A barbican is a fortified gateway or outpost from where a castle, town, or city is protected by a military garrison, the name Barbican comes from the Old French word: barbacane
A barbican basically applies to any gateway that is fortified. A barbican could be used to trap enemy soldiers, as they rushed through the entrance towards the castle’s main gate the doors could be closed behind them, trapping them in the space between, archers would then pick them off from the outer walls.
Small castles would commonly have two towers on either side of a barbican, larger castles could have four!
During medieval times, wars and invasions were common, and thus special attention was paid to the construction of castle parts that were reserved for defence.
Some of the important castle parts designed specifically for defence purposes included a moat, castle keep, machicolations, arrow loops, and others.
Amongst the defensive parts of a castle, the barbican was of particular significance and served as a fortified outpost.
A castle barbican was among those castle parts which served as the first line of defence. It was construed in the form of a tower or a gateway over the gate or bridge of the castle.
The connection between a barbican and the castle walls was maintained by a walled road which was called “the neck”. This narrow passage was also called the “death trap” because it trapped the invading enemy and made them an easy target.
The most common location of a medieval castle barbican was adjacent to the main gates of the castle. It served as an exterior walled passage that was deliberately kept narrow to trap the invading enemy.
Visit a Castle with a Barbican
Only a small number of men were used to defend the medieval castle barbican because of limited space. The knights and soldiers inside the castle were responsible for the defence of the castle and thus they also overlooked the defence of the barbican.
A single knight could be in charge of a barbican with several soldiers obeying his orders.
A castle barbican was among those castle parts which served multiple purposes. The most obvious one was the confinement of the invading enemy in the narrow passage and making them an easy target.
Barbicans often had “murder holes” which were holes in the ceiling and could be used to throw heavy missiles or boiling liquids on the invading enemy.
On either side of the narrow medieval castle barbican, there were also arrow-slits used to shoot arrows at the enemy. Due to the multiple defence purposes that a medieval castle barbican served, coupled with its lethal nature, it was also called a “Death Trap”.
A medieval castle barbican could also work in certain other ways for defence. For instance, it was not unusual to suspend a heavy grilled door from the barbican. This grilled door was called a Portcullis and could be lowered on the enemy when attacked.
It had spikes on it was dropped on the enemy, it would injure multiple people and block the passageway. Thus a medieval castle barbican worked in several ways and could serve multiple useful defence purposes for the medieval castle.
A castle barbican had central importance in the parts of a medieval castle which were used for defence purposes. Since it consisted of a narrow passage, the invading army passing through it was an easy target for arrows, stones, and other missiles in addition to boiling liquids.
Further, a medieval castle barbican could also be used to suddenly lower the lethal grilled door called “Portcullis” to injure the enemy soldiers. Due to its multiple and effective defence purposes, a medieval castle barbican was also called a Death Trap.