Moth (castle)

from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Reconstructed moth (foreground) in the Bärnau-Tachov Historical Park

A moth ( French motte "lump", "earth sod") is a predominantly wooden type of medieval castle , the main feature of which is an artificially created mound of earth with a mostly tower-shaped building. Other German names are Turmhügelburg , Erdhügelburg and Erdkegelburg .


Early attempt to reconstruct a château à motte by A. de Caumont, 19th century

Research into the castle type began in the 1830s by the French archaeologist Arcisse de Caumont , who called it château à motte . With moth the characteristic mound is meant. The traditional Latin name for it is mota . The German castle researcher Otto Piper later took over the name "Motte" from French, which in today's German usage refers to both the mound of earth and pars pro toto the castle complex as a whole. Carl Schuchhardt, on the other hand, referred to the hill as a tower hill and the corresponding type of castle as a tower hill castle .

In Austria , the castle type is also referred to as a local mountain or local mountain complex. Regionally there are other different names for the tower hill, such as Bühl , Borwall or Wal .

Structure and shapes

Main castle in the center of the outer castle, reconstruction of la Tusque by Viollet-le-Duc (19th century)

The moth usually consists of two areas: the core castle or stronghold built on an artificial mound and one or more outer castles . The distinction between these two areas is initially a purely formal one; in terms of function, the part located on the mound of earth did not necessarily have to represent the main castle. Both areas are each protected by their own trenches and ramparts or palisades and are often structured one behind the other according to the principle of section defense, with the core castle then representing the last section of defense. The outer bailey and the inner bailey can be assigned to one another in different ways. In the one-part system, the tower hill of the inner castle is located in the middle of the outer castle, which thus surrounds the inner castle in a ring. In the case of multi-part systems, the areas of the outer bailey and core bailey are arranged next to or behind one another. A rare special form are the so-called double moths , which have two tower mounds (one example is Eriksvold on Lolland in Denmark ).

In some cases there are moths without a bailey. This can be the case, for example, if the hill plateau of the inner bailey is so spacious that all farm buildings that are normally housed in the bailey can be accommodated there; an example of this is the Luccaburg in Lower Saxony . In other cases, the associated farm yard could be further away from the castle, so that it did not form a structural unit with it. Smaller military bases or sentinels could also be built in the form of a moth; however, these were not complete castles.

The type of moth is most common in low-lying castles , but also occurs in high-altitude castles , with the latter often having a smooth transition to the tower castle .

Core castle

Main castle of the tower hill castle Lütjenburg : mound of earth with palisade, wooden tower and access bridge (reconstruction)
Bachritterburg Kanzach , residential tower on a low motte, adjoining the
farm buildings of the outer bailey (reconstruction)

The core castle (stronghold) consists of the artificially erected mound (tower mound, sometimes also called castle mound), i.e. the moth in the narrower, real sense, and the buildings erected on it.

Mound of earth

In low-lying areas, a ring trench was dug near the main castle and the trench was piled up in the middle. The resulting moth could be raised with further transported earth material, in some cases such an elevation did not take place until a later construction phase. In research moths are categorized on the basis of it reached up the hill from a height of five meters is called a high-Motte . A more detailed breakdown distinguishes between three categories:

  • Large moths over ten meters high
  • Moths five to ten meters high (the majority of preserved mounds fall into this category)
  • Small moths under five meters high

A diameter of 20 to 30 meters is typical; Tower mounds with a larger diameter usually had a lower height. The construction times for simple systems could be very short: according to the sources, a small hilltop castle was ready for occupancy in around 10 days. The building materials wood and earth were quickly available everywhere (for example through clearing ) and could be processed quickly. However, the mound of earth could also be carefully piled up from different bulk material in order to get a higher stability. Natural boulders or elevations were often built into the hill when the opportunity arose. In some cases, ancient burial mounds and similar structures were also used.

Visible bulk material in a moth in Hungary

Moths at high altitudes were carved out of a slope, a hilltop or a mountain spur , the existing soil was separated and supplemented by backfilling, so that, as with the moths in low areas, a compact and generally even, steep hill shape was created.

The floor plan is characterized by a circular shape, the mound of earth rising above it usually has the shape of a truncated cone or is convex . The slopes are relatively steep and protected against erosion by means of turf. However, there are also square, oval and polygonal hill shapes.

