Siege warfare of the ancient Near East took place behind walls built of mud bricks, stone, wood or a combination of these materials depending on local availability. The earliest representations of siege warfare date to the Proto-dynastic Period of Egypt, c.3000 BC, while the first siege equipment is known from Egyptian tomb reliefs of the 24th century BC showing wheeled siege ladders. Assyrian palace reliefs of the 9th to 7th centuries BC display sieges of several Near Eastern cities. Though a simple battering ram had come into use in the previous millennium, the Assyrians improved siege warfare. The most common practice of siege warfare was, however, to lay siege and wait for the surrender of the enemies inside. Due to the problem of logistics, long lasting sieges involving anything but a minor force could seldom be maintained


Many incident of siege warfare is mentioned in our ancient text from the time of Pandukabaya[ 4 Cent BC].The seven Characteristics of a Fortress according to one of our ancient texts the Angutta Nikaya is based on Jala Durga and Mahi – Durgha. These are

a. Esika – A deep seated well dug in-movable and un-shakble Pillar.

b.Parika– A deep and wide Moat.

c. Anupariya patho– The encircling road.

d. Bahun Ayudhan sannicitam– The great armoury of spear and sword.

e. Bahu balakayo– The large quantity of troops.

f. Prano– A cleaver, intelligent and wise Commander of the Gate.


The tradition of building fortified cities is perhaps taken from the Buddhist works called Ummaga Jatakaya. The general technique or the basic plan was developed on the principles of the fortress of Mithila, the capital of Vajjis of ancient India. Mr Prasad Fonseka describing the fortress of Kotte quotes in then Royal Asiatic Society Journal 2011.

” The white ramparts of Mithila was 18 cubits high[27 Feet], like a wreath of waves rising in the milky ocean;adjoining the wall, to strengthen, it on the outside, he built a buttress all around, and upon the ramparts he erected hundreds of towers covered with arabesque, while each gate was adorned with grotesque carvings on the outside; an strong holds were established here and there. Outside the encircling ramparts he dug three moats, the first full of water, where in grew five type of Lotuses, and infested monstrous crocodiles and sharks; around this was the second moat full of mud; and around this again the third moat full of ……”.

The Mahavansa states that the fortress were of Vijithapura was 18 cubits heigh and had three moats around it. The Sigirya has 3 moats. It is interesting to measure the height of the remains earth rampart at Mahagama – [Tissamaharama]. There is enough and more architectural remains of these ancient fortifications that need be studied by military historians , and seems to be ideal materials for those at the newly instituted Military Academies of Sri Lanka. I understand that the Fort in Jaffna is been renovated with Military assistance.

The main purpose of these forts for deference against enemies, for protection or defense of the population and the countryside. Some of these forts were built at frontiers and in remote areas. There seems to be seven or eight type of Forts built in Sri Lanka according to old traditions,, these are under the heading of Land Forts, River Forts and Mountain Forts.These selected sites can be of many shapes Square, Rectangular, Round are usually surrounded by 3 moats and usually built at confluence of rivers or perennial or man made lakes. The earth obtained by the digging of the moats are used to build the Ramparts.On the sides facing enemy thorny plants and poisoness creepers[ Kahabiliya] were grown .The ramparts was built up with stone and could accommodate Chariot, perhaps to rush troop when breached. There were Turrets and Towers for observations with holes for Archers to take on the enemy.[Arathsastra].

The Land Forts are sometime Mountain protected and water protected , some forts were Jungle and Marsh protected. They had many gateways which were removable. Most of the specification were laid down in the above book, to which was available to our Kings in addition to ancient sinhala text Yadu……. and other books now lost.


The ancient text from the time of Pandukabaya describes siege warfare where defenses with in a fortress. The ancient ramparts were built of mud or earthen embankments. The remnants of these are still evident after a 1000 years after been abandoned. A good example is at Tissa rest House on the way to Kataragama. You enter the fort at the Tissa tank and leave via a bridge over the ancient moat on the way to Kataragama. If you stop your car and proceed on foot to the left along the old moat, you climb on to this embankment which is pretty high. Should be measured. see the Satellite photo below.

Later periods the fortress of Sri Lanka was built in Stone, the earliest stone fortress remnants can be seen at Anuradhapura , but the complete is those at Sigiriya.

