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"To Moat" or "Not To Moat"

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"To Moat" or "Not To Moat"

Postby Dead_Technology » Sat May 20, 2006 8:29 pm

Yes, that is the question. When I was younger it was impossible for me to picture a moat less castle, like a church without crosses. Now that I'm writing and there are castles present the idea of a moat never even crossed my mind, until yesterday. I looked at layouts for fictional and real castles, and I looked at pictures of real castles and I found no moats. Are moats just a myth? I just wanted every one's opinion on moats because I don't know if my castle "should" have a moat or not. Obviously it's my story, my world, I make up the "should"s, but still, are moats "correct"?
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Postby aldan » Sat May 20, 2006 8:52 pm

Yes, moats are/were real. The original idea was to make it that much more difficult for the invaders to be able to get at the walls. The extra ability to slow the invaders made archery more like target practice for the defenders. Also, rather than just gates, they could have a drawbridge to cross the water-filled or stake-filled chasm that was an extra protection (the moat), so that there was extra protection for the entrance to the castle. However, most castles didn't really need the protection of a moat, and many of the moats that existed were later filled in to get rid of the mosquito and stench problem, since most moats didn't have much water flow, or to make enlarging the city surrounding the keep that much easier.
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Postby Qray » Sat May 20, 2006 10:27 pm

Water filled moats, while existing in Western castles, was more prevelant in Eastern fortresses in China and Japan. Some moats had stone casings, but most were left with earthen banks. However, most castles had dry moats simply called ditches.

IMO, the moat (or ditch) derived from earlier Roman fortification designs that existed in the areas of Western Europe. Almost all Roman fortifications had systems (usually two or more) if ditches running around them.

Anywho, the purpose of water filled moat was that sappers found it difficult to tunnel under a moat, attackers could not wade across (for fear of drowning,) attackers would not dare swim across the moat (as it presented too big of a target for the castle guards and made them very vulnerable.) Attackers were known to use portable bridges, or barges, to span the moat and besiege a castle.

There is a myth that alligators or crocodiles were placed in the moats. This is not true. Some moats did have eels and other kinds of fish in them for food. Like Aldan said, sometimes sharpened sticks (bungy sticks) were placed in the moat to prevent attackers from safely entering it. Burning liquids may also have been poured in the moats, but references to this are not proven.

Some castles, like Caerphilly Castle in Wales, sit in the middle of artificial lakes, but most had simple moats. Some moats only surrounded parts of the castle. Sometimes, water defenses were used along with other natural defenses, such as a cliff or river. Moats often ranged between 3 and 30 feet in depth, and were typically well over 12 feet in width. They reached the peak of their development in the 13th century, and went out of fashion in the late 16th century.

Castles of Britian has some very good information on the design and construction of Western Castles.

As far as should your castle have a moat, I would look at it this way...castles were usually built in strategic locations (I'm referring to working castles and not palaces.) Overlooking important waterways, at important crossroads, a mountain pass, or where an increased defendable point needed to be put. A lot of castles where placed in the most easily defended spots. On a hill, on the edge of a cliff, on the edge of a river, lake or other waterway. I guess you would have to decide if the location of the castle in your story is considered defendable enough w/o a moat. If not, they may add a moat to increase the safety of the castle. [shrug]

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Postby Havoc » Sun May 21, 2006 4:39 am

What Q-Ray said + the knowledge and logic of the history on your world (and the technological advancement of each kingdom) + types of attack = your answer.


(For instance, if the castle was made to defend against a kingdom known to employ siege-machines, then yeah, a moat would likely be placed to prevent the siege-machines from coming to close to the walls.
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Postby Qray » Sun May 21, 2006 9:23 am

What Havoc said!

For example, if your world doesn't have sappers, then a ditch instead of a water filled moat would be more cost effective to the castle builder.

Then again, I don't know how integral to your story the design of your castle plays and if a castle siege is part of it. If you have a castle siege and want the castle to be breached, having the designers not put a moat in may lead to siege engines/towers or sappers getting in.

Some times the design of castle defenses came down to the money available at the time. Though a moat is fairly cheap to build (ya just dig it) building a bridge/drawbridge and gate house would've cost money. Some castle builders didn't have the money. Many real castles with moats had a filxed bridge instead of a drawbridge simply because of the money and engineering involved in building a drawbridge.

Many times defenses were added over time by subsequent owners as the castle was enlarged, expanded, and made stronger if needed. If a castle didn't initially have a moat, doesn't mean one couldn't be added over the course of time. Or like Aldan said, over time a moat could be filled in as it was decided it was no longer needed.
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Postby Dead_Technology » Sun May 21, 2006 2:20 pm

Thanks everybody!(Nick Riviera voice, from Simpsons) That was all very insightful, I even got some new ideas that fit in well with my story. The easily defended position makes sense as well, I was just going to have my out in the middle of the land, but I suppose I'll have to move it around. Awesome about filling the moats in as well, explains why I couldn't find any.
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Postby Bread Butterbeard » Fri May 26, 2006 8:51 pm

I havent really seen a moat used in a story, which doesnt mean dont use it! I would like to see a story that had a moat in it.
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Postby Magus » Fri May 26, 2006 10:14 pm

I'm glad things worked out for you. I have nothing more to add than what's already here: Yes, moats were used and not used. Use them according to what fits and works with your own story.
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Postby HulloKitty202 » Mon Sep 11, 2006 9:02 pm

Hey, just wanted to use your moat question as a leeway to brag about my trip to Ireland :D

The two castles I visted both had moats, but one was on the River Shannon and on an island seperated by a fork in the river. Perhaps not a moat persay...but kind of the same idea
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