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The Legend of Hot Tar or Pitch as a Defensive Weapon

Publikation: Bidrag til bog/antologi/rapport/proceedingBidrag til bog/antologiForskningpeer review

In popular culture and even in academic discourse surrounding castles, hot tar pitch has been depicted as a widespread defensive weapon. The identification of "machicoulis" (machicolations) as an architectural provision for pouring down liquid tar pitch goes back to the early days of castle research. In reality, this way of fighting can only be seen as a legend, i.e. a story with only a relative truth at its core. This paper will examine the origin of this historical tradition and its archaeological and architectural sources. The chemical and physical properties of tar pitch and its production and use during the Middle Ages will be discussed with special focus on the application of tar pitch as an ingredient in medieval and post-medieval thermal weapons (especially Greek Fire, the firebomb and the fire arrow). The punishment of tarring and feathering will also be considered. This practice was known in England, parts of Scandinavia and in some parts of the USA right up until the 20th century. The combination of these two completely separate lines of tradition will be considered as a possible root of this popular legend about castles at war.

TitelCastles at War : The Danish Castle Research Association "Magt, Borg og Landskab" Interdisciplinary Symposium 2013
RedaktørerRainer Atzbach, Lars Meldgaard Sass Jensen, Leif Plith Lauritsen
Antal sider16
ForlagDr. Rudolf Habelt
ISBN (trykt)978-3-7749-3978-3, 3774939780
StatusUdgivet - 2015
SerietitelCastles of the North

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