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The shield wall of Stahleck Castle

A shield wall (German schildmauer) refers to the highest and strongest curtain wall, or tower of a castle that defends the only practicable line of approach to a castle built on a mountain, hill or headland.[1][2] German sources may refer to a shield wall that protects two or more sides as a Hoher Mantel or Mantelmauer, which is variously translated as "mantle-wall",[3] "mantle wall"[4] or "high screen-wall".[5] There is often no clear, definitive distinction between a shield wall and a mantle wall.


Shield walls are found on many German and Austrian hill castles, but are not common in Britain or Ireland where the terrain of the rocky hills on which castles were build did not favour such constructions. However some British castles built on headlands such as Tantallon do have a similar feature.[1]

The construction of shield walls was common in the late 12th century in Germany and Austria and may have been a reaction to the increasing use of heavy siege engines such as the trebuchet[citation needed] (the height of the walls protecting the buildings beyond from arching fire[6]). The thickness of a shield wall could, in extreme cases, be as much as 12 metres (e.g. Neuscharfeneck Castle). Behind the battlements at the top of the wall there was usually an allure or wall walk; the shield wall could also be flanked by two wall towers. In many cases the shield wall replaced the bergfried, for example in the ruined castle of Sporkenburg[7] in the Westerwald forest or the ruins of the Alt Eberstein[8] near the city of Baden-Baden. In other cases, for example at Liebenzell Castle, the bergfried was built in the centre of the shield wall.[9]



  1. 1.0 1.1 Cairns 1989, p. 31.
  2. Skaarup 2003, p. 203.
  3. Castles of the Western World by Armin Tuulse, p. 86. Accessed on 17 Jul 2013
  4. Castle by Christopher Gravett, p. 20. Accessed on 17 Jul 2013
  5. Burgen und Feste Platze by K.G. Saur, p. 231. Accessed on 17 Jul 2013
  6. Freudenrich 2013.
  7. Sporkenburg at Accessed on 17 Jul 2013
  8. Ebersteinburg at Accessed on 17 Jul 2013
  9. The Style of European Art by Herbert Read, p. 187.


Further reading

  • Horst Wolfgang Böhme, Reinhard Friedrich, Barbara Schock-Werner (ed.): Wörterbuch der Burgen, Schlösser und Festungen. Philipp Reclam, Stuttgart 2004, ISBN 3-15-010547-1, p. 228–230;
  • Alexander Antonow: Burgen des südwestdeutschen Raums im 13. und 14. Jahrhundert – unter besonderer Berücksichtigung der Schildmauer. Verlag Konkordia, Bühl/Baden 1977, ISBN 3-7826-0040-1;
  • Friedrich-Wilhelm Krahe: Burgen des deutschen Mittelalters – Grundriss-Lexikon. Sonderausgabe, Flechsig Verlag, Würzburg 2000, ISBN 3-88189-360-1, p. 34−36;
  • Friedrich-Wilhelm Krahe: Burgen und Wohntürme des deutschen Mittelalters, Band 1: Burgen. Jan Thorbecke Verlag, Stuttgart 2002, ISBN 3-7995-0104-5, p. 33−36;

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