This Is the Longest Siege in Military History

The current Russian invasion of Ukraine has involved several brutal sieges of cities and towns alike. Many civilians have been killed along with members of the military. The most widely followed of these was the siege on Mariupol steel plant. A small number of Ukrainian soldiers held off a much larger Russian military force.

In American history, a siege was a major turning point in the Civil War. The siege of Vicksburg lasted from May 18 to Jul 4, 1863, when Union General Ulysses S. Grant claimed it and blocked the Confederate use of the Mississippi River. The victory split the Confederacy in half, geographically. Although Vicksburg was important, it was a relatively short siege. The longest siege in history was the Siege of Ceuta, which lasted 33 years. (These are the Greatest battles in American history: Revolutionary War, Civil War, WWI, WWII.)

To determine the longest siege in history, 24/7 Wall St. reviewed data from Tony Jaques’ 2006 military encyclopedia “Dictionary of Battles and Sieges: A Guide to 8,500 Battles from Antiquity through the Twenty-first Century” and other sources. Because siege lengths can be inconsistent across sources, we tried to use the same source where possible.

A siege is a military blockade of a city or fortified place that aims to compel it to surrender. Many times, the place under siege, such as Ceuta in North Africa or Candia in Crete, is a strategically important city. Implied in a siege strategy is that the stronghold is too well protected for a direct assault. In almost all cases, the defenders are vastly outnumbered but they are able to hold out because of strong fortifications.

Some armies may know this ahead of time and dig trenches or even plant crops in the area around the besieged place to prepare for a long stay. Insurgents such as the Romans in their war with the Etruscans tunneled underneath the Etruscan city of Veii to break the stalemate. In the later stages of medieval times, the introduction of gunpowder and cannon were crucial to ending sieges by battering thick walls of forts.

The longest siege in history, the Siege of Ceuta, lasted from 1694 to 1727. The Spanish city on the North African coast has been fought over many times because of its strategic position on the Mediterranean Sea and the Atlantic Ocean. The so-called Thirty-Year Siege in the late 17th and early 18th centuries was by Moroccan Moors who fought with the Spanish. (See also, the most pivotal naval battles of all time.)

The Moors were ready for a prolonged siege when it began. They constructed siege weapons and planted crops in the surrounding lands. Though in 1720 a military force arrived and drove off the Moroccan forces, the Moors later returned and conquered Ceuta.

Click here to see the 15 longest sieges in military history