Ancient Siege Engines
pestilence it was also the custom to throw in dead horses and even the
bodies of soldiers who had been killed in sorties or assaults.
For example, Varillas 1 writes that ' at his ineffectual
siege of Carolstein in 1422, Coribut caused the bodies of his soldiers
whom the besieged had killed to be thrown into the town, in addition to
2,000 cartloads of manure. A great number of the defenders fell victims
to the fever which resulted from the stench, and the remainder were only
saved from death by the skill of a rich apothecary who circulated in Carolstein
remedies against the poison which infected the town.2
Froissart tells us that at the siege of Auberoche, an emissary who came
to treat for terms was seized and shot back into the town. This author
' To make it more serious, they took the varlet and hung the letters
round his neck and instantly placed him in the sling of an engine and then
shot him back again into Auberoche. The varlet arrived dead before the
knights who were there and who were much astonished and discomfited when
they saw him arrive.'
Another historian explains that to shoot a man from the sling of an
engine he must first be tied up with ropes, so as to form a round bundle
like a sack of grain.
The engine with which such fiendish deeds were achieved was the trebuchet.
A catapult was not powerful enough to project the body of a man. This
difficulty was overcome by cutting off the head of any unfortunate emissary
for peace, if the terms he brought were scornfully rejected. His letter
of supplication from the besieged was then nailed to his skull, and his
head was sent flying through space to fall inside the town as a ghastly
form of messenger conveying a refusal to parley.
As it was always an object to the besiegers of a town to start a conflagration
if they could, Greek fire was used for the purpose. The flame of this fearfully
destructive liquid, the composition of which is doubtful, could not be
quenched by water. It was placed in round earthenware vessels that broke
on falling and which were shot from catapults ; as the roofs of mediaeval
dwelling-houses were usually thatched, it of course dealt destruction when
it encountered such combustible material.
To conclude this chapter I give some quaint extracts from de Folard,
who supplied the commentary to Vincent Thuillier's translation of Polybius
printed in 1727. de Folard was a soldier and a writer on military tactics.
1 French historian, born 1624, died 1696.
2 The rebels of Bohemia, the Hussites, first
offered the crown of Bohemia to Jagellon King of Poland, who declined it.
They then offered it to the Grand Duke of Lithuania, who accepted it. Prince
Coribut besieged Carolstein as a General acting on behalf of the Grand
Duke of Lithuania.