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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The moat surrounding Matsumoto Castle
The moat surrounding Matsumoto Castle

A moat is a deep, broad ditch, either dry or filled with water, that is dug and surrounds a castle, fortification, building or town, historically to provide it with a preliminary line of defence. In some places moats evolved into more extensive water defences, including natural or artificial lakes, dams and sluices. In older fortifications, such as hillforts, they are usually referred to simply as ditches, although the function is similar. In later periods, moats or water defences may be largely ornamental. They could also act as a sewer.

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Transcription

A common image in pop-culture is that of a castle moat filled to the brim with water and hungry crocodiles. So did anyone ever actually do this? The short answer is that it doesn’t appear so. That said, while there’s no known documented instance of crocodiles intentionally being put into moats, we do know of at least one castle that had (and has, in fact) a moat full of bears… Before we get to that and why crocodiles in moats are probably not the best idea in the world, or at least not a very efficient use of resources if your concern was really defence of a fortress, we should address the fact that the common image most people have in their heads of a moat isn’t exactly representative of what historical moats usually looked like. To begin with, moats have been around seemingly as long as humans have had need of protecting a structure or area, with documented instances of them appearing everywhere from Ancient Egypt to slightly more modern times around certain Native American settlements. And, of course, there are countless examples of moats being used throughout European history. In many cases, however, these moats were little more than empty pits dug around a particular piece of land or property- water filled moats were something of a rarity. You see, unless a natural source of water was around, maintaining an artificial moat filled with water required a lot of resources to avoid the whole thing just turning into a stinking cesspool of algae and biting bugs, as is wont to happen in standing water. As with artificial ponds constructed on certain wealthy individuals’ estates, these would have to be regularly drained and cleaned, then filled back up to keep things from becoming putrid. Of course, if one had a natural flowing water source nearby, some of these problems could be avoided. But, in the end, it turns out a water filled moat isn’t actually that much more effective than an empty one at accomplishing the goal of protecting a fortress. And as for putting crocodiles (or alligators) in them, introducing such animals to a region, beyond being quite expensive if not their native habitat, is also potentially dangerous if the animals got out. Again, all this while not really making the act of conquering a fortress that much more difficult- so little payoff for the extra cost of maintaining crocodiles. Unsurprisingly from this, outside of a legend we’ll get to shortly, there doesn’t appear to be any known documented cases of anyone intentionally putting crocodiles or alligators into their water filled moats. It should also be mentioned here that while at first glance it would appear that the key purpose of a moat is to defend against soldiers attacking at the walls, they were often actually constructed with the idea of stopping soldiers under the ground. You see, a technique favoured since ancient times for breaching cities, fortresses and fortified positions was to simply dig tunnels below any walls surrounding the position and then intentionally let them collapse, bringing part of the wall above that section tumbling down. Eventually this was accomplished by use of explosives like gunpowder, but before this a more simple method was to cart a bunch of tinder into the tunnel at the appropriate point and set the whole thing ablaze. The idea here was, after all your diggers were out, to destroy the support beams used to keep the tunnel from collapsing while digging. If all went as planned, both the tunnel and the wall above it would then collapse. To get around this very effective form of breaching fortifications, moats would be dug as deeply as possible around the fortification, sometimes until diggers reached bedrock. If a natural source of water was around, surrounding the fortress with water was a potential additional benefit over the dry pit at stopping such tunneling. Either way, beyond making tunneling more difficult (or practically impossible), dry and wet moats, of course, helped dissuade above ground attacks as well thanks to moats being quite good at limiting an enemy’s use of siege weaponry. In particular, devices such as battering rams are rendered almost entirely useless in the presence of a large moat. Though the later advent of weapons such as trebuchets made moats less effective