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Project Slits in Fortified Castles




Usability of early slits in medieval castles



The study regarding usability of bow slits in fortified castles and their military benefit is more or less finished.


Inspired by the visit of some Scottish castles with impressive high slits during a research seminar of Dr. Joachim Zeune BINSY performed some practical trials regarding the usability of such slits in German castles of the 13th and 14th century with long bows and crossbows in the years 2009 and 2010. By this occasion more than 50 slits of castles in Alsace and Palatinate were analyzed, surveyed and filed in a database.

The „instruments“ for the trials – two self long bows of maple wood and ash wood and two cross bows of oak and cherry wood with steel bows were reproduced by Rüdiger Bernges from BINSY according to medieval templates.

As an object for the trials some appropriate castles in Alsace (France) had been chosen: in the first place the Spesbourg castle near Andlau, additionally Ortenberg, Birkenfels, Hoh-Andlau, Wangenbourg und Landsberg. Analyzed as well were the castles Gräfenstein and Neu-Leiningen in the Palatine Forest (Germany) and additional Schönburg castle in Oberwesel and Pfalzgrafenstein near Kaub, both on the river Rhine.

The results were astonishing. Some castles with their slits allow convenient bow shooting with appropriate shooting angles to the left and to the right. The shooting angles using the crossbows were always limited to a straightforward shot through the wall because of the length of the bow. In this case cross slits were NOT helpful to enlarge the shooting angles as supposed before (tested in the keep of Wangenburg castle).

Some slits, e.g. those of Birkenfels castle, were not usable at all. The openings of the slits were too narrow and too low for using the bow in a secure and effective way. Only for a straightforward shot with the crossbow these slits could be used. The presumption of Dr. Zeune, that many castles only have slits for deterrence, could be proved as true. Once again very interesting was Ortenberg castle. Here the research shows that the building master has planned and implemented the slits very systematically and with great effects. The slits cover systematically jeopardized areas on the side of possible attacks.

Interesting as well were the results about the supposed security of a defender behind his slit. The practical trials with the long bow show that even the not-well-trained bow shooters from BINSY were able to shoot from outside the walls through the slit into the inner embrasure. Well-trained bow men could “keep a slit blind” for a while with permanent shooting - as the trials showed.

Extensive analyses, plans and measures of the slits as well as detailed results are published in diverse media: the scientific magazines Burgen und Schlösser (DBV), ARX (Südtiroler Burgeninstitut) and the periodical of the Interessengemeinschaft Historische Armbrust (Jens Sensfelder). Detailed information regarding the slits can be found in the following BINSY database:





left: Magazine ARX 2-2010 with article "Nutzbarkeit von Schießscharten in hochmittelalterlichen Burgen", can be ordered via www.burgeninstitut.com

middle: Periodical "Jahrblatt der Interessengemeinschaft Historische Armbrust" can be ordered in book shops or via Internet book shops

right:  Magazine "Burgen und Schlösser 1-2011 with article "Über den militärischen Nutzen von frühen Schießscharten im deutschen Burgenbau", can be ordered via www.deutsche-burgen.org


Some additional remarks regarding the shooting trials at Neuleinigen castle you can find as well in the magazine "Burgen und Schlösser 3-2011, that can be ordered via www.deutsche-burgen.org



Shot with the long bow out of a slit of Ortenberg castle  
  Shot trial with the crossbow in the keep of Wangenbourg castle  

Group portrait in the front of Spesbourg castle together with the French friends of the association for the conservation of Kagenfels castle.



Without the help of many the trials could not happen. Among others our cordial thank for the strong support is to:

  • Jens Sensfelder for manufacturing of a steel bow for one of the crossbows and many hints for the manufacturing and use of medieval crossbows

  • Josef Johanning (who owns one of two certified, mobile crossbow shooting stands for medieval markets in Germany) for many hints and contacts regarding crossbow manufacturing

  • Siegfried Fischer (blacksmith in Saarbrücken) for manufacturing of some forgings as stirrup, steel bow and spanning belt claw

  • Mr. Olmesdahl (Comp. Olmesdahl Erodiertechnik in Remscheid) for manufacturing the nut, seating of the nut and trigger of the crossbows

  • Gilles Anselm (President of the Association pour la Restauration du Spesbourg) and the municipality of Andlau in Alsace for inhibition of Spesbourg castle and especially for the support during the trial onsite Spesbourg castle.

  • Alexander Tillmann (Kaarst) for the support during the trial onsite Spesbourg castle

  • And last but not least Achim Zeune for permanent new inputs and motivation to go on even more detailed

Information regarding the manufacturing of long bows and crossbows, that was intentionally not published within internet, as well as detailed information regarding trial results and due to penetrating force of bows and crossbows, regarding manufacturing of arrows and bolts can be requested in the case of legitimate interest at BINSY via email. As well BINSY can establish the contact to the persons mentioned above.

Mailto: info@binsy.de



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