The plateau laid out on the mound of earth was surrounded by a palisade , which, equipped with a battlement and wooden battlements, could also be used for active defense. In the case of smaller hilltop towers, the platform is often only surrounded by a simple wicker fence, which offered passive protection from intruders or wild animals. The palisades or fences of some castles were replaced by stone defensive walls in later construction phases. At the foot, too, the moth could be surrounded by a palisade or a wooden retaining wall that supported the earthwork against the moat.

Access to the hill plateau was often via a wooden bridge or ramp that spanned the moat and continued up to the entrance gate (or gatehouse) in the palisade. This construction method is shown several times on the Bayeux Tapestry. Instead of a ramp, a staircase built into the slope could lead up to the hill plateau. Drawbridges did not become more widespread until the late Middle Ages.

In the majority of the Central European moths, only the tower mounds are preserved, they were later partially used for the construction of chapels or calvaries .

Tower or main house

Reconstructed wooden tower of the Motte Saint Sylvain, France

The middle of the hill platform is occupied by a main building, often a tower . If it was set up as a residential tower , it contained the lord's apartment and could, depending on his position, be appropriately lavish and representative. The tower was probably closed off mostly by an open or covered defense platform . In its dual function as a residential and defense tower, this building is a forerunner of the donjon or keep . In some cases, however, there were also pure watchtowers and defensive towers on Motten if the lord's residence was built elsewhere (e.g. in the outer bailey). One example is the Grimbosque castle in the Calvados department (northern France). Here the function of the tower can correspond to that of the Central European keep .

In the early Motten, the tower, like the other buildings of this castle shape, was mostly made entirely of wood in block or post construction (half-timbered). The only reconstruction of this early construction to date can be seen in the Bärnau-Tachov Historical Park . In the late Middle Ages, the frame construction with clay infill spread. Because of the old age of the castle complex, the wooden superstructures have not survived. Some reconstructions have recently been made ( Kanzach , Lütjenburg , Ulster History Park, etc.).

Later the tower often consisted of a stone shaft on which several cantilevered upper floors in half-timbered construction sat. It was not uncommon for the tower to be built first and then the hill to be filled in. The tower was “mothballed”, that is, the basement levels were in the hill and then served as cellars. This happened mainly for static reasons. In addition to the basement floors of the tower, further underground rooms could also be created in the hill.

The building on the Motte did not necessarily have to be a tower, but the space could also be taken up by a house (see also: Fixed house ). Preserved rectangular floor plans in some cases suggest the construction of a hall building, in other cases the low thickness of some of the remains of posts suggests a two-story building at most. In addition to the tower or main house, there was also space for other outbuildings on the hill plateau for larger moths, free-standing or leaning against the surrounding palisade or curtain wall. A separate well was able to supply the core castle with water.

Outer bailey

For most moths, the outer bailey or lower bailey is an essential part of the overall system. In English-language research, the castle type is therefore also referred to collectively as motte and bailey , with bailey denoting a fenced-in courtyard (in this case the area of ​​the outer bailey ). The outer bailey is surrounded by its own moat and independently secured by ramparts, palisades, walls or a combination of these elements. The side facing the main castle is usually open, which corresponds to the principle of section defense: enemies that had penetrated the outer castle could then be fought from the fortifications on the tower hill. The area can also be laid out on its own earthfill (lower than the tower hill). In some cases, the walls surrounding the outer bailey correspond to the type of hill fort .

The layout of the outer bailey is determined by its spatial relationship to the tower hill. The tower hill, which cuts into the area of ​​the outer bailey or rests on its wall, often leads to crescent-shaped to tongue-shaped floor plans, but rectangular and polygonal shapes are also often found. In some cases the tower mound separates the outer bailey into two areas, for example at the English royal castle Windsor Castle .

The outer bailey usually covers a much larger area than the hill platform of the inner bailey. It offered space for farm buildings, servants' houses, barns, cattle and horse stables, which were an integral part of the farming operations of a medieval castle. But the residential building of the lord of the castle and his family could also be accommodated in the outer bailey. If there was only one defense tower on the tower hill, the outer bailey thus formed the actual center of the castle complex. In some cases the area of ​​the outer bailey is the older part of the castle. At the so-called Husterknupp near Grevenbroich , the castle of the Lords of Hochstaden, a flat settlement was only extended by a tower hill in a later construction phase.

Some moths had several baileys, separated from one another by their own ditches and walls.


