How did Steppe Armies take cities and fight in difficult terrain?

Mrbsct

Ad Honorem
Jul 2013
2,646
USA
Title

I am reading about the Huns, Heptalites, Gokturks, Seljuk Turks and Mongols. It seems like these Steppe groups had little problem storming cities of China, Persia and Europe. In fact the Huns were able to storm Roman cities with their battering rams like no other barbarian tribes. The Hephtalites arose from the steppe and went deep as India. The Seljuks began their orgins as a nomadic tribes but were able to displace mutliple Islamic kingdoms. The Mongols, the greatest steppe conqueror came from nothing and became the largest land empire in history.

How were these people with no history of infantry warfare able to storm cities? Like adopting siege engines and copying them in understandable, but it seems like they also had pretty good infantry as well. Or was starving them out enough to break morale?
 

MG1962a

Ad Honorem
Mar 2019
2,193
Kansas
Title

I am reading about the Huns, Heptalites, Gokturks, Seljuk Turks and Mongols. It seems like these Steppe groups had little problem storming cities of China, Persia and Europe. In fact the Huns were able to storm Roman cities with their battering rams like no other barbarian tribes. The Hephtalites arose from the steppe and went deep as India. The Seljuks began their orgins as a nomadic tribes but were able to displace mutliple Islamic kingdoms. The Mongols, the greatest steppe conqueror came from nothing and became the largest land empire in history.

How were these people with no history of infantry warfare able to storm cities? Like adopting siege engines and copying them in understandable, but it seems like they also had pretty good infantry as well. Or was starving them out enough to break morale?
Pay people to teach them.
 
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johnincornwall

Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
7,849
Cornwall
Wiki says:

Peter Heather notes that the Huns were able to successfully besiege walled cities and fortresses in their campaign of 441: they were thus capable of building siege engines.[213] Heather makes note of multiple possible routes for acquisition of this knowledge, suggesting that it could have been brought back from service under Aetius, acquired from captured Roman engineers, or developed through the need to pressure the wealthy silk road city states and carried over into Europe.[214] David Nicolle agrees with the latter point, and even suggests they had a complete set of engineering knowledge including skills for constructing advanced fortifications, such as the fortress of Igdui-Kala in Kazakhstan.[215]
 

Chlodio

Forum Staff
Aug 2016
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Dispargum
The source for the Hun campaign of 441 is Priscus of Pannium who describes the Huns using siege engines but not how they acquired that technology. In Attila's more famous campaigns in Gaul in 451 and in Italy in 452 there is no direct evidence of Huns using siege engines. Various sources claim that Attila captured and/ or sacked numerous cities. Some of these sources are suspect. There are also a couple of possibilities for how a city could be looted without siege engines. At this time, city walls only enclosed the very centers of their cities. Most people living at a city lived outside of the walls in the suburbs. It was possible the Huns only sacked the suburbs without penetrating the walls. It was also common for Huns to threaten to sack a city unless that city paid a ransom. The Huns may have ransomed more cities than they actually sacked. It was also possible to infiltrate city walls with spies who could then open the gates from the inside.

It's difficult to construct timelines for the campaigns of 451 and 452. In 451 it's possible that Attila's army moved quite quickly - twenty miles per day or more - leaving little time for sieges. In 452, Attila spent considerable time besieging Aquilea at the beginning of his campaign, but then many other cities fell quickly after Aquilea fell. Aquilea may have been starved into submission. The sacking of that city was quite severe. (Aquilea was never rebuilt afterwards.) The other cities may have then quickly paid a ransom to avoid the same fate as Aquilea.
 

johnincornwall

Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
7,849
Cornwall
Indeed that was common practice all over from Alexander to Ferdinand El Catolico - and what a dilemma for any town! Hold out and hope they go away or surrender and maybe get sack, maybe all killed.

On the other side - changing space and time slightly, small castles in medieval Iberia had recorded garrisons of, say, 35 or 50 Templars - which is all it required to hold a castle against a large raiding force or even army without siege equipment

After the Battle of Alarcos in 1195 (catastrophic for Castille), the whole Almohad army of somewhere of the order of 30,000 men covered right up through Extremadura to the areas around Toledo and Madrid and back down via the east for 2 whole campaigning seasons (96 and 97), whilst the remaining Castillian force lurked about in the Sierras of Madrid out of the way. They sort of devastated the countryside, but had to move on quickly for supply purposes and also had no siege equipment.

