Western Warfare in the Age of the Crusades, 1000-1300

By John France | Go to book overview

Chapter Nine

Fortifications and siege

Castles were never the only fortifications in medieval Europe. By the end of the period there were cities everywhere, and most had stone fortifications. Large cities were more common in southern France, Spain, Italy and the Holy Land than in northern Europe. In Italy, Florence, Milan, Venice and Genoa, and in Spain Cordoba and Granada, all had populations of 50,000-100,000, but in northern Europe only Paris was of this magnitude, although Ghent and Bruges may have approached 50,000. Cities of 25,000-50,000 included Padua, Bologna, Verona, Pavia, Lucca, Rome, Naples and Palermo in Italy, Barcelona and Valencia in Spain, Toulouse in Provence and only Bordeaux, Lyons, Rouen, London and Cologne further north. In the 10,000-25,000 range, Italy had Cremona, Mantua, Modena, Parma, Pavia, Rimini, Forli, Faenza, Ravenna, Cesena, Orvieto, Perugia, Sienna, Pistoia and Pisa, and Spain had Zaragossa, while northern Europe could count Abbeville, Amiens, Arras, Lille, Ypres, Douai, Valenciennes, Mons, Louvain, Liège, Beauvais, Chartres, Troyes, Metz and Dijon. For the rest, the cities we hear of probably numbered between 2,000 and 10,000. 1

Because many towns grew up around castles, the distinction between a small town and a castle was not at all clear-cut and, indeed, in the Holy Land and elsewhere we know of towns founded in castles, while Latin terminology often uses confusingly overlapping words which further obscures the distinction. 2 The basic strength of the fortified city, as of the castle, rested in its garrison and political connections, whether as part of a state, such as Ghent and Bruges within Flanders, or Paris within the Capetian monarchy, or as a city-state with alliances of its own. In this sense, the strategic problem for the attacker was the same - to isolate the target from a friendly field-army or the support of a network of castles. It was simply more difficult for a besieger to mount a successful assault on a city or to cut it off beyond all hope of relief,

-107-

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