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Castle Moat

A moat is a water body that surrounds a castle or town and serves as a barrier to keep people out. The castle moats were built between 1154 and 1485. Moats were simple initially, serving solely as a means of defence but got increasingly elaborate and were used to enhance the castle’s appearance later on.

Purpose of Castle Moat

Caeverlock Castle, Dumfires, Scotland.
Caeverlock Castle”, by Paul Stevenson, is licensed under CC BY 2.0

A moat’s primary function was to protect the castle from attack and was quite an effective defence measure. Castles without moats were susceptible to underground attacks since marauders discovered that tunnelling beneath the castle and attacking from below was often the only way to catch the residents off guard. On the other hand, moats made digging beneath a castle nearly impossible. Moats were generally just dry ditches, even though they’re usually pictured as large, deep bodies of water. Some moats encircled the castle itself, while others encircled multiple buildings or even a whole village.

A local water supply, such as a spring, lake, or river, was frequently used to fill moats with water. Dams could be installed to regulate the water level in the moat. While some elegant moats may have had stone sides, most moats had simple earth banks left behind from the digging process. They were usually deep enough that attackers had a hard time wading across them. Aside from the difficulty of swimming with weapons, attackers would be reluctant to cross it since they would be too exposed to attack from castle guards.

Did you know: A 170-foot-wide, 20-foot-deep water moat surrounds the world’s largest palace, located in the centre of Beijing.

How was Castle Moat Designed?

Egeskov Slot
Egeskov Slot”, by Bert Kaufmann, is licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0

The ditch was the most basic feature of a castle moat. The ditch was dug around the castle’s perimeter walls, up to 12 feet broad and 30 feet deep. Sometimes, the moat around a castle was often so extensive that it resembled rivers. The ditch was either water-filled or sometimes fortified with wooden stakes and other obstructions as a dry defence. Attackers were then forced to fight through the ditch against these sharp and hazardous stakes, which significantly impeded their progress. In fact, since 1707, the State Castle and Chateau of Český Krumlov, Central Europe’s second-largest castle, has had a dry moat that was regularly filled with bears.

History of Castle Moats

Moat is derived from the French word ‘motte’, which means hill. Moats were initially employed in the Middle Ages, between 1016 and 1164. Castles were constructed on the crests of steep hills. The moat was subsequently named after the area at the bottom of the hill. Castle moats ranged in depth from 5 to 40 feet and were not always filled with water. A simple dry, broad ditch might be a hurdle, as not all moats included water. These were referred to as dry moats. Many stories have alligators or crocodiles in moats, which is a myth. For sustenance, moats were occasionally filled with fish or eels.

Ancient Egyptian and Nubian fortresses provide some of the earliest examples of moats. The Babylonians and Assyrians both used moats. When earthworks gave place to stone walls in the Middle Ages, the moat was used and became even more vital, as it prohibited moveable towers or battering rams from being hauled up to the ramparts. The moat lost most of its relevance with the invention of firearms, but it was occasionally used as a deterrent against infantry attacks into the 18th century. Dry moats or ditches can still be found in modern earthworks.

Some of the most famous castles with moats are Bodiam Castle, Caerlaverock Castle, Herstmonceux Castle, and Leeds Castle!


Research shows that medieval moats were often the primary source of defence in castles. Later, the moat evolved from a type of defence used by the Normans in their motte-and-bailey castles in the early Middle Ages. While England is estimated to have 5,000 moats, they may also be found in Africa, Asia, and other parts of the world, defending fortifications, temples, cities, and castles.

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