BOOK REVIEW: ‘Castrum to Castle: Classical to Medieval Fortifications in the Lands of the Western Roman Empire’

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Reviewer: Michael  Keith Rimmer

Title:  Castrum to Castle: Classical to Medieval Fortifications in the Lands of the Western Roman Empire

Authors:  J.E. Kaufmann, H.W. Kaufmann,

Total Number of Pages: 278

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 9

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According to this volume’s dustjacket, this book is the ‘First volume in a two-part study of the history of fortification from the time of the Romans to the renaissance’. A statement appearing on page viii further-defines its intent. This states that ‘This volume covers the history of the fortifications in the lands that were part of the Western Roman Empire and its successors from the first century to the fourteenth century. It concentrates mostly on England and France’. It also notes that ‘This work includes historical background associated with fortifications in addition to their descriptions’. It is a succinct and accurate description of what is to follow.

Within the book, a two-page Preface placed after the Contents page clarifies and defines the various eras (Dark Ages, Middle Ages etc.) which appear within it. This is followed by a two-paragraph Acknowledgements section which thanks those individuals and orgnisations which contributed to the work. The eight Chapters which form the main part of the volume then follow. These are arranged in sequence and follow the development of the ‘castle’-type structure from Roman times to the Fifteenth Century.  Each Chapter is subdivided into Subsections, and, where necessary, (and in support of the larger narrative), into even smaller sections within the individual Subsections. Within the smaller sections, the text will sometimes appear within a green-coloured rectangle. The volume contains no reference to the practice, but it would appear that it has been adopted to highlight information considered important by the authors. A Conclusion placed after Chapter 8 (From Wales to Italy-Twelfth to Fifteenth Centuries) act as a summary for what has gone before. The content of this work’s companion volume is also summarised. An Appendix follows. The title (Table of Monarchs), is self-explanatory in both content and format, and covers the period 1000-1555. Throughout the volume additional information is provided through the use of End-notes. These are Chapter-specific and sequentially-numbered within that Chapter. The relevant citations appear within a designated Notes section placed after the Appendix. The volume’s Glossary and  Bibliography sections follow, together-with an Index; the latter being the final section within the work.  The volume contains numerous monochrome and colour photographs, together with plans, maps, tables, half-tone drawings and paraphernalia relevant to the narrative.Although these are informatively captioned, only some indicate their sources, the origins of the majority being omitted. Although the Index states ‘Page numbers in italics refer to illustrations’, the Contents pages carry no references to their existence.

When reviewing this volume, this reviewer found the Index to be somewhat problematic.  While randomly searching for ‘entries of interest’ within that section, entries were noted as being either absent or with page numbers omitted. An Index-search on page 53 (for example) for both Birdoswald and King Arthur found no entries, while it was noted that Chester, although accorded an Index entry and three page numbers, did not include a reference to its existence on page 53. As this was a random sample on a single page, by implication other entries are also likely to have been omitted. How many, and where, cannot, of course, be known, but the mere fact that these ommissions have been found causes doubt and the authority and veracity of the Index is inevitably questioned. A small number of spelling mistakes was also noted.

The matter of the Index notwithstanding (and due to the comprehensiveness of its coverage), this volume bids fair to becoming a ‘Standard Reference Work’ on its subject. The quality of its research is such that it is likely to be of interest to scholars in a variety of fields, while equally, a ‘layman’ reader with an interest in ‘Castles’ and ‘Things Medieval’, may well find it worthy of attention. War gamers and military modellers may also find its content of interest.

On a Rating Scale where 1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent, I have given this volume a 9.

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BOOK REVIEW: ‘Castrum to Castle: Classical to Medieval Fortifications in the Lands of the Western Roman Empire’

Book Review: ‘Castle Builders: Approaches to Castle Design and Construction in the Middle Ages’

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Reviewer: NZ Crown Mines

Title: Castle Builders: Approaches to Castle Design and Construction in the Middle Ages

Author: Malcolm Hislop

Total Number of Printed Pages: 264

Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent): 7

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In British mythology, castles are synonymous with Brave Knights, Distressed Damsels (always ‘Fair’ and ‘Comely’), Dragons and the Round Table. Yet these structures were so much more. They were variously symbols of power, of ownership and yet, curiously of family, protectiveness and community; by their very existence they were contradictions.

The volume covers both British and French castles of the 900AD-1500AD period. The author knows his subject well, writing about it with very-evident enthusiasm. As would be expected, the work contains chapters on Earthworks, Great Towers, and Military Engineering. However, chapters on domestic engineering and castle aesthetics also appear. As this reviewer, had never considered that a castle could be worthy of embellishment, beauty, or that colour might be used to decorate the walls, learning about that aspect of castle construction was a revelation.  By virtue of the knowledge it contains, the work is more encyclopaedia than general narrative, and has great value because of that.  In this reviewer’s opinion, it may well become a standard reference work on the subject.

The volume contains 10 Chapters; these forming  the largest section of this work. They are preceded by Preface and Acknowledgements sections. An Afterword, a Glossary and a Referenced Works sections also appear, the latter being effectively a Bibliography. Where source citations are required, these are end-note in format, the citations themselves appearing in a separate Notes section at the rear of the work. An Index also is also provided.  Maps, Photographs, Etchings and Plans appear throughout the work.  They are clear, well-notated, and collectively grouped as Figures (notated as ‘Figs.’) within each chapter. They are numbered in sequence within that chapter. There is however no reference to their existence within the volume’s Contents section.

In precis:  This encyclopaedic work provides a comprehensive and in-depth coverage of the Medieval Castle and is likely to become a standard reference work on the subject.  It will appeal to anyone with an interest in both castles per se and the ‘Medieval era’ / ‘Middle Ages’ in general. For this reviewer however, comprehensive and separate lists of the images that appeared within its covers would have been a welcome addition. It has been rated accordingly.

Although it deserved better, on a Rating Scale (1: Very Poor, 10: Excellent), it has been given a 7.

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nzcrownmines is availalble for book reviewing. Contact: nzcrownmines@gmail.com

Book Review: ‘Castle Builders: Approaches to Castle Design and Construction in the Middle Ages’