Do you read Spanish?

If you do, and if you were intrigued by the comments left by Björn in a previous post about Spanish siegecraft, you should check out a short article I published a few months back in the lavishly-produced Spanish popular military history magazine Desperta Ferro (moderno). The article surveys the nature of siege warfare in the Iberian theater during the Spanish Succession, and is based on yet more research from grad school, when I thought my dissertation would cover the sieges in all four theaters (silly me). Yet more research that never saw the light of day, till now.

Perhaps the article can best be summed up in the abstract:

Vauban y la guerra de los ingenieros por Jamel Ostwald (Eastern Connecticut State University). La imagen más extendida hoy día sobre la guerra de sitio en la Edad Moderna es la de una coreografiada y contenida partida de ajedrez en la que cada contendiente mueve mecánicamente sus piezas sobre el tablero según unas reglas estrictas, hasta que el rey es capturado sin apenas derramamiento de sangre. Sin embargo, a pesar de estos estereotipos contemporáneos, capturar una fortaleza alrededor del 1700 no era una operación mecánica que se desarrollaba con precisión científica. Más que seguir una fórmula concreta, los sitiadores de la Edad Moderna podían elegir entre un gran abanico de tácticas posibles y su misión era usar las herramientas a su disposición para tomar la plaza elegida tan pronto como fuera posible y al menor coste. Mapa de Carlos De La Rocha.

My own, English, summary: Sieges in Iberia were much more rudimentary, and desperate, than those in the Low Countries, Germany, and Italy.

The article includes a very nice map of the main sieges in the theater (drawn from the data in my Vauban under Siege), with graduated circles illustrating the location, side, duration, and result of the theater’s various sieges. Here’s my bare-bones 15-year-old attempt (with a few errors):

Spain siege lengths WSS

Hopefully an English version of the Desperta article (or at least the map) will come out sometime.



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6 responses to “Do you read Spanish?”

  1. Björn Thegeby says :

    Like the map. Could be useful for me. I am not certain arriving before a Plaza and a capitulation within a few days qualify as a siege. You would hardly have time for the rituals of surrender in that time. At Valencia de Alcantara in 1705, the guns were in use for a total of two days before the sack of the town with the associated murder and mayhem. Most of the sites were medieval castles with at best some modernised bastions. Only in Catalonia was there a history of warfare on Spanish soil (discounting the Portuguese secession). This was after all the Great Power of the preceding era.

    • jostwald says :

      I’m giving a paper on siege surrender rituals next month; I wouldn’t make them a prerequisite for a siege. I discuss my positional tactic typology in Appendix D of Vauban under Siege. If attackers opened fire against the town’s fortifications with artillery, that’s a siege, even if they only fired for two days. I have a “No defense” category, but that is an almost-immediate surrender upon an enemy’s summons. As I mention in the article, the Spanish theater was unique in that so many small holes-in-the-wall and medieval-era walled towns actually bothered to hold out. There are a few examples of isolated forts in Flanders doing so, but not many.

      Did Castile ever see major campaigning in the early modern period, post-1492? Seems like most of their wars were on their borders or elsewhere in their empire. I’d assume that’s why Castile seemed to have so few modern fortresses.

      • Björn Thegeby says :

        The only real fighting in Castile during that time was the Revolt of the Comuneros in 1520-1521. Building modern fortresses might have been considered counterproductive when those on the inside could become your enemy… Catalonia was different. In the Reapers’ War, the Generalitat sided with the invading French, until the realised that was not a good idea. This meant quite a lot of fighting and a need for fortified point that could be held by loyal troops.

        I think one of the determining factors for the decision to defend a fortress was the difficulty to move a siege train in Spain. Just before Almanza, the (now concentrated) allied army was besieging Villena, another medieval castle.The total artillery was four 12-pounders and four smaller pieces “, the heaviest we had”. Hardly Vauban-style. The siege train was in Valencia, ready to be shipped north. Galway had earlier lost much of his field artillery crossing the Tajo after evacuating Madrid.I think you could stand a good chance behind Castilian walls.

  2. Björn Thegeby says :

    PS. Which was the issue of Desperta Ferro?

    • Andy Tumath says :

      There are a couple that will be of interest:

      Desperta Ferro Moderna n.º 3: “La Guerra de Sucesión española”
      Desperta Ferro Moderna n.º10: 1714. El fin de la Guerra de Sucesión Española

      • Andy Tumath says :

        Pah! I thought that what was in Number 9 was a trailer of a full article in Number 10 (the website said “and introducing Number 10, etc. etc.). Anyway, 10 arrived today sans article about Vauban. It’s a good read, but still…

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