Prostrating Wall and Artillery Balls: A Re-evaluation of the 1188 siege of Sahyun / Saone
Paper by Michael S. Fulton
Given at the International Medieval Congress, University of Leeds, in 2015
The power of medieval artillery is often taken for granted and historians tend to rely on anecdotal descriptions in the absence of quantifiable evidence. But descriptions of these engines and the damage that they inflicted can be misleading when evaluated out of context. The siege of Saone in 1188 is one such example. Although this siege has received considerable attention, diligently studied by Saade, Deschamps and most recently by Mesqui and Michaudel, no one has taken into consideration the irregularities with which the sources deal with Saladin’s artillery over the broader campaign through western Syria that summer.
According to eyewitness sources, the artillery of al-Zahir Ghazi, Saladin’s son, would appear to have been used to breach a wall of the castle in less than three days, directly contributing to the castle’s fall. All previous studies of this siege have accepted that the responsible engines were positioned over 200 m away. But in the weeks that followed, Saladin’s artillery, erected in much more discernable positions, proved incapable of reaching targets closer than this, let alone breaching walls at such a range. This study will contextualise Saladin’s use of artillery in 1188 and throw doubt on traditional interpretations of the siege of Saone.
Michael S Fulton is a historian and archaeologist of the crusade period. He is a History Instructor at Langara College and the author of Siege Warfare during the Crusades. To learn more about Michael, please visit his Academia.edu page.
Top Image: The citadel of Sahyun. Photo by M. Disdero / Wikimedia Commons