An Illustrated Glossary of Castle Architecture

Article

Mark Cartwright
by
published on 15 June 2018
Aigues-Mortes Wall Walk
Aigues-Mortes Wall Walk
by Mark Cartwright (CC BY-NC-SA)

Alure (Wall Walk)

The walkway along the higher and interior part of a wall which often gives access to the higher floors of towers within the wall. Typically protected by battlements.

Apse

A semicircular projecting part of a building, usually vaulted.

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Arcade, Rochester Castle Keep
Arcade, Rochester Castle Keep
by Mball93 (CC BY-SA)

Arcade

An area of columned arches.

Arrow Loop
Arrow Loop
by Jebulon (Public Domain)

Arrow Loop

The narrow window of a wall or tower through which arrows and crossbow bolts could be fired. Usually a vertical slit, sometimes with a short horizontal slit to improve sighting.

Ashlar

Regular-shaped blocks of dressed masonry set in even horizontal rows.

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Beaumaris Castle
Beaumaris Castle
by Cadw (See Original Source)

Bailey (Ward)

The courtyard of a castle containing the principal buildings, including sometimes a tower keep, which may be surrounded by its own fortified wall.

Medieval Ballista
Medieval Ballista
by Wolfgang Sauber (CC BY-SA)

Ballista

A large, fixed crossbow which fired large wooden bolts or iron-headed bolts. Used by both attackers and defenders.

Barbican, Lewes Castle
Barbican, Lewes Castle
by Charlesdrakew (Public Domain)

Barbican

A short stretch of fortification outside the castle, especially used to provide extra protection for gates.

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Barrel-vaulted Chapel, Krak des Chevaliers
Barrel-vaulted Chapel, Krak des Chevaliers
by Bgag (CC BY-SA)

Barrel Vault

An arched vault between two walls.

Bartizan

A turret which overhangs the wall below. Common at the juncture of two walls, they provide extra defensive visibility.

Krak des Chevaliers
Krak des Chevaliers
by Troels Myup (CC BY-NC-ND)

Bastion

An angular projection from a curtain wall which gives an improved range of defensive fire.

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Tower with Batter, Bari
Tower with Batter, Bari
by Mark Cartwright (CC BY-NC-SA)

Batter

The angled additional base to a wall or tower which increases the difficulty in climbing or dismantling the wall by attackers. See Talus.

Rochester Castle
Rochester Castle
by Michael Kooiman (CC BY-SA)

Battlements

The crenellated top row of stones on a wall or tower. The merlons (raised section) and crenets (gaps) alternate to provide both cover and a line of fire for defenders.

Siege of Lisbon, 1147 CE
Siege of Lisbon, 1147 CE
by Roque Gameiro (Public Domain)

Belfry

A mobile siege tower used to attack castles but sometimes also used by defenders.

Berm

The narrow area between the outer wall and its protective ditch or moat.

Blind Arcade
Blind Arcade
by Mark Cartwright (CC BY-NC-SA)

Blind Arcade

A row of false arches added to decorate a wall.

Boss (Keystone)

The central stone in a vault, often with decorative carving.

Burgus

An area of settlement connected to a castle by encircling earthworks.

Buttery

A room used to store drinks, especially wine, beer, and ale.

Buttress

A stone support of a wall, needed when the wall carries a roof or vault, or to provide extra defensive stability against dismantling or bombardment by attackers.

Chamber

A private room in a castle, for example, a bedroom.

Chemise

A wall which closely surrounds a keep.

Cistern

A tank for capturing rainwater and/or storing water.

Decorative Corbel, Krak des Chevaliers
Decorative Corbel, Krak des Chevaliers
by NeferTiyi (CC BY-NC-ND)

Corbel

A stone which projects from a wall to support a roof timber or stone arch.

Countermine

A mine dug by the defenders in order to intersect and/or collapse the mine of the attackers.

Counterscarp

The outer slope of a ditch or moat.

Waterloo Block, Tower of London.
Waterloo Block, Tower of London.
by Mark Cartwright (CC BY-NC-SA)

Crenellations

The top row of stones on a wall or tower which alternate between merlons (raised sections) and crenets (gaps) to provide both cover and a line of fire for defenders.

Merlons and Crenets, Caerphilly Castle
Merlons and Crenets, Caerphilly Castle
by Simon Burchell (CC BY-SA)

Crenet (Embrasure)

The gap between raised sections (merlons) in the battlements of a wall or tower.

Cruck

The curved timber which is set in the ground to support a roof or wall.

Dover Castle
Dover Castle
by Chensiyuan (CC BY-SA)

Curtain Wall

The outer wall of a castle.

Demesne

The lands owned by and farmed in the name of the castle owner but which were not usually leased.

Dover Castle Keep
Dover Castle Keep
by Nilfanion (CC BY-SA)

Donjon

The medieval name for a tower keep.

Drawbar

The large horizontal beam of wood used to lock a gate.

Drawbridge

A short hinged bridge which can be raised to block a gateway or lowered to cover a section of the moat. Usually operated via a chain and winch.

