

9. Su (Water) Tower;

10. Sel (Ravine) Gate was a minor entrance to the fortress.


D. Nicolle, "Ottoman Fortifications 1300-1710," Fortress 95, (Osprey Pub. -2010), P.47