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Castle Terminology

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Below you will find short definitions for many of the terms associated with medieval castles. The list is by no means complete, and certain minor terms have been omitted. Some of the definitions are additionally hyperlinked to pages that show examples of the item being discussed.

Allure or Wall-walk: passage behind the parapet of a castle wall
Apse: circular or polygonal end of a tower or chapel
Arcading: rows of arches supported on columns, free-standing or attached to a wall (blind arcade)
Arrow Loop: A narrow vertical slit cut into a wall through which arrows could be fired from inside
Ashlar: blocks of smooth, squared stone of any kind
Bailey or Ward: courtyard within the walls of the castle
Ballista: engine resembling a crossbow, used in hurling missiles or large arrows
Barbican: an outwork or forward extension of a castle gateway
Barrel vault: semicircular roof of stone & timber
Bartizan: overhanging corner turret
Bastion: a small tower at the end of a curtain wall or in the middle of the outside wall
Battlement: a narrow wall built along the outer edge of the wall walk to protect soldiers against attack
Belfry: tall, movable wooden tower on wheels, used in sieges
Buttery: room for the service of beverages
Concentric: having two sets of walls, one inside the other
Crenelation: a notched battlement made up of alternate crenels (openings) and merlons (square sawteeth)
Cross-wall: an internal dividing wall in a great tower
Curtain wall: a castle wall enclosing a courtyard
Cut: an assault tower
Corbel: stone bracket projecting from a wall or corner to support a beam
Donjon: the inner stronghold (keep) of a castle
Drawbridge: a wooden bridge leading to a gateway, capable of being raised or lowered
Drum Tower: a round tower built into a wall
Dungeon: jail or place of imprisonment, usually found in one of the towers
Enceinte: an enclosing wall, usually exterior, of a fortified place
Embrasure: the low segment of the altering high and low segments of a battlement
Escalade: scaling of a castle wall
Finial: a slender piece of stone used to decorate the tops of the merlons
Forebuilding: a projection in front of a keep or donjon, containing the stairs to the main entrance
Garderobe: latrine or toilet
Gate House: the complex of towers, bridges, and barriers built to protect each entrance through a castle or town wall
Hall: principal living quarters of a medieval castle or house
Hoarding: covered wooden gallery affixed to the top of the outside of a tower or curtain to defend the castle
Inner Ward or Bailey: open area in the center of a castle
Keep: the inner stronghold of the castle
Machicolation: a projection in the battlements of a wall with openings through which missiles could be dropped on besiegers
Mangonel: stone:throwing machine worked by torsion, used as a siege weapon against castles
Merlon: part of a battlement, the square "sawtooth" between crenels
Meurtriere: arrow loop, slit in battlement or wall to permit firing of arrows or for observation
Moat: a deep trench usually filled with water that surrounded a castle
Motte: an earthwork mound on which a castle was built
Murder Holes: holes or slots between the main gate and a inner portcullis where arrows, rocks, and hot oil could be dropped on attackers
Oilette: a round opening at the base of a loophole
Oriel Window: projecting room on an upper floor, later an upper-floor bay window
Oubliette: a dungeon reached by a trap door
Palisade: a sturdy wooden fence built to enclose a site until a permanent stone wall could be constructed
Parapet: protective wall at the top of a fortification, around the outer side of the wall-walk
Portcullis: vertical sliding wooden grille shod with iron suspended in front of a gateway designed to protect the gate
Postern Gate: a secondary gate or door often located at the rear of the castle
Putlog Hole: a hole intentionally left in the surface of a wall for insertion of a horizontal pole
Revet: face with a layer of stone, stone slabs etc., for more strength. Some earth mottes were revetted with stone
Sapping: undermining, as of a castle wall
Screens: wooden partition at the kitchen end of a hall, protecting a passage leading to the buttery, pantry, and kitchen
Solar: originally a room above ground level, but commonly applied to the great chamber or a private sitting room off the great hall
Springald: war engine of the catapult type, employing tension
Trebuchet: war engine developed in the Middle Ages employing counterpoise
Turning Bridge: a drawbridge that pivoted in the middle
Turret: a small tower rising above and resting on one of the main towers, usually used as a look out point
Wall Walk: the area along the tops of the walls from which soldiers could defend the castle
Ward: courtyard or bailey

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