Glossary

A

Angle of the bastion

The angle formed by the face of the bastion and its flank.

 

Anima

The bore of the barrel in artillery and firearms.

 

Arsenal

Depot or general storehouse for weapons and other items of war.

 

Ashlar

Large blocks of stone cut into regular shapes ready for building walls and masonry arches.

 

Ashlar work

Work done with ashlars ordered and placed in well-pointed courses.

 

Artillery

Weapon of war of the type designed to fire large projectiles over long distances by means of an explosive charge.

B

Bank

Steeply sloped reinforcement for the lower part of the walls te make it stronger and keep siege machines at a distance. Also to prevent digging or mining under the walls.

 

Banquette

Long bench-shaped area of earth or rough stone, accessed by a ramp from inside the castle and which is large enough for the soldiers to occupy in two lines, protected from enemy fire up to shoulder height by the wall, parapet or fortification.

 

Bastion

Pentagonal fortification projecting outward at the point where two curtain walls meet, comprising two faces that forms a salient angle, two flanks joining them to the wall and an entrance gorge.

 

Bastion face

Each of the two walls that meet at a salient or which form the capital angle of the bastion.

 

Bastion flank

Side of a military fort or the immediate area to the side. Part of the bastion forming an angle with the curtain wall and facing out te the front. Each of the walls joining the enclosure to the bastion faces.

 

Battery

All the artillery ready to fire. Artillery unit, usually commanded by a captain, composed of a relatively small number of arms and men.

 

Belt

Stone, brick or adobe wall surrounding a fortress for its external defence. It must be of a height to impede easy scaling by besiegers and robust enough to resist the different attack methods of invaders. If the wall closes on itself it is called an enclosure.

 

Bomb-proof vault

Vault that has been sufficiently reinforced to enable it to withstand the impact of howitzers and mortars in siege warfare and thus protect the garrison and its munitions.

 

Bonding

Manner in which building materials (masonry, ashlars, brick or other elements) are arranged in a stonework construction. Different types of bonds are: stretcher, header, rowlock, etc…

 

Borough

Mediaeval fortresses built by feudal nobles to watch over the territory in their jurisdiction where groups of merchants and craftsmen etc., settled. The origin of many medieval cites.

 

Boss

Part of the ashlar that sticks out from the construction, with rounded or bevelled arrises.

 

Breechloader

Firearm that is loaded at the back (the lower part of the mechanism, not the muzzle).

C

Calibre

Internal diameter or bore of a firearm barrel.

 

Cannon

Artillery piece with a very long muzzle in relation to its calibre, used to shoot balls, shot or a certain type of hollow projectile.

 

Cannon instruments

Artillery battery accessories.

 

Cannon Grip

Semicircular indentation on the planks of the linstock to house the grips of the corresponding arm.

 

Caponier

Fortification that originally consisted of a stockade with loopholes and embrasures at the same depth as the moat to defend it. In modem times the name is given to a gallery or casemate placed at various sites to flank one or more moats from the city.

 

Casemate

Very strong vault for one or more artillery pieces. It was situated on the flank of the bastion and protected by the orillon, which housed several artillery pieces, with the aim of preventing the assailant from getting across the moat.

 

Casern

Building with a bomb-proof cannon vault, built within the defence (bastion, fort, etc.) and which also served as a barracks and storehouse for provisions, munitions and material.

 

Castle

Walled group of buildings enclosing a place of arms and around which there are a series of dependencies with at least one habitable tower. A fortified construction. Additional defensive elements are: walls, bridges. towers, and the upper living quarters, known as the keep. Built specifically for the defence of strategic areas and of people, the establishment of noble power, watching over the area, attacks, etc.

 

Castle Wall or City Wall

Stone, brick or adobe wall encircling a fortress as an external defence. It had to be high enough to deter climbing from the outside by attackers and strong enough to resist attack. If the wall encloses the area completely it is called an enclosure.

 

Cavalier

High defensive feature within the fort to make it easier to protect with firearms or to dominate in the case of enemy occupation.

