Escalade

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For the SUV vehicle, see Cadillac Escalade.

Escalade is the act of scaling defensive walls or ramparts with the aid of ladders, and was a prominent feature of siege warfare in medieval times. It was one of the most direct options available for attacking a fortification, but was also one of the most dangerous.

Escalade consisted simply of soldiers advancing to the base of a wall, setting ladders, and climbing to engage the defending forces. This would generally be conducted in the face of arrow fire from the battlements, and the defenders would naturally attempt to push ladders away from the wall. Heated water, sand, pitch, oil, or molten lead was sometimes poured on attacking soldiers. As the result of all this, it was often difficult for attackers to reach the top of the wall. Even when they did so, however, they would be heavily outnumbered by the defenders. Often, the objective of escalade was not to take the fortification itself, as it was thought impossible to get sufficient numbers of troops up the ladders - rather, it was hoped that the fortification's gates could be opened, allowing a more direct attack.

Fortifications were often constructed in such a way as to impede escalade, or at least to make it a less attractive option. Some of the measures taken to counter escalade included the digging of moats (which prevented ladder-bearing soldiers from reaching the base of a wall) and the construction of machicolations (which facilitated attacks on attackers while they climbed).

Because of the difficulties involved, escalade was usually very costly for the attackers. Two critical factors in determining the success or failure of escalade were the number of ladders and the speed with which they could be set up - a slow attack gave the defenders too much time to pick off the attackers with arrows, while having too few ladders meant that the number of troops would be insufficient to capture the battlements.

Escalade was, in essence, an attempt to overwhelm defenders in a direct assault rather than sit through a protracted siege. Attackers would generally attempt escalade if they had reason for wanting a swift conclusion, or if they had an overwhelming superiority in numbers - otherwise, less costly siege tactics would often be preferred.

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