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Castles as European Phenomena

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


Edited By Stefan Magnussen and Daniel Kossack

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.

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Problems and Challenges of Research on Castles in Wagria, Germany


Daniel Kossack

Abstract: In Wagria around 150 sites are labelled as a castle, but with a completely varying state of research. In a region where most castles were small, circular mounds and the buildings made of wood, it is not always easy to interpret the sources. This can lead to misinterpretations and misconceptions, which will be discussed in this chapter in an exemplary way.

In general, identifying a castle should not be very complicated, especially having defined what we mean by using this term regarding the Middle Ages:1 “All castles were built, at least to some degree, to serve as high-status private residences and estate centres as well as military strongholds. […] On a day-to-day basis, castles […] were bustling centres of social and economic activity, generating commerce and forming central places and natural nucleation points in the landscape.”2 This definition includes all key features of a castle, although specific functions could vary from site to site. Investigating all the above-mentioned functions of a castle can only be achieved by combining written sources with archaeological data and remains in the landscape, not only from castles themselves, but also of their surroundings. Altogether, this allows us to collect data about fortifications, economic activities, the social role of their builders and owners, their implementation in the settlement area and so on.

At the same time, research faces several limitations and problems, which can lead to serious misinterpretations of the character of a castle. This is especially...

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