While in France and England castles owned by the king or the high nobility were built in the style of the motte, most of the hilltop castles in Central Europe were the permanent residence of a member of the lower nobility and his family. Often in the immediate vicinity of the larger castle complexes of powerful feudal lords, small tower mounds can be found as former seats of the dependent service nobility . These tower mounds go back to older predecessor castles or were created to protect the construction site of the new castle. One of these small castles is located about 100 m from the ancestral castle of the Bavarian Wittelsbachers near Oberwittelsbach .


The development of the moth is completely different to the large-scale Germanic defenses in the form of the hill fort with wall or wood-supported ramparts and palisades and also differs from the Roman watchtowers . The first moths emerged between 900 and 1000 AD, most of the systems emerged in the 11th – 12th centuries. Century. In some parts of Europe, moths were erected until the early 15th century. They can be found from Ireland to eastern Poland . The origins are presumably in the Norman Seine area of western France. Most of the moths in Central Europe were a symbol of power for the newly emerged, lower service nobility of the ministerials .

There are many indications that many lowland castles of the moth type were abandoned by the 13th century. However, this only affected the castle complex, the farmyard of the complex remained in most cases.

The castle complexes, which were not abandoned in the high Middle Ages, were preserved over several stages of expansion. They were fortified through reconstruction and expansion in stone and then corresponded to the special requirements for castle building, partly up to modern times . During these conversions, they were adapted to the changed requirements of the new military technology as fortifications . The former motte as a Niederungsburg was transformed into a new type of moated castle .

Historical description

Moth on the Bayeux Tapestry ( Dinan Castle )

The most important pictorial tradition of the high medieval moth is the Bayeux Tapestry, which shows the Norman conquest of England in 1066. Several hill towers are shown here and some are marked by name. Since the representation is only realistic to a limited extent and has a tendency towards ornamentation , the interpretation of individual details is not certain, but some common features can be recognized. The tower mounds shown have a dome-shaped shape and are surrounded by a small rampart or wall at their foot. The wooden buildings on the hill plateaus are designed differently, they have in common the subdivision into a surrounding palisade equipped with battlements (which is partly extended by attached buildings) and a tower-like building in the center. The long ramp or stairs that lead up from the foot of the hill to the weir can also be clearly seen. Among other things, the building of Hastings Castle by the Normans is shown, here you can see men pouring shovels into the mound of earth. The moth of Dinan in Brittany , which is attacked by the warriors William the Conqueror , who, among other things, is setting fire to the wooden buildings, is also shown in particular detail .

A written tradition of this type of castle is provided by the description of Castle Merchem between Diksmuide and Ypres in the following way:

"It is the custom of the rich and noble people ... to raise the highest possible mound of earth, to surround it with a wide and deep trench at its foot and to build a wall-like strong palisade wall at its inner edge, possibly with towers. In the middle ... on top of the hill, they then build a house or a tower, the gate of which cannot be reached other than on a bridge that begins at the outer edge of the ditch and crosses the ditch. "


Tower hill castle Attendorn , residential tower with attached farm yard
City of Damgarten with the moth "Jaromarsturm" in 1615

In the area of ​​what is now Germany, most of the moths were quickly abandoned as seats of the lower nobility, and in many cases he created larger and more massive castle complexes. Therefore, many of the earthworks of these early, small-scale fortifications are still well preserved.


In some parts of the country, these testimonies of early knight culture occur in a high area density. In the border area between Upper Bavaria and Bavarian Swabia there are numerous examples of smaller and larger moths. One of these systems can be viewed together with the outer bailey in Kissing near Augsburg ( Kissing Castle ). In place of the tower there is a pilgrimage chapel today . In the Plön district ( Schleswig-Holstein ) alone , 45 tower mounds have been placed under monument protection.

In Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania the tower mounds mostly date from the time of the German eastward expansion into the former Slavic areas. Between 1200 and 1300 is the main period of the tower hill castles. So far 463 have been officially registered (as of 2003). These tower mounds can usually be found in good condition in the immediate vicinity of the later manor complexes (mansions). They were later incorporated into the estate parks as design elements. As a rule, they have a small diameter and a height of five to ten meters, are provided with an outer ditch, a rampart, a main ditch (mostly filled with water) and the core mound. Palisades on the outer wall can be assumed, but usually no longer detectable. The castle, residential and defense tower were usually built from wood on a field stone foundation. Apart from the field stone foundations, the construction can hardly be proven today.

