Castles and Nuraghi

On Monday, Eva Mol discussed the difference between castles and palaces, explaining that a castle is “a large building or group of buildings fortified against attack with thick walls, battlements, towers, etc.,” whereas a palace is “the official residence of a sovereign, archbishop, bishop, or other exalted person.” She discussed two types of castles in the Levant during the Crusades: those of the military order and those of the aristocracy, where the latter was a hallmark of elite status in the local hierarchy of power.

Crusader Castle

Professor Mol also explained that many of these castles were erected when the threat of external invasion was weak and “the future of the kingdom was secured.” During the first fifteen years of their rule, the Franks built, settled, or overtook at least twenty-nine Crusader castles, and there were likely many other fortified Frankish sites in the Levant (Ellenblum 166). According to Ellenblum:

“Throughout most of the twelfth century there was a negative correlation between the distribution of castles and threats from without the kingdom. Put more plainly, most of the castles were established in sectors of the kingdom which could be described as being ‘relatively secure’, while only a minority of them were located in areas under the threat of enemy attack… Even more, analysis of the spatial distribution of the Crusader castles indicates that most of them were not established along what would be described by modern scholars as the kingdom’s borders, or in areas to which military and strategic importance could be ascribed. The majority of the castles erected in this period were located in centres of agricultural production, areas under no external threat at all… We may therefore assume that most of these castles were built, like their counterparts in Europe, to serve as nuclei around which settlement would develop, or as seigniorial administrative centres, and not as a defensive measure against external attack,” (Ellenblum 172-174).

Crusader Castle

I was really excited to learn about this location pattern of Crusader castles because it strongly parallels that of Sardinian nuraghi, Bronze Age stone structures that are often located on top of a hill and are characterized by at least one stone tower with a vaulted inner chamber (Di Gregorio et al. 2014). During the Sardinian Late Bronze Age, ‘complex’ nuraghi emerged: vaulted towers to which other architectural features (such as additional towers) were added over time, making up a larger complex. These compounds were often surrounded by a defensive wall (van Dommelen 1998, 69) and a village of circular stone huts (Webster 2015, 84).

One example, Su Nuraxi (a large Late Bronze Age complex nuraghe), includes a central tower encompassed by four subsidiary towers all connected by a wall, forming a single large bastion. Each tower incorporates two rows of windows or “arrow-slits,” which are believed to be defensive elements (Cavanagh 1987, 67). Archaeologists have also found evidence of stone brackets, suggesting that the bastion might have been equipped for defense (these findings suggest the presence of overhanging terraces with gaps in the masonry for shooting at enemies) (Webster 2015, 100).

Su Nuraxi

Over the past several decades, numerous scholars have debated the primary purpose or function of nuraghi. One theory suggests that their permanence, monumentality, and incorporation of antemural towers and walls indicates that they predominantly served as fortresses. This theory postulates that antemural and circuit walls, such as the ones found around the central complex at Su Nuraxi, protected against invading forces, with the towers serving as lookout posts over the surrounding landscape. However, some archaeologists are not convinced that nuraghi were purely militaristic in function; evidence from several central nuraghe complexes indicate that these spaces served a domestic purpose, and, in some cases, may have supported the surrounding village with access to grain and large feasts. Some scholars believe that nuraghi were not defensive at all, but were first and foremost administrative centers for the community or elite residences (for example, evidence from Losa in Abbasanta indicates that the wall between the subsidiary towers was not built in the position that would have been most conducive to defense). Perhaps, like some Crusader castles, nuraghi were “nuclei” for settlement in regions of Sardinia that served as “administrative centers” and “centers of agricultural production.”

Su Nuraxi

Monday’s class and readings made me think more critically about the definition of castles and its relation to understandings of nuraghi (which resemble castles with their stone towers and walls). It made me wonder if structural similarities between European castles and nuraghi have contributed to a situation in which modern conceptions surrounding the purpose of castles have influenced theories regarding nuragic function, and if so, to what extent.

I think that this idea was partially born of my post last week, in which I discussed the impact of modern ideas of gender on archaeological scholarship in relation to the Queen’s Megaron in the palace at Knossos and the Reception Room in the Lippitt House Museum. I had another, similar experience with the Lippitt House, where my first thought in reaction to the house’s abundance of mirrors was that the residents of the house enjoyed looking at their own reflections. However, after reading some of my classmates’ previous blogposts, I realized that this assumption may be a result of the influence of modern society’s intense fascination with appearances (especially younger generations), and that the mirrors likely served to make the space inside the house appear larger.

Mirror at the Lippitt House Museum



Cavanagh, W. (1987) “An Investigation into the Construction of Sardinian Nuraghi.” Papers of the British School at Rome 55: 1-74.

Di Gregorio, F. (2014) “Map of the Natural and Cultural Heritage in the Landscape of the Carignano Wine District of the Sulcis Region (SW Sardinia).” GeoJournal of Tourism and Geosites 13(1): 66-78.

Ellenblum. “The Distribution of Frankish Castles During the Twelfth Century.”

van Dommelen, P. (1998) “On Colonial Grounds.” Archaeological Studies Leiden University: Doctoral thesis.

Webster, G. (2015) The Archaeology of Nuragic Sardinia. Sheffield: Equinox Publishing.