As the Russian invasion in Ukraine continues to drag on, forces have dug in, relying on long-range artillery strikes to inflict damage on enemy-controlled cities. A recent Ukrainian counteroffensive might by finally causing some battle lines to change, but it may not be long before this war reverts to a kind of nationwide siege, with cities during which cities like Mariupol have been stuck in isolation for months. In the 21st century, an era where artillery can hit targets hundreds of miles away (check out the longest-range artillery in the US Military arsenal) the nature of a siege is very different than in times when defenders would hole up in a castle or fort, while trebuchets and catapults would attempt to take down walls. Since the dawn of warfare, sieges have been a part of waging it. The places that suffered through a protracted siege are many. These include: Carthage, Xiangyang, Tenochtitlan, Vienna, Vicksburg, Leningrad and Stalingrad.
While those cities take their place among the most famous sieges of all time, they are not the sites of the longest sieges. To determine the longest sieges in history, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data from Tony Jaques’ 2006 military encyclopedia “Dictionary of Battles and Sieges: A Guide to 8,500 Battles from Antiquity through the Twenty-first Century” and other sources. Sieges were ranked based on the length of the conflict in years. Because siege lengths can be inconsistent across sources, we tried to use the same source where possible. (These are the 15 largest armies in history.)
A siege is a military blockade of a city or fortified place to compel it to surrender. Many times, the place under siege, such as Ceuta in North Africa or Candia in Crete, is a strategically important city. Implied in a siege strategy is that the stronghold is too well protected for a direct assault. In almost all cases, the defenders are vastly outnumbered but they are able to hold out because of strong fortifications. (These are history’s greatest military genuises and wartime leaders.)
Some besieging armies may know this ahead of time and dig trenches or even plant crops in the area around the fortress to prepare for a long stay. Insurgents such as the Romans in their war with the Etruscans tunneled underneath the Etruscan city of Veii to break the stalemate. In the later stages of medieval times, the introduction of gunpowder and cannon were crucial to ending sieges by battering thick walls of forts.
While most of these sieges took place hundreds of years ago, some on this list are more recent, such as the blockade of the Gaza Strip by Israel (and by Egypt), which started 15 years ago.
Click here to see the 15 longest sieges in military history
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