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View Full Version : Hmm... Really big walls?



kurisari
03-13-2010, 04:03 PM
I'm making a timeline for my main story's world and simultaneously updating the "ancient" version of the political map. As I suddenly decided, my timeline called for a wall to be built. So I had a wonder.

Does anyone have any thoughts on things to keep in mind when mapping walls? And not just any little wall. I'm talking big time; Great Wall of China-type walls. Obviously, my two cents here would be to consider such things as natural barriers. Building between two difficult-to-pass mountain ranges is much easier than building across a huge plain to the north of those ranges and much, MUCH easier than building OVER the mountains.

So what are some other ideas? I'd like to hear your thoughts on the matter. :) (And if there's already a thread that discusses this topic, do direct me and anyone else who reads this thread to it!)

Kaiser MacCleg
03-13-2010, 05:12 PM
I'm pretty much in agreement with everything you said, except for one point;

Building between two difficult-to-pass mountain ranges is much easier than building across a huge plain to the north of those ranges and much, MUCH easier than building OVER the mountains.
It would certainly be easier to avoid mountains, but that didn't stop the Chinese -

http://www.elcamino.edu/studyabroad/images/Great_Wall_of_China-1.jpg

Remember that a natural barrier, like mountain ranges, can augment any man-made defences and therefore increase their effectiveness. Naturally, though, any "great wall" would usually wind its way across the landscape, avoiding any obstacles like cliffs or a particularly nasty bog. But still, I see no reason why natural barriers couldn't be used to increase the wall's effectiveness, so long as the people who built it were sufficiently determined.

Ascension
03-14-2010, 12:23 AM
It depends on what the wall is meant for. If it is meant to keep people in then it will go to all extremes to do so. If it is meant to keep out the Huns then it will have to cross the plains. If you're keep keeping the orges up in the mountains then wall off the passes. Need more info on what the wall is for really.

Indagator
03-14-2010, 12:15 PM
A couple things to bear in mind:

1) The Great Wall wasn't built all at once; it actually consists on many different walls, built by different Emperors (and I think even two different dynasties, but I can't remember for sure.) Your wall probably wasn't built and conceived as a complete system, either, so feel free to make layers of walls to represent the changes that took place as the wall was constructed.

2) Ascension has some good points about the targets. Walls designed to stop armies are different from walls designed to stop people. If you're trying to stop armies (or horse-borne nomads) then large stretches of gateless, unfortified walls might work well. If you're trying to stop people, then you'll need garrisons, which will need supplies (probably near roads or rivers where food and other supplies could be more easily transported.)

Midgardsormr
03-14-2010, 12:40 PM
Limit the linear length of the wall as much as possible. If you look at the locations of Hadrian's and the Antonine (sp?) walls in Great Britain, you'll see that they span the narrowest parts of the island.

There will need to be numerous settlements nearby with garrisons to defend the wall. There is no sense in fortifying if the legions of the undead can just clamber over whenever they want. The rule of thumb is that a castle can decisively control an area within a radius of about 20 miles (one day's travel for horse if they expect to fight at the end of it). So you'll need garrisons, and the villages associated with them, at least every forty miles along the inside of the wall, if the defenders are all mounted. If the wall is defended solely by foot, you'll need garrisons every 20 miles. Those are, of course, upper bounds. A conservative ruler would put garrisons even closer together, so that a response could be mounted within half a day rather than a full day.

A wall will also serve as an economic tool. There will likely be customs stations at every gate, and towns are likely to grow nearby, inside and outside the wall, to provide markets for foreign goods.

kurisari
03-19-2010, 11:14 PM
Hmm...! All very good points! I can definitely put all these to good use. Thanks for the input!

I also thought up another point that stumblers upon this thread might want to consider: It's possible that smaller walls (as in, walls used to defend a valley pass or the like) would be build in such a way as to maximize defensive capability. For example, one might curve or square off the wall so that enemies trying to get to the gate would be surrounded by archers and rock-droppers in so doing. This would likely be especially true in the case of castle and fortress walls, which are meant entirely for defense.

kurisari
03-19-2010, 11:20 PM
It depends on what the wall is meant for. If it is meant to keep people in then it will go to all extremes to do so. If it is meant to keep out the Huns then it will have to cross the plains. If you're keep keeping the orges up in the mountains then wall off the passes. Need more info on what the wall is for really.

