At the Ozark Medieval Fortress many guests have asked about the purpose and background of the narrow windows located at waist height. These windows are called arrow loops, firing loop holes, or, for the French, “meurtrieres”. Their purpose is primarily to allow archers and later crossbowmen to shoot from inside the lower level of the wall even though most of the fighting was done from the top of the wall, called the battlements. These windows are very narrow on the outside (most castles, like the Ozark Medieval Fortress, have the outer width one “hand”, which is four inches. On the inside of the wall, these windows widen to allow a greater field of fire to the right or left. As crossbows became more popular during the 1200‘s, the arrow loops became even wider on the inside because of the crossbow’s horizontal shape. This is the design of the arrow loops at the Ozark Medieval Fortress, which is dated 1226.
There were arrow loops used in Greece and Byzantium before Christ and in Rome in the 300’s, but those were generally in fortifications adjacent to harbors to permit shooting at attacking ships. Arrow loops were not common in the castles of Western Europe until the 1100’s. At first they were just vertical slits like those found in the ancient world. Although the simple vertical slit continued to be used throughout the Medieval, many castles in Europe modified the shape to add a horizontal slit in various positions along the vertical slit. A Christian cross shape proved to be the most popular, but sometimes a simple circle at the top or bottom was used. At the Ozark Medieval Fortress the Master Mason has elected to use the traditional vertical arrow loop.
The term “loophole” likely comes from the old French word “loupe” meaning “opening” or old German “lupen” meaning “to peer out”. It is a narrow opening at the outer wall to make it harder for the enemy to shoot in. Later, because of the narrowness of the arrow slit opening, a narrow opening in a law became known as a “loophole”.