Alligators Bears Castles Facts Games History Moats

Castles moats didn’t contain alligators, but one has bears

John A. asks: Are there any actual examples of medieval castles having alligators within the moat to maintain out intruders?

A standard picture in pop-culture is that of a citadel moat crammed to the brim with water and hungry crocodiles. So did anybody ever truly do that?

The brief reply is that it does not seem so. That stated, whereas there isn’t any recognized documented occasion of crocodiles deliberately being put into moats, we do know of at the very least one fort that had (and has, in truth) a moat filled with bears…


Earlier than we get to that and why crocodiles in moats are in all probability not one of the best concept on the earth, or a minimum of not a really environment friendly use of assets in case your concern was actually protection of a fortress, we should always handle the truth that the widespread picture most individuals have of their heads of a moat is not precisely consultant of what historic moats often appeared like.

To start with, moats have been round seemingly so long as people have had want of defending a construction or space, with documented situations of them showing in all places from Historic Egypt to barely extra trendy occasions round sure Native American settlements. And, in fact, there are numerous examples of moats getting used all through European historical past. In lots of instances, nevertheless, these moats have been little greater than empty pits dug round a specific piece of land or property- water crammed moats have been one thing of a rarity.

Bodiam Citadel, a 14th-century citadel close to Robertsbridge in East Sussex, England.

(WyrdLight.com, CC BY-SA)

You see, until a pure supply of water was round, sustaining a man-made moat full of water required a number of assets to keep away from the entire thing simply turning right into a stinking cesspool of algae and biting bugs, as is wont to occur in standing water. As with synthetic ponds constructed on sure rich people’ estates, these must be commonly drained and cleaned, then crammed again as much as maintain issues from turning into putrid.

In fact, if one had a pure flowing water supply close by, a few of these issues could possibly be prevented. But, in the long run, it seems a water crammed moat is not truly that rather more efficient than an empty one at carrying out the objective of defending a fortress.

And as for placing crocodiles (or alligators) in them, introducing such animals to a area, past being fairly costly if not their native habitat, can also be probably harmful if the animals acquired out. Once more, all this whereas not likely making the act of conquering a fortress that rather more difficult- so little payoff for the additional value of sustaining crocodiles.

Unsurprisingly from this, outdoors of a legend we’ll get to shortly, there does not look like any recognized documented instances of anybody deliberately placing crocodiles or alligators into their water crammed moats.

It also needs to be talked about right here that whereas at first look it might seem that the important thing objective of a moat is to defend towards troopers attacking on the partitions, they have been typically truly constructed with the thought of stopping troopers beneath the bottom. You see, a way favoured since historic occasions for breaching cities, fortresses and fortified positions was to easily dig tunnels under any partitions surrounding the place after which deliberately allow them to collapse, bringing a part of the wall above that part tumbling down. Ultimately this was completed by use of explosives like gunpowder, but earlier than this a extra easy technique was to cart a bunch of tinder into the tunnel on the applicable level and set the entire thing ablaze. The thought right here was, after all of your diggers have been out, to destroy the help beams used to maintain the tunnel from collapsing whereas digging. If all went as deliberate, each the tunnel and the wall above it might then collapse.

North view of the fortress of Buhen in Historic Egypt.

To get round this very efficient type of breaching fortifications, moats can be dug as deeply as potential across the fortification, typically till diggers reached bedrock. If a pure supply of water was round, surrounding the fortress with water was a possible further profit over the dry pit at stopping such tunneling.

Both means, past making tunneling harder (or virtually unimaginable), dry and moist moats, in fact, helped dissuade above floor assaults as properly because of moats being fairly good at limiting an enemy’s use of siege weaponry. Particularly, units akin to battering rams are rendered virtually completely ineffective within the presence of a giant moat. Although the later creation of weapons akin to trebuchets made moats much less efficient general, they nonetheless proved to be formidable barrier able to kneecapping a direct assault on a citadel’s partitions.

All this stated, it wasn’t as if proud moat house owners didn’t put something in them. There are many methods to beef up moat defences with out the necessity for water and crocodiles. Just about something that slows an enemy’s advance works nicely. And, higher yr, something that’s so daunting it deters an assault in any respect.

Actually, archaeological surveys of moats have discovered proof of issues like stinging bushes having as soon as grown all through some moats. Whether or not these have been deliberately planted on the a part of the moat house owners or only a byproduct of getting a patch of land they left unattended for years at a time is not completely clear. Nevertheless it does not appear too farfetched to assume this may increasingly have been intentional in some instances. As you may think, wading via stinging or thorny crops whereas arrows and rocks and the like are raining down at you from above wasn’t precisely tops on individuals’s lists of issues to do.

