Ensconced in Sconces

Early in the development of the artillery fort, a set of outworks called sconces provided flanking fire for the fort.  These were particularly effective in supplementing fire and covering blind spots for old round towers.  Sconces were simply round holes in the ground, about  three or four meters in diameter, with the excavated dirt ringed around the holes.  Slots for cannon barrels sometimes were added.  Nothing more!

Sconces made a perimeter defense for the fort, and were so spaced and placed that they supported each other and the fort with overlapping lines of fire.  Their crossfire caught any intruder. A single sconce from which the colors proclaim who's in control - from a 16rth century German woodcut.

Note the intersecting cannon trajectories.  To the right of the intersection is an anachronistic archer who presumably will shoot anyone who may survive the cannon fire.

Very likely German in origin, defenders dug these simple sconces until around 1535.  German infantry holding Pavia against the French in 1525 used them.

17th century sconce with four bastions and a moatAs the pimple-like sconces were disappearing, engineers and architects expanded upon the idea of the sconce with greater sophistication. By the 17th century where used (and they were not used everywhere) sconces were little versions of artillery forts complete with bastions and ditches (or moats like the example at the left).  Some were square, with four bastions, or even three-sided, and distinctly smaller than the artillery fort or  town walls they supported.  Sometimes this latter concept of the sconce was expanded upon to make the citadel.

One of the simplest outworks was not conceived until 1556: the covered way.  It proved very effective for keeping the enemy from the ditch, and especially to provide outside defenders a protected avenue for moving from one side of the base fort to another.


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© 2006, Barry L. Siler
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