Angers Castle
Angers Castle
by Marc Ryckaert (CC BY-SA)

Drum Tower

A round tower set within a curtain wall.

Launceston Castle
Launceston Castle
by Mike Searle (CC BY-SA)

Earthworks

Raised areas of earth on which palisades and walls were built in early castles. May also refer in general to such defensive structures as moats.

Embrasure, Aigues-Mortes
Embrasure, Aigues-Mortes
by Mark Cartwright (CC BY-NC-SA)

Embrasure

The splayed opening in a wall for an arrow loop or ordinary window which gives a defender room to stand and manoeuvre. Also an alternative name for a crenet.

Aigues-Mortes Enceinte
Aigues-Mortes Enceinte
by Mark Cartwright (CC BY-NC-SA)

Enceinte

The area enclosed by a fortified wall of a castle or town.

Fictive Masonry

The lines painted on a wall to make it resemble ashlar masonry. Often used on chamber interiors using red paint.

Inner Wall & Donjon, Dover Castle
Inner Wall & Donjon, Dover Castle
by Karen Rose (CC BY)

Forebuilding

The structure immediately in front of the tower keep which protects its entrance.

Gable

The triangular section of a wall between the sloping roofs of two adjoining buildings.

Toilet, Tower of London
Toilet, Tower of London
by Trevor Huxham (CC BY-NC-ND)

Garderobe

Another name for the latrine or toilet.

Gatehouse, Chepstow Castle
Gatehouse, Chepstow Castle
by Damian Entwistle (CC BY-NC-SA)

Gatehouse

The structure which developed to better protect gates, eventually having twin round towers and other defences like a drawbridge and portcullis.

Great Hall, Stirling Castle
Great Hall, Stirling Castle
by Rab-k (CC BY-SA)

Great Hall

The main reception and dining room of the castle. Usually with an impressive beam or vaulted ceiling and enormous fireplace.

Hall Keep, Colchester Castle
Hall Keep, Colchester Castle
by Sannse (CC BY-SA)

Hall Keep

A keep which does not have the height of a tower keep.

Hoardings, Carcassonne
Hoardings, Carcassonne
by Gzen92 (CC BY-SA)

Hoardings

Wooden structures added to the top of walls and towers to provide a covered walkway and a secure place for defensive fire. Sometimes they could be removed during peacetime.

Pembroke Castle Keep
Pembroke Castle Keep
by Mario Sánchez Prada (CC BY-SA)

Keep

The term used from the 16th century CE to describe the main residential building of a castle. Known also as a great tower or donjon. They may be of only a few stories (Hall Keep) or four or more floors (Tower Keep).

Keystone (Boss)

The central stone in a vault, often with decorative carving.

Medieval Castle Latrine
Medieval Castle Latrine
by Père Igor (CC BY-SA)

Latrine

Toilet or garderobe, usually with a waste shaft emptying directly outside the walls.

Lintel

The large horizontal stone or beam above a doorway or window.

Gatehouse with Machicolation
Gatehouse with Machicolation
by Mark Cartwright (CC BY-NC-SA)

Machicolation (Murder Hole)

A hole in the projecting overhang of a wall or tower through which missiles may be dropped on the enemy and through which the base of the wall can be monitored.

Mangonel

A stone-throwing catapult which was powered by the torsion of ropes. Used by both defenders and attackers.

Bodiam Castle
Bodiam Castle
by Jan van der Crabben (CC BY-NC-SA)

Merlon

The raised section which alternates with crenets (gaps) in the battlements of a wall or tower.

Mine

A tunnel dug under a castle by attackers to cause a partial collapse of it.

Chateau de Suscinio
Chateau de Suscinio
by Mark Cartwright (CC BY-NC-SA)

Moat

A ditch which encircles or partially encircles a castle's walls. They may be dry or filled with water (temporarily or permanently) and have wooden stakes driven into their sides to make them more slippery and so more difficult to climb by attackers.

Motte and Bailey Castle Diagram
Motte and Bailey Castle Diagram
by Duncan Grey (CC BY-SA)

Motte & Bailey Castle

An early type of castle with an artificial or natural mound (motte) on which a tower is built with a courtyard (bailey) below, surrounded by a palisade and moat.

Mural Towers, Krak des Chevaliers
Mural Towers, Krak des Chevaliers
by Bernard Gagnon (CC BY-SA)

Mural Tower

A tower built into a curtain wall.

Mural Chamber

A small vaulted room built within a castle wall.

Mural Passage, Krak des Chevaliers
Mural Passage, Krak des Chevaliers
by Alessandra Kocman (CC BY-NC-ND)

Mural Passage

A vaulted passageway which is built within the wall itself.

Murder Hole (Machicolation)

A hole in the projecting overhang of a wall or tower through which missiles may be dropped on the enemy and through which the base of the wall can be monitored.

Soncino Castle, Italy
Soncino Castle, Italy
by Mark Cartwright (CC BY-NC-SA)

Outworks

Those defensive arrangements outside the castle walls proper, for example, a moat or barbican.

Palisade

A wooden defensive wall.

Pantry

A room used to store food, especially bread, usually located near the Great Hall.