In Germany, research on this early form of the Adelsburg is relatively complete, at least in the area of ​​eastern Germany, because it is small, well preserved in the earthwork and can only be seen as a short-term transitional form. Archaeological excavations usually bring hardly any usable results.


There are numerous projects in which castle complexes are either restored for visitors or completely redesigned at any location, such as the free replica of a tower hill castle and outer bailey in Lütjenburg in East Holstein . The Bach knights' castle in Kanzach is a replica of a noble residence in Baden-Württemberg. In the Bärnau-Tachov Historical Park , the first reconstruction can be seen in a very early period around the year 1000. The reconstruction of a medieval moth was implemented at the beginning of 2013 from the LWL Museum of Archeology in Herne in Neuenrade, Westphalia . Reconstructions can also be seen in Saint-Sylvain-d'Anjou (in the Maine-et-Loire department, France) and in Oostkapelle (Netherlands).

Free “after-sensations” are to be distinguished from an object-related reconstruction . The latter is based on a partially preserved (mostly only excavated) object, supplemented by comparative objects and source material. The free “reconstruction”, on the other hand, is based exclusively on analogies to various models and on knowledge of sources. "It is not based on an originally real factual context of just one object in its creative, spatial, social or temporal context." The "free reconstruction" is met with criticism ("Staffagebauten") in spite of tourist successes and political and media support. for “living history demonstrations”), especially against the background of often insufficient financial resources for securing, preserving or researching authentic buildings. The proponents refer - in addition to tourist location advertising - to conveying the "everyday history" of the Middle Ages to a wide audience.


In Austria , “local mountain research” has a tradition that goes back decades.

Leeberg in Pettendorf (municipality of Hausleiten) : Hill grave on the Wagram from the Hallstatt period . In the Middle Ages local mountain with weir system

The term "local mountain", which was adopted by castle research , is used in Lower Austria , with a frequency focus in the middle Weinviertel , for castle complexes that are similar to the moths in that in many cases they show a heaped core structure and a symmetrical design. There is also the expression Wasen for some plants - which is etymologically related to “lawn” and is perhaps related to the original meaning of the word moth. Such systems only show a higher presence in the Weinviertel, while they are significantly less common in the Waldviertel , Mostviertel and southern Lower Austria .

A very heterogeneous group of fortifications is summarized under the term Hausberg. Lower Austria is undoubtedly the federal state with the most local mountains in Austria. In the northeastern part of this state - the Weinviertel - the number of these castles is particularly high. In terms of research history, the “Hausberg” castle format in Lower Austria goes beyond what is defined as the “moth”. This is mainly due to the fact that the "pure" moth exists in landscapes that have little to no elevations. The local mountains, especially in the Weinviertel, mostly use existing heights or spurs and build them up with the help of earth movements. Whereby the symmetry, especially the circular claim, can be lost due to the landscape. The common feature of all systems named as “local mountains” is the fact that they are cut out of the terrain with the help of earth movements, whereby the characteristic characteristic of a moth - artificially elevated central structure and symmetrical floor plan - does not always have to be given. The stone poverty in the Weinviertel has contributed to the fact that former stone structures - the stones of which were used by the local population as building material - have completely disappeared, so that it was previously thought that only wooden castles were in front of them. In any case, the 12th century seems to be the time in which the type experienced further distribution, although it is quite possible that some systems can be classified even earlier in their time of origin.


Like the north German plain, the flat Netherlands are also interspersed with numerous moth hills.


The Herrain in Schupfart is one of the few moths in Switzerland and the only known moth in the canton of Aargau . Another system stood on the Büchel near Zunzgen in the canton of Basel-Landschaft . It is dated to around 1000 AD. The artificial hill directly on the A2 motorway can still be seen today.

Great Britain

With the Normans , the design came to the British Isles as the Motte and Bailey . During the Norman conquest of Anglo-Saxon England (1066), numerous moths were established as the first bases. The wooden components of these small fortresses were partly manufactured on the mainland and only had to be put together on site. Thanks to this prefabricated construction, the conquerors had a dense network of military bases on the island shortly after the invasion . Images of these strongholds can already be found on the Bayeux Tapestry, made around 1080 . Some of these conquest castles were later expanded into huge stone castles. For example, the keep of the royal Windsor Castle stands on a large tower hill.


