• Thu. Mar 30th, 2023

9 Myths About Medieval Moats and the Truth Behind Them


Mar 9, 2023

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

1.    Moats Had been Purely for Protection

Let’s start by placing an finish to essentially the most broadly believed fantasy about moats – that they had been ONLY a defensive function. 

Once we image an previous medieval citadel in our head the chances are we think about it with a giant moat going round it with a draw bridge on the primary gate. Whereas it’s true that moats provided some safety to castles, the reality is that they weren’t simply used for military defense.  

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

Well-known 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 function to showcase the wealth and grandeur of France’s royal court

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

The moat within the Forbidden Metropolis of Beijing, used to separate the emperor from the widespread individuals.  (Haluk Comertel/ CC BY 3.0 )

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

2.    Moats Had been At all times Stuffed with Water

There’s a very good probability that the citadel we pictured for our first entry had a moat crammed with water, however that’s one other widespread false impression. In actuality, moats could possibly be both moist or dry, crammed with water, or just a ditch. 

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

An instance of a dry crammed moat at Conwy Fortress. Up to now it was crammed with rocks.  (MathKnight/ CC BY-SA 4.0 )

Usually, a moist moat was crammed with water from a close-by river or stream whereas a dry moat could possibly be crammed with rocks, earth, or different supplies to create an impediment. A moat crammed with sharp rocks could possibly be simply as efficient as a moist moat at holding off the enemy.

For instance, the moat surrounding Conwy castle in Wales was dry and crammed with rocks and earth which created a formidable barrier. In March 1401 two rebels took the citadel by disguising themselves as carpenters. The citadel and its moat had 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 citadel of Caernarfon in Wales each had dry ditch moats which proved very efficient.

Dry moats had been additionally simpler to take care of. Retaining a moat crammed with water was typically tough, particularly throughout dry seasons or extended droughts. This made dry moats a sensible various. That is most likely why the moat surrounding the citadel of Aleppo in Syria was a dry ditch. 

3.    Moats Had been Impenetrable

Folks typically exaggerate how efficient moats had been. Whereas moats had been typically profitable, they could possibly be overcome through the use of bridges, ladders, and even by merely filling them with grime. 

Castles and fortresses that featured moats had been constructed with drawbridges that could possibly be raised and lowered to permit entry to the primary construction. Whereas these had been an apparent necessity throughout peacetime, they had been a weak spot throughout instances of siege. Throughout a siege, any sort of revolt throughout the citadel (for instance as the results of provides working low throughout a protracted 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 Fortress of Leeds’s moat didn’t put it aside in 1321 when the citadel was captured by the forces of Edward II . Some sources state that ladders had been used throughout the assault to bypass the moat.

Moreover, the shallow depth and tender floor surrounding some moats meant they might merely simply be crammed in with grime, permitting attackers to cross the moat and breach the citadel partitions. This occurred within the case of the moat surrounding the citadel of Caernarfon in Wales.

The Moat of Caernarfon Fortress. Up to now this could have been crammed with water. The moat didn’t lengthen all-round the citadel as the ocean offered a pure moat on the south and west facet of the constructing. (Eric Jones/ CC BY-SA 2.0 )

Moats weren’t the be-all and end-all of chateau protection. They had 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 Had been solely Present in Europe

Once we consider moats, we consider the fairy story European medieval citadel, however in actuality, a lot of cultures from all through historical past and from internationally have used moats. Europeans weren’t the primary to think about them.

Moats have been utilized in Japan, Africa, and the Center East. They had been additionally utilized in historic instances, the Greeks, Romans, and Chinese language all made use of them. Japanese castles such because the Himeji Castle and Osaka Castle each had moats crammed with water. Likewise within the Center East moats had been to guard cities, fortresses, and different types of army structure. Each 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. Somewhat than simply getting used to guard some wealthy lord or king, Africans used moats to guard their total neighborhood, not simply the elite.