 

Cerca

Old Spanish word for a town wall.

 

Chemise

In mediaeval fortifications, a wall lower than the keep which it protects. In modern fortifications, covering of the earth embankments with masonry walls, the final layer done with stonework.

 

Citadel

Fortified enclosed area usually in the shape of a regular polygon, intersecting the inside of a walled settlement which dominates it and constituting the last place of refuge.

 

Corbel

Moulded architectural feature which protrudes on a vertical plane and is designed to hold something up.

 

Cordon

Perimeter torus on all the external parameters of the fortification separating the banked walls of the parapets from the embrasures, preventing them from being scaled. It normally consisted of one of the courses of stone near the upper part of the parameters.

 

Counterguard

Outwork in a fort with two faces forming an angle, built in front of the bastions and ravelins for their defence.

 

Countermine

Underground passage cut below the enemy to blow them up or to attack them as they work on their own underground tunnels. Countermine networks were dug around strongholds in preparation for these works.

 

Counterscarp

Banked wall of the moat opposite the scarp, which is to say on the side facing the country next to the covered way.

 

Covered way

Watch and access walkway which encircles and defends the moat surrounding the fortifications, comprising a banquette from which soldiers could fire over, using the glacis as a parapet.

 

Curtain wall

Stretch of wall between two bastions in modern fortifications.

D

Dead area

Sector of the approaches that cannot be shot at from any angle.

 

Drawbridge

Strong, rigid piece wood that went over the moat. In case of enemy attack the bridge was raised using a complicated mechanism of pulleys, chains and weights. Raising the drawbridge stopped the attackers from getting in and worked te protect and reinforce the gate itself. The connection between sleeper bridges and the fort was made by a drawbridge to try to prevent the enemy getting in.

E

Embrasure

Opening specifically for shooting with non-portable arms (e.g. cannon), made in fortifications, towers and turrets, as often in the base as in their walls or roofs.

 

Enclosure

See Belt.

 

Esplanade

Incline going from the covered walkway the countryside. Highest part of the walls, on the edge of which the battlements are built. Stone flooring or framework with strong planks on which a battery’s gun carriages were mounted and moved.

F

Facade

Principal front of a building that faces the street or open space.

 

Face

Either side of a town or castle wall. Also any of the six sides of a cut ashlar.

 

Fascine

Tightly packed bundle of slender branches used by military engineers especially for rendering and binding earth into the embankments of the fortifications. They were also used to crown, set alight, etc.

 

Fence

Artificial barricade of the height and thickness needed to resist a shot or a ricochet.

 

Fixed cannon

Cannon inside the fortress.

 

Fort

Fortified enclosure.

 

Fortín (Spanish term)

Small fort.

 

Fortress

Large fortified enclosure such as a castle, citadel, etc.

 

Front

Each of the two lengths of wall from which the ends of the flanks join to close the bastion and form its angle. Two bastions and the curtain wall that joins them form a bastioned front.

G

Gargoyle

Stone channel and outlet for water from the roof. Sometimes decorated with zoomorphic creatures, many of them fantastic.

 

Garrison

Soldiers that garrison a city or castle.

 

Glacis

Open area free of vegetation or obstacles all around a modern fortress, on a slight slope to make the enemy’s approach difficult. The area went right up to the edge of the covered way.

 

Gorge

Entrance from the city to the bastion, or distance between the flanking angles. Straight imaginary line for when there is no parapet joining the flanks of a defensive construction.

 

Graffito

Piece of historical graffiti. Hand-done writing or drawing left on ancient monuments, typically carved or done with graphite.

 

Gunpowder

Inflammable mixture used for incendiary devices and fireworks.

H

Half moon

See Ravelin.

 

Hornwork

External fortification made of demi-bastions joined by a curtain wall. Serves the same purpose as a tenaille but is stronger as it defends both the faces and curtain of the flanks. Usually had a ravelin in front of its curtain wall.