overall, they still proved to be formidable barrier capable of kneecapping a direct assault on a castle’s walls. All this said, it wasn’t as if proud moat owners didn’t put anything in them. There are plenty of ways to beef up moat defences without the need for water and crocodiles. Pretty much anything that slows an enemy’s advance works well. And, better year, anything that is so daunting it deters an attack at all. In fact, archaeological surveys of moats have found evidence of things like stinging bushes having once grown throughout some moats. Whether these were intentionally planted on the part of the moat owners or just a byproduct of having a patch of land they left unattended for years at a time isn’t entirely clear. But it doesn’t seem too farfetched to think this may have been intentional in some cases. As you might imagine, wading through stinging or thorny plants while arrows and rocks and the like are raining down at you from above wasn’t exactly tops on people’s lists of things to do. As for moats that were filled with water, while filling them with crocodiles or alligators wasn’t seemingly something anyone did, some savvy castle owners did fill them with fish giving them a nice private fishery. (As mentioned, artificial ponds built for this purpose were also sometimes a thing for the ultra-wealthy, functioning both as a status symbol, given maintaining such was incredibly expensive, and a great source of food year round). Moving back to the dry bed moats, when not just leaving them as a simple dug pit or planting things meant to slow enemy troops, it does appear at least in some rare instances fortress owners would put dangerous animals in them, though seemingly, again, more as a status symbol than actually being particularly effective at deterring enemy troops. Most famously, at Krumlov Castle in the Czech Republic there exists something that is most aptly described as a “bear moat”, located between the castle’s first and second courtyard. When exactly this practice started and exactly why has been lost to history, with the earliest known documented reference to the bear moat going back to 1707. Whether designed to serve as a stark warning to potential intruders, a status symbol, or both, the castle’s grizzliest residents were tended to by a designated bearkeeper until around the early 19th century when the practice ceased. This changed again in 1857 when the castle’s then resident noble, Karl zu Schwarzenberg, acquired a pair of bears from nearby Transylvania intent on reviving the tradition. From that moment onward, outside of a brief lapse in the late 19th century, the castle’s moat has almost always contained at least one bear. Today the bears are most definitely completely for show, and each year bear-themed celebrations are held at Christmas and on the bears’ birthdays during which children bring the bears presents. If bears aren’t you thing, Wilhelm V, the Prince Regent of Bavaria, in the late 16th century supposedly kept both lions and a leopard in the moat of Trausnitz Castle while he lived there. However, again, it appears that Prince Wilhelm kept the animals more for show and fun than he did for defence. Beyond dangerous creatures, his moat also contained pheasants and a rabbit run. Moving back to crocodiles being put in moats, the earliest reference to something like this (though seemingly just a legend), appears to be the legend of the Coccodrillo di Castelnuovo. This story is recounted by the 19th and 20th century historian and politician Benedetto Croce in his “Neapolitan Stories and Legends“: In that castle, there was a moat under the level of the sea, dark, humid, where the prisoners, who they want to more strictly castigate, were usually put. When, all of a sudden, they started to notice with astonishment that, from there, the prisoners disappeared. Did they escape? How? Put a tighter surveillance and a new guest inside there, one day they saw, unexpected and terrifying scene, from a hole hidden in the moat, a monster, a crocodile entering and, with its jaws, it grasped for the legs the prisoner, and dragged him to the sea to eat him. Rather than kill the creature, the guards decided to make the fearsome creature an “executor of justice”, sending prisoners condemned to death to meet their end in its toothy maw. Exactly where the crocodile came from and when this supposedly happened depends on which version of the legend you consult, though our favourite version suggests that Queen Joanna II smuggled it over to Naples from Egypt sometime in the 15th century with the sole intention of feeding her many, many lovers to it. A consistent element in most versions of the legend is that the beast bit off more than it could chew when it tried to eat a leg of a giant horse, ultimately choking on it. Of course, this is generally thought to be nothing more than a legend, with no evidence that it actually occurred or even exactly when. At least the story does show that the idea of a crocodile in a moat isn’t just something found in modern pop culture.

