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HOW Military Affect the Development European Castle?

Military is the main line of the castle from its birth, prosperity to its demise, running through the development of the castle. The birth of a castle stems from its political environment. Generally, a castle is the product of political division and separatist forces.
For example, in medieval Europe, due to the implementation of the fiefdom system, the ownership of land was dispersed to the hands of nobles and knights, and the politics was fragmented. There were various empires, kingdoms, duchies, and knightly territories, and feudal political entities, large and small all over the place. No one can clarify the boundaries between them, and no one can fully sort out the connection between them. Wars caused by various reasons often broke out among feudal nobles of all levels, so they always prepare for war and often participate in war. All nobles are equivalent to military generals, and their vassals constitute the ranks of officers and soldiers to which they belong. It is these large and small wars all over Europe that make the defensive role of the castle gradually prominent. Taking Germany as an example, there are 15,000 existing ancient castles in West Germany alone, fully reflecting the feudal separatist state of Germany in the Middle Ages. In addition, medieval war technology and war concepts also determined that medieval wars were defensive wars. At that time, castles were the most reliable defense method, which was strong enough to withstand the rapid attacks of cavalry, and transformed surprise-style quick-decision wars into wars of attrition. So the lords repaired the castle extensively to ensure that their manors and properties were not violated.

Therefore, the castle is a defensive building born to protect the personal and property safety of the territory.
The military role of the castle has always influenced the development of the castle. Generally speaking, the authoritative view is that the main development period of castles is from the emergence of mound-outline castles in the 9th century AD to the appearance of gunpowder weapons in the 14th century. This period is also called the “castle period” by medieval military experts. “.


As I said before, castles were born as fortifications. As early as the 3rd century in Rome, because of the brilliant civilization of ancient Rome, urban life was very prominent, huge public buildings, exquisite art and cultural relics were concentrated in the city. Therefore, whenever wars came, the Romans had to use the city as the focus of defense. Especially in the 3rd century, due to the unprecedented pressure faced by the Roman Empire, under the double pressure of barbarian invasion and civil war, high requirements were put forward for the city’s defense. Taking a resisting castle in the ancient way of fighting requires good siege techniques and months of military supplies. The Romans’ strategy of defense in depth made full use of their large number of castles.
However, there are still some differences between ancient Roman castles and the so-called medieval castles, because the development of ancient castles has not always been smooth sailing, due to political and economic reasons, there have been many regressions during the period. In medieval Europe, the social economy was very underdeveloped, and the political disintegration led to a state of feudal separatism, and the productivity showed a downward trend. Moreover, from the 3rd century to the 9th century, the whole of Europe was mainly dominated by nomadic economy. castles to defend their property. The buildings at that time were far inferior to ancient Rome in terms of construction technology and scale, and the corresponding structural technology and artistic experience were gradually lost. Ancient Rome, both physically and spiritually, has become a ruin.

Usually, medieval castles in the exact sense do not include the fortifications of ancient Rome, and generally refer to the masonry castles that appeared in the 9th century after the mound-walled castle until the 14th century. The reason why castles appeared at this time was mainly because the European economy was changing from a nomadic economy to an agricultural economy. People’s property and residences were fixed, so they needed strong castles to protect their lives and property. 

Although the development of castles during this period took an independent path, ancient Roman castle construction techniques and the concept of defensive warfare more or less influenced the development of medieval castles. In order to avoid the trouble of digging foundations, many medieval castles were built on the ruins of abandoned ancient Roman castles. After the 14th century, with the birth of firearms, the castle gradually lost its military role and became a secular residence, but the architectural ideas and styles born when the castle was built in the Middle Ages still seriously affected it.

The history of the castle is a history of long-term disputes, a history of separatist regimes everywhere, and a history of rivalry between powerful beams. Those vassals of different ranks, high and low, and different sizes, in order to fight for power, for the dynasty’s hegemony, coveted each other, each was wary, and there were frequent wars. Under the conditions at that time, the best way to consolidate the territory, gain a foothold in self-protection, or merge and attack is to “build a fort”. 

Ever since, on the European continent, this industry has become very popular. Year after year, day after day, the princes competed to do their best, digging mountains and quarrying stones, rushing around day and night, and castles stood up one after another among the green mountains and beautiful waters. In order to build these castles, people have consumed countless manpower, money, materials, and time, and the lives lost are incalculable. But now, no matter whether it is the overlord of the powerful side, the hero who ruled the roost, or the bandit who occupied the mountain as the king, they have all been consigned to the mud and wiped out together with his broken sword and stirrup. Only those ruined castles that have been eroded by wind, frost, rain and snow, and the baptism of war and artillery fire tell the past tourists about their past glory.

growing castle

The development of the castle developed along with the development of war technology and the prosperity of the economy.

