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The moat is an obstacle to the approach in the immediate vicinity of a medieval castle . The artificially created moat can completely enclose the castle area or partially block it off from the surroundings at particularly endangered places. The ditch prevented attackers from getting directly to the gate or the wall. In particular, the use of heavy siege equipment such as a convertible tower or battering ram could be effectively hindered.

Ditch obstacles were already widespread in ancient fortifications; in Roman military camps they were referred to as fossa . The moat also remained an important part of modern fortress construction .

Water and dry ditches

Dry moat (Castillo de la Mota, Valladolid , Spain)

The most common type of moat was the dry moat, which made it difficult to approach the castle due to its depth and possibly steep embankments. Dry trenches could be equipped with additional obstacles on the bottom of the trench, for example rows of sharpened piles (pile trenches).

Moats practically only occurred in low castles . In the case of hilltop castles , the construction of a moat was not constructive and water was extremely rare here - the construction of a well was often the most complex and expensive construction project when the well shaft had to be driven through many meters of rock to the groundwater level. Many hilltop castles therefore only had cisterns .

The trenches of some low-lying castles and city fortifications were only flooded in the event of an attack. To do this, there had to be a river or lake near the facility. Cities in particular like to replace the moat with a system of upstream ponds , which could serve as fish ponds in times of peace and improve the food supply.

Ditches with standing water had the disadvantage that the water quickly rotten and the ditch became swampy, which could easily become a breeding ground for pathogens and generally reduce the quality of life at the castle. However, there were also castles that were intentionally built in swampy terrain ( swamp castles ), as the boggy terrain made the enemy approach particularly difficult. In order to avoid swamping by means of fresh water supply, water ditches were often connected to flowing waters by canals.

Another advantage of moats that were in contact with natural waters was the complete protection against undermining, i.e. against the construction of underground tunnels or sapps with which the defensive wall could be brought down. The construction of such tunnels was not possible due to the water flowing in.

Trench types

Slope trenches in a contemporary depiction from the 14th century by Simone Martini

The following types of trenches are distinguished according to their position in the fortification:

  • Ring moat : a moat that encircles the entire castle complex and is often usedin low-rise castles .
  • Neck ditch : The neck ditch iswidespreadin hilltop castles , especially among the sub-group of spur castles . It only seals off the most accessible side of the castle area, while the other sides are protected by steep slopes.
  • Sectional trench: A section trench separates separately fortified sections of a castle from one another, for example outer bailey and core castle or the individual parts of a section castle .
  • Slope trench: A slope trench is created in hillside castles on less steep slopes and often has a curved shape following the slope, but can also encircle the entire mountain top.
  • Torgraben: The moat directly in front of a castle gate is also known as the Torgraben. At this point it is spanned by a bridge or drawbridge that allows access to the gate. Most of the time, the ring, neck or section trench takes on this function at the same time, but there are also separate gate trenches, for example to interrupt a ramp that leads to the gate.

Based on their profile, trenches can be distinguished into:

  • Spitz trench: Trench with a wedge-shaped, tapering profile that makes standing in the trench difficult.
  • Base trench: U-shaped trench profile with a flat or rounded base.
Section ditch of Wildenstein Castle , still approx. 16 meters deep today

The depths of the trenches vary greatly, with some pre-medieval and early medieval fortifications there are only shallow hollows in front of low ramparts, formerly mostly crowned with palisades, Hungarian ramparts (10th century) and more recent ones, however, often have very deep trenches (5 m, in individual cases up to 20 m, Wildenstein Castle originally approximately 30 meters). These extraordinary depths of the trenches can often be explained by the utilization and reworking of natural erosion channels and cuttings, the builders of these castles had mostly already selected the castle square accordingly.

The trenches of medieval castles and city walls were often filled in later, so that the original fortification concept is only partially recognizable today. Here, too, considerable depths are reached, usually between three and ten meters. The trench outer walls of medieval and modern fortifications are often designed as lining walls. The trench wall is mostly vertical here. This made it difficult for an enemy to penetrate, and in particular to make his retreat. The attacker was trapped in a trench, so to speak, and could easily be fought with long-range weapons.

In pre- and early medieval castle building there are often double or even triple wall-ditch systems, which offered effective protection against attacks by mounted hordes, thus forcing the attacker to fight on foot. There are both wedge-shaped pointed and flat bottom trenches, the trench excavation was used to build the ramparts or - in the case of rocky subsoil - as building material for the castle complex.

High Medieval castles were often in older, often much larger scale ring walls built. The wall-ditch systems of these predecessors have been preserved in numerous impressive examples, for example around Niederhaus Castle (Ries), Bramberg Castle (Haßberge) , Elmsburg im Elm or Castle Haltberg am Lech. The deep ditch of the old castle near Neuburg an der Donau is also the ditch of a predecessor castle from Hungary.


A modern “moat” will also be built around the German Reichstag .

See also

Web links

Commons : Moat  - Album with pictures, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Rudolf Huber, Renate Rieth: Castles and permanent places. The defense construction before the introduction of firearms. = Châteaux-forts et places fortes (= Glossarium Artis. Fasc. 1). With annex: war equipment and heavy weapons. 2nd, increased edition. Saur, Munich et al. 1977, ISBN 3-484-60058-6 , p. 86.
  2. A ditch in front of the Reichstag. Retrieved July 29, 2019 .