Castles as European Phenomena

Towards an international approach to medieval castles in Europe. Contributions to an international and interdisciplinary workshop in Kiel, February 2016

by Stefan Magnussen (Volume editor) Daniel Kossack (Volume editor)
©2018 Conference proceedings 204 Pages
Series: Kieler Werkstücke, Volume 52


Castle research witnessed a revival in recent years, and new theoretical and methodological approaches have massively changed our perception of medieval castles. But despite the fact that this renaissance is observable all over Europe, research is still mostly subject to regional perspectives. In 2016, a workshop was hosted at Kiel University, Germany, in order to address these recent developments and stimulate international scientific discourse. It was especially designed to provide a platform for young scholars. With its 11 contributions, the volume provides a vivid picture of current castle research in different areas of Europe, from Italy to Latvia and the Levant to Denmark.

Table Of Contents

  • Cover
  • Title Page
  • Copyright Page
  • About the author
  • About the book
  • Citability of the eBook
  • Table of Contents
  • Series Page
  • Castles as European Phenomena – An Introduction to the Volume
  • Bibliography
  • The Burgenbauregal – A Specter in Historical and Archaeological Research on Castles*
  • Introduction
  • The Early Castle Construction from the 9th to the 11th Century
  • The 11th to the 13th Century
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Problems and Challenges of Research on Castles in Wagria, Germany
  • Introduction
  • The Research Area: Wagria
  • The Designs of Medieval Castles in Wagria
  • Identifying a Site as a Castle
  • The Case of Majenfelde
  • The Case of Fissau
  • The Case of the Motte Ninslag
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • The Meaning of a Castle’s Location – The Impact of Social Status and Power on the Site Selection of Noble Residences in the Northern Rhineland
  • Introduction
  • The Distances between Castles and Settlements
  • Chronological and Social Differences of Site Selection
  • Practical and Social Motives for Site Selection
  • Conclusions
  • Bibliography
  • Research on the Evidence of Petty Nobility at a Rural Settlement Site from the Late Medieval Period near Harras in Southern Thuringia
  • Introduction
  • The Archaeological Site
  • Discussion Concerning the Evidence for Petty Nobility
  • Bibliography
  • The Function of Sovereign Castles in Schleswig and Holstein: An Examination on the Basis of Castle Bond Certificates (ca. 1460–1480)
  • Introduction
  • Mortgage Documents Taken into Account and Their Background
  • Administration
  • Building Stock and Inventory
  • Military Use and the Possibility of Loss of Pledges
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Defenses, Shelters or Symbols of Power? Castles, Towers and Fortified Settlements (Kástra) in the Knights Hospitallers’ Monastic State in the Aegean from 1307 until 1522
  • Introduction
  • History
  • Functional Categories of Hospitaller’s Castles and Fortifications in the Aegean
  • Rhodes City – Residence and Capital City
  • Castellaniae – Castles as Fortifications, Administrative Buildings and Shelters for the Islands’ Inhabitants
  • Smaller Castles and Fortifications of Local Importance
  • Watch Towers
  • Tower Houses and Vigles (Observation Posts)
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • Medieval Castles in Latvia – State of Research and Future Perspectives
  • Hill Forts in Latvia
  • Medieval Stone Castles in Latvia
  • Historiography of Medieval Castles in Latvia
  • Research on Medieval Castles Prior to the 1990s
  • Research on Medieval Castles after the 1990s
  • Conclusion – Possibilities for Archival Research in Latvia and Abroad
  • Bibliography
  • Games and Sounds in Medieval Castles – A Few Words on Musical Entertainment and Entertainers
  • Introduction
  • Entertainment in the European Castles of the Middle Ages
  • Social Stratification of Medieval Entertainers
  • Commemorating Castle Life in Music
  • Praising Knights and Courtly Love
  • Praising the Role of the Castle Tower
  • Bibliography
  • Fortifications in Latium (Italy) – The Case of Monti Lucretili
  • The Theme and the Debate in Italy
  • The Case Study – The Area of Monti Lucretili
  • The Genesis of the Castles
  • The Phenomenon of Selective Abandonment
  • The Abandoned Castles – The Construction Techniques
  • Spogna
  • Castiglione
  • Montefalco
  • Turrita
  • Conclusion
  • Bibliography
  • A Data Analysis of the Construction of Medieval Castles in the Former Counties of Thisted and Hjørring (Denmark)
  • Introduction
  • How I Did It
  • How to Work Statistically with a Small Population
  • Finally, it’s Time to Show the Results of the Study
  • Bibliography
  • Form Follows “Fürst”? A Study on the Uses of Analogies in Castle Research by Reference to the Cases of Kings Valdemar I and Eric VI of Denmark
  • Introduction
  • Method
  • The Case of Valdemar I
  • The Case of Eric VI
  • Discussion
  • Bibliography


Reihe A:

