Hershel Shanks

Shielded by a covered enclosure from a barrage of arrows, three Egyptian warriors use a primitive battering ram to breach city walls, in this reconstruction drawing from Israeli archaeologist Yigael Yadin’s The Art of Warfare in Biblical Lands (1963). The image is from a badly damaged wall painting in a 4,000-year-old tomb in Beni Hasan, about 200 miles south of Cairo.

Not only did ancient soldiers breach city walls with rams and pikes, but they tunneled beneath them, literally undermining the structures. Indeed, over the centuries, armaments became more and more sophisticated; Alexander the Great’s soldiers, for instance, used torsion-powered catapults to hurl stones with tremendous force.

One of the most devastating weapons of all was the passive siege. Armies would sometimes isolate a walled city for years until thirst, starvation and disease decimated their foes.