Thursday, March 9, 2023
HomeArchaeology9 Myths About Medieval Moats and the Truth Behind Them

9 Myths About Medieval Moats and the Truth Behind Them

Medieval moats have lengthy been shrouded in thriller and misinformation, with tales of alligators and impenetrable partitions. But the reality about these historical constructions is much extra fascinating and complicated. In this text, we’ll dispel 9 frequent myths about moats and delve into the various and dynamic historical past of those charming architectural wonders. Get able to embark on a journey by way of time as we uncover the reality about moats!

1.    Moats Were Purely for Defense

Let’s start by placing an finish to the most generally believed fantasy about moats – that they have been ONLY a defensive characteristic. 

When we image an previous medieval fort in our head the chances are we think about it with a giant moat going round it with a draw bridge at the most important gate. While it’s true that moats provided some safety to castles, the reality is that they weren’t simply used for navy protection.  

Moats have been typically used as a show of wealth and standing which served as a logo of the proprietor’s status and energy. The wider, the deeper, and the extra extravagant the design, the extra spectacular it was. 

Famous European examples of this are the moat surrounding the Tower of London which was not solely a defensive measure but additionally served as a logo of the monarchy’s energy, and the moat surrounding the Palace of Versailles, which was additionally used as an ornamental characteristic to showcase the wealth and grandeur of France’s royal courtroom

Moats additionally served as a psychological barrier and have been used to intimidate potential attackers, servings as a visible reminder of the proprietor’s power. For instance, the moat surrounding the Forbidden City in Beijing was used to separate the emperor from the frequent individuals, performing as a logo of the emperor’s energy, status, and distance from these beneath him.

The moat in the Forbidden City of Beijing, used to separate the emperor from the frequent individuals.  (Haluk Comertel/ CC BY 3.0 )

Finally, moats might additionally serve a extra sensible on a regular basis objective. The moats that surrounded feudal Japanese castles have been typically used as a supply of water for irrigation and as a method of flood management. Some European castles used their moats as a part of their sewage programs , whereas others used them to move items from one a part of the fort to the different. They have been even used for leisure actions like fishing and boating.

2.    Moats Were Always Filled with Water

There’s a great probability that the fort we pictured for our first entry had a moat full of water, however that’s one other frequent false impression. In actuality, moats may very well be both moist or dry, full of water, or just a ditch. 

The kind of moat one went with trusted the location, objective, and assets the builders had out there. Good luck filling the moat of a fortification in-built an arid atmosphere. 

An instance of a dry stuffed moat at Conwy Castle. In the previous it was full of rocks.  (MathKnight/ CC BY-SA 4.0 )

Typically, a moist moat was full of water from a close-by river or stream whereas a dry moat may very well be full of rocks, earth, or different supplies to create an impediment. A moat full of sharp rocks may very well be simply as efficient as a moist moat at holding off the enemy.

For instance, the moat surrounding Conwy fort in Wales was dry and full of rocks and earth which created a formidable barrier. In March 1401 two rebels took the fort by disguising themselves as carpenters. The fort and its moat have been so formidable the rebels managed to carry it for 3 months, solely surrendering it as a part of a peace deal. Likewise, the Chateau de Vincennes in France and the fort of Caernarfon in Wales each had dry ditch moats which proved very efficient.

Dry moats have been additionally simpler to keep up. Keeping a moat full of water was typically tough, particularly throughout dry seasons or extended droughts. This made dry moats a sensible different. This might be why the moat surrounding the citadel of Aleppo in Syria was a dry ditch. 

3.    Moats Were Impenetrable

People typically exaggerate how efficient moats have been. While moats have been typically profitable, they may very well be overcome through the use of bridges, ladders, and even by merely filling them with dust. 

Castles and fortresses that featured moats have been constructed with drawbridges that may very well be raised and lowered to permit entry to the most important construction. While these have been an apparent necessity throughout peacetime, they have been a weak spot throughout instances of siege. During a siege, any form of revolt inside the fort (for instance as the results of provides operating low throughout an extended siege) might result in a insurgent letting down the bridge and letting the attackers in. 

