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 Ditches, Walls and Drawbridges

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Priscilla
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PostSubject: Ditches, Walls and Drawbridges   Thu 26 Jan 2017, 17:28

Keeping the neighbours at bay. What really works? Should we get shares in General Laddering and Tunneling Ltd in Mexico? It could be a promising investment. To keep thieves from rural property about here we are told to grow tall thick holly hedges but I am none too sure of that. Determined thieves can be quite innovative, Near Colchester are several ancient ditches  - so how did they work because surely it was easy enough to ground the ends. And building border walls seems so old fashioned. Not only would the building cost be very high but manning with electronic surveillance a huge on-going expense.
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PostSubject: Re: Ditches, Walls and Drawbridges   Thu 26 Jan 2017, 18:47

@Priscilla wrote:
Near Colchester are several ancient ditches  - so how did they work because surely it was easy enough to ground the ends.

Near Colchester are several ditches alright, and they span a period from the late neolithic through the bronze and iron ages up to Roman times.

However the principle is the same. The ditch delays the invader long enough to chuck something at him (so you'll need a few chuckers on the payroll as well, I'm afraid). Here's a typical Iron Age specimen, shown in section. A good ditch surrounds the property so there are no "ends" as such, though for a few bob more you can hire extra chuckers to lob things at invaders trying to ingress through your gate, that is if you choose to build one with permanently raised ground in front of it so you and yours can get in and out in happier times without too much clambering. Of course you'll need a rather sturdy gate too. I recommend ones that open inwards.



I really recommend the de-luxe palisade as well, as shown in the brochure above. A big extra investment at the initial outlay stage, but it saves a fortune in chuckers over the years. The Bronze Age neighbours of yours tended to leave it out on occasion, it appears, but then chuckers were obviously cheaper then and it all ended rather nastily once the lads with heavy and sharp iron things to chuck arrived.

It would probably be best to do what the pre-Romans in your area normally did too - have a chat with your neighbours, elect a leader of this fortified residents association (who also gets the biggest house furthest from incoming chuck stuff), and then share the cost between you all - being sure to include all participants' houses within the structure and none without - otherwise that leads to those messy Roman vici arrangements which were always more trouble than they were worth in the long run. Practically inviting the enemy to live in the ditch, as it were. Think "pre-brexit" Farageland and you get the picture.

For a final flourish, and this is Kent so money is no object I know, why not go the extra mile cost-wise and opt for a revetment? As the brochure shows it adds a picturesque panache to the whole thing, and as an added benefit gets very slippy when wet, so is ideal for the English summer (winter, autumn and spring).

The Romans had a hell of a job getting past these buggers - it took a combination of bribery and monster machine chuckers to finally crack them. So as long as a load of Italians don't suddenly turn up again you should be set for a few years of relative peace and quiet not having to look at the great unwashed passing through.

Oh, and make sure you're already on a hill. Otherwise it's all rather stupid and expensive.
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PostSubject: Re: Ditches, Walls and Drawbridges   Thu 26 Jan 2017, 19:44

There is a snag with impregnable ditches though, they are just as good at keeping you and yours in as they are at keeping them and theirs out which, if they are as bluddy cussed as the Romans who might just live in the ditch until your lot started munching on each other and once their monster chuckers found their range, meant it could all get a bit messy inside.

The sneaky Romans of course perfected their ditchy things with ankle-breakers and a few lilia round about just in case you were too busy sizing up the big rampart and didn't keep your eyes on the ground.
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PostSubject: Re: Ditches, Walls and Drawbridges   Thu 26 Jan 2017, 23:09

In the round, ditch and mounds stuff I understand but  the straight line affairs I do not. The Essex ones were straight with no sign of settlement either side and were pre-Roman. By their time Essex  was probably chuffed about having celebs chose to live there. I don't think Essex ever got Kent to pay out for extravagances  but it's a thought to bear in mind as council tax rise. 

