Top Ten Sieges in History

Countless sieges in history but few have had such profound story or impact on the future of empires and nations. This is a list of the top 10 sieges in history.


1. Petersburg, 1864-65

Though not exactly a classic siege, but the elaborate trench warfare which took place around the city gives the battle a spot in history. Lee’s Confederate army of 50,000 faced the Union army of more than 100,000 led by Ulysses S. Grant. The defeat and retreat from the siege of the confederate forces, led to their surrender, bringing the civil war to an end.


2. Tenochtitlan, 1521

Tenochtitlan, present-day Mexico City, and the capital city of the Aztec Empire was under Spanish control before a massacre by them led to their being ousted from the city. The Spanish Conquistadors under the infamous Hernan Cortes recaptured the city by slowly starving it and taking it block by block. Thousands of Aztecs died in the face of well-armed European troops. The fall of Tenochtitlan signalled the fall of the last indigenous empire in South America.


3. Sevastopol, 1941-42

The siege tied down a vast German force for eight months, delaying its operations in southern Russia for nearly a year. The German forces fielded more than a thousand artillery pieces, including the monster 800mm “Gustav” railway gun. Sevastapool was the most fortified city in the history of mankind.


4. Baghdad, 1258

The Mongols laid siege to the city Baghdad. It was the capital of the Abbasid Emirate. They employed Chinese siege engineers and quickly captured parts of the city, leading to a weeklong massacre of its population. The Mongols killed almost the entire population of the city and the surrounding regions. Between a hundred thousand to a million people were killed and the city razed. Baghdad remained in ruins for centuries.


5. Delhi, 1857

The 1857 rebellion was one of the direst moments in the British Empire’s history. The native rebels had captured Delhi. The British force of 10,000 men stormed the heavily fortified city after days of bombarding the walls. It took another several days of heavy street fighting until the city was finally secured. It was one of the rare cases when the besieging force was smaller than the one besieged, and yet manage to capture its objective.


6. Leningrad, 1941-43

The Second World War saw the bloodiest siege in the history of mankind. The German forces surrounded the city but because of the lack of reserves could not take it. Their subsequent effort to starve the defenders resulted in an 872-day long siege. The total casualty rate is believed to be well over one and a half million.


7. Malta, 1565

The Ottoman force of nearly 30,000 faced a defence force of 6,000 Knight Hospitallers. The four-month siege of the fortified city of Valletta saw both sides giving no quarter. It was not only battle of men, but of faith. But the rising casualties and diseases took its toll on the besieging force. The Ottomans retreated finally when a relief force arrived. It was the first true defeat of the Ottoman Empire.


8. Dien Bien Phu, 1954

Deep in the remote hills of Northwest Vietnam at a camp in Dien Bien Phu, which was surrounded by the Viet Minh forces of nearly five times the size of the French garrison. The two-month siege saw a vicious trench warfare take place. Finally the French camp was overrun, with no sign of relief or resupply. This ended the French colonial rule in the region and the birth of a divided nation of Vietnam.


9. Candia, 1648-69

The 20-year siege of Candia on the tiny island of Crete is the longest siege in history. The Venetian defenders resisted tenaciously against the mighty Ottoman force, outnumbered nearly ten-to-one. Finally the garrison surrendered and the conquerors allowed the valiant defenders go home.


10. Constantinople, 1453

The present-day city of Istanbul fell to the Ottoman army led by Sultan Mehmed II after a 54-day siege. The city of Constantinople was the capital of the dying Byzantine Empire, the last Christian Kingdom in Asia. The fall of the city paved way for the inroads of Islamic conquests into Central Europe.


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