Vauban's Siege Legacy

In the War of The Spanish Succession (1702 - 1712)

Throughout the twentieth century, military historians have acknowledged the often-pivotal role of siegecraft in warfare. A necessity since prehistory, fortress walls delineated boundaries, gave succor to the weak and protected the holder's resources, making them obvious targets in any conflict. The romantic vision of medieval castles and the more prosaic reality of urban citadels ought to have ensured that they would continue to play a dominant role in the in numerable wars fought by early modern statesmen.

Their relevance depended instead on the balance between these walls' resistance and the force of new offensive techniques and technologies, particularly the 13th century arrival of gunpowder. Responding to this chemical imbalance, defensive architects soon created a defensive system tailored to neutralize the besieger's new-found advantages. This disparity between the power of the defense and the frailty of the attack has been considered a prime cause of the widespread indecisiveness in Europe's 16th and 17th century wars, which in turn crippled efforts to centralize early modern governance in royal hands.

One individual, Sébastien le Prestre de Vauban, is said to have played a central part inreducing the defense's dominance while setting the stage for a Military Enlightenment later in the century. Assessing the impact of his legacy on this grand narrative can contribute to a better understanding of this balance and its influence on the early modern world.

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Author: Jamel M. Ostwald

Source: Ohio State University


Jamel M. Ostwald

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