Siege tower

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A siege tower (or in the Middle Ages a belfry[1]) is a specialized siege engine, constructed to protect assailants and ladders while approaching the defensive walls of a fortification. The tower was often rectangular with four wheels with its height roughly equal to that of the wall or sometimes higher to allow archers to stand on top of the tower and shoot into the fortification. Because the towers were wooden and thus flammable, they had to have some non-flammable covering of iron or fresh animal skins.[1] The siege tower was mainly made from wood but sometimes had metal parts.

Used since the 9th century BC in the ancient Near East, 305 BC in Europe and also in antiquity in the Far East, siege towers were of unwieldy dimensions and, like trebuchets, were therefore mostly constructed on site of the siege. Taking considerable time to construct, siege towers were mainly built if the defense of the opposing fortification could not be overcome by ladder assault ("escalade"), by mining or by breaking walls or gates.

The siege tower sometimes housed pikemen, swordsmen, or crossbowmen who shot quarrels at the defenders. Because of the size of the tower it would often be the first target of large stone catapults but it had its own projectiles with which to retaliate.[1]

Siege towers were used to get troops over an enemy wall. When a siege tower was near a wall, it would drop a gangplank between it and the wall. Troops could then rush onto the walls and into the castle or city.

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Ancient use

The oldest known siege towers were used by the armies of the Neo-Assyrian Empire in the 9th century BC, under Ashurnasirpal II (r. 884 BC-859 BC). Reliefs from his reign, and subsequent reigns, depict siege towers in use with a number of other siegeworks, including ramps and battering rams. One of the oldest references to the mobile siege tower in ancient China was ironically a written dialogue primarily discussing naval warfare. In the Chinese Yuejueshu (Lost Records of the State of Yue) compiled by the later Han Dynasty author Yuan Kang in the year 52 AD, it was recorded that Wu Zixu (526 BC-484 BC) was discussing different ship types to King Helü of Wu (r. 514 BC-496 BC) while explaining military preparedness. Before labeling the types of warships used, Zixu said:

Centuries after they were employed in Assyria, the use of the siege tower spread throughout the Mediterranean. The biggest siege towers of antiquity, such as the Helepolis (meaning "The Taker of Cities") of the siege of Rhodes in 305 BC, could be as high as 135 feet and as wide as 67.5 feet. Such large engines would require a rack and pinion to be moved effectively. It was manned by 200 soldiers and was divided into nine stories; the different levels housed various types of catapults and ballistae. Subsequent siege towers down through the centuries often had similar engines.

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