Contents

Historical use

Ancient

North view of the fortress of Buhen in Ancient Egypt.
North view of the fortress of Buhen in Ancient Egypt.

Some of the earliest evidence of moats has been uncovered around ancient Egyptian castles. One example is at Buhen, a castle excavated in Nubia. Other evidence of ancient moats is found in the ruins of Babylon, and in reliefs from ancient Egypt, Assyria, and other cultures in the region.[1][2]

Evidence of early moats around settlements has been discovered in many archaeological sites throughout Southeast Asia, including Noen U-Loke, Ban Non Khrua Chut, Ban Makham Thae and Ban Non Wat. The use of the moats could have been either for defensive or agriculture purposes.[3]

Medieval

A medieval moat castle in Steinfurt, Germany
A medieval moat castle in Steinfurt, Germany

Moats were excavated around castles and other fortifications as part of the defensive system as an obstacle immediately outside the walls. In suitable locations they might be filled with water. A moat made access to the walls difficult for siege weapons, such as siege towers and battering rams, which needed to be brought up against a wall to be effective. A water-filled moat made the practice of mining, digging tunnels under the castles in order to effect a collapse of the defences, very difficult as well. Segmented moats have one dry section and one section filled with water. Dry moats cut across the narrow part of a spur or peninsula are called neck ditches. Moats separating different elements of a castle, such as the inner and outer wards are cross ditches.

The word adapted in Middle English from the Old French motte "mound, hillock" and was first applied to the central mound on which a castle was erected (see Motte and bailey), and then came to be applied to the excavated ring, a "dry moat". The shared derivation implies that the two features were closely related and possibly constructed at the same time.[4] The term moat is also applied to natural formations reminiscent of the artificial structure, and to similar modern architectural features.

Later western fortification

The 17th-century fortified town of Naarden, Netherlands, showing bastions projecting into the wet moat
The 17th-century fortified town of Naarden, Netherlands, showing bastions projecting into the wet moat

With the introduction of siege artillery, a new style of fortification emerged in the 16th century using low walls and projecting strong points called bastions, which was known as the trace italienne. The walls were further protected from infantry attack by wet or dry moats, sometimes in elaborate systems.[5] When this style of fortification was superseded by lines of polygonal forts in the mid-19th century, moats continued to be used for close protection.[6]

Africa

The Walls of Benin were a combination of ramparts and moats, called Iya, used as a defense of the capital Benin City in present-day Edo State of Nigeria. It was considered the largest man-made structure lengthwise, second only to the Great Wall of China and the largest earthwork in the world. With more recent work by Patrick Darling, it has been established as the largest man-made structure in the world, larger than Sungbo's Eredo, also in Nigeria. It enclosed 6,500 km2 of community lands. Its length was over 16,000 km of earth boundaries. It was estimated that earliest construction began in 800 and continued into the mid-15th century.

The walls are built of a ditch and dike structure; the ditch dug to form an inner moat with the excavated earth used to form the exterior rampart.

The Benin Walls were ravaged by the British in 1897. Scattered pieces of the walls remain in Edo, with material being used by the locals for building purposes. The walls continue to be torn down for real estate developments.

The Walls of Benin City were the world's largest man-made structure. Fred Pearce wrote in New Scientist:

"They extend for some 16,000 kilometres in all, in a mosaic of more than 500 interconnected settlement boundaries. They cover 6,500 square kilometres and were all dug by the Edo people. In all, they are four times longer than the Great Wall of China, and consumed a hundred times more material than the Great Pyramid of Cheops. They took an estimated 150 million hours of digging to construct, and are perhaps the largest single archaeological phenomenon on the planet."

Asia

Map of the Tokyo Imperial Palace and surrounding Gardens showing the elaborate moat system
Map of the Tokyo Imperial Palace and surrounding Gardens showing the elaborate moat system

Japanese castles often have very elaborate moats, sometimes with many moats laid out in concentric circles around the castle and a host of different patterns engineered around the landscape. Japanese castles will have up to three of these concentric moats. The outer moat of Japanese castles typically protects other support buildings in addition to the castle.

