General History of Hillforts
The term hillfort or hill fort [Italian: castelliere;
Istrijanski: kaštelir; Hrvatski: gradina] is commonly used by
archeologists to describe fortified enclosures - more specifically, a
fortification on a hilltop - that are located to exploit a rise
in elevation for defensive advantage.
Alternate names: kaštelir / kasteljer (Istrijanski), casteliere (Istroveneto), castelliere (Italiano), gradina (Hrvatski)
The best known later examples are from
the first millennium B.C. in Europe. In Central Europe, hillforts start with the late Neolithic
are especially common in the Bronze Age Urnfield culture and in the
Hallstatt (Early Iron Age) culture of the early Iron Age, and were being
built until the Roman conquest in many areas. Julius Caesar described
the large late Iron Age hillforts that he encountered during his campaigns
By this time the larger ones had become more like cities than fortresses
and many were assimilated as Roman towns.
By far the largest quantity of material
evidence for the Early Iron Age in the Illyrian lands comes from the northern Adriatic and the
Istrian peninsula in present-day Croatia, and Slovenia in the southestern Alps.
Usually situated in a prominent and defensible position, the hillfort consists of one
or more lines (circular or sub-circular) of stone walls or earthen
ramparts, often with
external ditches, following the contours of the hill. Their construction
often relates to the kind of warfare common in the region in which they
lie at the time of their occupation. Many were permanently occupied,
although some were temporary refuges in times of trouble.
Types and periods of hillforts vary
widely. Some were also settlements while others
appear only to have been occupied seasonally or in times of strife.
Furthermore, many hillforts, after careful archeological excavation, have
been discovered to have been used not for military purposes, but as pens
for cattle, horses, or other domesticated animals.
Beyond the simple definition of hill
fort, there is a wide variation in types and periods from the Bronze
Age to the Middle Ages. Here are some considerations of general
appearance and topology, which can be assessed without archaeological
- Hilltop Contour - the classic hill
fort; an inland location with a hilltop defensive position surrounded
by artificial ramparts or steep natural slopes.
Brent Knoll - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brent_Knoll,
Mount Ipf - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Mount_Ipf.
- Inland Promontory - an inland
defensive position on a ridge or spur with steep slopes on 2 or 3
sides, and artificial ramparts on the level approaches.
Lambert's Castle - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Lambert's_Castle.
- Interfluvial - a promontory above the
confluence of two rivers, or in the bend of a
Kelheim (Celtic city of Alcimoennis) - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Alcimoennis
- Lowland - an inland location without
special defensive advantages (except perhaps marshes), but surrounded
by artificial ramparts; typical of later settled oppida.
Maiden Castle, Dorset - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maiden_Castle,_Dorset,
Stonea Camp - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Stonea_Camp.
- Sea Cliff - a semi-circular crescent
of ramparts backing on to a straight sea cliff; common on rocky
Atlantic coasts, such as Ireland.
Daw's Castle - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Daw's_Castle
Dinas Dinlle - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dinas_Dinlle
Dún Aengus - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dún_Aengus.
- Sea Promontory - a linear earthwork
across a narrow neck of land leading to a peninsula with steep cliffs
to the sea on three sides; common on indented Atlantic coasts, such as
Ireland, Cornwall, Brittany and west Wales. Examples:
Rumps - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Rumps,
Huelgoat - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Huelgoat
- Sloping Enclosure - smaller earthwork
on gently sloping hillsides; not significant defensive position.
Trendle Ring - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Trendle_Ring,
Plainsfield Camp - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plainsfield_Camp
- > 20
very large enclosures, too diffuse to defend, probably used for
- 1 - 20
defended areas large enough to support permanent tribal settlement.
- < 1
small enclosures, more likely to be individual farmsteads or animal
Ramparts, walls and ditches
- Univallate - a single circuit of
ramparts for enclosure and defence.
Solsbury Hill - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Solsbury_Hill.
- Multivallate - more than one layer of
defensive earthworks, outer works might not be complete circuits, but
defend the weakest approaches; typically the inner circuit is
original, with outer circuits added later.
Cadbury Castle, Somerset - href="http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cadbury_Castle,_Somerset.
- Simple opening - might indicate an
enclosure, rather than a defended position; sometimes the main
ramparts may turn inward or outward, and be widened and heightened to
control the entrance. Example:
Dowsborough - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dowsborough.
- Linear holloway - straight parallel
pair of ramparts dominating the entrance; projecting either inward,
outward, or occasionally overlapped along the main rampart.
Norton Camp - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Norton_Camp.
- Complex - multiple overlapping outer
works; staggered or interleaved multivallate ramparts; zig-zag
entrance way, sling platforms and well planned lines of fire.
Maiden Castle, Dorset - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Maiden_Castle,_Dorset.
Archaeological excavation reveals more about the dates of occupation and
modes of use, and there are some typical features.
Ramparts and ditches
- Original depths and profiles of
- Rampart construction:
Murus gallicus - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Murus_gallicus,
Pfostenschlitzmauer - http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pfostenschlitzmauer.
- Guardhouses and defended entrances.
Settlement and occupation
- Raised platforms, Roundhouses, Longhouses.
- Post holes for rectangular
- Pits for food storage,
- Coins, jewellery and hoards.
Temples and peacetime burials
- Platforms and temple foundations.
- Graves and offerings
- Weapons: sling-shot, shields, armour,
swords, axes, spears, arrows.
- Sieges and conquest:
ballista bolts, ash layers, vitrified stones, burnt post holes.
- Wartime burials: typically outside the
- Contemporary individual burials by
- Massed grave pits dug by a
Hillforts were frequently occupied by
conquering armies, but on other occasions the forts were destroyed, the
local people forcibly evicted, and the forts left derelict. For example,
Solsbury Hill was sacked and deserted during the Belgic invasions of
southern Britain in the first century BC. Abandoned forts were sometimes
reoccupied and refortified under renewed threat of foreign invasion,
such as the Dukes' Wars in Lithuania, and the successive invasions of
Britain by Romans, Saxons and Vikings.
Hillforts in Istria and Slovenia
The Concise Oxford Dictionary
American journal of
archaeology, Volume 1, Archaeological Institute of America, 1885, p. 248-9
John Wilkes, The Illyrians, Blackwell Publishing, 1995
- The Archaeological Museum of Istria, Pula, Guide III (Pula
1986) Pula 3000, Libar od Grozda (Pula 1997)