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Castles and Warfare in the Middle Ages

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Castles and Warfare in the Middle Ages
By Eugene-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc. Translated from the French by M. Macdermott. (Dover Publications, Mineola, New York: 2005. Pg. 274. Illustrations.) ISBN: 0-486-44020-6.

Reviewed by Sheldon Ztvordokov - March 3, 2005

Eugène-Emmanuel Viollet-le-Duc's 1860 essay, Essai sur l'architecture militaire au Moyen-âge (An Essay on the Military Architecture of the Middle Ages) has long been a classic on the military architecture and military tactics that were prevalent in Western Europe during the Middle Ages. Translated into English by M. Macdermott, this work is profusely illustrated and it makes for absorbing reading.

Scholarly in nature, Castles and Warfare in the Middle Ages serves as a handy reference guide to fortifications, architectural elements, and military tactics used throughout this period. The text begins with a general history of the development of military fortifications and fortified towns, beginning with a look at the structures used by both the Visigoths and the Romans during the fifth century and how they impacted their respective military endeavors. The author then moves on into the tenth century, and the development of battering rams, weapons used during the first crusades, the development of Norman castles, and the various siege engines used, including catapults, mangonels, calabres, trebuchets, pierriers, and similar devices. The text then moves on to examples of actual fortifications, such as that of Paris, Carcassonne, Schaffhausen, Milan, Langres, Metz, Nuremberg, various French castles, and many more. In most cases, Viollet-le-Duc explores how these fortifications changed throughout the Middle Ages, and why such changes were instituted.

In addition to detailed descriptions of Medieval fortifications, which are accompanied by explanatory drawings, Viollet-le-Duc also devotes a great deal of attention to Medieval weaponry. He not only illustrates how these weapons were used in actual engagements such as the sieges Toulouse, the Chateau-Gaillard, Calais, and Aubenton, but also the role various weapons had in the development of medieval military tactics. Weapons covered in detail included the longbow and crossbow, mines, battering rams, and a variety of siege engines. Throughout, the text is enhanced by the inclusion of detailed drawings of the weapons and relevant architectural features. In addition to describing the architectural features associated with sieges, Viollet-le-Duc also examines the architectural elements that comprised most castles or other fortified locations, such as the walls, doors, gates, bridges, water obstacles, as well as buildings such as keeps, castles, and towers.

Castles and Warfare in the Middle Ages is an intriguing book that will enthrall anyone interested in architecture, military, or medieval history. It is equally accessible to scholars as it is to the general reader. Interwoven amongst the technical aspects of the text are descriptions of actual battles and insights in the men who employed the various weapons and designed the fortifications under study. Most important, Viollet-le-Duc shows how these designs, both architectural and technological, evolved over time. A must have for anyone with an interest in castles and medieval warfare.

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