Murder Holes, Machicolations, and Other Medieval Warfare Facts

Murder holes. Quora

39. Murder Holes

At its core, a castle’s strength depended on location – often on high ground – high walls, strong gates, and a surrounding moat, filled with water when possible. To further maximize their defensive capacity, castle builders often incorporated ingenious innovations into their designs, to make storming them as dangerous and unpleasant as possible. One of the nastier design features was murder holes.

Murder holes at Bodiam Castle. Wikimedia

As their name indicates, murder holes were intended to, literally, murder people. Passageways through the walls – often behind the main gate – would have holes up above. Through those openings, defenders could stab attackers below with spears, riddle them with arrows or crossbow bolts, or pour unpleasant things on them, such as boiling water, heated sand, or quicklime. Contrary to common perception, hot oil was almost never poured over attackers. Oil was expensive, and besieged defenders cut off from resupply were more likely to hoard, rather than throw away, such a precious commodity.