Ladders may be used to bypass a moat, particularly smaller ones. For instance, the Castle of Leeds’s moat didn’t reserve it in 1321 when the fort was captured by the forces of Edward II . Some sources state that ladders have been used throughout the assault to bypass the moat.

Additionally, the shallow depth and gentle floor surrounding some moats meant they might merely simply be stuffed in with dust, permitting attackers to cross the moat and breach the fort partitions. This occurred in the case of the moat surrounding the fort of Caernarfon in Wales.


The Moat of Caernarfon Castle. In the previous this might have been full of water. The moat didn’t lengthen all-round the fort as the sea supplied a pure moat on the south and west aspect of the constructing. (Eric Jones/ CC BY-SA 2.0 )

Moats weren’t the be-all and end-all of chateau protection. They have been used along side different defenses reminiscent of fortified partitions, towers, and gates to create a multi-layered protection. The moat was designed to decelerate or deter attackers, to not present absolute safety – there’s no such factor.

4.    Moats Were solely Found in Europe

When we consider moats, we consider the fairy story European medieval fort, however in actuality, a lot of cultures from all through historical past and from throughout the world have used moats. Europeans weren’t the first to consider them.

Moats have been utilized in Japan, Africa, and the Middle East. They have been additionally utilized in historical instances, the Greeks, Romans, and Chinese all made use of them. Japanese castles reminiscent of the Himeji Castle and Osaka Castle each had moats full of water. Likewise in the Middle East moats have been to guard cities, fortresses, and different types of navy structure. Both the citadel of Aleppo in Syria and the citadel of Baghdad in Iraq had moats.

Citadel of Aleppo in Syria. ( saxlerb/AdobeStock)

In Africa, each the Zulu and Ashanti peoples used moats to guard their villages. Rather than simply getting used to guard some wealthy lord or king, Africans used moats to guard their complete group, not simply the elite.

5.    Moats Were Home to Dangerous Creatures

Castles with moats are a preferred staple of fantasy fiction and this has brought about some individuals to confuse the options of fantasy castles with these of historic ones. This has led to the false impression that homeowners stuffed their moats with harmful creatures reminiscent of alligators to discourage attackers.

In actuality, whereas some moats might have had fish and different aquatic life, it was not frequent follow to maintain harmful animals in them. This fantasy seemingly stems from widespread depictions of fantasy castles in media. For most castles in-built Europe, bringing in harmful aquatic creatures like alligators would have been ridiculously costly. Keeping them well-fed and wholesome would even have been a nightmare, particularly in winter. Plus, your moat must be full to the gills with creatures to discourage even the smallest assault drive. The objective of a moat was to create a barrier that was tough to cross. Filling it with harmful animals would have added nothing. 

Described as a “bear moat” between its first and second courtyards. (Ptrantina/ CC BY-SA 3.0 )

There is nonetheless one exception to this rule. The Krumlov fort in the Czech Republic has what could be described as a “bear moat” between its first and second courtyards. Since 1707 the fort’s interior moat has been house to bears. It is unknown if the follow began as a warning to potential intruders or as a standing image.

6.    Moats Were Always Circular 

That moat we pictured method again for the first entry most probably had a round moat. Look up a fantasy fort in any kids’s image guide and there’s a great probability the moat is round. But as soon as once more this wasn’t all the time true.

A moat may very well be any form: round, sq., rectangular, or fully irregular. The form of a moat was usually determined by the form of the construction it was defending and its surrounding panorama.

In Europe round moats have been widespread as they provided a symmetrical and visually interesting design. The Tower of London, Windsor Castle, and Conwy Castle all have round moats for that reason.

On the different hand, generally practicality trumped design. Square and rectangular moats have been frequent options of fortifications in-built areas the place house was at a premium, for instance in mountainous or rocky areas. The Citadel of Saladin in Cairo has a sq. moat and the fortifications of Carcassonne in France have an oblong one.