 

Howtizer

Artillery piece that fires grenades, the length of which, relative to the diameter of the bore, is greater than a mortar and less than a cannon of the same calibre. It is mounted on a wheeled carriage to make it easier to move.

I

J

K

L

Lienzo (Spanish word)

Stretch of wall that goes between twa censecutive towers or bastions.

 

Lined (or groove) bore

In artillery pieces and all firearms in general, a barrel with helical rifling inside to increase the range.

 

Loophole

Long, narrow opening in a wall for shooting out of. It was usually wider on the outside, so the hole flared out. A generic word that was even adopted by fusiliers in 20th-century forts.

 

Lunette

Small bastion, tended te be isolated. Usually protected and reinforced the defences on the angles of the ravelins and bastions.

LL

M

Magazine

Building for keeping gunpowder and other explosives.

 

Masonry

Traditional construction system in which stones which have not been specially cut are built up using lime mortar. Smaller stones are fitted into the gaps between the larger ones. Many walls and castles were built in this way. Larger stones were used in the lower parts of the wall. Sometimes the two faces are different, in which case the outer one is worked more. In modern forts it is used to build walls from the entrance ravelins, counterguards etc. – anywhere not in the direct line of enemy fire.

 

Merlon

Each of the stretches of parapet between embrasures. Solid part of the breastwork between two battlements to protect the defending soldier on the ramparts or tower. Usually having loopholes, and sometimes with supports for the shutters on the battlements.

 

Mine

Cavity made in a shaft, bottom of a bridge etc. in which to insert gunpowder and blow it up. Box full of gunpowder or bombs buried beneath some constructions which was set off if the enemy gained the fort.

 

Mine or Tunnel

Underground gallery which is opened when forts are besieged, with a hidden room at the back full of explosives to destroy the city fortifications.

 

Mine or tunnel entrance

Arched doorway giving access to the countermine.

 

Moat

Deep excavation encircling the fort and making assault difficult as well as covering the defender’s movements.

 

Mortar (artillery)

Artillery piece for firing shells. Short with high calibre.

 

Muzzle-loader

Firearm that is loaded through its muzzle.

N

O

Observation Post

Mound situated between embrasures so the artillery chief could climb up and indicate exactly which way to fire the cannon.

P

Palisade

See Stockade.

 

Parade ground

Open area inside a walled enclosure used for the changing or formation of troops. Below the parade ground there could be a lower ward that was used for the same purpose.

 

Parapet

Short terreplein over the main one, facing the countryside, to defend the soldiers’ chests from being hit. In modern fortifications, a short terreplein on the outside of the covered way which defended the soldiers while they were shooting.

 

Piece

See Cannon.

 

Plaster

Layer of gypsum, stucco or other mixture put over the walls of a house to give it a smooth surface.

 

Platform

The top of a bastion.

 

Poliorcetics

Set of techniques and approaches for the taking and defending of strongholds. The art of siege warfare.

 

Portcullis

Barred gate made of iron to defend the entrance to a fort or other parts of the walled enclosure. Also, steel part with grooves in the rock of flintlock firearms; by banging into the flint it ignited the flashpan.

 

Porthole

Opening in the parapet of wall or at the back of the battery for safe and accurate firing of cannon.

 

Position

Topographical position of a fort.

 

Postern

Secondary, small door to a fort, used for discreet entrances and exits to surprise the enemy or regroup the troops in the moat.

 

Pound

To attack and destroy with artillery.

 

Pound (Ib)

Old measurement of weight in Castle, where the pound was divided into 16 ounces. In Aragon, the Balearic Islands, Catalonia and Valencia it had 12 ounces, 17 in the Basque country and 20 in Galicia and other quantities in other towns.

 

Putlog holes

Holes in the wall to hold horizontal scaffolding planks or floor beams.

Q

R

Ravelin

Semicircular outwork with two faces at a salient angle built beyond the curtain wall, the two demi-gorges of which constitute the counterscarp. Allows the curtain wall, access points and flanks of a bastion to be protected. Also called a “half moon”.