The siege is well described in the battle of Vijitha nagara , which is now discovered to be in the Pollonaruva new city limits. Worth a visit.

The ancient strategy of siege warfare is laid down in books available to us,  it is worth studying the little data available in the story written by the ancients . So some factors which may be useful or relevant to the attacks on Forts in books is given below.[Peguin Book – Arthasastra.-LN Rangarajan].

The Five methods available to the attacker are.. Psychological Warfare.   enticing the enemy out of Fort , weakening him, besieging him,and taking the fort by direct attack.

Psychological Warfare;

a.Frightening the Enemy use of religious trick, that God is on his side.

b.Using soothsayers, reader of omen , astrologers  and magic etc  as bad omens through secret agents to De-moralise or the Defender  of imminent defeat.Even appearances of Meteorites were used as bad omens for the defender.

c. Winning over, part of the defenders by covert and overt means.

Enticing the Enemy out of Fort.

a.Send unreliable force to attack, and feign defeat have a strong force in reserves.

Weakening the Enemy.

a. Ostensibly dismiss or punish a Jungle[ Vanni] troops, who shall seek shelter in the fort and gradually bring over  his own troops.

b. Cause dissension amoung leader of different types of troops in side fort, spreading false stories, use carrier pigeons or bird caught residing in fort  to drop written propaganda.

Laying a Siege.

a.Plan to deplete the resources from the defender, drive or resettle  the people, destroy his crop, cut off his supplies. :

“There cannot be a country with out  people, and their cant be Kingdom without a country”

b. Time of attack; The attacker has all the replenishment of food, machines armour, and other equipment.

c.  When the climate is favourable.

d. The defender soldiers suffer from weariness, low morale,and depletion of supplies.


a. Encircle the fort.

b.Cut off the drinking water.

c.Fill up the moat with earth, dig tunnels under the ramparts or breach them with elephants,

d. Attack using machines etc.

d. Hunt down  escaping troops be horse.

e. Set fire to  fort, catch and use birds making nest and tie fire brands to their tails and let them fly back to fort with food etc. Use animal like wise, Monkeys, cats and dogs.

f. If unsuccessful ,Withdraw and pretend to abandon siege, hide  and destroy enemy when he comes out


Ancient fort

Storming the fort.

a.Feint attack by using weak troops as a diversionary attack.

b. Attack weak place where which is weakly defended.

Many rules of Conduct during the storming of a Fort.

Those who fall in the fight,turns and run, those surrendering, those who untie their hair as a symbol of surrender or downs his weapon,anyone contorted with fear and those not fighting shall not be harmed.

Action after the Capture.

All enemy supporter shall be cleared out and precautions shall be taken both inside and out side against secret attacks or spies, before entering the fort.,


The Characteristics of Remanent of forts in Sri Lanka. How much of the above was used depending of the ground situation .


Established. The first record of the first City walls was that King Katukannatissa[41-19 BC] built the wall to a height of seven cubits with a moat in front of it. This fortifications were further strengthened and enlarged by raising the walls to a height of 18 cubits in the time of King Vasaba[ 65-106 AD]. He added fortified gatehouses at the entrances, the ruins of which can still be seen. He had consulted soothsayers and architects according to the Mahavansa.[Anurhada Seneviratna].

Kings Who ruled

Battles fought


The Out line of the Rectangular ramparts in shown in the above satellite Photo, These wall made of earth has now been washed away or destroyed. The moat is still in existence and the out line is seen in above picture. Part of the rampart  exists in the North east corner.


The fort of Pollonnaruva was rebuilt by ParakramabahuI Mhv Ch 73 Para57; The Monarch had a high Chain of walls built on all sides, higher than walls of former Kings and gleamed with a coating of lime…. then after he built around  this three wall each in turn smaller than the other. This was the standard laid down by Kautaliya the adviser to King Chandragupta , where three  trenches each narrower than the other must surround a Kings Palace.The dug out soil may have served for the construction of the small walls.

Ancient Fortress of Vijithapura.,

Discovered by Dennis Fernando

The Ancient Port Of Mantai.

The Fortress of Sigiriya



Batalagoda- A fortress from where Parakramabahu I conducted his conquest.

Parakramapura or Panduvasnuwara. Ramparts, Moats etc.

City of Kotte[ Sri Jayawardanapura]

The Remains at Sitawaka.


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