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Castle Battlements

Ancient castles were built with great intricacy. Every wall of the castle had scientific reasoning behind it. Unfortunately, while focusing on its outer elegance, we forget to take note of the subtle nuances that make up for the valour of the palace. One such nuance is the battlements of the castle. There are several aspects to a perfect defence mechanism of a castle, castle gatehouses to name a few, but the battlements that make up for the gatehouses are not much talked of. The term ‘battlements’ originates from the French word Bataille, which means to fortify with batailles or movable turrets of defence. A turret is basically a defensive tower projecting vertically from the wall of a castle. Turrets have their most common usage in fairytales and other children’s stories. 

Purpose of Castle Battlements

Castle Battlements
Alnwick Castle – Battlement Figures”, by Dark Dwarf, is licensed under CC BY-ND 2.0

Castle battlements is a collective term used to describe several parts of a defensive castle wall, and the word “battlements” refers to all the mechanisms used in protecting the castle. A castle battlement can be simply described as an additional defensive stone wall built at the top of a castle’s main wall. These medieval battlements served many purposes, the most important of them being the protection of the main castle from unwanted attacks and invasions. The term battlements can also sometimes be used to describe a wall built around a medieval city to serve the same purpose of protection from enemy attacks. These battlements were more commonly known as city walls. 

Apart from protecting, castle battlements also helped soldiers launch intelligent, well-thought attacks on enemy troops. The battlements were usually made of stone and were thinner than the wall below them. Even while protecting the castle, the soldiers at risk could protect them by hiding behind the battlements. This was another prerogative of installing a castle wall in front of the main palace. Basically, these battlements act as a wall between the attackers and defenders, favouring the defenders to launch calculated attacks on the enemy troops without putting themselves at risk.

Design of Castle Battlements

A castle battlement is made by different defence strategies like Crenels, Parapets, Merlons, and much more. Here is a description of a few most commonly used defence mechanisms in medieval battlements:

Crenels

Walls crenels Rhodes
Walls crenels Rhodes”, by Jebulon, is licensed under CC0 1.0

Crenels were basically the gaps in the castle parapets or walls. These gaps could be of any shape, either square or rectangular, depending upon the defence strategy of the castle soldiers. Crenels were inserted at equal intervals in a wall to provide enough space for each soldier to use one. This process of adding crenels to an unbroken castle parapet, or wall, is known as crenellation. At all times, was crenel added for defence purposes; sometimes they were also added for decoration purposes or simply to give the castle a look of power and royalty. Crenels were also called by different names like Carnels, Embrasures, and Wheelers, but they all acted for the same purpose.

Merlons

Wall and Merlons, Alcazaba, Spain
Wall and Merlons, Alcazaba, Spain”, by Jebulon, is licensed under CC0 1.0

Merlons were essential parts of battlements and were used in fortifications for millennia. A merlon is basically a solid upright feature of battlements built with a narrow vertical embrasure designed for launching fire and arrow attacks. These merlons can be found right on top of a castle battlement are very clearly discernable even from a distant point. The space between different merlons is known as crenels, and the process of installing both is called crenellation. It was also said that during Roman times, the Merlons were so vast that they could fit a single man in them. As new weapons immerged in the later centuries, the merlons were enlarged, and the shape was not just limited to circular or rectangle. After the invention of cannons, there was a fallout in the usage of merlons as a defence feature and was limited to only being used as a decorative feature of the castle.

Parapets

Featherstone Castle parapet
Featherstone Castle parapet”, by Hadrianus1959, is licensed under CC BY-SA 4.0

A parapet is basically an extension of the wall at the edges, terrace, balcony, rooftop, and other parts of the building. The continuation of the wall, or simply the parapets, may be horizontal or vertical depending upon the defence requirements of the castle. These parapets acted as a protection to the people on the roofs and also the soldiers in the midst of a war. During an attack, the parapets were broad and strong enough for the soldiers to hide behind and acted as a constructed shield. Presently parapets are used mainly as guard rails to save the people on the roof from falling, just like a railing on a terrace. They also help prevent wind loads and help decrease the spread of a fire in case there is a break.

History of Castle Battlements

The earliest mention of castle battlements is recorded in Egypt. The earliest known example is of Medinet-Abu in Thebes. There are records claiming that the castle’s architectural style has been derived from Assyrian Fortresses. There are traces of the architecture found in Mycenae in Greece. Interestingly, there are battlements found even in The Great Wall of China. Romans also used Merlons in their fortresses and used wooden pinnacles on top of their first aggeres, which can be understood as a type of parapet. 

Crenallations of the walls were not a new concept to the castles and did not emerge entirely in the 13th century; there were developments in the castle’s defence mechanisms even in earlier times, only the term was introduced later on. Previously, there were loops in the walls to provide for defence purposes until professional merlons replaced them in the 13th century that was more organised and scientific in nature and offered the protection of the soldiers in the castle. As medieval battlements became obsolete due to the dynamic nature of age and time, the battlements were eventually replaced by medieval weaponry and only acted as a decoration to the castles.


Castle battlements can be described as many defence mechanisms used to protect the castle from unwanted enemy attacks and invasions. These battlements functioned as a protective measure to the castle and as one to the soldiers defending enemy attacks. Castle battlements were prevalent until the 13th century when they were eventually replaced by medieval weaponry and acted merely as a decoration to the castle.

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