As for moats that have been crammed with water, whereas filling them with crocodiles or alligators wasn’t seemingly one thing anybody did, some savvy citadel house owners did fill them with fish giving them a pleasant personal fishery. (As talked about, synthetic ponds constructed for this function have been additionally typically a factor for the ultra-wealthy, functioning each as a standing image, given sustaining such was extremely costly, and an excellent supply of meals yr spherical).

Shifting again to the dry mattress moats, when not simply leaving them as a easy dug pit or planting issues meant to sluggish enemy troops, it does seem no less than in some uncommon situations fortress house owners would put harmful animals in them, although seemingly, once more, extra as a standing image than truly being notably efficient at deterring enemy troops.

Most famously, at Krumlov Citadel within the Czech Republic there exists one thing that’s most aptly described as a “bear moat”, situated between the fort’s first and second courtyard. When precisely this apply began and precisely why has been misplaced to historical past, with the earliest recognized documented reference to the bear moat going again to 1707.

Whether or not designed to function a stark warning to potential intruders, a standing image, or each, the fort’s grizzliest residents have been tended to by a delegated bearkeeper till across the early 19th century when the follow ceased. This modified once more in 1857 when the citadel’s then resident noble, Karl zu Schwarzenberg, acquired a pair of bears from close by Transylvania intent on reviving the custom. From that second onward, outdoors of a quick lapse within the late 19th century, the fort’s moat has virtually all the time contained at the very least one bear.

Immediately the bears are most undoubtedly utterly for present, and annually bear-themed celebrations are held at Christmas and on the bears’ birthdays throughout which youngsters convey the bears presents.

If bears aren’t you factor, Wilhelm V, the Prince Regent of Bavaria, within the late 16th century supposedly stored each lions and a leopard within the moat of Trausnitz Fort whereas he lived there. Nevertheless, once more, it seems that Prince Wilhelm stored the animals extra for present and enjoyable than he did for defence. Past harmful creatures, his moat additionally contained pheasants and a rabbit run.

Shifting again to crocodiles being put in moats, the earliest reference to one thing like this (although seemingly only a legend), seems 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 citadel, there was a moat beneath the extent of the ocean, darkish, humid, the place the prisoners, who they need to extra strictly castigate, have been often put. When, abruptly, they began to note with astonishment that, from there, the prisoners disappeared. Did they escape? How? Put a tighter surveillance and a brand new visitor inside there, one day they noticed, sudden and terrifying scene, from a gap hidden within the moat, a monster, a crocodile getting into and, with its jaws, it grasped for the legs the prisoner, and dragged him to the ocean to eat him.

Fairly than kill the creature, the guards determined to make the fearsome creature an “executor of justice”, sending prisoners condemned to dying to satisfy their finish in its toothy maw. Precisely the place the crocodile got here from and when this supposedly occurred is determined by which model of the legend you seek the advice of, although our favorite model means that Queen Joanna II smuggled it over to Naples from Egypt someday within the 15th century with the only intention of feeding her many, many lovers to it.

A constant factor in most variations of the legend is that the beast bit off greater than it might chew when it tried to eat a leg of an enormous horse, finally choking on it.

In fact, that is usually considered nothing greater than a legend, with no proof that it truly occurred and even precisely when. A minimum of the story does present that the thought of a crocodile in a moat is not simply one thing present in trendy popular culture.

Bonus Details:

  • Moats are beginning to make a little bit of a comeback in trendy occasions, akin to used to guard sure embassies from automotive bombings. There’s additionally a concrete moat across the elements of Catawba Nuclear Station that is not bordered by a lake, once more for the needs of defending towards automotive bombings and the like.
  • On the observe of poky crops planted in moats, there are variations of a well-liked Scottish legend which have the thistle enjoying a key position in foiling the assault of an invading pressure. In one such model of the legend, a nighttime raid on Slains citadel in modern-day Aberdeenshire was foiled when sneaking Norsemen stepped on the thistles and cried out in ache, alerting the guards that a shock assault was eminent. It’s typically additional said that that is how The Most Noble and Most Historic Order of the Thistle of Scotland was established and the way the nationwide flower of Scotland was chosen. In fact, there is no documented proof that exists to help the varied variations of this legend.

This text initially appeared on As we speak I Discovered Out. Comply with @TodayIFoundOut on Twitter.

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