Fantasy Naval Siege Warfare.

Jackie volunteered me to write this article, but I deny responsibility for any consequences should her character (Flammis) become a military engineer.
WARNING: still under construction More text to be added, notes numbered, etc.


There are three fundamental types of siege artillery note:


Most of the fantasy campaign is set in the late Middle Ages (with occasional spurts of early Renaissance); although the city states of the Inland Ocean have a more golden setting within the mythical to late Classical era.

Classical forces

Lets deal with those heroic states first, engaged in their frequent battles with the barbarians and each other.
Land warfare requires many types of arms; but naval warfare demands more kinds of arms, including machines and torsion- engines as if the fighting were on walls and towers. What could be crueler than a naval battle, where men perish by water and by fire? (Vegetius IV.44). note
These nations employ the ballistae and onagers, both of which may be deployed on ships. The missiles are rocks, packets of darts, and fire-javelins, although fire-arrows shot by hand are safer. Other machines include: The number of artillery pieces per vessel will vary, since each one mounted results in less cargo or marines that the boat may carry. Marsden (1969, 169ff) states, with examples, that
... catapults were undoubtedly mounted on ships and played their part in operations on rivers and on the open seas. ... It was not unusual for merchant ships and other vessels normally engaged in peaceful occupations to carry artillery both for their own protection and to enable them to assist warships.

"Modern" regions: general techniques

In our RP campaign, prior to the current era, the technology of assault artillery was comparatively primitive. The defenders were f orced to surrender, usually on favorable terms, "more often by blockade than by the assaults of men or machinery" note. In these "modern" times each large siege-piece will probably have its own name and require personalized handling -- having, in effect, "a personality if its own" (Vale 1976, 71-2).

The carpentry skills and political economy of a ship-building, fleet-using city will enhance that power's ability to employ siege engines; especially if the ships are built on venture financing and crewed on a share-basis of the profit/plunder note. Further more, effective siege-engines become more cost effective, in a campaign, if they can be disassembled into pieces small enough for carrying through rune-portals, or if water transportation is possible note.

For a besieged port, water-borne artillery enforces the blockade and enable the attacker to breach any part of the defensive perimeter, not just the land approaches. Conversely the aggressor is severely hampered if unable to enclose, let alone assault, a port's harbor (e.g., Rogers 67-8). Therefore a foreign naval power may profitably ally with the besieging army in order to defeat a mutual enemy, not just for a split of the immediate spoils, but on the promise of a trade enclave and beneficial tax exemptions in the conquered city (Rogers 195-201).

Assault towers (Belfries, etc.) could be mounted on "rafts", especially those made of several vessels lashed together. Such towers may be employed, when moored, as maritime highpoints upon which the attacker stations artillery and observers. If the raft is reasonably maneuverable, it may approach the enemy fortifications so that the marines use the belfry to assault a sea-wall or exposed tower note. In fact, a vessel's mast may be of sufficient height and strength to act as a sea-borne scaling ladder note.

Employment of field artillery beside rivers

Artillery were used in the field to provide covering fire for moving troops e.g., Alexander's retreat across the River Eordicus [Anabasis I.6.8] or his attack across the Syr-Daria or Yellow Jaxartes [Anabasis IV.4.4] (Marsden 1969, 97-8 & 165-6).

Suggested effects & techniques : ship vs Ship***

?include Naulochus 36BC and Actium 31BC***


  1. note Major references for this section are Bradbury (1992) and Corfis & Wolfe (1995)
  2. note For this quote & following section see Vegetius, Book 4, chapers 44-46.
  3. note "With the introduction of effective siege- guns, the advantages of attack over defence became apparent ... The guns were carried from siege to siege by water, thereby reducing the difficulties and chronic delays of overland carriage" (Vale 1976, 60)
  4. note Rogers (1992, 101), speaking of the Norman conquest of Sicily. Note that the aim of the Norman’s was to win a rich land, not to destroy an enemy.
  5. note In Roger's words (1992, 207): "The reasons for the Italian maritime pre-eminence in siege warfare on the coasts of the Mediterranean and in the conduct of siege-tower assaults are evident. The same technological and economic factors which sustained and promoted maritime and commercial activities in Genoa, Pisa, and Venice provided the basis of their siege warfare."
  6. note As in the Successful assault of Constantinople, 1204 (Rogers 1992, 233-4)
  7. note e.g. Besancon's attempt on Acre's Tower of the Flies (Rogers 1992, 223)

homepage ***Section C etc?? Defensive ... Counter-artillery may be deployed behind a boulevard, meaning defensive earthworks outside the city walls, i.e., "bulwark". etc (Vale 1976, p.61 & n.22)