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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

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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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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

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Timo Bremer

Abstract: Since the 11th century, the nobility in Middle Europe began to build castles far off the rural settlements in large numbers, accompanied by the transformation of the aristocracy from loose elite-networks to kinship based noble families. This chapter analyses the distances between castles and the closest settlement in the districts of Düren and Rhein-Erft, Northern Rhineland. Results from a compehensive GIS analysis show that the older castles of the higher nobility tended to be way beyond villages, whereas the castles of the lower nobility were erected in close proximity. It is suggested that this was mainly motivated by an ideology of aristocratic dominance based on Christian morality and salvation history. In the case of the lower nobility, this ideology conflicted with the functional challenges of controling local properties and asserting power in rural society.

The model of the so-called Adelsburg (nobility’s castle) has been developed by Hans-Martin Maurer during the 1960s and 1970s, but is of great relevance for castle research in Germany even today.1 It suggests that noblemen gave up their seats in the rural settlements and moved to permanently inhabited castles on remote hilltops from the 11th century onwards.2 These were a completely new type of castles, due to their compact design and strong fortification. It is generally assumed that mottes on artificial hills served the same purpose.3

Especially the sociological interpretation of Maurer’s work is notable. By reference to K. Schmidt, Maurer understands the phenomenon of the...

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