History of Weapons and Strategies used in Defending a Castle

Starting with timber castles, castles evolved throughout the centuries to build better elaborated strongholds. Before the XII century, most castles were made of timber and wood; by the end of the XII century, however, there was a much higher need of protection, hence stone castles.

Besieging a castle was a very difficult task and very frequently, a failed attempt. As castles evolved, so did their defense. When moats were introduced, invading a castle through force was a much harder task. Instead, besieging it was very common. Castle's walls were very effective in halting the invaders. Some walls were wider than 30 feet; thus destroying them was very hard, even after gunpowder was invented.

Even when the moat and the first line of defense were breached, most castles still had another two lines of defense including the keep which was the last defensible spot. Castles with more than two lines of defense are known today as concentric castles. Archers were situated on top of the walls, firing at their victims who took shelted behind trees or anything they could find in order to save their own lives. After bows, crossbows were introduced; severely improving the efficiency of a castle's defense.

Most castles used siege weapons to defend themselves. The most common was the catapult which was placed on a square or round tower to fire at the invaders who would also use siege weapons to destroy walls and launch dead animals to spread diseases to the defenders. Even though huge walls were needed to stop projectiles, there was even a bigger problem to worry about. Food was the biggest problem for the defenders for too much food meant spoilage whilst too few meant death. Most bigger castles had farming land in the interior, but the smaller ones had a very serious problem to worry about.

When there was not enough food, defenders would normally surrender or find another way out. Many castles had secret passageways which led to the exterior. They were normally used after the situation was critical due to the very big risk of leaving their only defense.

If, instead, support arrived when a castle was being besieged; the invaders would be in a very serious problem because of a double-front battle. Normally, the defender's army would attack at the same time as their relievers. Making the invaders in a serious disadvantage.

It is important to note that castles were normally built on top of a hill, near a river or on a very defensible position. They were additionally frequently built near an important town because of the castle's advantage of having an ongoing trade route and military support.

Castles were gradually useless when gunpowder was introduced. A very strong castle could last no more than a week when being subject to such devastating weapons. Still, we can see today the wonders of our ancestors and what they did to defend themselves.

Allures were implemented later on. Their invention meant that attackers could no longer climb castle walls easily because an allure was a passageway on top of a wall. This helped archers tremendously since there were virtually no blind spots after they were implemented. Battlements were invented a few years later. They consisted on making intervals of a wall in the allure; they were very helpful for archers since they could fire at the invaders with minimal risk of being fired back.

Archer loops
Archer loops were small holes placed on a wall giving an archer a very good advantage. They were normally placed on towers since the height also influenced the effectiveness of an archer. Different shapes were made to help the defenders have a better angle when shooting at their victims; additionally, the attackers could only fire arrows back because no other projectile could fit in the hole. Thus, its effectiveness.

Towers were very important in defending a castle. Their taller height helped the archers tremendously, they could fire easily at their targets; but their targets couldn't fire back.

Many different shapes existed. The most common ones were:

Round towers:
They were the stronger kind of towers. Their height averaged 80-120 feet; much bigger than a normal wall. Even though they were more expensive to build, they were stronger; thus their enormous use.

Square towers:
Square towers were somewhat cheaper to build. Nevertheless, they were considered to be much more decorative. Though strong, they were somewhat weaker than round towers because of their design.

Against ladders:
When attackers would attempt to climb a wall, they would be met with all sorts of creative ways to stop them.

Boiling water:
Defenders would throw boiling water at their victims; making the fall. This was a very deadly way to stop the invaders' progression; the only downside was that getting boiling water was not very easy. Fire was used and it took a while. If the invaders attacked continuously, the boiling water wouldn't last and other ways to stop them were used.

Allures usually contained great amounts of sand within them. When boiling water was over, defenders would throw sand at the invaders. Even though unbelievable, sand seldom made the attackers fall to their death. The effect of sand on an armor was incredible since it made it very uncomfortable.

Rocks would be thrown at attackers. Though not very useful, they could knock down an invader--or two.

When the attackers were still climbing the wall, and there were no other resources left; defenders would throw at them whatever they could find. This includes furniture, water, weapons, helmets, stones, animals and everything at the defenders' disposal.

As an additional resource, most castles had an enormous array of traps available to make the invader's job even harder. Such traps often inspired fear into the attackers who were skeptical about attempting to enter the castle itself.

What happened after a castle's fall?
Normally, if the defenders surrendered, the invaders would either take them prisoners, let them go to another province or simply kill them.

There are many records of invaders accepting to let the defenders go, just to kill them right after they leave the castle. Nevertheless, most of the time, invaders were nice by taking prisoners to be releazed after the battle was completely won.

The castle itself could be taken over by another lord, or it could be pillaged and abandoned. It was up to the army's commander to decide if the castle was suitable for his cause--or not. Normally, word would reach the country's king in a matter of days, and he'd send an army to take back the castle just before the invaders had a chance to strengthen it.

Newsletter Registration
Join Our Email List!

Join Our Email List!

To receive discounts, exclusive offers, and breaking news.