9th cent. BC relief of an Assyrian attack on a walled town with battlements
Drawing of a tower battlements.
Cutaway diagram of a tower of Château de Pierrefonds showing its three levels of battlements.

A battlement (also called a crenellation) in defensive architecture, such as that of city walls or castles, comprises a parapet (i.e. a short wall), in which portions have been cut out at intervals to allow the discharge of arrows or other missiles. These cut-out portions form crenels (also known as carnels, embrasures, loops or wheelers). The solid widths between the crenels are called merlons (also cops or kneelers). Battlements often have openings between the supporting corbels, through which stones or burning objects could be dropped on attackers; these are known as machicolations. A wall with battlements is said to be crenelated or embattled. Battlements may have protected walkways (chemin de ronde) behind them.

The term originated around the 14th century from the Old French word batailler, "to fortify with batailles" (fixed or movable turrets of defence).



Battlements have been used for thousands of years; the earliest-known example is in the palace at Medinet-Abu at Thebes in Egypt, which allegedly derives from Syrian fortresses. Battlements were used in the walls surrounding Assyrian towns, as shown on bas reliefs from Nimrud and elsewhere. Traces of them remain at Mycenae in Greece, and some ancient Greek vases suggest the existence of battlement. The Great Wall of China has battlements.

The Romans used low wooden pinnacles for their first aggeres (terreplains). In the battlements of Pompeii, additional protection derived from small internal buttresses or spur walls, against which the defender might stand so as to gain complete protection on one side. In the battlements of the Middle Ages the crenel comprised one-third of the width of the merlon: the latter, in addition, could be provided with arrow-loops of various shapes (from simply round to cruciform), depending from the weapon to fire. Late merlons permitted fire from the first firearms. From the 13th century, the merlons, moreover, could be connected with wooden shutters that provided added protection when closed. The shutters were designed to be opened to allow shooters to fire against the attackers, and closed during reloading.

Loop-holes were frequent in Italian battlements, where the merlon has much greater height and a distinctive cap. Italian military architects used the so-called Ghibelline or swallowtail battlement, with V-shaped notches in the tops of the merlon, giving a horn-like effect. The normal rectangular-shaped merlons were later nicknamed Guelph[citation needed]. In Muslim and African fortifications, the merlons often had a rounded shape.

The battlements of the Arabs had a more decorative and varied character, and were continued from the 13th century onwards not so much for defensive purposes as for a crowning feature to the walls. They serve a function similar to the cresting found in the Spanish renaissance. Similarly, European architects persistently used battlements as a purely decorative feature throughout the Decorated and Perpendicular periods. They not only occur on parapets but on the transoms of windows and on the tie-beams of roofs and on screens, and even on Tudor chimney-pots.

A further decorative treatment appears in the elaborate paneling of the merlons and that portion of the parapet walls rising above the cornice, by the introduction of quatrefoils and other conventional forms filled with foliage and shield.

See also



  • Balestracci, D. (1989). "I materiali da costruzione nel castello medievale". Archeologia Medievale (XVI): pp. 227–242. 
  • "Hierarchism in Conventual Crenellation". Medieval Archaeology 26: pp. 69–100. 1982. 
  • Luisi, R. (1996). Scudi di pietra, I castelli e l’arte della guerra tra Medioevo e Rinascimento. Bari. 

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Battlement — Bat tle*ment ( ment), n. [OE. batelment; cf. OF. bataillement combat, fr. batailler, also OF. bastillier, bateillier, to fortify. Cf. {Battle}, n., {Bastile}, {Bastion}.] (Arch.) (a) One of the solid upright parts of a parapet in ancient… …   The Collaborative International Dictionary of English

  • battlement — index bulwark Burton s Legal Thesaurus. William C. Burton. 2006 …   Law dictionary

  • battlement — early 14c., from O.Fr. bataillement, earlier bastillement fortification, from bastillier to fortify, to equip with battlements, from bastille fortress, tower (see BASTION (Cf. bastion)). The raised parts are cops or merlons; the indentations are… …   Etymology dictionary

  • battlement — ► NOUN ▪ a parapet with gaps at intervals for firing from, forming part of a fortification. DERIVATIVES battlemented adjective. ORIGIN from Old French bataillier fortify with movable defence turrets …   English terms dictionary

  • battlement — [bat′ lmənt] n. [ME batelment < OFr bataillier, to fortify < bataille, fortification on a wall or tower < ? VL * battacula, place of battle < battere,BATTER1] 1. a parapet with open spaces for shooting, built on top of a castle wall,… …   English World dictionary

  • battlement — battlemented /bat l men tid/, adj. /bat l meuhnt/, n. Often, battlements. a parapet or cresting, originally defensive but later usually decorative, consisting of a regular alternation of merlons and crenels; crenelation. Also called embattlement …   Universalium

  • battlement — noun a) In fortification: an indented parapet, formed by a series of rising members called cops or merlons, separated by openings called crenelles or embrasures, the soldier sheltering himself behind the merlon while he fires through the… …   Wiktionary

  • battlement — bat•tle•ment [[t]ˈbæt l mənt[/t]] n. for archit. Often, battlements. a parapet of a fortification consisting of a regular alternation of merlons and crenels • Etymology: 1275–1325; ME < MF bataille battlement bat′tle•ment ed ˌmɛn tɪd adj …   From formal English to slang

  • Battlement Mesa — Battlement Mesa, CO U.S. Census Designated Place in Colorado Population (2000): 3497 Housing Units (2000): 1631 Land area (2000): 8.071191 sq. miles (20.904288 sq. km) Water area (2000): 0.256055 sq. miles (0.663179 sq. km) Total area (2000):… …   StarDict's U.S. Gazetteer Places

  • Battlement Mesa, CO — U.S. Census Designated Place in Colorado Population (2000): 3497 Housing Units (2000): 1631 Land area (2000): 8.071191 sq. miles (20.904288 sq. km) Water area (2000): 0.256055 sq. miles (0.663179 sq. km) Total area (2000): 8.327246 sq. miles… …   StarDict's U.S. Gazetteer Places

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