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system of defense structures for protection from enemy attacks. Fortification developed along two general lines: permanent sites built in peacetime, and emplacements and obstacles hastily constructed in the field in time of war.

Ancient and Medieval Fortifications

As long as weapons remained relatively primitive, permanent fortifications predominated. The art of fortification developed in earliest times with the building of earthworks made up of layers of mud, sticks, rocks, and the like. These soon were developed into walls, then into palisades and elaborate wooden stockades. In the Middle East walled cities appeared very early. Those of Mesopotamia had walls of mud or sun-dried brick built to withstand invaders. The citadel, a fort or fortified section within the city, also appeared early. Phoenician cities were strongly walled and offered sturdy resistance to Assyrian, Persian, and Macedonian attackers. Major developments in permanent fortification were made by the Romans, who constructed walls along the Danube and Rhine and in England (e.g., Hadrian's WallHadrian's Wall,
ancient Roman wall, 73.5 mi (118.3 km) long, across the narrow part of the island of Great Britain from Wallsend on the Tyne River to Bowness at the head of Solway Firth. It was mainly built from c.A.D.
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). Some of these had elaborate systems of watchtowers, with provisions for garrisoning men along the walls. In E Asia the famous Great Wall of ChinaGreat Wall of China,
series of fortifications, c.3,890 mi (6,260 km) long (not including trenches and natural defensive barriers), winding across N China from Gansu prov. to Liaoning prov.
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 was an even more ambitious undertaking of the same type.

To overcome advances in fortification, siegecraft (see siegesiege,
assault against a city or fortress with the purpose of capturing it. The history of siegecraft parallels the development of fortification and, later, artillery. In early times battering rams and bores were employed to break down the walls and gates of a fortified place
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) evolved, and devices such as battering rams, scaling ladders, catapultscatapult
, mechanism used to throw missiles in ancient and medieval warfare. At first, catapults were specifically designed to shoot spears or other missiles at a low trajectory (see bow and arrow).
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, and movable towers appeared. As siegecraft became more effective, walls were made higher and thicker—often 30 to 40 ft (9.1–12.2 m) thick. The Romans, with their engineering skill, also developed field fortifications in their camps. However, with the breakdown of Roman authority and the increase in raids and incursions by invaders from the North and the East, fortification on the grand scale was largely replaced by local fortifications.

In the Middle Ages, when raids and petty warfare were customary, the typical fortifications were town walls of masonry, great citadels within the cities, and castlescastle,
type of fortified dwelling characteristic of the Middle Ages. Fortification of towns had been in practice since antiquity, but in the 9th cent. feudal lords began to develop the private fortress-residence known as the castle.
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. The CrusadesCrusades
, series of wars undertaken by European Christians between the 11th and 14th cent. to recover the Holy Land from the Muslims. First Crusade

In the 7th cent., Jerusalem was taken by the caliph Umar.
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 helped further the development of fortifications. Similar structures were used in the chaotic warfare of feudal China, India, and Japan. In the West many castles and citadels, notably those of the Moors in Spain, were defensible against all but a long siege.

Effect of Artillery

The development of artilleryartillery,
originally meant any large weaponry (including such ancient engines of war as catapults and battering rams) or war material, but later applied only to heavy firearms as opposed to small arms.
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 in the 15th cent. greatly diminished the value of medieval castles. One of the great military problems of the Renaissance and the succeeding centuries was to develop fortifications able to withstand artillery. Moats were deepened to afford greater protection and widened to put artillery at a greater distance. Walls were lowered, thickened, slanted, and rounded to resist projectiles and make them ricochet, and stone bulwarks were thrown up in front of towers and gates. New fortifications, set in ditches, were buttressed to withstand heavy shot, and defensive guns were mounted behind earthen ramparts. In fortifications of towers (roundels) connected by walls (curtains), there were areas that could not be covered by defensive fire from the towers. Hence artillery positions, or bastions, were constructed at angles to the main wall. The proper distribution of bastions became the main preoccupation of military engineers.