Ankle breakers sound like a profitable line for US investors, ferv. Around here we call them broken paving stones. Possibly export could be arranged.
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PostSubject: Re: Ditches, Walls and Drawbridges   Thu 26 Jan 2017, 23:39

Straight ditches as defensive boundaries only look incongruous nowadays when the original landscape features at either end which formed natural boundaries have long since gone. Long extinct marsh, fen, lakes and diverted waterways are the usual explanation, even in Essex.
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PostSubject: Re: Ditches, Walls and Drawbridges   Fri 27 Jan 2017, 10:00

@ferval wrote:
There is a snag with impregnable ditches though, they are just as good at keeping you and yours in as they are at keeping them and theirs out ....
 
Which brings to mind the Napoleonic saying: "The side that stays within its fortifications is beaten", an idea later exemplified by France's Maginot Line of defence against Nazi Germany. France had invested heavily in this static defensive system so the Germans knew they would never be attacked along this front and accordingly it actually served to protect Germany rather than France. Also, echoing P's comments about the end of walls, the Maginot Line only extended as far as the French border with Belgium (France's ally before she opted for neutrality - and so it had initially been thought unnecessary to continue the line of fortifications further). Of course when Germany eventually attacked, German forces just went through Belgium and round the end of the "impregnable" Maginot Line.
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PostSubject: Re: Ditches, Walls and Drawbridges   Fri 27 Jan 2017, 10:22

Priscilla, I've been trying to figure out which "ancient" ditches near Colchester you're referring to that stay stubbornly linear. The most famous ones of course aren't ditches at all but are rightly classified as dykes - a rather different concept involving protection of huge areas. The Colchester region abounds with these, constructed during the Roman period throughout its long duration. In which case I doubt there is much by way of tips to be gleaned from them with respect to protecting your own property - unless of course your house and gardens extend to around fifty square miles or so.



The above diagram, which represents just the major ones in the general area, might serve as a rough plan for your own proposed development. I recommend though that your budget is amended to allow the hire of up to a hundred thousand legionaries - but be warned, these chuckers don't come cheap as a lot of them have to be imported from Syria and beyond. You'd better check with Farage first before you shell out for an OPP.

Edit: Crossed posts with Meles meles. By the time these particular linear defences were completed there wasn't much by way of ends left either. And in the case of Colchester/Camulodunum you could probably say they were so successful that in the end it wasn't the guys within the dyke fortifications who were beaten in the end but all the guys outside who failed first.
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PostSubject: Re: Ditches, Walls and Drawbridges   Fri 27 Jan 2017, 17:23

Thank you for the kick start into the proper direction. What I had in mind turned out to be the Lexdon Dyke which is an Iron Age feature that had figured in an old conversation with a visiting friend who had been off in search of it. There is an online description and map I have just seen. Estimated dyke length in this region end to end was about 25k so a serious policy at the time.

I did observe in a subcontinent semi-desert area ditches dug at one end of a 'field. The bank  being of more importance and to do with rain water capture during rare but intense rainfall..... or so I gathered on asking but the local dialect was a barrier too far to find out how it worked. These sea fishermen/farmers were, incidentally, of Arab stock from 500 years ago or so they proudly explained and they looked arab. They made the best lemon cardamom sweet tea ever. To be honest, I had wondered if the ditch and bank system of north Essex had a farming use. Possibly it did in water management.
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PostSubject: Re: Ditches, Walls and Drawbridges   Fri 27 Jan 2017, 17:53

Are not a lot of the so-called "sunken lanes" (basically roads/bridleways/footpaths running in a ditch, that occur throughout Southern England) originally Saxon land boundaries between different landowners/manors/parishes etc? I believe the common Saxon way of defining a land boundary was by digging a ditch, with the excavated soil heaped to either side forming two parallel earth ridges, each surmounted by a hedge to contain livestock, and with a path running between the two. The original ditch was never particularly deep but with nigh on 1500 years of the hedges getting ever higher due to plant growth and being the obvious repository for stones cleared from the fields, and with the ditch getting deeper through erosion by tramping feet and hooves, some of those "boundaries" in Sussex, Surrey and Hampshire are now about twenty feet deep, like this one near Hanscombe on the Surrey/Sussex border.



I think they are thought to be originally land boundaries rather than roads as they tend to bimble in a haphazard, circular fashion around old farmsteads, manors and parishes, rather than actually going anywhere in particular. Many have since been made into winding country roads but have never been straightened. They twist and turn as they cross otherwise completely flat terrain simply because the land on either side has always had different owners.


