AskDefine | Define moat

Dictionary Definition

moat n : ditch dug as a fortification and usually filled with water [syn: fosse]

User Contributed Dictionary





  1. A deep, wide defensive ditch, normally filled with water surrounding a fortified habitation.



defensive ditch




  1. Plural of lang=Finnish|moa

Extensive Definition

A moat is deep, broad trench, usually filled with water, that surrounds a structure, installation, or town, normally to provide it with a preliminary line of defense.

Historic uses

Traditionally, moats were excavated around castles and fortifications as part of the defensive system, and were usually filled with water. They provided a preliminary barrier outside the fortification walls against attacks upon the complex. A moat made access to the walls difficult for siege weapons, such as a siege towers and battering rams, which needed to be brought up against a wall to be effective. A very important feature was that a water-filled moat made very difficult the practice of mining, that is to say digging tunnels under the fortifications in order to effect a collapse of the defenses.
The word was adapted in Middle English from the French motte "mound, hillock" and was first applied to the central mound on which a fortification was erected (see Motte and bailey), and then came to be applied to the excavated ring, a "dry moat". The term moat is also applied to natural formations reminiscent of the artificial structure.


In the violent conditions of the 14th and 15th centuries in England, though defensive walling required a charter from the king, a moat round a manor house could deter all but the most determined intruders (illustration, top right). See also Ightham Mote. Moated fortresses are also evident in Ferrara, the Rocca Sanvitale in Fontanelleta, and the Rocca Scaglieri in Sirmione on the shores of Lake Garda.
Often streams were diverted in the Middle Ages to fill the ditch. Moats required upkeep. They had to be dredged for debris which could potentially form a traversable bridge from one side to another.
Withdrawable bridges spanned moats in the Middle Ages. At first they were only simple wooden bridges that could easily be dismantled if an enemy was about to breach the fortifications. Later Drawbridges were used for moat spans.
Moats sometimes had long wooden spikes in them, to prevent enemies from swimming across. The practice of stocking them with alligators, crocodiles, sharks or other dangerous animals is almost certainly a myth, however.
As late as the seventeenth century, French châteaux that were not remotely fortified nor built on traditionally fortified and moated sites, pleasure houses such as Vaux-le-Vicomte, were surrounded by traditional formal moats that isolated the main corps de logis and were bridged by an axial approach.


Modern uses

Moats are no longer a significant tool of warfare; however, in some cases a moat may still serve as a line of defense from other threats, as well as a number of other creative uses. A moat wide and deep enough can prove an obstacle to armoured fighting vehicles.

Installation security

The Catawba Nuclear Station, for instance, has been constructing a concrete moat around some of the plant (other sides of the plant are bordering a lake). The moat is a part of industry wide added precautions after the September 11, 2001 attacks. Related individuals have made a point to claim that the moat is not connected to the new MOX fuel that the plant will be receiving. "The concrete moat under construction at the station south of Charlotte has little to do with the utility's plans to start burning mixed-oxide fuel containing small amounts of weapons-grade plutonium next spring. Designed to prevent everything from passenger cars to military tanks from getting too close to the reactor, the moat is part of a post-Sept 11, 2001 security upgrade"

Animal containment

Moats rather than fences separate animals from spectators in many modern zoo installations. Moats were first used in this way by Carl Hagenbeck at his Tierpark. The structure, with a vertical outer retaining wall rising directly from the moat, is an extended usage of the ha-ha of English landscape gardening.

National defense

In 2004 plans were suggested for a two-mile moat across the southern border of the Gaza Strip to prevent tunnelling from Egyptian territory to the border town of Rafah .

Migration control

In 2008, city officials in Yuma, Arizona planned to dig out a two-mile stretch of a 180-hectare (440-acre) wetland known as Hunters Hole, to control immigrants coming from Mexico.

See also


moat in Czech: Vodní příkop
moat in Danish: Voldgrav
moat in German: Burggraben
moat in Spanish: Foso
moat in Persian: خندق
moat in Finnish: Vallihauta
moat in French: Douve (fossé)
moat in Hebrew: חפיר
moat in Italian: Fossato (architettura)
moat in Japanese: 堀
moat in Macedonian: Шанец
moat in Dutch: Slotgracht
moat in Polish: Fosa
moat in Romanian: Şanţ (fortificaţie)
moat in Russian: Ров
moat in Serbian: Шанац
moat in Swedish: Vallgrav
moat in Chinese: 護城河

Synonyms, Antonyms and Related Words

abri, abysm, abyss, approach trench, aqueduct, arch dam, arroyo, backstop, bamboo curtain, bank, bar, barrage, barrier, bear-trap dam, beaver dam, boom, box canyon, breach, break, breakwater, breastwork, brick wall, buffer, bulkhead, bulwark, bunker, canal, canalization, canyon, cavity, channel, chap, chasm, check, chimney, chink, cleft, cleuch, clough, cofferdam, col, communication trench, coulee, couloir, countermine, coupure, crack, cranny, crevasse, crevice, crimp, cut, cwm, dam, defense, defile, dell, dike, ditch, donga, double sap, draw, dugout, earthwork, embankment, entrenchment, excavation, fault, fence, fire trench, fissure, flaw, flume, flying sap, fortified tunnel, fosse, foxhole, fracture, furrow, gallery, gap, gape, gash, gate, goffer, gorge, gravity dam, groin, groove, gulch, gulf, gully, gutter, ha-ha, hole, hydraulic-fill dam, incision, iron curtain, jam, jetty, joint, kennel, kloof, leak, leaping weir, levee, logjam, milldam, mine, mole, mound, notch, nullah, opening, parallel, parapet, pass, passage, pleat, portcullis, rampart, ravine, rent, rift, rime, roadblock, rock-fill dam, rupture, sap, scissure, seam, seawall, shutter dam, slit, slit trench, slot, split, stone wall, sunk fence, trench, trough, tunnel, valley, void, wadi, wall, weir, wicket dam, work
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