The science of military engineering reached a high point in the wars of Louis XIVLouis XIV,
1638–1715, king of France (1643–1715), son and successor of King Louis XIII. Early Reign

After his father's death his mother, Anne of Austria, was regent for Louis, but the real power was wielded by Anne's adviser, Cardinal Mazarin.
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. Sébastien le Prestre, marquis de Vauban, who worked out fortification and siege methods in the late 17th cent., has perhaps the most illustrious name in the history of fortification. His methods, supported by the work of others such as Menno van CoehoornCoehoorn, Menno van
, 1641–1704, Dutch military engineer and nobleman. He invented a portable bronze siege mortar called the coehorn. He was considered in his day a rival of Vauban in the construction of fortresses.
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, were used for centuries.

Development of Fortress Chains

On the American frontier semipermanent forts and stockades were built in large numbers as garrisons for troops engaged in Indian warsIndian wars,
in American history, general term referring to the series of conflicts between Europeans and their descendants and the indigenous peoples of North America. Early Conflicts
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 and as refuges for settlers. The Native Americans built forts as well. In Europe the detached fort as a support for outer defense of the fortress chain was introduced to create an entrenched camp between the citadel of the fortress and the outer edges of the defended area. The trend toward spreading the chain of defense (the enceinte) was hastened in the 19th cent. by the development of explosive shells and more effective artillery. In the second half of the 19th cent., lines of smaller forts and entrenched camps, connected by perimeter railroads, were used to encircle cities and guard strategic points on frontiers. Batteries were dispersed, artillery was placed in revolving or disappearing cupolas with subterranean bases, and pillboxespillbox,
small, low fortification that houses machine guns and antitank weapons. Similar to a blockhouse, it is usually made of concrete, steel, logs, or filled sandbags. Pillboxes came into use during the early 20th cent.
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, armed with machine guns, were introduced.

This system was predominant in Europe at the beginning of World War I. However, the Belgian fortresses, which had been thought impregnable, fell with ease to the Germans in 1914, and the ring system of fortification was generally superseded during the war by trench warfare. The resistance of French concrete forts, even to the heaviest fire, seemed to offer a promise of permanent defensive fortification and inspired the construction of the Maginot LineMaginot Line
, system of fortifications along the eastern frontier of France, extending from the Swiss border to the Belgian. It was named for André Maginot, who was French minister of war (1929–32) and who directed its construction.
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. That elaborate system of pillboxes, forts, and underground communications was constructed at great expense.

Rise of Field Fortifications

At the beginning of World War II, the Maginot Line was quickly outflanked (May, 1940). The development of airpower, heavy artillery, and mechanized warfaremechanized warfare,
employment of modern mobile attack and defense tactics that depend upon machines, more particularly upon vehicles powered by gasoline and diesel engines.
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 further proved the inefficacy of such massive defensive systems and brought them to an end. Despite the value of the German Siegfried Line, which long withstood heavy assault in 1944, and despite the usefulness of the Stalin line in channeling the German attack on Russia, field fortifications predominated over fixed fortifications in World War II. However, underground shelters were used for protection from air attack, and the Germans constructed large concrete shelters to protect submarines in harbor. The Japanese fortified Pacific islands with caves and with simply constructed pillboxes and bunkers. Similar fortifications were used in the Korean and Vietnam wars. The last years of the Korean War were virtually trench warfare. In Vietnam, the Viet Cong perfected underground complexes in the field, whereas the United States built a network of installations and artillery firebases protected by air forcesair forces,
those portions of a nation's military organization employing heavier-than-air aircraft for reconnaissance, support of ground troops, aerial combat, and bombing of enemy lines of communication and targets of industrial and military importance.
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 and the usual land defenses.


See Q. Hughes, Military Architecture (1974); M. Brice, Stronghold (1985); C. Duffy, Siege Warfare (2 vol., 1979–85).


A structure designed to defend the town or area in which it was built; every element had a military defensive purpose.



the branch of military engineering science that develops theoretical principles and practical methods relating to the construction and use of fortifications designed to protect troops, civilians, and objectives in the rear.

A distinction is made between field, or temporary, fortification and permanent fortification. Field fortification involves the strengthening of positions, zones, or lines of defense, as well as the equipping of attack positions and troop disposition areas that have been or will be occupied by troops, control posts, or rear units and agencies during combat operations. To accomplish these tasks, open and enclosed field fortifications are constructed, including fire trenches and communication passages; dugout positions, such as blindages and shelters; and various obstacles, such as ditches, mounds, scarps, counterscarps, post obstacles, log obstacles, abatis, barricades, and barbed wire. These are set up by the troops, who use earth, trees, and other materials at hand, as well as metal, reinforced-concrete, or other structural components.

