|A Short History of Castles|
Please click on one of the links below
Most of the fortifications that we consider as 'proper' castles were built during the Middle Ages (c.1000-1500). Unlike most other buildings, such as a church, a house or an inn, they served more than one purpose. A castle was a home for its owner and family, a place where guests could be entertained and often the local centre for administration and justice, but it was also built strong enough to defend its occupants while acting as a base from which attacks on neighbours or more distant enemies could be launched. Later buildings, which are often still referred to as a castle or have the word castle in their name, served only a single purpose, as forts built purely for defense or stately homes built solely as a residence.
The word castle has become a generic term used to describe many types of fortification, and there are many structures that pre-date the Middle Ages that are often referred to as castles.
In the 13th century BC, the Hittites built stone walls with square towers around their capital in Turkey. The Egyptians built a fortress out of mud bricks, with massive gatehouses and square towers, to defend their southern borders, 1500 years BC. From the 16th to the 12th centuries BC, small, separate kingdoms dominated much of mainland Greece, each with its own fortified citadel.
The first fortifications began to appear in Britain from the 5th century BC, with the construction of Iron Age hill-forts. Maiden Castle in Dorset is one of the most impressive examples. These great earthworks (a series of ditches and raised earth banks) were topped by a wooden wall (palisade), and usually protected a settlement. However, they proved no match for the Romans when they invaded England in the 1st century AD. They quickly overpowered the hillforts and imposed their own authority by constructing forts, built to a standard rectangular plan, across much of the country. Some were built quickly out of wood while others were more permanent structures built of brick or stone.
The remains of Roman forts, with their impressive walls still standing, can be seen at Portchester Castle in Hampshire, Pevensey Castle in East Sussex, Richborough Castle in Kent, and Burgh Castle in Norfolk.
© Simon and Gina Robins 2001-2006