As many Japanese castles have historically been a very central part of their respective city, the moats have provided a vital waterway to the city. Even in modern times, the moat system of the Tokyo Imperial Palace comprises a very active body of water, hosting everything from rental boats and fishing ponds to restaurants.[7]

Most modern Japanese castles have moats filled with water, but castles in the feudal period more commonly had 'dry moats' karabori (空堀, 【からぼり】, lit. "empty moat"), a trench. A tatebori (竪堀, 【たてぼり】, lit. "vertical moat") is a dry moat dug into a slope. A unejo tatebori (畝状竪堀, lit. "furrowed shape empty moat") is a series of parallel trenches running up the sides of the excavated mountain, and the earthen wall, which was also called doi (土居, 【どい】, lit. "earth mount"), was an outer wall made of earth dug out from a moat. Even today, it is common for mountain Japanese castles to have dry moats. A mizubori (水堀, 【みずぼり】, lit. "water moat") is a moat filled with water.

Moats were also used in the Forbidden City and Xi'an in China; in Vellore in India; Hsinchu in Taiwan; and in Southeast Asia, such as at Angkor Wat in Cambodia and Chiang Mai in Thailand.

Australia

The only moat fort ever built in Australia was Fort Lytton in Brisbane. As Brisbane was much more vulnerable to attack than either Sydney or Melbourne, a series of coastal defenses were built throughout Moreton Bay, with Fort Lytton the largest of these defenses. Built between 1880–81, in response to fear of a Russian invasion. It is a pentagonal fortress concealed behind grassy embankments, and surrounded by a water-filled moat.

North America

While moats are commonly associated with European castles, they were also developed by North American Indians of the Mississippian culture as the outer defence of some fortified villages. The remains of a 16th-century moat are still visible at the Parkin Archeological State Park in eastern Arkansas. Further, the term moat was used to describe dry ditches surrounding forts built by colonials or Americans to protect important landmarks, harbors, or cities (see: Fort Jay on Governors Island).

The Mayans also used moats in the city of Becan.

Photo gallery

Modern usage

Architectural usage

Dry moat at the James Farley Post Office in New York City.
Dry moat at the James Farley Post Office in New York City.

Dry moats were a key element used in French Classicism and Beaux-Arts architecture dwellings, both as decorative designs and to provide discreet access for service. Excellent examples of these can be found in Newport, Rhode Island at Miramar (mansion) and The Elms, as well as at Carolands, outside of San Francisco, California, and at Union Station in Toronto, Ontario, Canada. Additionally, a dry moat can allow light and fresh air to reach basement workspaces, as for example at the James Farley Post Office in New York City.

Anti-terrorist moats

While moats are no longer a significant tool of warfare, modern architectural building design continues to use them as a defence against certain modern threats, such as terrorist attacks from car bombs and armoured fighting vehicles. For example, the American embassy in London did not have a moat, however the new embassy, opened in 2018, has.[8] Modern moats may also be used for aesthetic or ergonomic purposes.

The Catawba Nuclear Station has been constructing a concrete moat around some of the plant (other sides of the plant are bordering a lake). The moat is a part of industry wide added precautions after the September 11, 2001 attacks.[9]

Safety moats

Moats, rather than fences, separate animals from spectators in many modern zoo installations. Moats were first used in this way by Carl Hagenbeck at his Tierpark in Hamburg, Germany.[10] The structure, with a vertical outer retaining wall rising directly from the moat, is an extended usage of the ha-ha of English landscape gardening.

