Why Do Castles Have Moats?

The word ‘moat’ originated from its French version ‘motte’, meaning a mound or hillock. In contemporary times a moat is regarded as a deep, broad ditch that is dug around castles. There are so many intriguing facts surrounding castles, one of which is moats, raising questions: Why on earth did castles have moats?

Castles have moats because they were a part of its intricate defence system. Additionally, moats served as a go-to reserve against famine/ or hard times. Finally, history tells us that moats protected castles against the attack and may have served as ponds where seafood was reared; or as a source of sand/ earth for building tall walls.

Why Do Castles Have Moats?
Bodiam Castle
Image by Tim Bigger from Pixabay

So, as you can see, castle moats were very important; Some ditches were filled with water, while others were left dry. 

In this article, we explored the common uses of castle moats throughout their history’s timeline so we could answer all your questions regarding the castle moat. 

So read on and let us know what you think in the comment section.

The History of Castles and moats

It is impossible to talk about castle moats without addressing the nature of assaults that castles faced at the time. 

In the medieval era, kings and nobles built castle moats for defence purposes in the following ways:

1. To prevent penetration into the castle: Since ancestors built moats roundabout castles, assailants could not wage war on the castle without mounting a bridge or moving their equipment over the ditch. 

While the attackers planted their bridges, the castle security could easily spot them and prepare for the attack in advance.

2. To prevent an underground assault: Moats protected castles by preventing attackers from digging underground tunnels to the bottom of the castles and attacking from there. 

In the medieval era, one of the significant ways to bring down a castle gate was to burn it underground. 

So, castles that had moats filled with water had nothing to worry about in that regard because every hole dug would be filled with water.

3. To prevent the movement of assault weapons: Castles were fortified, but so also were the weapons created to bring them down. 

Examples of such weapons are the siege towers and battering rams, both made of wood. Such heavy merchandise could not be carried or transported over the moats, reducing attacks from such destabilizing weapons.

In more recent times, we can see moats used for warfare, decoration, and design and defence mechanisms but these latter moats were not necessarily attached to a castle.

How were moats made?

Engineers mostly built castle moats manually. Since they were made for a purpose, the sizes and depths of ditches varied. 

The builders were digging holes as far, as wide, and as deep as they wanted. Also, at the time, there were limited building tools, so manpower played a huge role. 

Sometimes, castle owners filled moats with water, and other times, they diverted lakes into the moat, and they were left bare in some cases. 

As time progressed, the idea behind moats led to water as a defence mechanism, as shown in the Bodiam Castle of 1385, built on an artificial lake. 

In parts of Africa and Asia, moats were dug, and the sand/ earth gotten from them was used to build tall walls to protect cities, communities, or castles, as the case may be. Where such a moat are filled with water, the city is near to impenetrable. 

Lastly, on this note, some moats were natural, but most often than not, they were not castle moats (because obviously, nature didn’t consult castle owners before turning an area into a moat). 

Natural moats were often swarmed with water during a flood in early times, and many communities filled theirs with waste.

Myths and Facts about Castle Moats.

Now, let’s answer some myths or facts about castle moats.!

Crocodiles and Alligators in moats (Myth or fact?)?

If you are a castle-moats lover, then you must have come across the common notion that alligators, crocodiles, and all such scary animals were placed inside moats to dissuade attackers from trying to swim through. 

Please discard that notion – It is more of a myth than fact. 

Moats were man-made; they were usually too small and scientifically not suitable habitats for alligators or crocodiles.

Do castle Moats Stink (myth or fact?)

They did but, not anymore. If we reverse back to the middle ages when the castles were in use, the architects built the latrines (toilets) so that all the excrements would be dropped into the moat.

So we can imagine what smell persisted near the moat, not the best place to go for a walk.

Today, the castles have a modern plumbing system, so you probably won’t find a stinking moat.

Fishes in moats (Myth or fact?): 

Another often-quoted statement is that moats contained fishes.

Again, this appears to be an assumption that has historical relevance. History tells us that it is highly probable that some communities/ castle owners reared fishes and other small seafood in moats. 

Such that in the event of a famine or scarcity, the moats were backup food reserves. 

In some moats, you are allowed fishing today at the same time admiring the ruins, like the KIRBY MUXLOE CASTLE in England.

Can you swim in a moat of a castle (myth or fact?)

It solely depends on you. Security protocols may or may not allow it, however. Also, if the moat stinks, nobody would want to.

Other Uses of moats

In contemporary times, the uses of moats have changed radically. Castles no longer have moats as a necessity. 

The reasons for this differ. First, assaults no longer come by way of underground digging or siege towers. 

Nowadays, assaults are in the form of bullets using more advanced mechanisms. Additionally, moats have also attained decorative purposes.

Although castle moats are now more decorative than functional for residential purposes, moats now also have architectural and warfare usages. Thus, for example, we now have anti-terrorist moats built for specific purposes.

Did you enjoy this article? There is more about castle features like turrets, drawbridge, dungeons, foundation, portcullises in our blog section, make sure you have a read through and good luck in your castle adventure.

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