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Walls (or physical barriers) appear to be the standard defensive structure for a city in order to keep invaders out. Are there examples of cultures/cities that successfully defended themselves without the use of barriers, and how did they accomplish that? Are there examples of defensive tactics that relied on the attacker being within the city boundary?

Thomas Moore's "Utopia" describes a society that created relationships in order to forestall invaders, which is not the kind of situation I'm curious about. I'm curious about active defense against attack.

I wonder about:

  • Trade cities
  • Harbour cities
  • Cities in areas without strong building materials (deserts, etc)
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What about Stalingrad in WWII? –  CGCampbell Jul 1 at 0:07
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4 Answers 4

Rome did not build defensive barriers on cities or provinces for hundreds of years. They relied on the Legions marching out onto the other sides' turf and breaking up opposition.

Cities without the ability to project force thousands of miles always have used walls. Even in a desert, there is rock or clay to build a defensive wall and ditch. Aside from a thin defensive perimeter around the walls, I know of no city that ever relied on the enemy getting deep inside and fighting in the houses. This does too much damage.

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Rome always had walls. Rome is actually a collection of small hills, the most important of which is the Capitoline hill. The Capitoline has always had a wall. –  Tyler Durden Jun 30 at 21:23
    
Emperor Aurelian had to build walls around Rome in 275 AD as the Servian walls were much smaller than the city, which had grown over the previous 500 years or so. –  Oldcat Jun 30 at 21:33
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Once the English stopped fighting each other, they relied on sea power for protection against continental enemies. For example: Hapsburg Spain. They would speak of their "wooden walls," meaning ships. This is only a partial example, but certainly the English relied less on fortifications than, say, the fought-over cities of the Low Countries.

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Venice is a similar case - they controlled the sea, so they weren't invaded. –  neubau Jul 2 at 3:29
    
I forgot about the 'wooden walls' ... thanks for the reminder. –  schroeder Jul 14 at 14:28
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Walls (or physical barriers) appear to be the standard defensive structure for a city in order to keep invaders out. Are there examples of cultures/cities that successfully defended themselves without the use of barriers, and how did they accomplish that?

Since the Napoleonic revolution in warfare, logistics have played a greater and greater role in the defence of cities. Walls play no significant role in the defence of cities from states, though they do play some role in the defence of settlements from nationalities (these conflicts are much much lower intensity than state warfare).

Are there examples of defensive tactics that relied on the attacker being within the city boundary?

The partisan commune (consider Warsaw, twice; or Budapest 1956) / "City Fighting" / "Urban Warfare" / Military Operations in Urban Terrain / Fighting in Built Up Areas

One aim of these tactics or operations in defence is to impose a higher cost on the opposing force than defending in non-urban terrain.

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This is interesting to me. Where do I need to go to understand more about the higher cost of attacking in urban terrain as a tactic? –  schroeder Jun 30 at 23:22
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@schroeder There's a really good analysis here: dtic.mil/dtic/tr/fulltext/u2/a180999.pdf –  Comintern Jul 1 at 0:08
    
Note that the defenders lost in every one of your examples. Yes, you can defend in the city. But you end up destroying the city if you do. –  Oldcat Jul 1 at 17:25
    
A number of those defenders who lost particular battles advanced and eventually achieved their strategic aims by inviting or being prepared for urban assaults. The US example Comintern cites recognises a small but non-zero number of "wins" in the immediate battle by defending forces. But yes, the city tends to be lost and destroyed. –  Samuel Russell Jul 3 at 8:24
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When at the peak of its power, ancient Sparta had no walls around its capital city. The standard cliche one reads and hears is that the "walls" of Sparta were the fighting men of its army.

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"Brave men are a city's strongest tower of defense" - Alcaeus. –  N0ir Jul 4 at 17:50
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