Beiträge zur schleswig-holsteinischen und skandinavischen Geschichte

Herausgegeben von Oliver Auge

Begründet von Erich Hoffmann


Stefan Magnussen and Daniel Kossack

Castles as European Phenomena – An Introduction to the Volume

Research on castles witnessed a significant revival during recent years, accompanied by new theoretical and methodological approaches that brought new findings and paved the way for new interpretations. Often, castles are no longer simply understood as refuges for lords and adjacent residents, but rather as complex institutions with a variety of dimensions. They are no longer only an isolated institution, but one of many aspects of a complex interwoven and eclectic landscape, in which they unify a variety of administrative, economical and residential functions. And this is not only true for specific regions in, for instance, England, France or the Holy Roman Empire, but for many regions across different states of modern Europe.1 But despite this vivid renaissance and the many similarities across these regions, research is still mostly subject to regional or, rather, national perspectives, which complicates a comprehensive approach to castles in Europe.2 Very often, important publications are (if at all) published in one of Europe’s many different languages, limiting its perception and findings to a group of scholars capable of reading them. While this might only be a minor issue for publications written in French or German, languages regularly spoken in the realm of academia, this poses a larger problem for publications in much less common languages, like, Latvian, Danish or Croatian. Hence, modern boundaries often determine scholarly research areas, which might lead to counterfactual perspectives.3

During past decades, several emerging institutions and organizations, with the explicit objective of connecting scholars from different countries and research areas, sought to establish an institutionalized exchange for castle research in Europe. This applies not only to the respectable conference Château Gaillard, but also to conferences like Castella Maris Baltici and (since 2013) Castles of the North,4 which is hosted by the Danish ←7 | 8→Association Magt, Borg og Landskab, which itself is a network developed to establish an interdisciplinary network on castle research – needless to say, scholarly boundaries do not only exist between language areas and states, but also between academic disciplines. These conferences are, however, mostly attended by more experienced scholars, which, on the one hand, is reasonable, considering the ever-increasing scale of castle research community (or communities), but, likewise, limits access for junior scholars like doctorate or master students, due to status, high demand for presentations and, occasionally, high costs for participation.

A Workshop, which was held at Kiel University on February 11 and 12, 2016, addressed both of the above-mentioned topics. First of all, it aimed at providing a platform for younger scholars,5 and secondly, addressed the still existing issue of coexistence of various regional and national approaches and perspectives. For this reason, we especially encouraged applications from scholars working on regions and in research areas that have only marginally been considered by international research debate, but provide valuable insights that help to broaden the perspective on castles in Europe. However, applications from the more “classic” areas were also welcome. During the workshop, participants were asked to discuss and further the outlined developments, in order to benefit from a comprehensive integrated and interdisciplinary research debate on castles and medieval landscapes.

We started to develop the general ideas for a workshop in May 2015, and already in June 2015, we successfully applied for funding at the Graduate School “Human Development in Landscapes” at Kiel University.6 Following the Call for Papers in September 2015, we received numerous applications and could not have asked for a larger diversity in both space and disciplines. These applications allowed us to prepare a program with participants from all levels of graduation, covering an area from modern Italy to the Baltic States, from the Levante to Denmark, with contributions not only from archaeologists and historians, but also from other disciplines, like arts. But despite the spatial and disciplinary range, all contributions illustrated the closeness of the different and often separated topics and regions. It became obvious that a structural merging of different research areas and traditions, just as the establishment of closer research networks, will become one of the main topics and objectives of castle research in the long term – be it by ←8 | 9→a more profound process of scientific exchange, or by provision of research and findings in a joint scientific language – most likely, English.

The workshop itself aimed at meeting its own requirements and aspired to facilitate the outreach of its contributions and debates beyond the participants of the workshop. From the very beginning of the plans in May 2015, we decided to publish the contributions, in order to ensure the public availability of the works. Hence, we have to thank several persons that supported us in realizing our aspiration. First of all, we have to thank the participants, who consented to put their talks into written manuscripts and, thus, provided a contribution to the present volume – a necessary prerequisite for conference proceedings. It is only due to their commitment that we can present this volume! However, not all of the participants were able to contribute, but always due to comprehensible reasons. Nevertheless, we were able to round off the present volume with contributions from two further participants of the workshop: Rainer Atzbach of Aarhus University prepared a debate paper on the concept of the so-called “Burgenbauregal”, the royal prerogative for the erection of castles, while Frederic Zangel of Kiel University presented his findings from castle pledges of the Danish king Christian I (1426–1481). After the submission of the papers, all contributions were critically peer-reviewed by the editorial team.

Altogether, the contributions illustrate the rewarding nature of a European perspective on castle research and interregional debates. This is partially due to their interesting individual findings and perspectives, but also since they emphasize how close research into different European research areas actually is, since everywhere scholars have to cope with similar issues, challenges, trends and topics.

