Unexpected reasons for city walls & tips for breaking sieges

Eleanor Konik

Eleanor Konik

Professionally, I teach world history. In my downtime, I enjoy combining storytelling with my love of sharing obscure history and science.

City Walls

The protagonist of my novel Civil Mage is a Bronze Age mage-priest and one of her primary duties during the Beetle Siege was to maintain the city walls with her thaumaturgy (divine magic). So obviously I needed to know more about how ancient city walls worked...

Fun Facts

  • Nebuchadnezzar II built three 40ft tall walls around Babylon wide enough to race chariots on.
  • The stones for Incan walls were usually pounded into shape instead of cut.
  • The city wall in Janjing is the biggest group of brick records in China, since all the bricks are marked with their origins, maker, and even the maker’s supervisor.
  • Sparta required that the Athenians tear down their city walls after winning the Peloponnesian Wars.
  • The longest wall in mainland Europe was erected in Croatia to guard salt pans in the 1300s.

Insider Stabbing

The walls of Ancient Greece and Syracuse were often kind of pointless. Armies would ravage the countryside, which was effective at starving a city and forcing them to fight because most people were farmers who lived beyond the city walls. Plus, polities were usually conquered by internal betrayal due to class warfare, not effective sieges. [Read More]

Defensive Hills

Archaeologists think that many early city walls were less about defense against enemy attack and more about flood prevention. For example, mound-building and the creation of city walls by the Mississippi people in places like Cahokia probably originated as a defense against floods.

Split Level

The people of the Indus Valley built dirt walls and human-made islands in order to fend off flooding from the Indus River. Moen-Jo-Daro had two regions. The main administrative area and important structures like wells and baths were located on the better-protected upper level. The lower level had less-important places like people's houses. [Read More]

Capital Fortifications

The Hittite capital of Hattusa had a pretty weird location, in the middle of a rocky steppe, with deep craggy valleys and high city walls. It faced north, toward the enemy Kaska people, instead of south toward the arable land they controlled. The upper city’s fortifications alone formed a double wall with more than a hundred towers. [Read More]

If you found this interesting, you may also enjoy my article about ancient infrastructure.


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