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Medieval fortification

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Medieval fortification

Beaumaris Castle in Wales was built in the late 13th century and is an example of concentric castles which developed in the medieval period.
Castle of Topoľčany in Slovakia.

Medieval fortification refers to medieval military methods that cover the development of fortification construction and use in Europe, roughly from the fall of the Western Roman Empire to the Renaissance. During this millennium, fortifications changed warfare, and in turn were modified to suit new tactics, weapons and siege techniques.

Fortification types

Archer towers

Towers of medieval castles were usually made of stone or sometimes (but rarely) wood. Often toward the later part of the era they included battlements and arrow loops. Arrow loops were vertical slits in the wall where archers from the inside shot arrows through at the attackers, but made it extremely difficult for attackers to get many arrows back through at the defenders. The tower had an spiral staircase to make it hard for the attackers to fight upward but very easy for an defender to fight downward if they were right handed.

City walls

Remains of a commandry (Order of Knights of St. John of Jerusalem) wall in Steinfurt, Germany. The downward slope on the outer side is hidden behind a fence and shrubbery

An exact nature of the walls of a medieval town or city would depend on the resources available for building them, the nature of the terrain, and the perceived threat. In northern Europe, early in the period, walls were likely to have been constructed of wood and proofed against small forces. Especially where stone was readily available for building, the wood will have been replaced by stone to a higher or lower standard of security. This would have been the pattern of events in the Five Boroughs of the Danelaw in England.

In many cases, the wall would have had an internal and an external pomoerium. This was a strip of clear ground immediately adjacent the wall. The word is from the late medieval, derived from the classical Latin post murum, "behind the wall."

An external pomoerium, stripped of bushes and building, gave defenders a clear view of what was happening outside and an unobstructed field of shot. An internal pomoerium gave ready access to the rear of the curtain wall to facilitate movement of the garrison to a point of need. By the end of the sixteenth century, the word had developed further in common use, into pomery.

By that time too, the medieval walls were no longer secure against a serious threat from an army as they were not designed for resisting cannon shot. They were sometimes rebuilt, as at Berwick on Tweed, or retained for use against thieves and other threats of a lower order. Very elaborate and complex schemes for town defences were developed in the Netherlands and France but these belong mainly to the post-medieval periods. By 1600, the medieval wall is likely to have been seen more as a platform for displaying hangings and the pomery as a gathering ground for spectators, or as a source of building stone and a site for its use. However, a few, such as those of Carcassonne and Dubrovnik, survived fairly well and have been restored to an impressively complete state.

Medieval walls that were no longer adequate for defending were succeeded by the strategy of Star fort. After the invention of the explosive shell, star forts became obsolete as well.


Fortifications of Várad (now Oradea/Nagyvárad, Romania) in a 1617 print

Harbours or some sort of water access was often essential to the construction of medieval fortification. It was a direct route for trading and fortification. Having direct access to a body of water provided a route for resupply in times of war, an additional method of transportation in times of peace, and potential drinking water for a besieged castle or fortification. The concept of rivers or harbours coming directly up to the walls of fortifications was especially used by the English as they constructed castles throughout Wales. There is evidence that harbours were fortified, with wooden structures in the water creating a semi-circle around the harbour, or jetties, as seen in an artists reconstruction of Hedeby, in Denmark, with an opening for ships to access the land. Usually, these wooden structures would have small bases at either end, creating a 'watch' and defense platform.

Churches and monasteries

Religion was a central part of the lives of medieval soldiers, and churches, chapels, monasteries, and other buildings of religious function were often included within the walls of any fortification, be it temporary or permanent. A place to conduct religious services was usually essential to the morale of the soldiers.

Mottes and baileys

Motte-and-bailey was the prevalent form of castle during 11th and 12th centuries. A courtyard (called a bailey) was protected by a ditch and a palisade (strong timber fence). Often the entrance was protected by a lifting bridge, a drawbridge or a timber gate tower. Inside the bailey were stables, workshops,and a chapel.

The motte was the final refuge in this type of castle. It was a raised earth mound, and varied in height between 5 m (15 ft) to 10 m (30 ft). There was a tower on top of the motte. In most cases, the tower was made of timber, though some were also made of stones. Stone towers were found in natural mounds, as artificial ones were not strong enough to support stone towers. Larger mottes had towers with many rooms, including the great hall. Smaller ones had only a watch tower.


Mehrangarh Fort, Jodhpur. 1981

Construction could sometimes take decades. The string of==Taxonavigation== Species: Medieval fortification


  • Medieval fortification Assing, 2014: 112, figs. 204, 220–227
Holotype: Author’s private collection, ♂, 21.V.2004, leg. A. KLEEBERG.
Type locality:  ( ·  · ): Himalaya, Dhawalagiri, 2004, Baglung Lekh / west Baglung, 2.400 m, N 28°18′50″, E 083°31′19″.


[original description: p. 112, figs. 204, 220–227]

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