5.    Moats Had been Residence to Harmful Creatures

Castles with moats are a well-liked staple of fantasy fiction and this has triggered some individuals to confuse the options of fantasy castles with these of historic ones. This has led to the misperception that homeowners crammed their moats with harmful creatures reminiscent of alligators to discourage attackers.

In actuality, whereas some moats could have had fish and different aquatic life, it was not widespread follow to maintain harmful animals in them. This fantasy probably stems from widespread depictions of fantasy castles in media. For many castles inbuilt Europe, bringing in harmful aquatic creatures like alligators would have been ridiculously costly. Retaining 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 aim 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’s nevertheless one exception to this rule. The Krumlov citadel within the Czech Republic has what could be described as a “bear moat” between its first and second courtyards. Since 1707 the citadel’s inside moat has been dwelling to bears. It’s unknown if the follow began as a warning to potential intruders or as a standing image.

6.    Moats Had been At all times Round 

That moat we pictured means again for the primary entry more than likely had a round moat. Search for a fantasy citadel in any youngsters’s image e-book and there’s a very good probability the moat is round. However as soon as once more this wasn’t at all times true.

A moat could possibly be any form: round, sq., rectangular, or utterly 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 had been widespread as they provided a symmetrical and visually interesting design. The Tower of London, Windsor Fortress, and Conwy Fortress all have round moats because of this.

However, generally practicality trumped design. Sq. and rectangular moats had been widespread options of fortifications inbuilt areas the place area 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 citadel of Spissky in Slovakia has an irregular moat, nonetheless beautiful in its kind. (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 repeatedly formed moat too tough to dig. The medieval citadel of Spissky in Slovakia is one such citadel with an irregular moat.

7.    Solely Castles Had Moats

Simply as we mentioned earlier, individuals from all through historical past and from throughout the globe have used moats. Traditionally if one thing was price defending, there’s a very good probability a moat was one in all its defensive options.

The usage of moats was not restricted to castles however could possibly 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 friends further safety.

Navy 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 had been used to provide these necessary army 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 )

Generally total cities and cities used moats. As talked about earlier it was a typical 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 across the metropolis partitions to guard in opposition to raiders.

8.    Moats had been solely constructed throughout the Center Ages

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

If we glance again to historic 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 web site in 1993, the Himeji citadel is a advantageous instance of historic citadel and moat structure. (Corpse Reviver/ CC BY 3.0 )

In truth, moats are nonetheless in use. Trendy army bases and prisons, such because the ADX Florence Most safety jail in Colorado, USA, and the Citadel, South Carolina’s army academy, each use moats.

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

9.    Moats Had been At all times Vast and Deep

It isn’t simply the form of a moat that would fluctuate, so might its depth and width. We have a tendency to think about moats as being as extensive and deep as potential, however the fact is it trusted the person moat’s use.

For instance, the moat at Himeji Fortress in Japan was designed to be over 50 ft extensive and over 20 ft deep. This made it an imposing barrier for any wannabe invaders. In distinction, the moat on the Palace of Knossos in Crete was a lot smaller, a couple of ft extensive, and really shallow.

Moats had been costly and labor and time intensive to construct. If there was a big perceived risk, then it was price it to spend the additional money and time constructing a large, deep moat that would realistically deter a big drive. However, 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. 


Regardless of the numerous myths and misconceptions surrounding moats, their impression on historical past is simple. Somewhat than the one-note defensive function we so typically examine in fantasy, moats had been way more advanced.

So, the following time you come throughout one in all these fascinating constructions, take a second to understand their wealthy and multifaceted historical past. Moats are an awesome instance of how generally reality is extra fascinating than fiction. Whether or not 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. 

Prime picture: Surrounding moat on the entrance of Cardiff Fortress in Cardiff in Wales. Supply: Roman Babakin /AdobeStock

By Robbie Mitchell 

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