Last edited by Meles meles on Fri 27 Jan 2017, 18:24; edited 2 times in total
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PostSubject: Re: Ditches, Walls and Drawbridges   Fri 27 Jan 2017, 18:15

Lexden Dyke was built, they reckon, very close to the time Julius Caesar's expeditionary force arrived in Britain, and we know that Caesar got about that far inland before his accountants did their sums and he was forced to admit the whole venture had to wait until another day. It is tempting to think that it was the Dyke itself that dissuaded Jules from having a go at the Catuvellauni and points further north, and equally tempting to think it might even have later given the Romans themselves - with memory of JC's grind to a halt still a matter of military record and memory - the idea of vastly extending the defensive dyke network once they finally did get their hands on the Catuvellauni's old capital and make it into one of Britain's most militarised zones during their early occupation.

In between these two events a royal burial, the Lexden Tumulus, was carried out within the dyke itself, supporting the notion that the Catuvellauni had indeed been the ones to stop JC with their dyke, had reckoned "job well done - now what will we do with it?", and in their false sense of security assumed they would never have to rely on such an expensive and extravagantly huge defence works ever again so may as well put the monumental structure to a monumental purpose of another kind in this land now rid of the Roman menace for once and for all. Despite this the Tumulus, pre-dating the "real" Roman invasion by about thirty years, has a strange claim to fame - the single largest deposit of Roman grave goods associated with one burial ever found in Britain.

EDIT: Crossed posts with MM (again). Ditches, as opposed to dykes, by Saxon times are very much interpreted as land boundaries rather than anything else, as you say, though in late Saxon times they re-emerge as defences again in the context of burghs. If located on either side of a track-way it is generally assumed this signifies drove paths or drainage, rather like today. An historian called George Latimer back in the 1950s set himself the task of crossing Britain from coast to coast along such boundary ditches (or their vestiges - which are often preserved in current property boundaries). He hit a few snags where the Normans' afforestation shenanigans had wiped some of these completely from the face of the earth but he still managed it - from Suffolk right across to Gloucestershire, and much of it along bridle paths and the like, as you say. His book about the detective work involved and his archaeological surveying expedition was fascinating, dotted with some brilliant local histories along the way.
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PostSubject: Re: Ditches, Walls and Drawbridges   Sat 28 Jan 2017, 13:24

@Priscilla wrote:
To keep thieves from rural property about here we are told to grow tall thick holly hedges but I am none too sure of that. Determined thieves can be quite innovative

Shrubs and trees have long been among the most effective barriers in either rural or urban landscapes. Holly is very slow-growing and so is perhaps not advisable for anyone seeking a security quick-fix. There are plenty of other fast-growing prickly shrubs, however, such as firethorn and berberis etc. Neither does a hedge necessarily have to be prickly. Plants are very effective as visual screens and crucially act as a strong psychological barrier to any would-be trespasser and/or burglar - hence the proliferation of laurel hedges and cypress hedges in the world's suburban and subrural gardens. Most thieving, of course, is not done by the determined but by the opportunist. So if that sort of thing keeps one up at night then it's merely a matter of minimising the opportunity. A fence (wooden or wire or whatever) can easily be broken and when broken remains so until fixed. Any breach in a hedge, however, often repairs itself or else any gaps can easily be helped to close by judicious trimming or pruning. The result (particularly with prickly species) is even thicker and more impenetrable than before.

Quite apart from anything else, a living hedge is visually much more pleasing than a plank fence or a wire mesh or a wall. That last example, however, can be qualified in the case of a walled or sunken garden in which case, of course, the intention is more one of climate creation rather than security as such. In the case of the brick wall adjacent to the sunken part of our own garden then a telling interest is in our maintenance of the trellising and training of creepers on it thus giving the wall a green aspect. With regard to hedging, then being a patient sort of a fellow, I have eschewed the somewhat ghastly and ubiquitous laurel trees and leyland trees but instead have drawn great pleasure over the years in planting and laying slow-growing box, beech and holly in various locations on our wee patch and then witnessing them grow from barely a foot high to gloriously fully mature hedges.