As for what this particular wall is for... Originally, it was made to stop frequent barbarian raids on the nearby villages. Similar to the purpose of the Great Wall. However, this was... many ages past in my world's history. Over the past couple thousand years, the wall has more than likely been modified to allow for trade and the like. The nation that built it hasn't even warred with the barbarians, who are now a touch more civilized than in the days of the wall's groundbreaking, in some 400 years, in fact!

NeonKnight
03-20-2010, 12:38 AM
Bear in mind, a wall could be the sort of Emperor Hadrian from the Roman Empire:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hadrian%27s_Wall

Hadrian's Wall is by no mean a true military wall, but more of a symbolic "We own This Side; That Side Barbarians" sort.

kurisari
03-21-2010, 05:19 AM
Bear in mind, a wall could be the sort of Emperor Hadrian from the Roman Empire:

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hadrian%27s_Wall

Hadrian's Wall is by no mean a true military wall, but more of a symbolic "We own This Side; That Side Barbarians" sort.

Hmm...! Yeah, I never really thought about that! I knew about Hadrian's Wall, but I never realized it was more symbolic than military. That's an interesting angle I'll have to consider more often!

rdanhenry
03-25-2010, 01:48 AM
Hadrian's Wall certainly was symbolic in the sense that any border marking is automatically symbolic, but it is hard to justify calling it not "a true military wall". It was a fortified barrier on a hostile frontier, built in response to a real military need, which it seems to have met adequately. The article on Wikipedia does not support the idea that this was a show wall, either:

"Opinions differ, but the growing consensus is that the Wall was built as a readily defended fortification which clearly defined the northern frontier (lat. limes) of the Roman Empire in Britain (Britannia). It would also improve economic stability and provide peaceful conditions in the frontier zone."

Providing peace through fortification is a military purpose.

"The wall was the most heavily fortified border in the Empire."

So... obviously more than the Empire felt was necessary for marking their territory.

The closest it comes to supporting the "symbolic wall" idea is:
"Hadrian's Wall was built following a visit by Roman Emperor Hadrian (AD 117–138) in AD 122. Hadrian was experiencing military difficulties in Roman Britain and from the peoples of various conquered lands across the Empire, including Egypt, Judea, Libya, Mauretania, and many of the peoples conquered by his predecessor Trajan, so he was keen to impose order. The construction of such an impressive wall was, however, probably also a symbol of Roman power, both in occupied Britain and in Rome."

But there it is clearly stated that being an impressive display of power was in addition to its military function.

"The wall was thus part of a defensive system which, from north to south included:

* a glacis and a deep ditch
* a berm with rows of pits holding entanglements
* the curtain wall
* a later military road (the "Military Way")
* a north mound,a ditch and a south mound to prevent or slow down any raids from a rebelling southern tribe."

And with about 10,000 men defending it, sounds like a pretty good military wall to me.
Moreover:
"They suffered serious attacks in 180, and especially between 190 and 197 when the garrison had been seriously weakened, following which major reconstruction had to be carried out under Septimius Severus. The region near the wall remained peaceful for most of the rest of the third century."

So, the wall was tried and tested, stood up to assault, and established a peaceful border. Looks like a successful military wall to me.

But perhaps I am misunderstanding what NeonKnight meant by "a true military wall". If so, I look forward to clarification.

NeonKnight
03-25-2010, 04:16 AM
It was not a true military wall in the sense of what some think, HUGE walls, 30 feet high with Crenelations, etc. It was....a wall. It did an adequate job of keeping those out, but should the 'barbarians' assault on mass, it would have provided little adequate defense. Just like while most believe the Great Wall of China was built to keep the barbarians out, such was not the case at all,as the defensive features, the Crenelations and what not, face INWARDS towards China. As a result the Wall was more a means of keeping invaders IN where they could be pushed back against the wall, rather than keeping them out.

Ghostman
03-25-2010, 11:50 AM
It did an adequate job of keeping those out, but should the 'barbarians' assault on mass, it would have provided little adequate defense.

Were Picts (or whatever) to actually assault "on mass" as you say, then the natural response of the Romans would have been to raise an army and meet them in battle. That was something they were rather good at, after all, and had the advantage of overwhelming resources at their disposal. If large-scale, organised assaults were all the Romans had to worry about, they probably wouldn't have bothered building any wall in the first place. But it seems most of the action on the frontier was anything but large-scale, being more about skirmishes and quick raids, far too mobile to be countered with set-piece battles between two armies. The wall was likely a part of a system designed to discourage and hamper such raids.