AskDefine | Define machicolation

Dictionary Definition

machicolation n : a projecting parapet supported by corbels on a medieval castle; has openings through which stones or boiling water could be dropped on an enemy

User Contributed Dictionary



  1. An opening between the corbels which support a projecting parapet, or in the floor of a gallery or the roof of a portal, shooting or dropping missiles upon assailants attacking the base of the walls. Also, the construction of such defenses, in general, when of this character.
  2. The act of discharging missiles or pouring burning or melted substances upon assailants through such apertures.


Extensive Definition

A machicolation is a floor opening between the supporting corbels of a battlement, through which stones and lethally hot liquids and substances could be dropped on attackers at the base of a defensive wall. The design was developed in the Middle Ages when the Norman crusaders returned. A machicolated battlement projects outwards from the supporting wall in order to facilitate this. A hoarding is a similar structure made of wood, usually temporarily constructed in the event of a siege. One advantage of the machicolation over wooden hoarding is protection behind stone battlements, as well as being fire proof.
The word derives from the Old French word machicoller, derived from Old Provençal machacol, and ultimately from Latin *maccāre (to crush) + collum (the neck). A variant of machicolations set in the ceiling of a passage was also colloquially known as murder-holes.

Post-medieval use

Machicolation was later used for decorative effect with spaces between the corbels but without the openings, and subsequently became a characteristic of the many non-military buildings, for example, Scottish baronial style, and Gothic Revival architecture of the 19th and 20th Centuries.


machicolation in Belarusian (Tarashkevitsa): Машыкуль
machicolation in German: Maschikuli
machicolation in Spanish: Matacán
machicolation in French: Mâchicoulis
machicolation in Polish: Machikuły
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