In the case of ancient boundary dykes, then the earthwork itself would have been largely symbolic. It would have been the hedging of shrubs and trees on it which would have provided the real obstacle.
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PostSubject: Re: Ditches, Walls and Drawbridges   Thu 02 Feb 2017, 14:32

@Vizzer wrote:


Shrubs and trees have long been among the most effective barriers in either rural or urban landscapes.

As the Allied armies in Normandy discovered in 1944. The Bocage, a patchwork of  fields, hedgerows, small woods and sunken lanes, which were a nightmare to fight in.

Bocage

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PostSubject: Re: Ditches, Walls and Drawbridges   Thu 02 Feb 2017, 15:08

@ferval wrote:
There is a snag with impregnable ditches though, they are just as good at keeping you and yours in as they are at keeping them and theirs out which, if they are as bluddy cussed as the Romans who might just live in the ditch until your lot started munching on each other and once their monster chuckers found their range, meant it could all get a bit messy inside.

The sneaky Romans of course perfected their ditchy things with ankle-breakers and a few lilia round about just in case you were too busy sizing up the big rampart and didn't keep your eyes on the ground.

A very rare, possibly unique, occurrence, was the Siege of Alesia in 52BC, where Caesar's Legions were both besiegers and besieged at the same time.



Reconstruction of Roman fortifications at Alesia;

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PostSubject: Re: Ditches, Walls and Drawbridges   Fri 03 Feb 2017, 08:21

There has been a dispute about the veracity of Caesar's description of that siege, almost from when he first published it in his own lifetime. His description of the tactical errors Vercingetorix committed sound genuine enough - after all the Romans could never have eventually taken the fort's high ground if Vercingetorix had not first released his cavalry and then voluntarily surrendered the vantage point. However the "siege within a siege" seems to have been Caesar's attempt to add a spot of drama to events highlighting his unique generalship and the unique threats he faced in his Gallic campaign. The Gauls' cavalry units were sent back to their respective homelands to raise a reserve force - that much Vercingetorix himself allegedly confirmed to the Romans after capture and it is doubtful Caesar would have risked gainsaying his military leaders under his command. But where it gets iffy is when Caesar claims this muster resulted in a huge military force then arriving and besieging his own positions. It is almost an impossible manoeuvre to accomplish, even with a vastly superior number of troops, and if it was attempted no one except Caesar himself seems to have noticed it. Hence "maps" of the battle/siege tend to place this relief army near the margins of activity and rarely even attempt to illustrate how they went about what Caesar claimed.

A more likely scenario was that Vercingetorix attempted to create a weak point in Caesar's very effective siege by squeezing it at a particular point from within and without. The obvious intent would have been to make a break for it, as his otherwise incredibly stupid relinquishing of the well fortified high ground also seems to confirm. This was a tactic he had used before and the mountainous terrain to his north and east would have suited this strategy (his abandonment of cavalry for a promised influx of massed infantry also backs up this hypothesis), especially as the Romans had basically become pretty much entrenched and would have had huge difficulty in mounting a successful pursuit to do battle. Instead it seems that the expected squashing of Roman defences didn't transpire, or didn't play out as planned, though the whole thing may have been rather more touch-and-go for the Romans than Caesar let on afterwards.
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PostSubject: Re: Ditches, Walls and Drawbridges   Fri 03 Feb 2017, 13:44

This is another battle involving JC, only this time it was one lot of Roman engineers against another lot of Roman engineers, Dyrrachium 48BC.
A bit more self confidence and resolution in  the Optimates army, and Shaw's play would have been entitled Pompey and Cleopatra

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PostSubject: Re: Ditches, Walls and Drawbridges   Fri 03 Feb 2017, 14:28

An example of Roman field fortifications;



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PostSubject: Re: Ditches, Walls and Drawbridges   Sun 05 Feb 2017, 23:43

I dare say that we have explored ditches but what of walls? Were any really effective? How to breach them seemed to be part of warfare ploys. I had a long walk in the dark and  rain to find, with relief, the hole in the wall entrance  to reach the theatre in Colchester recently so appreciate that someone had done so long ago... or maybe a recent town council. No invader had installed the steps and handrails. City walls are ever fascinating to find - even parts of them. They  stir an interest in history and invoke thought.
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PostSubject: Re: Ditches, Walls and Drawbridges   Mon 06 Feb 2017, 11:46