During the workshop, the participants developed a relaxed, but always constructive atmosphere. This was partially due to the nature of the workshop, which, in comparison to the more straight-forward style of conferences, limits the scope of participants and explicitly aims at promoting debates, but also due to support of several colleagues. These are, first and foremost, Rainer Atzbach (Aarhus University) and Felix Biermann (Greifswald University), who immediately showed interest in supporting the event and promised their participation without hesitation. We are extremely grateful for their participation, because they often stimulated debates and raised awareness for important questions or even encouraged different ways of interpretation. At times, this opened up new perspectives to their younger colleagues, providing interesting perspectives for further work on their topics. But it goes without saying that even the best ideas and most reasonable intentions can’t be realized without appropriate funding – especially not in academia. We are, thus, extremely grateful for the support by the Graduate School “Human Development in Landscapes”, who not only provide the framework for our ←9 | 10→current research projects, but also supply us and our colleagues with funds necessary to host a workshop. This enables young scholars to gain insights into organizing and conducting a workshop firsthand. It would not have been possible to realize our intentions without their financial and organizational support, and for that reason we feel much obliged to this institution, especially Jirka Menke, Jennifer Schüle and Sabine Zeller from the office, who assisted us in booking a venue, establishing the design of the poster and provided us with equipment necessary to successfully conduct the workshop. Furthermore, we would like to thank those who allowed us to realize the present volume. We have to thank Oliver Auge, who willingly agreed to include it into Series A of the publication series “Kieler Werkstücke”, published by him via the Peter Lang publishing company. In Peter Lang, we had a very lenient and reliable partner for the publication, and we have to thank all those involved in the process of finalization. First and foremost, Susanne Hoeves and Hermann Ühlein, who were always accessible towards our inquiries for extending previously determined deadlines, at all times sympathetic that, especially for inexperienced junior scholars, initially set plans and deadlines often fail to cope with reality. We are, thus, delighted, to have a publisher that has been lenient towards our adjustments and provided us with an environment that made it possible to realize this enterprise. And last but not least, we have to thank the Alumni Kiel e.V., who willingly supported us with a publication grant, closing the gap between the budget for the workshop and the amount necessary to realize the publication.

Finally, we have to express our deepest gratitude to our colleagues for their support prior to, and during, the workshop. All of this could not have been realized without the assistance of several colleagues, who read through drafts and concepts, gave remarks and provided assistance during the workshop. We are, thus, over grateful for the help of our fellow colleagues Gustav Wollentz, Veronika Egetenmeyr and Aslı Oflaz, who willingly agreed to provide helpful hands in order to ensure a productive and comfortable workshop atmosphere.

Looking back at the workshop and the process of publishing the contributions, the idea to host such an event in order to connect scholars from different regions for discussing the topic of castles from an explicitly European dimension has proven itself to be fruitful, and we are extremely happy to have been in a situation to host such an event. We could not have asked for a longer range of topics, issues and areas, whose variety perfectly illustrated that we are all in the same boat, independently from the place our work is situated and the area we are investigating. Despite the workshop being a one-time affair, we hope that the workshop and the present contribution will stimulate others to follow the lead and to host similar ←10 | 11→events – besides the current conferences on castles, a distinct event for junior scientific staff might provide a most sensible institution!

Kiel, in 2018

Stefan Magnussen and Daniel Kossack



Atzbach, R., Jensen, L.M.J., & Lauritsen, L.P. (eds.) (2015). Castles at War. The Danish Castle Research Association “Magt, Borg og Landskab”, Interdisciplinary Symposium 2013. Castles of the North 1. Bonn: Dr. Rudolf Habelt GmbH.

Creighton, O. (2013). Early European Castles. Aristocracy and Authority ad 800–1200. Debates in Archaeology. London/New Delhi et al.: Bloomsbury

Etting, V. (2010). The Royal Castles of Denmark during the 14th Century. An Analysis of the Major Royal Castles with Special Regard to their Functions and Strategic Importance. Publications of the National Museum. Studies in Archaeology and History 19. Copenhagen: Nationalmuseet.

Holdorf, M. & Hoppe, S. (2016). Vorwort. In: Burgen und Schlösser 57, p. 194.

Liddiard, R. (2012). Castles in Context. Power, Symbolism and Landscape, 1066 to 1500. Oxford: Oxbow Books.

Olsen, R.A. (2014). Danish Medieval Castles, with photos by Janne Klerk. Aarhus/Copenhagen: Aarhus University Press.


ISBN (Hardcover)
Publication date
2018 (December)
Mittelalter Konferenz Forschung Interdisziplinarität
Berlin, Bern, Bruxelles, New York, Oxford, Warszawa, Wien, 2018. 195 S., 35 s/w Abb.

Biographical notes

Stefan Magnussen (Volume editor) Daniel Kossack (Volume editor)

Stefan Magnussen studied History and Politics at Kiel University and Brock University, St. Catharines, Ontario. He was a research assistant at Kiel University until 2017. Currently, he is a research assistant at Leipzig University. Daniel Kossack studied Archaeology at Münster University and Kiel University. He is a research assistant at Kiel University.


Title: Castles as European Phenomena
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