Permanent fortification entails strengthening national borders and major strategic axes against invasion, as well as preparing the fortification of potential theaters of war and of the entire country. The purpose of permanent fortification is to protect the civilian population, as well as military, political, industrial, economic, and other objectives, from destruction by the enemy; for this reason, fortification systems are created in conjunction with field fortifications. These systems, which include light, medium, and heavy permanent weapon emplacements, are made of durable ’materials, such as concrete, reinforced concrete, and metal.

Fortifications have been used since remote antiquity. They were built as early as the period of the disintegration of the primitive communal system by various tribes to protect their settlements against incursions by hostile tribes. With the appearance of the state and the development of a standing army, fortifications came to be used to support combat operations as well. The first permanent and field fortifications were enclosures, formed by ditches and earthen or stone ramparts and reinforced with a wooden palisade. As the art of war developed, military and construction technology improved. Fortresses were introduced, with walls of stone or of wood and equipped with crenels, parapets, merlons, outworks, embrasures, and other features to protect soldiers and wage combat. Towers were built to permit flanking fire on the approaches to the walls and became the main defensive strongpoints of the fortification. Complex fortifications were erected around cities and towns and along state frontiers (seeROMAN RAMPARTS and GREAT WALL. THE). Field fortifications were widely used to protect troops while encamped during sieges or while at rest, as well as to wage combat (seeROMAN CAMP). For garrisons, permanent camps were created, many of which later became fortresses.

As the art of erecting fortifications developed and as fortresses became stronger, the art of attacking fortifications improved. New devices came into use, such as multistory siege towers, or helepoles; covered approaching apparatuses or passageways, called vineae; missile-throwing engines; assault ladders; equipment for destroying walls, such as the battering ram and the corvus; and mine galleries (seeSIEGE and UNDERGROUND MINE WARFARE).

The erection of fortifications was the province of special sciences, such as military architecture, which studied methods of erecting defensive structures (fortresses), and castrametation, which was concerned with fortifying a terrain for battle. In the 16th and 17th centuries, military architecture and castrametation were subsumed under the term “fortification.” These new sciences laid the foundation for the development of fortification theory.

During the feudal period in Western Europe (11th—15th centuries), castles and fortified cities and monasteries, built in response to the internecine wars of the feudal lords, assumed crucial importance. With the formation of feudal absolutist states, fortifications were built in the interests of the entire state. At this time, fortresses were also constructed in Russia, for example, the Novgorod, Moscow, and Pskov kremlins. In the 16th century, the troops of Ivan IV Vasil’evich used structures built in advance in their campaigns to erect field fortifications, as in the construction of Sviiazhsk, and movable fortifications, such as the walking wall (seeWALKING WALL). In 1552, during the siege of Kazan, a base of operations was equipped for attacking the fortress.

The introduction of firearms in the 15th and 16th centuries influenced the development of fortification, especially permanent fortifications. Various schools emerged, proposing different fortification systems. Italian experts, such as M. Sanmicheli, N. Tartaglia, and G. Maggi, proposed improvements for fortress walls. The founders of the German school, A. Dürer, D. Špekle, and I. Goter, relied heavily on the Italians. In France, the theory and practice of fortification developed greatly between the 16th and 18th centuries. The ideas of the French school, represented by S. Vauban, L. Cormontaigne, and M. Montalembert, spread throughout Western Europe. It was Vauban who, in the 17th century, proposed the classifications “field” and “permanent.” In the 18th century, individual fortifications, called forts, were built outside the fortress walls.

