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Medieval fortification

Medieval fortification covers the development of fortification construction and use in Europe roughly from the fall of the Roman Empire to the Renaissance. During this time of several hundred years, fortifications changed warfare, and in turn were modified to suit new tactics, weapons and siege techniques.

Table of contents

Fortification types



City walls




Mottes, Bailies





Structure and Elements


  • Height
  • Width
  • Crenelation and parapets
  • Inner walls and gates


  • Importance of gates
  • Defences



A moat[?] was a common addition to medieval fortifications, and the principal purpose (just as in antiquity) to make the walls harder to assail and increasing their effective height. In many instances, natural waterpaths were used as moats, and often extended through ditches to surround as much of the fortification as possible. To position a castle on a small island was very favourable from a defensive point of view, although it made deliveries of supplies and building materials more cumbersome and expensive.

To facilitate transportation but still maintaining the advantage of the construction, a drawbridge[?] was often constructed as a part of the bridge spanning the moat.

Keeps and citadels


At this time, stairs[?] were generally winding, and constructed as to give a defensive edge to a defender. A general principle was the defender was often positioned higher that an assailant who presumably entered on the ground floor. As most people are right handed, and the defender higher up, the stair was constructed right turning in the direction of ascent, forcing the assailant to fight with his sword hand close to the central pillar of the stair, thus limiting his ability to maneuver and attack.


City planning

Dismantling fortifications

As the power of cannons grew during the 16th and 17th century, medieval walls became obsolete as they were too thin to offer any realistic protection against prolonged bombardment. As a consequence of this, many walls from medieval times were torn down and the stone (still valuable as construction material) reused in more modern bulwarks[?] and bastions[?]. The resulting space is often seen in old city centers of Europe even to this day, as broader streets often outline where the old wall once stood (evident is for example Prague and Florence, Italy).

See also: Medieval warfare, Medieval siege weaponry, Medieval naval warfare[?], Abatis

Factors influencing fortification construction:'


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