Lots about walls - and other boundaries - here P:

https://reshistorica.historyboard.net/t771-walls-and-frontiers-in-history


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PostSubject: Re: Ditches, Walls and Drawbridges   Mon 06 Feb 2017, 14:39

As well there may be but I was trying to drum up a bit of board participation again. Especially as we now have a new age Hadrian westwards. Of course most great ancient walls were probably built by slaves and captives........given time I expect he thinks that could be arranged.  Building walls was ppart of civic duty in southern Gaul for a while with every male citizen doing a bit - or providing manpower.
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PostSubject: Re: Ditches, Walls and Drawbridges   Mon 06 Feb 2017, 16:00

The oldest stone wall at Jericho dates back to 8000 BC;

Wall of Jericho
The contemporary Tower of Jericho:

Tower of Jericho

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PostSubject: Re: Ditches, Walls and Drawbridges   Mon 06 Feb 2017, 18:05

@Priscilla wrote:
As well there may be but I was trying to drum up a bit of board participation again. Especially as we now have a new age Hadrian westwards. Of course most great ancient walls were probably built by slaves and captives........given time I expect he thinks that could be arranged.  Building walls was ppart of civic duty in southern Gaul for a while with every male citizen doing a bit - or providing manpower.

Sorry, P, I thought we might pick up again on some of the discussion there.

Less a new Hadrian than a new Antonius Pius I might suggest. In fact last week on BBC Scotland there was one of the archaeologists from up in Gilmorehill (himself a Puerto Rican married to an American so with an interest) discussed this.

Here's a very poor and heavily abbreviated version of what he said.  


http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-scotland-38838963





AP was of course lacking any of the military kudos normally expected of the Roman heid-bummer so built his wee wall (sorry, a beautiful wall, really beautiful, probably the best wall ever that kept those bad Caledonian dudes out) so he could claim a triumph and then mint coins showing what a really great emperor he was, probably the best emperor ever. Here he is, although, to be fair, he's got more and better hair than the Trumpster.





I wonder if he will seek advice from his best pals, Bibi and Vlad, on walls and how well they work?
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PostSubject: Re: Ditches, Walls and Drawbridges   Mon 06 Feb 2017, 18:21

Interesting stuff - and above dude has better hairdo because of the fancy Alice band - or is this sort called a Laurel and Hardy? Nice legs, tho. What is he sitting on? Squashed Brits? I think I had better go.
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PostSubject: Re: Ditches, Walls and Drawbridges   Tue 21 Feb 2017, 22:03

@Meles meles wrote:

Which brings to mind the Napoleonic saying: "The side that stays within its fortifications is beaten"

I'm sure that saying was of great comfort to Marshal Massena after Wellington trounced him, losing him about a third of his army, simply by sitting on his aristocratic bum behind the Lines of Torres Vedras!
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PostSubject: Re: Ditches, Walls and Drawbridges   Sat 25 Feb 2017, 18:34

Lots of stuff on walls and ditches - Trike's post on Jericho is exraordinary - but what of drawbridges? Do they have an interesting history... and where can I get one?
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PostSubject: Re: Ditches, Walls and Drawbridges   Sun 26 Feb 2017, 15:56

The crannóige in Ireland seemed to have utilised drawbridges and some of these have been conjecturally dated to as ancient as 4,000 to 5,000 years old. Controlling the crossing of a natural barrier such as water would have been a very obvious and powerful incentive to provide a technological solution to making it work in your favour, it would appear. Though technologically it had all the sophistication of pulling the ladder up after you and therefore doesn't quite match Greek Fire or the gravitational sand-emptying mechanisms used to seal Egyptian tombs, it is its basic simplicity which marks it out as very probably one of the most impressively ancient technological breakthroughs in defensive engineering.
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PostSubject: Re: Ditches, Walls and Drawbridges   Mon 27 Feb 2017, 20:20

There was an interesting discussion today on walls, barriers and crossings on BBC Radio 4's Start the Week program:

http://www.bbc.co.uk/programmes/b08g2tkt
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