Mary Beth has taught 1st, 4th and 5th grade and has a specialist degree in Educational Leadership. She is currently an assistant principal.
Definition and Characteristics of Castles
Castles are not just in make-believe stories where a princess waits in a tower while a knight comes to fight a dragon and rescue her. Castles are real, and played a significant role in the history and culture of Europe during the Middle Ages.
The word castle comes from a Latin word meaning fortress. Fortresses are large strong buildings that protect rulers from being attacked.
When you think of a castle, you might think it is a fancy and expensive place. However, they were actually quite uncomfortable at first. For one thing, castles were made of wood or stone, which doesn't exactly scream 'lifestyle of the rich and famous.' Castles were often very dark and damp, with sunlight only able to come in through tiny slits in the walls. These slits were called 'arrow slits,' and they allowed archers to shoot arrows at attackers while remaining safe from getting hit themselves.
Remember - castles were made to protect the king or leader from being attacked, so comfort and beauty were not the first priority. Eventually, beautiful windows and furniture did become standard castle features, so castles were also viewed as symbols of wealth.
Castles in History
Castles were built in many countries, beginning in Great Britain during the Middle Ages, which is what historians call the time period from the 400s to the 1500s. They played a big role in the social system called feudalism, which was the basic government system in Europe during that time. In a feudal system, the leader owns all of the land and typically lives in a castle while peasants work the land. The leader keeps the peasants safe by inviting them to his castle if they're attacked, and tries to keep them happy by inviting them in for celebrations. However, some peasants did not like not being able to own their own land, so they would periodically attack the castles.
Purposes of Castles
The features of the castle were designed to keep the leader safe. Most castles were built on top of a hill to make them more difficult to get to, and some castles had moats, which were ditches dug around the castle and filled with water. The only way that you could get across the moat is by using a drawbridge. Castles also had at least one keep, which were tall towers used for defense.
While multiple steps were taken to make castles a place for defense, it was not always guaranteed that leader would be safe. Attackers would often hold castles under a siege, with attacking armies waiting outside until the people inside the castle starved to death or gave up and came out. This inspired people to start building castles near water so that the people inside could at least stay hydrated during a siege.
Castles were also used to display the owner's wealth and rank in society. Peasants' homes were always small and plain, while the biggest castle in the world is about 1,870 feet long - that's longer than 11 football fields!
Castles were fortresses that played a large role in feudalism in Europe. They were built to defend against attackers, as well as for the purpose of displaying wealth and power. Moats, keeps and arrow slits helped keep the leaders inside safe.
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