 

Redan

Protruding angle formed by a face and a flank adjacent to a bastion. A bastion has two redans.

 

Ricochet fire

Method of firing cannon in which the amount of powder is reduced so there is less tension in the shot, thus making it possible te attack soldiers in the covered walkway. The battery of cannon was lined up with the covered walkway and the shells fell on the line, rebounding on the floor and the parapet. Invented by Vauban in the last quarter of the 17th century.

 

Rifle

Portable firearm for the infantry replacing the crossbow and the blunderbuss. Made up of a steel or iron barrel, usually some eight to ten centimetres long, and a firing mechanism joined together at the breech.

 

Rough cut stone

Blocks of stone smaller than ashlars, regularly sized, and cut less precisely.

 

Rowlock

Brick laid on the long, narrow side with the small or “header” side exposed.

S

Salvo

A salute given by firing guns. A series of cannon explosions but without a projectile to honour or salute someone. Simultaneous shot from several identical pieces of artillery.

 

Sap

Advance by the besiegers protected by their galleries or trenches which they have dug themselves, or under the shelter of the besieged fortification.

 

Scarp

Slope that forms the wall of the main body of a city, from the cordon to the moat and counterscarp; or plane, also sloping but in the other direction, that forms the wall supporting the earth of the covered way.

 

Sentry Box

Small hollow space for the shelter and defence of sentries, usually covered and with loopholes. Appeared and developed with bastioned fortification.

 

Sentry wal

In mediaeval fortresses, the continuous passage around the exterior perimeter of the walls for the purposes of vigilance and shooting.

 

Shot

Direction a firearm shoots in.

 

Sleeper Wood or Mudsill

Static part of the floor of a bridge just before the drawn part, the length of which was usually insufficient to reach the scarp of the moat to be crossed.

 

Slope or gradient

Imaginary sloping line that joined the embrasures to the glacis and other parts of the fort and showed the areas under attack from those embrasures. The same thing could be done from the batteries attacking the fort.

 

Stockade

A row of stakes hammered into the ground vertically about 5 cm from each other, secured with horizontal strips. They were placed on the banquette of the covered way, in trenches and elsewhere.

 

Stonework

Any construction or part of it (wall, vault, etc.) made with stone or bricks and mortar. Also called stonework if they were made of adobe.

 

Stronghold

Walled city or fortress.

 

Swab

Instrument consisting of a long stick with a bristled cylinder at one end, used for cleaning the barrels of firearms.

T

Tambour

Small circular defence placed in front of the doors of a fortification.

 

Terreplein

A mass of earth with which the containing wall of an enclosure is filled, or which is built up before and subsequently faced with masonry.

 

To chemise

See Chemise.

 

To entrench

To fortify a military position with trenches.

 

To flank

To protect your own flanks. To threaten the enemy’s flanks. To be positioned in a castle, bastion, hill or suchlike, facing a town, fort, etc., so as to be able to reach them with your artillery fire crossing or passing through them.

 

(To lay a) header

In construction: with the long side of the brick or stone laid at right angles to the face.

 

(To lay in a) stretcher bond

In construction: with the long side of the brick or stone going in the same direction as the length of the face.

 

Tower

Tall stronghold construction that can be part of a wall or independent and comes in many different shapes and sizes in terms of building and layout inside, but most were square.

 

Trench

Defensive ditch permitting troops to shoot at the enemy while under cover as well as advancing towards over the battlefield to make a final assault.

 

Turret

Anyy fortification tower and in particular a circular one.

U

Urban expansion area

Land designated for new buildings on the outskirts of a town. The buildings that have been put up on this land.

V

Vault

Stone or brick built curved construction used to cover a space between two walls or a line of pillars. The different types are named after their shape: groin vault (semi-cylindrical, in half point sections); barrel vault (the result of crossing two cannon vaults at right angles).

W

Walled

Protected or enclosed by walls.

Y

Yard

Unit of measurement equal to about three feet or 836 mm.

X

Z