Why is there a wooden fort right next to the stone castle at the Ozark Medieval Fortress? Good question (and I really like that the tour passes through the wooden fort). First off, the site at the Fortress is not set up like a museum, but rather the way things were done in the Middle Ages. The wooden forts were built first and protected the community for the early years that the stone castle was under construction, so it’s authentic the way it is placed.
After the fall of the Roman Empire, which is the beginning of the Medieval period in Europe, things got rough. We think we have troubles! In the early Middle Ages, the Franks of Northern France and Germany, Saxons of Germany and England, and the Angles and Celts in Great Britain all faced the prospect of the Muslims attacking from the south, the Huns from the east and Vikings from the north. That’s trouble. Communities, therefore, made local forts to run to when attacked. They knew that the old standard procedures of the Roman Legions was to put up a picket fence around their encampment. Now, of course, in the days of explosives, soldiers dig fox holes. That’s not a good idea against a Viking who will look down at you like you were a scared rabbit. The purpose of the fence was to slow down an attacking mob armed with axes and swords. The Northern Europeans also knew from the ancient days to make mounds of dirt to help in defense. Combining those ideas, they came up with what we call the Motte and Bailey. That’s French for “Mound and Courtyard”. Watch out for the similar-sounding English word “moat”, which is the opposite: that’s a ditch. The Motte was sometimes 40-45 feet high and on the Bailey at the top they made a wooden fortress, which included a Roman-style vertical fence and a tower or “keep”. This is the grandfather of the Medieval stone castle. It is a great opportunity at the Ozark Medieval Fortress to experience it in person and to walk through the full-sized reproduction.