Parados

The low inner wall of a wall walk or alure.

Parapet

The raised top part of a wall, often with battlements, which offers some protection to defenders on the wall walk behind it.

Plinth

The lower projecting part of a wall or tower.

Portcullis, Bodiam Castle
Portcullis, Bodiam Castle
by Matt Taylor (CC BY-NC-ND)

Portcullis

A grill made from wood, iron covered wood or purely iron which has a spiked base and is lowered to block a gate entrance. Usually raised and lowered via a chain and winch.

Postern Gate (Sally Port)

A small gate for pedestrians only which was used as a secondary entrance or emergency exit.

Rampart

An earth bank.

Ravelin

A triangular fortification structure set outside the curtain walls.

Rendering

The plaster covering of a stone wall, often lime-washed.

Revetment

A wooden or stone wall to protect one side of a moat or ditch.

Ringwork

An oval or circular earthwork with a bank and ditch which encloses domestic or other buildings.

Sally Port (Postern Gate)

A small gate for pedestrians only which was used as a secondary entrance or emergency exit.

Scarp

The inner slope of a ditch or moat or the edge of the earth platform on which a castle may be built to increase its height.

Screens Passage

The passageway which leads from the Great Hall to the service area.

Cardiff Castle Shell Keep
Cardiff Castle Shell Keep
by Robin Byles (CC BY-NC-SA)

Shell Keep

When the keep is built on an artificial or natural mound (motte) and surrounded by a stone circuit wall on the mound itself.

Solar Room

A private chamber within a tower keep, usually a high floor but of uncertain use.

Soncino Castle
Soncino Castle
by Mark Cartwright (CC BY-NC-SA)

Talus

The massive angled additional base to a wall or tower which increased the difficulty in climbing and dismantling the wall by attackers. Larger than a batter.

Tiltyard

The area used by knights to practise jousting, tilt being the wooden barrier which separates horsemen as they charge at each other.

Threave Castle
Threave Castle
by Billy McCrorie (CC BY-SA)

Tower Keep

The main residential building of a castle consisting of many floors.

Hall of the Knights, Krak des Chevaliers
Hall of the Knights, Krak des Chevaliers
by High Contrast (CC BY)

Tracery

Decorative patterned wood or stonework in a window frame.

Medieval Trebuchet
Medieval Trebuchet
by Quistnix (CC BY-SA)

Trebuchet

A stone-throwing catapult which was powered by a counterweight. Used by both defenders and attackers, it was more accurate and had a greater range than the mangonel.

Turning Bridge

An alternative to a drawbridge which swings on a central pivot so that the rear end lowers into a ditch or pit.

The Tower of London
The Tower of London
by Frerk Meyer (CC BY-SA)

Turret

A small tower, sometimes added to the corners of a tower keep.

Vaulted Chamber, Aigues-Mortes
Vaulted Chamber, Aigues-Mortes
by Mark Cartwright (CC BY-NC-SA)

Vault

An arched ceiling made of stone.

Vice or Spiral Staircase, Caerphilly Castle
Vice or Spiral Staircase, Caerphilly Castle
by Simon Burchell (CC BY-SA)

Vice

A spiral staircase.

Wall Walk (Alure)

The walkway along the higher and interior part of a wall which often gives access to the higher floors of towers within the wall.

South View From Dover Castle
South View From Dover Castle
by Nilfanion (CC BY-SA)

Ward (Bailey)

The courtyard of a castle containing the principal buildings, including sometimes a tower keep, which may be surrounded by its own fortified wall.

Wattle & Daub

The combination of clay or earth (daub) with a strengthening latticework of wood (wattle) which was used in buildings instead of more expensive stone. In a motte and bailey castle, the interior buildings would have been mostly of wattle and daub.

Window Seat, Dirleton Castle
Window Seat, Dirleton Castle
by Otter (CC BY-SA)

Window Seat

A seat set into the wall by a window which provides good light for such activities as reading and embroidery. 

Wing-wall, Caerphilly Castle
Wing-wall, Caerphilly Castle
by Simon Burchell (CC BY-SA)

Wing-wall

A fortification wall that descends into a moat.

Editorial Review This Article has been reviewed for accuracy, reliability and adherence to academic standards prior to publication.


About the Author

Mark Cartwright
Mark is a history writer based in Italy. His special interests include pottery, architecture, world mythology and discovering the ideas that all civilizations share in common. He holds an MA in Political Philosophy and is the Publishing Director at AHE.

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Cite This Work

APA Style

Cartwright, M. (2018, June 15). An Illustrated Glossary of Castle Architecture. Ancient History Encyclopedia. Retrieved from https://www.ancient.eu/article/1233/

Chicago Style

Cartwright, Mark. "An Illustrated Glossary of Castle Architecture." Ancient History Encyclopedia. Last modified June 15, 2018. https://www.ancient.eu/article/1233/.

MLA Style

Cartwright, Mark. "An Illustrated Glossary of Castle Architecture." Ancient History Encyclopedia. Ancient History Encyclopedia, 15 Jun 2018. Web. 17 Nov 2019.

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