The first medieval castle called Château de Doué-la-Fontaine in Europe was built in northwestern France in the ninth century AD. It was mainly built for civil war at home, while defending against surprise attacks by the Vikings. It is a typical, simple mound-outline castle, to be precise, this is just the prototype of the castle. Mound-walled castles are built on high ground formed by mounds of soil excavated during ditching, surrounded by waterless moats. Fenced with a thick picket slatted fence. During this period, towers will be built at intervals, and the number of towers depends on the financial resources of the lord. The center of the enclosure is the central fortress of the entire castle, the main tower of the castle. Access to this main tower is supported by a number of pillars, spanning the trench to the bridge at the entrance to the enclosure on the upper level of the mound. The defensive idea is to use wooden walls to resist small attacks. Once the walls are breached, the main tower of the castle is the last line of defense in the castle. Later castles that mainly used military functions adopted this structure, including the defensive tactics used in wars, and the later castles basically did not have any major changes in this regard.

source: francethisway & Decouvertes

The mound-outline castle has relatively low requirements for construction technology and cost, and has no requirements for the choice of terrain, but the disadvantages are also obvious, that is, the firmness does not meet the requirements, and it can only defend against small-scale attacks. Also relatively small. Around the 11th century, with the development of war technology and the revival of towns, the mound-outline castle was increasingly unable to meet the defense requirements, so stone castles became popular at this time. 

Krak des Chevaliers was built during the 12th and 13th centuries by the Knights Hospitaller with later additions by Mamluks. It is a World Heritage Site. source: wikipedia

The First Crusade played a very important role in promoting the popularity of stone castles in continental Europe. Since a large area of conquered land can only be garrisoned by a small number of left-behind knights, the fortification of the castle is extremely emphasized. Inspired by the tall city walls and strong fortresses of the Byzantine Empire, the knights used stones to build larger, stronger, and more complex stone castles. Spread the word. Stone castles generally use stone curtain walls to replace the original wooden pointed slat fences surrounding the city. The curtain walls are made of cut stones layer by layer. battlements. Along the curtain wall, there is a square defense tower every twenty or thirty meters, which is convenient for archers to shoot arrows to defend the castle. Since the square tower has obvious disadvantages, its four corners are not strong enough and are easily damaged. 

So in the 12th century, more defensible circular or semicircular towers were built, borrowing techniques from the Byzantines and Arabs. Due to the dual characteristics of the lord’s residence and the last position, the main tower of the castle has become very particular about its design. Generally, the early stone castles are usually rectangular, which is based on the consideration of internal layout and comfort. 

However, as the last line of defense, it also has the disadvantage of insufficient four-corner bearing capacity, so the construction of the later castle main building tends to be circular or polygonal on the outside and square on the inside. There are also more simple designs, which only surround the main tower of the square castle with a high wall at a close distance, which is called “cover wall”. The design of the outer circle and the inner square does not show any plane to the enemy, and the force points are scattered, making it easier to defend, while the interior uses domes and buttresses to carefully design a tall and open space, which is convenient for living, gorgeous and spectacular.

After the 13th century AD, the strengthening of stone castles began to appear. The British genius architect-Master James of Saint George designed the strongest castle, Conwy Castle, in history. This architectural style is called “Rectangular enclosure castle”.

The design allows Conway Castle to have a more gorgeous and atmospheric appearance. It only needs a few soldiers to take care of both inside and outside, forming a “crossfire” to ensure the security of the territory.


Reconstruction of Conwy Castle and town walls at the end of the 13th century. Model located in Conwy Castle. (source: wikipedia)

The castle has two concentric castle walls, the outer wall is reinforced, and the inner wall is much higher than the outer wall, in order to allow the archers on the inner wall to have a greater field of vision and shooting range, thus forming a cross between the inner and outer walls firepower. A circular tower was built at each of the four corners of the inner circle, so that the importance of the main tower of the castle became unimportant, so that the main tower was later omitted entirely, because the well-designed tower and gatehouse can stand alone even when the enemy attacks the inner wall. persist in. A huge lake will be excavated around the castle to surround the castle as a moat, and the river water will be drawn from other rivers and lakes. Generally, this castle is expanded on the basis of the original old city.

After the 15th century, the appearance of large-caliber artillery made the military status of the castle disappear rapidly, and the military castle was gradually abandoned. On the other hand, due to the liberalization of trade, the advent of the Age of Discovery, and the migration of the population in the jurisdiction, everyone from nobles to poor people began to pursue a more open and comfortable life. They did not want to hide in small castles, and castles became less important. .

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