A Castle refers to a medieval European fortress (though the term is also applied to a variety of non European fortresses as well), usually used as the residence and seat of power of some noble household. Castles are distinct from fortified towns and cities with walls, though towns often grew around castles and castles called citadels were sometimes constructed in or near cities to protect them. The word comes from the Latin castrum, referring to the fortified bases in which the Romans stationed their legions.
While sometimes used interchangably, it’s important to distinguish a castle from a fortress or palace. A fortress is a fortified military structure that does not double as a seat of political power. A palace is a non-fortified structure used to house royalty or nobility,
Parts of a Castle
- Walls - Designed to keep those filthy barbarians from breaching your stronghold. Can be made from a wide variety of hard materials, ranging from wood to stone. Smart architects would use multiple concentric walls, with the outer walls being lower than the inner walls, allowing for archers and defensive weapons on the inner wall to fire over the tops of the outer wall for double the amount of defensive projection. Walls generally favored many hard angles, such as a star shape, if they expected to be set upon by enemy artillery, especially cannons, as the shape helped deflect projectiles.
- Gates - Allows entry and exit from your castle and usually well fortified to prevent the enemy from using it during an attack.
- Portcullis - an added defense to the gate in the form of an iron grill that can be raised or lowered. Some gatehouses used two of them as a means to trap would-be intruders.
- Barbican - a dedicated gatehouse set apart from the main castle walls that is filled with defenses such as murder holes and arrow slots. If you have a moat and drawbridge, the Barbican would be your first obstacle before you’d even think of crossing either one. Or, you would use the Barbican on the outermost wall, offset from the entrance to the main castle proper, forcing the enemy to travel along sharp right angles against even more defenses once they’ve broken through the first gate. Enemy forces would face much tougher resistance getting through a barbican than a simple gateway.
- Moats - A deep trench that encircles the outer perimeter of your castle, designed to prevent enemy troops from assailing your walls by forcing them to either cover up the moat or deploy specialized siege engines to quickly cross it (which may not always be available to them). In media, moats are commonly depicted containing either water or toxins, with a dangerous creature in the mix. In real life, however, moats rarely contained water (they typically only did so, if the castle is near a flowing body of water), and is simply a dry trench. The reason for this is that the maintenance cost is high: the owner would have to regularly replace the water due to it becoming fetid and attracted insects, which can spread diseases and is a general nuisance for the castle. Due to this, only rich nobles could afford to maintain a water-filled moat for their castle. Dedicated military fortresses mostly had dry moats filled with anything that could probably slow the attackers down, like thick shrubs, spikes, and other easily-maintained nasties.
- Turrets - Tall towers that give your sentries full view of your castle and also gives your archers or siege engines an elevated, defensive position to shoot at the enemy from. Typically used on the corners of the outer wall and the gatehouse, allowing defenders to hit anyone trying to scale the walls from the side.
- Hoardings - wooden sheds built on top of turrets or outer walls for added protection, especially to archers to give them extra room to fire from.
- Keep - The heart of your castle. This is usually where the commanding officers of the castle reside in. Thus, taking the keep is as symbolic as taking the entire castle itself. A well-built keep would also have internal defenses, such as limiting access to certain parts and making it very difficult to take critical areas such as treasuries, storerooms, or residential areas.
- Great Hall - A room located within the Keep where the lord of the castle holds court, or feasts. This is one of the few rooms that the general public can visit.
- Armories - A place to store all the pointy sticks and lumps of sharp metal that your troops will use to give it to the enemy good.
- Granaries - Your castle's central food storage. An army fights (and defends) on its stomach, so be sure this place is always stocked up and safe from sabotage.
- Dungeons - Usually the underground level of your castle where prisoners are tortured for information, punishment, and/or just for fun.
- A particularly nasty feature of a dungeon would be an Oubliette, which is basically a dark, lightless pit to throw someone into. The only way out was for someone to lower a ladder for you.
- Since castles come from an era when people surrendered, dungeons held prisoners to be ransomed back or exchanged.
- Some of the dungeons that went overboard with the torture equipment could easily have been /d/ungeons.
- Traps - More defensive emplacements designed to bleed your enemy's forces. This ranges from a wide variety of hidden emplacements. spike pits, pots of boiling water that spill over, false floors that would drop out, spiked walls that force the enemy to be deliberate with their movements, or rigged trenches.
- Kitchens - Where your cooks prepare food for consumption. Be sure to have good cooks, otherwise your army may think of revolting against you. Be sure to treat the cooks well, as abused cooks don't do a good job and might be bribed into seasoning your stew with some arsenic.
- Trophy Room - A place to store all the mementos concerning your castle's achievements. This can be anything from a personal commendation by the king, to kill trophies from slain opponents.
- Rest room - Knights needs to poop, you know?
- More commonly, this was a convenient window overlooking the moat. Or streets.
- Battlements - A wall located on your ramparts, acting as more cover for your archers. The two main kinds are Crenellations, which have alternating high and low sections for optimizing protection and firing positions, and machicolations, which extend outward from the wall and have holes for dropping stones, dumping boiling water, or firing arrows
- Basements sometimes led towards the larva room (if you ever play resident evil 4).
Types of Castles
- Motte and Baily: A fairly basic type of castle in the Dark Ages. A hall of either stone or wood (the Baily) is built on top of a hill, a basic wooden wall is put around it, at the base of the hill was built some stabled and similar which were also walled off. In some cases the wall (the Motte) circled both, in other cases there were two rings of walls around both the hall as well as the support structures, with a walled off corridor between them. Some of these would be upgraded to have stone walls as time went on.
- Concentric Castle: A castle with two or more walls, with the walls getting increasingly taller as you go in. This allows for archers on the higher inner walls to fire down on enemies if they captured the outer walls. Despite the name they did not have to be circular.
- Japanese Castle: While these served the same purpose as European castles as fortified dwellings and seats of power, castles in Japan were constructed quite differently. For starters, they were always made of wood on top of a solid stone foundation, to better weather the many earthquakes Japan faces. They were made mostly fireproof by use of a special whitewash and lacquer. In addition, castles were always part of a large complex designed to force invaders into fighting through many corridors before reaching the castle proper as the primary defense. Since the part of the Sengoku era most people care about had ready access to and widespread use of cannons a European style fort would be a pretty stupid idea since nobody had yet thought of the...
- Bastion Fort: The widespread application of gunpowder in warfare was generally unfriendly to medieval-era castles. Tall walls, which used to be a massive advantage, would now be death traps as cannons could easily knock them down, with taller walls merely adding more rubble to potentially collapse on you. So a bunch of renaissance Italians came up with bastion forts. Also known as star forts or polygonal fortresses, these are low to the ground with sloped walls backed by a generous amount of dirt and instead of towers have pointy "arrows" called bastions at the corners to prevent enemies from having a place to take cover from and allow the bastions to support each other. Relatively easy to fortify, many went for a simple sloped hill to absorb cannon fire, but you could also build redoubts in between the bastions to add another layer of defense. Bastion forts lasted in one form or another until the 19th century when indirect fire with fused shells made even them irrelevant, although fort-like shore batteries persisted in a few locations through the world wars.