During the invasion of Ireland from 1177 onwards, numerous moths were erected, converting older structures such as those of the Irish Raths . Most were built between 1177 and 1220 to protect valleys. Proof of 40 in County Down and 70 in County Antrim is required. These include Crown Mound near Newry, Holywood on Belfast Lough and the moths on the Ards Peninsula, Downpatrick , Dromore, Duneight and Shandon Park Mound in Belfast . In Tipperary, the Knockgraffon moth was created on the old inauguration place for the kings of Munster.


There are numerous examples of moths in France, especially in the flatter north. In the south, on the other hand, there were natural mountain cones.

Monument protection

Darze tower hill (Mecklenburg), severely endangered by erosion due to sheep grazing

Like most archaeological monuments, moths are increasingly exposed to vandalism . Particular sources of danger for moths are, for example, predatory graves , some of which cause serious damage. Some tower mounds are excavated for material extraction or badly damaged during the construction of logging routes.


  • Horst Wolfgang Böhme (Hrsg.): Castles of the Salierzeit , 2 volumes; Published by the RGZM Mainz, Sigmaringen 1991
  • Horst Wolfgang Böhme: The high medieval castle building. Castles from the 10th to the middle of the 12th century . In: Deutsche Burgenvereinigung (Hrsg.): Castles in Central Europe. A manual , 2 volumes; Stuttgart 1999, Volume 1, pp. 54-77
  • Hermann Hinz : Motte and Donjon. On the early history of the medieval aristocratic castle . In: Journal for Archeology of the Middle Ages , supplement 1, Cologne 1981; ISBN 3-7927-0433-1
  • Adolf Herrnbrodt: The Husterknupp: a Lower Rhine castle complex of the early Middle Ages . Cologne 1958
  • Michael Müller-Wille: Medieval castle mounds (moths) in the northern Rhineland . Cologne 1966
  • Hans P. Schad'n: The local mountains and related fortifications in Lower Austria . In: Prehistoric Research 3; Vienna 1953
  • Brigitte Janssen, Walter Janssen: Castles, palaces and court festivals in the Neuss district ; Series 10 of the Neuss district

Web links

Commons : Motte  - collection of images, videos and audio files

Individual evidence

  1. Castles in Central Europe. Edited by the German Castle Association. Darmstadt 1999, p. 67
  2. ^ Hermann Hinz: Motte and Donjon. On the early history of the medieval aristocratic castle. In: Journal of Archeology of the Middle Ages . Beiheft 1, Cologne 1981, pp. 16-18
  3. ^ Peter Donat: Medieval knight seats in western Mecklenburg . Ed .: Ground monument maintenance in Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania . Yearbook 49, Lübsdorf 2002
  4. ^ Carl Schuchhardt : Atlas of prehistoric fortifications in Lower Saxony, booklet XI, XII, Hanover 1916
  5. Herner Motte goes to Neuenrade
  6. Max Scheffold, The reconstruction of an ideal typical moth of the time around 1225 , in: AufRuhr 1225, Ritter, Burgen und Intrigen. The Middle Ages on the Rhine and Ruhr, ed. from the LWL Museum for Archeology - Westfälisches Landesmuseum Herne, Mainz 2010, p. 263 f.
  7. See e.g. B. Adrian von Buttlar (ed.): Monument preservation instead of dummy cult . Against the reconstruction of architectural monuments - an anthology / Edited and commented by Adrian von Buttlar , Gabi Dolff-Bonekämper , Michael S. Falser, Achim Hubel, Georg Mörsch / Introduction and editing: Johannes Habich . Bauverlag, Birkhäuser, Gütersloh / Berlin / Basel 2010, ISBN 978-3-0346-0705-6 . (Bauwelt Fundamente, 146) ( PDF ). See also further references under reconstruction (architecture) .
  8. Sabine FELGENHAUER-SCHMIEDT: “Local Mountains in Lower Austria's Weinviertel”, in “Motte - Tower Hill Castle - Local Mountain” On the European status of research on a medieval castle type; CONTRIBUTIONS TO MEDIEVAL ARCHEOLOGY IN AUSTRIA; Ed .: Austrian Society for Medieval Archeology, Vienna, issue 23, 2007; Vienna, ISSN  1011-0062 , p. 163 ff.
  9. ^ Website of the Baselland Archeology, Zunzgen-Büchel site. Retrieved January 17, 2019 .