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Dungeon (witch cellar) in the Wewelsburg
Old castle Penzlin - dungeon (witch cellar)

Dungeon (from Latin carcer , prison ) is the old name for penal institution .


Up until the Second World War , imprisonment in Germany was subject to stricter imprisonment in contrast to prison and penitentiary . Prison was imposed especially for military offenses. In Austria , the prison sentence was abolished with the Penal Law Adjustment Act of 1974 and replaced by the general form of imprisonment .



When talking about the Middle Ages , there is no difference between the terms dungeon and prison . Later, prison then used for the more severe form of punishment.

Bed room

Betzekämmerchen were rooms in public buildings that could be seen from the outside and were primarily used to display the delinquent and not for imprisonment. Exposed to the ridicule of passers-by, the delinquent served a non- dishonorable sentence for committing lighter offenses.


The term Karzer is also a derivative of the Latin carcer , but describes the (light) arrest that could be imposed on students at universities until the beginning of the 20th century .


Dungeon in the old town hall of Regensburg

In the Middle Ages, a dungeon was a castle or town-owned dungeon, mostly in (windowless) basement rooms or in the lowest part of a fortress ( casemates ), a tower ( keep ). Often it was only accessible through the ceiling through a single opening, a so-called fear hole . The Low German word dungeon is related to “to lose” and entered the written language in the 18th century. A previous meaning is loss ( Dutch: died ) and later “to lose oneself”, to become invisible to others.


  • Daniel Burger : Thrown into the tower. Prisons and torture chambers on castles in the Middle Ages and in the early modern period. In: Burgenbau im Late Mittelalter II. Ed. By the Wartburg Society for Research into Castles and Palaces in conjunction with the Germanic National Museum (= Research on Castles and Palaces, Vol. 12), Berlin and Munich (Deutscher Kunstverlag) 2009, p 221-236. ISBN 978-3-422-06895-7 .
  • Joachim Zeune: Dungeons, prisons and torture chambers. In: Castles in Central Europe. A handbook , vol. 1: Baufformen and development, ed. from the German Castle Association, Darmstadt 1999, pp. 314-315.

Web links

Commons : Dungeon  - Collection of pictures, videos and audio files
Wiktionary: Dungeon  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: dungeon  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations
Wiktionary: prison  - explanations of meanings, word origins, synonyms, translations

Individual evidence

  1. Duden - Origin dictionary, Mannheim: Dudenverlag 2001 3rd ed. Volume 7 pp. 892f.