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Alcázar of Segovia in SpainBodiam Castle in England
(from Latin
) is adefensive structure associated with theMiddle Ages, found in Europe and theMiddle East. The precise meaning of "castle" is debated by scholars, but it isusually considered to be the "privatefortified residence" of a lord or noble. Thisis distinct from a fortress, which was not ahome, or a fortified town, which was apublic defence. The term has been popularlyapplied to structures as diverse as hill fortsand country houses. Over the approximately900 years that castles were built they tookon a great many forms with many differentfeatures, although some, such as curtainwalls and arrowslits, were commonplace.A European innovation, castles originated inthe 9th and 10th centuries, after the fall of the Carolingian Empire resulted in itsterritory being divided among individuallords and princes. Castles controlled the areaimmediately surrounding them, and wereboth offensive and defensive structures; theyprovided a base from which raids could belaunched as well as protection fromenemies. Although their military origins areoften emphasised in castle studies, thestructures also served as centres of administration and symbols of power. Urbancastles were used to control the local populace and important travel routes, and rural castles were often situated neararchitectural and natural features that were integral to life in the community, such as mills and fertile land.Many castles were originally built from earth and timber, but had their defences replaced later by stone. Early castlesoften exploited natural defences, and lacked features such as towers and arrowslits and relied on a central keep. Inthe late 12th and early 13th centuries, a scientific approach to castle defence emerged. This led to the proliferation of towers, with an emphasison flanking fire. Many new castles were polygonal or relied on concentric defence
several stages of defence within each other that could all function at the same time to maximise the castle'sfirepower. The origin of these changes in defence has been attributed to a mixture of influence from the Crusades
where castle technology was advanced such as the development of concentric fortification
and drawing on earlierdefences such as Roman forts for inspiration. Not all the elements of castle architecture were military in nature, anddevices such as moats evolved from their original purpose of defence into symbols of power. Some grand castles hadlong winding approaches intended to impress and dominate their landscape.Gunpowder, introduced to Europe in the 14th century, did not have an immediate impact on castle building. Castleswere not adapted to resist bombardment by cannons until the 15th century, when artillery became powerful enough
Castle2to break down stone walls. Although castles were built across Europe well into the 16th century, new techniques todeal with improved cannon-fire eventually led to them becoming uncomfortable and undesirable places to live. Truecastles went into decline and were replaced by artillery forts with no role in civil administration, and country housesthat were indefensible. From the 18th century onwards, there was a renewed interest in castles with the constructionof mock castles, part of a romantic revival of Gothic architecture, but they had no military purpose.
The Norman "White Tower", the keep of the Tower of London, exemplifies alluses of a castle: city defence, a residence, and a place of refuge in times of crisis.In this view from the Thames, the keep rises behind the Traitor's Gate.
"Castle" is derived from the Latin word
. This is a diminutive of the word
, which means "fortified place". TheOld English
, French
, Spanish
, Italian
, and terms for castlein other Romance languages derive from
The word castle wasintroduced into English shortly before theNorman Conquest to denote this type of building, which was then new to England.
Although these various terms derive fromthe same root, they are not universallyapplied to the same types of structures. Forexample, the French
is used todescribe a grand country house at the heartof an estate, regardless of the presence of fortifications.
Defining characteristics
In its simplest terms, the definition of acastle accepted amongst academics is "a private fortified residence".
This contrasts with earlier fortifications, suchas Anglo Saxon burhs and walled cities such as Constantinople and Antioch in the Middle East: castles were notcommunal defences but were built and owned by the local feudal lords, either for themselves or for their monarch.
Feudalism was the link between a lord and his vassal, where in return for military service the lord would grant himland and expect loyalty.
In the late 20th century, there was a trend to refine the definition of a castle by includingthe criterion of feudal ownership, thus tying castles to the medieval period. However, this does not necessarily reflectwhat medieval people called castles. During the First Crusade (1096
1099) the Frankish armies encountered walledsettlements and forts that they indiscriminately referred to as castles, but which would not be considered as suchunder the modern definition.
Windsor Castle in England was first built as a fortification of the NormanConquest, and today is home to Queen Elizabeth II of the United Kingdom.
Castles served a range of purposes, the mostimportant of which were military,administrative, and domestic. As well asdefensive structures, castles were alsooffensive tools which could be used as abase of operations in enemy territory.Castles were established by Normaninvaders of England as both defensive andoffensive tools to pacify the country'sinhabitants.
As William the Conqueroradvanced through England after the NormanConquest in 1066, he fortified key positionsto secure the land he had taken. Between1066 and 1087 he established 36 castlessuch as Warwick Castle, which was used toguard against rebellion in the English Midlands.
However, a recent trend to view castles less as militaryinstitutions and more as social structures has questioned the current definition. Towards the end of the Middle Ages,castles tended to lose their military significance due to the advent of powerful cannons and permanent artilleryfortifications;
as a result, castles became more important as residences and statements of power.
Sometimes misapplied, the term "castle" has also been erroneously used to refer to structures such as Iron Agefortifications, for example Maiden Castle, Dorset.
A castle could act as a stronghold and prison but was also aplace where a knight or lord could entertain his peers. Over time the aesthetics of the design became more important,as the castle's appearance and size began to reflect the prestige and power of its occupant. Comfortable homes wereoften fashioned within their fortified walls. Although castles still provided protection from low levels of violence inlater periods, eventually they were succeeded by country houses as high status residences.
It is generally acceptedthat castles are confined to Europe, where they originated, and the Middle East, where they were introduced byEuropean Crusaders;
however, there were analogous structures in Japan built in the 16th and 17th centuries thatevolved independently from European influence and which, according to military historian Stephen Turnbull, had "acompletely different developmental history, were built in a completely different way and were designed to withstandattacks of a completely different nature".

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