So when it was all over the end strategic result was virtually NIL! Treaties then allowed the main Almohad army to return to Africa whilst Castille built up it's forces whilst under said treaty until 1211
 
May 2009
1,346
The Mongols had several methods for tackling fortified positions without artillery. One was to just surround a city, cut it off from the outside world, and wait for hunger and desperation to take its toll. This is how they took Beijing. Breaking dikes to flood a city was also an effective tactic, although this backfired on the Mongols on at least one occasion. With smaller targets like fortresses the Mongols often used subterfuge to try and lure the defenders out into the open. Genghis Khan did this early on in his invasion of China. There was a certain fortress protecting a narrow valley that the Mongols needed to get through but couldn't, so Genghis Khan and his men left their belongings behind and pretended to retreat. Eventually the defenders came out of the fortress to steal the Mongols' gear and when they did they were ambushed by two Mongol divisions--one that had been waiting further up the valley and a second one that had circled around and flanked the defenders. Not surprisingly the defenders were all massacred and the fortress was taken.
 
Jul 2017
3
Germany
The Mongols had several methods for tackling fortified positions without artillery. One was to just surround a city, cut it off from the outside world, and wait for hunger and desperation to take its toll. This is how they took Beijing. Breaking dikes to flood a city was also an effective tactic, although this backfired on the Mongols on at least one occasion. With smaller targets like fortresses the Mongols often used subterfuge to try and lure the defenders out into the open. Genghis Khan did this early on in his invasion of China. There was a certain fortress protecting a narrow valley that the Mongols needed to get through but couldn't, so Genghis Khan and his men left their belongings behind and pretended to retreat. Eventually the defenders came out of the fortress to steal the Mongols' gear and when they did they were ambushed by two Mongol divisions--one that had been waiting further up the valley and a second one that had circled around and flanked the defenders. Not surprisingly the defenders were all massacred and the fortress was taken.

The Mongols had shown again and again that they had higher IQ
 

johnincornwall

Ad Honorem
Nov 2010
7,849
Cornwall
The Mongols had several methods for tackling fortified positions without artillery. One was to just surround a city, cut it off from the outside world, and wait for hunger and desperation to take its toll. This is how they took Beijing. Breaking dikes to flood a city was also an effective tactic, although this backfired on the Mongols on at least one occasion. With smaller targets like fortresses the Mongols often used subterfuge to try and lure the defenders out into the open. Genghis Khan did this early on in his invasion of China. There was a certain fortress protecting a narrow valley that the Mongols needed to get through but couldn't, so Genghis Khan and his men left their belongings behind and pretended to retreat. Eventually the defenders came out of the fortress to steal the Mongols' gear and when they did they were ambushed by two Mongol divisions--one that had been waiting further up the valley and a second one that had circled around and flanked the defenders. Not surprisingly the defenders were all massacred and the fortress was taken.
The Mongols had shown again and again that they had higher IQ
Ah yes the old feigned retreat trick. Used by the Almoravids at Ucles and the Granadinos at Moclin a couple of hundred years later, with decisive results.

I've said it before but some war leaders tend to stand out in this period partly because of the immense stupidity of your average leader, king or noble, who had leadership thrust upon him with no guarantee of any talent or brains.
 
Dec 2013
331
Arkansas
IIRC, the Mongols never hesitated to copy weapons and tactics of the people in the regions they were invading. I think they adopted a number of siege engines from the Chinese and even forced captured Chinese to construct them.
 
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Nov 2019
53
Solar System
The Mongols had several methods for tackling fortified positions without artillery. One was to just surround a city, cut it off from the outside world, and wait for hunger and desperation to take its toll. This is how they took Beijing. Breaking dikes to flood a city was also an effective tactic, although this backfired on the Mongols on at least one occasion. With smaller targets like fortresses the Mongols often used subterfuge to try and lure the defenders out into the open. Genghis Khan did this early on in his invasion of China. There was a certain fortress protecting a narrow valley that the Mongols needed to get through but couldn't, so Genghis Khan and his men left their belongings behind and pretended to retreat. Eventually the defenders came out of the fortress to steal the Mongols' gear and when they did they were ambushed by two Mongol divisions--one that had been waiting further up the valley and a second one that had circled around and flanked the defenders. Not surprisingly the defenders were all massacred and the fortress was taken.
I remember reading that, I believe the fortress you're talking about is the Tangut fortress located in the Helan mountains, guarding their capital Xing Qing.

Song fortresses were harder to take though. The Mongols never managed to take the Diaoyu Cheng fortress (Fishing Town fortress) by force. They finally took it in 1279, part by bribery and part by promise.