In the 18th and early 19th centuries, the science of fortification in Russia was largely developed by the prominent Russian military commanders of the time. Peter I used field fortifications to protect his troops during battle, notably at Poltava (1709); he influenced the subsequent development of methods for fortifying state frontiers (seeFORTIFIED FRONTIER LINES). A. V. Suvorov directed the construction of defensive lines in the Kuban’ Region, the Crimea, and Finland. M. I. Kutuzov successfully used field fortifications in battles at Borodino and elsewhere. The development of fortification in the 19th and early 20th centuries is linked with such famous military engineers as A. Z. Teliakovskii, E. I. Totleben, K. I. Velichko, M. A. Dedenev, P. A. Sukhtelen, and N. A. Buinitskii. In the 1830’s and 1840’s, Teliakovskii wrote the first major theoretical text, Fortification (parts 1–2, 4th ed., St. Petersburg, 1885–86), which examined the relationship between fortification and tactics and strategy. The Russian school was also noted for closely correlating the forms of fortification and tactical objectives, as well as for developing new types of fortification. Its principles were adopted in Europe and by the late 19th century had become dominant. During the Sevastopol’ defense of 1854–55, the Russian troops introduced a fortified zone with a depth of 1,000–1,500 m.

After the Franco-Prussian War of 1870–71 and the Russo-Turkish War of 1877–78, a system of field fortifications representing a continuous position of trenches, blindages, and concealed positions became the most widespread fortifications, an important development in field fortification. In permanent fortification, the advent of large armies and the increased range of artillery resulted in the emergence of a new type of fortress, one with two forward zones of forts separated by fortified intervals. With the development in the 19th century of high-powered explosives and shells of great destructive capability, concrete and metal were used in the construction of fortresses. In Western Europe, notably in Belgium, France, and the Netherlands, weapons were placed in metal towers, and forts known as “land battleships” were built. The Russian military engineer K. I. Velichko designed a fort that served as an infantry strongpoint and that soon became widespread in other countries.

The experience of the Russo-Japanese War of 1904–05 forced Russia and other countries to reexamine field fortification strategy. The new strategy proposed the construction of echeloned field fortifications, with two or three lines 2–4 km deep, and rear defensive positions.

World War I demonstrated the total uselessness of previous permanent fortifications and the need to alter construction techniques. The increased depth of combat formations gave rise to fortified deeply echeloned defensive zones. Fire trenches and communication passages came into general use. The development of automatic weapons and increased artillery firepower demanded the construction of strong, enclosed firing installations and shelters within a trench system. Attack positions, called engineering bases of operation, were equipped to enable troops to assume the offensive. New types of fortification structures became widespread, including underground installations. Metal and reinforced concrete were used to fortify field positions. The use of tanks necessitated the creation of various antitank obstacles and the use of such fortifications as ditches, post obstacles, and barriers. By the end of the war, a system of field fortifications had been developed that relied on trenches equipped for combat and capable of sustaining troops for a prolonged period. These trenches were supported by fire and defensive installations.

During the Civil War and Military Intervention of 1918–20 in Soviet Russia, shortages of men and materiel hampered the creation of continuous fortified zones; in order to repulse the attacks of interventionist forces and White Guards, it was necessary to rely on individual strongpoints and centers of resistance, often separated from one another by considerable distances. Settlements, cities, railroad stations, and individual hills located at communications centers were all fortified. As the Red Army grew, beginning in late 1918, so did the role of fortification; fortified positions deepened, and defensive installations became denser. Fortified field regions were constructed to protect important axes and industrial, administrative, and political centers, notably the areas around Petrograd, Moscow, Tula, Voronezh, Tsaritsyn, and Samara. The construction of the fortified regions was supervised personally by military engineers, such as D. M. Karbyshev.

In the period between the two world wars, primary emphasis in the military engineering preparation for war shifted to creating a system of border fortifications. All countries gradually adopted new means of fortifying land borders—fortified regions and fortified lines. In the USSR, the foundation for the theoretical development and design of fortified regions was established by the military engineers F. I. Golenkin, S. A. Khmel’kov, and V. V. Iakovlev. This area of study was subsequently developed by such military engineers as G. G. Nevskii, N. I. Kokhanov, N. I. Shmakov, and N. I. Ungerman. Foreign specialists who have written on border fortification include F. Culman, N. Chauvineau, and M. Ludwig.

In the late 1920’s and early 1930’s, new developments in permanent fortification science were applied in the construction of fortified frontier lines in France, Germany, Belgium, and Finland (seeMAGINOT LINE, MANNERHEIM LINE, and SIEGFRIED LINE). In the USSR, fortified regions were constructed along the western and southwestern borders. At this time, the science of permanent fortification and of fortification involving metal structures continued to develop.