The fort of Spissky in Slovakia has an irregular moat, nonetheless beautiful in its type. (Michal Klajban, CC BY-SA 3.0 )

Moats may be irregular in form, both for aesthetic causes or as a result of the terrain made a usually formed moat too tough to dig. The medieval fort of Spissky in Slovakia is one such fort with an irregular moat.

7.    Only Castles Had Moats

Just as we mentioned earlier, individuals from all through historical past and from throughout the globe have used moats. Historically if one thing was price defending, there’s a great probability a moat was considered one of its defensive options.

The use of moats was not restricted to castles however may very well be present in a wide range of constructions that wanted extra safety. For instance, palaces and different high-security buildings reminiscent of these utilized by royalty or authorities officers typically had moats. The Palace of Knossos in Crete and the Alhambra Palace in Granada Spain each had moats that they used to supply their high-profile residents and visitors further safety.

Military fortresses typically additionally made good use of moats. The Fortress of Klis in Croatia and the Fortress of Rethymno in Greece each had moats that have been used to offer these essential navy strongholds added safety.

Surrounded by a fortified wall, the Sixteenth-century metropolis of Shibam used this construction for defense. (Dan from Brussels/ CC BY-SA 2.0 )

Sometimes complete cities and cities used moats. As talked about earlier it was a standard follow of some African tribes to entrench their entire village with a moat. Likewise, the historic metropolis of Shibam in Yemen, as soon as a middle of commerce and commerce, had a moat round the metropolis partitions to guard towards raiders.

8.    Moats have been solely constructed throughout the Middle Ages

As we’ve already touched on, most individuals are conversant in the use of moats throughout the Middle Ages, however lots of people don’t notice how widespread their use has been all through historical past.

If we glance again to historical instances, the Greeks and Romans made use of moats, as did the Egyptians. For instance, the Palace of Knossos in Crete had moats to guard from raiders and invaders. The castles of Feudal Japan, reminiscent of Himeji Castle additionally had moats. Even the Great Wall of China, constructed throughout the Ming Dynasty (1368-1644), included moats in sure sections.

Nominated World Heritage website in 1993, the Himeji fort is a fantastic instance of historical fort and moat structure. (Corpse Reviver/ CC BY 3.0 )

In truth, moats are nonetheless in use. Modern navy bases and prisons, reminiscent of the ADX Florence Maximum safety jail in Colorado, USA, and the Citadel, South Carolina’s navy academy, each use moats.

Perhaps the weirdest instance of a contemporary moat nonetheless is the one to be discovered at the Principality Stadium in Cardiff, Wales. This soccer stadium has a moat round its pitch to produce a barrier between the gamers and rowdy spectators!

9.    Moats Were Always Wide and Deep

It isn’t simply the form of a moat that might differ, so might its depth and width. We have a tendency to consider moats as being as large and deep as potential, however the reality is it trusted the particular person moat’s use.

For instance, the moat at Himeji Castle in Japan was designed to be over 50 toes large and over 20 toes deep. This made it an imposing barrier for any wannabe invaders. In distinction, the moat at the Palace of Knossos in Crete was a lot smaller, just a few toes large, and very shallow.

Moats have been costly and labor and time intensive to construct. If there was a big perceived menace, then it was price it to spend the further time and cash constructing a large, deep moat that might realistically deter a big drive. On the different hand, if all you wanted was a moat that served as a psychological deterrent (for instance to maintain the commoners out), then a a lot smaller moat typically did the trick. 


Despite the many myths and misconceptions surrounding moats, their affect on historical past is plain. Rather than the one-note defensive characteristic we so typically examine in fantasy, moats have been much more complicated.

So, the subsequent time you come throughout considered one of these fascinating constructions, take a second to understand their wealthy and multifaceted historical past. Moats are a fantastic instance of how generally truth is extra attention-grabbing than fiction. Whether you are a historical past buff or simply fascinated by medieval structure, the moats of the previous have a lot to supply, and we hope this text has given you a deeper understanding and appreciation for these outstanding constructions. 

Top picture: Surrounding moat at the entrance of Cardiff Castle in Cardiff in Wales. Source: Roman Babakin /AdobeStock

By Robbie Mitchell 


Most Popular

Recent Comments