Border defence moats

In 2004, plans were suggested for a two-mile moat across the southern border of the Gaza Strip to prevent tunneling from Egyptian territory to the border town of Rafah.[11]

In 2008, city officials in Yuma, Arizona planned to dig out a two-mile stretch of a 180-hectare (440-acre) wetland known as Hunters Hole, to control immigrants coming from Mexico.[12]

Pest control moats

Researchers of jumping spiders, which have excellent vision and adaptable tactics,[13] built water-filled miniature moats, too wide for the spiders to jump across. Some specimens were rewarded for jumping then swimming, and others for swimming only. Portia fimbriata from Queensland generally succeeded, for whichever method they were rewarded.[14] When specimens from two different populations of Portia labiata were set the same task, members of one population worked out for whichever method they were rewarded, while members of the other continued to use whichever method they tried first and did not try to adapt.[15]

As a basic method of pest control in bonsai, a moat may be used to restrict access of crawling insects to the bonsai.

See also

References

  1. ^ Archaeology in Syria Tell Sabi Abyad, archived from the original on March 21, 2007 article on Netherlands National Museum of Antiquities website
  2. ^ Oredsson, Dag (November 2000). "Moats in Ancient Palestine". Almqvist & Wiksell International. Archived from the original on 2015-09-23.
  3. ^ McGrath, R., & Boyd, W. (2001). The chronology of the Iron Age'moats' of Northeast Thailand. Antiquity, 75(288)
  4. ^ Friar, Stephen (2003), The Sutton Companion to Castles, Stroud: Sutton Publishing, p. 214, ISBN 978-0-7509-3994-2
  5. ^ Jean-Denis and G. G. Lepage, French Fortifications, 1715-1815: An Illustrated History, McFarland & Co 2010 (pp.46-50) Archived 2016-01-03 at the Wayback Machine
  6. ^ Fortress Study Group: Simon Barrass, An Introduction to Artillery Fortification, 2011 Archived 2016-03-04 at the Wayback Machine
  7. ^ "Imperial Palace moats illegally occupied by businesses". Japan Today. August 25, 2006. Archived from the original on October 28, 2006.
  8. ^ Architecture Correspondent, Jonathan Morrison (2017-12-14). "US embassy: America shows off its Thames fortress". The Times. ISSN 0140-0460. Retrieved 2018-04-26.
  9. ^ "Nuclear Power Plants to Continue MOX Program". Nuclear Threat Initiative. October 13, 2004. Archived from the original on September 1, 2009.
  10. ^ Rene S. Ebersole (November 2001). "The New Zoo". Audubon Magazine. National Audubon Society. Archived from the original on 2007-09-06. Retrieved 2007-12-18.
  11. ^ Urquhart, Conal (June 18, 2004). "Two-mile Gaza moat to foil tunnels to Egypt". London: The Guardian. Retrieved May 12, 2010.
  12. ^ Glaister, Dan (March 14, 2008). "US city plans moat to keep out migrants". London: The Guardian. Archived from the original on September 2, 2013. Retrieved May 12, 2010.
  13. ^ Harland, D.P. & Jackson, R.R. (2000). ""Eight-legged cats" and how they see: a review of recent research on jumping spiders (Araneae: Salticidae)" (PDF). Cimbebasia. 16: 231–240. Archived (PDF) from the original on 28 September 2006. Retrieved 5 May 2011.
  14. ^ Jackson, Robert R.; Chris M. Carter; Michael S. Tarsitano (2001). "Trial-and-error solving of a confinement problem by a jumping spider, Portia fimbriata". Behaviour. Leiden: Koninklijke Brill. 138 (10): 1215–1234. doi:10.1163/15685390152822184. ISSN 0005-7959. JSTOR 4535886.
  15. ^ Jackson, Robert R.; Fiona R. Cross; Chris M. Carter (2006). "Geographic Variation in a Spider's Ability to Solve a Confinement Problem by Trial and Error". International Journal of Comparative Psychology. 19: 282–296. Archived from the original on 6 April 2012. Retrieved 8 June 2011.

External links

This page was last edited on 25 February 2019, at 12:41
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