Before World War II, the Western European armies placed primary emphasis on further developing border fortifications made up of continuous lines of defense. After the Spanish Civil War of 1936–39, there was an increased use of reinforced concrete and concrete in equipping field positions, and greater emphasis was placed on fortifying the positions and areas where troops were located. The Soviet armed forces adopted a system of field fortifications that were distributed in forward, main, and rear zones. The main zone of defense was designed to fortify troop security positions, main and rear defensive areas, and switch lines. In battalion defense areas, trenches were prepared for squads or crews, as well as switch lines of various types, communication passages, and concealed positions for personnel and matériel. In 1939 the Fortification Manual was published.

During World War II, permanent fortifications played a certain role but for various reasons proved to be a disappointment; chief among these were the increased destructive power of weaponry, poor coordination between field forces, and the ability of troops to bypass fortified borders. During the war, field fortifications assumed predominance.

In the early part of the Great Patriotic War, when fighting moved rapidly, Soviet personnel were limited to digging in and using available fortifications. As the war progressed, a system of deeply echeloned defensive positions developed.

Prior to the autumn of 1941, the fascist German forces did not generally use fortifications in the West and in the offensive against Soviet forces. After the defeat at Moscow, they adopted a fortification system consisting of defensive zones and, at the end of the war, began using permanent fortifications. In Germany and some other European countries, subterranean complexes were constructed in the cities and other major populated areas to house industrial enterprises and to protect material reserves, and operational and strategic lines of defense that used permanent and field installations were set up.

The system used by the Soviet forces during the Great Patriotic War, involving fortifications along many lines of defense, served to delay or even foil the enemy offensive. The fortifications erected along the major axes and around strategic points increased the stability of the defense. Fortifications were also built in offensive operations when preparing attack positions and when reinforcing lines and points captured from the enemy. During the war, the Soviet forces gradually increased the depth of defensive positions and zones. In 1943 the primary means of fortifying troop positions was a system of fire trenches and communication passages that was combined with various installations built of earth and wood, concrete, reinforced concrete, and metal. The newer fortifications represented a distinct advance over the old forms: they were better constructed and designed, their overall dimensions above ground had decreased, and they possessed superior defensive qualities.

In the postwar years, the tasks of fortification science have broadened as conventional weapons have undergone further development and as weapons of mass destruction and the means for delivering them have been created. More important than ever has become the construction of civil defense shelters, as well as facilities to meet the needs of all branches of the armed services and to protect targets in the rear against modern weapons. New directions in troop fortification have opened up, which include the standardization of installations and mechanization of their construction and the extensive use of earth-moving technology and fortifications that can be assembled and disassembled. In permanent fortification science, although new types of installations are being developed and introduced, previously developed structures of monolithic and precast reinforced concrete remain important. Modern fortification science continues to play a vital role in military engineering science.


Engels, F. Izbr. voennyeproizv. Moscow, 1956. Pages 258–82.
Karbyshev, D. M. Izbr. nauch. trudy, section 2. Moscow, 1962.
Shperk, V. F. [and F. V. Borisov]. Dolgovremennaia fortifikatsiia, part 1: “Istoriia dolgovremennoi fortifikatsii.” Moscow, 1952.
Iakovlev, V. V. Evoliutsiia dolgovremennoi fortifikatsii. Moscow, 1931.
Velichko, K. I. Inzhenernaia oborona gosudarstv i ustroistvo krepostei, part 1. St. Petersburg, 1903.
Leaubligeois. Dolgovremennaia fortifikatsiia. Moscow, 1934. (Translated from French.)
Ludwig, M. Sovremennye kreposti. Moscow, 1940. (Translated from German.)
Khmel’kov, S. A., and N. I. Ungerman. Osnovy i formy dolgovremennoi fortifikatsii. Moscow, 1931.
Shchelgov [A. N.] “Istoriia razvitiia polevoi fortifikatsii XIX v.” Inzhenernyi zhurnal, 1902, nos. 2–4.



A structure or earthworks, usually heavily armed, constructed as a defense; a fortified place or position.
The act or art of fortifying.
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