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Box machicolations (sense 1) in projections on the outer wall of Krak des Chevaliers, a Crusader castle in Syria
An illustration showing people dropping stones through machicolations (sense 1)
A machicolation (sense 2) encircling the top of the tower of the Château de Sauvebœuf in Lalinde, Dordogne, Nouvelle-Aquitaine, France. The projecting parapet has a series of openings between the corbels through which arrows can be shot or items dropped.

From Late Latin machicol(amentum) (machicolation) +‎ -ation (suffix indicating an action or process).[1][2] Machicolamentum may be derived from Old French macher (to chew; to crush) (modern French mâcher) + col (neck)[3] + Latin -mentum (suffix indicating an instrument or medium, or the result of something). The English word is cognate with Middle English machecolled (having machicolations), machecolling (act of constructing machicolation; the openings making up the machicolation),[4] Middle French machecoleis (modern French mâchicoulis (machicolation)), Latin machecollum (machicolation), Occitan machacol.[1]



machicolation (countable and uncountable, plural machicolations)

  1. (architecture) An opening between corbels that support a projecting parapet, or in the floor of a gallery or the roof of a portal, of a fortified building from which missiles can be shot or heated items dropped upon assailants attacking the base of the walls.
    Synonym: machicoulis
    • 1773 October, “III. The Antiquities of England and Wales: Being a Collection of Views of the Most Remarkable Ruins and Antient Buildings, Accurately Drawn on the Spot. [] By Francis Grose, Esq. F.A.S. Vol. I. 4to. 2l. 2s. 6d. Hooper. [Concluded.] [book review]”, in The Critical Review: Or, Annals of Literature (Series the Fifth), volume XXXVI, London: Printed for A. Hamilton, [], OCLC 1015384402, page 268:
      Leibourn Caſtle, Kent. A proſpect of the front of that caſtle. Over the gate, we are told, was a machicolation or contrivance, from whence, in caſe of a ſudden attack, great ſtones, boiling water, or melted lead, might be thrown down upon the aſſailants.
    • 1851 October, William Dowe, “A Gossip about Blarney”, in Sartain’s Union Magazine of Literature and Art, volume IX, number 4, Philadelphia, Pa.: [John Sartain], OCLC 1695196, page 271:
      There is another feature of this proverbial place which seems to have contributed to the phrase's significance—that is, the Blarney stone. [...] There is one stone, on the very battlement of the castle, forming the outward surface, the machicolation, or opening, through which stones, hot water, melted lead, or anything of that ardent character used, long ago, to be pitched on the heads of people coming after their cattle, and trying to beat in the outer gate. [...] To kiss it, a man should be held by the heels, dipped through the machicolation with his head about a hundred feet or so from the ground, and his life in the hands of a great many jokers, holding on desperately by the battlement and the man, and wishing the latter all manner of mellifluousness and good luck for the remainder of his life!
    • 2006, Adrian J. Boas, “Elements of Fortification”, in Archaeology of the Military Orders: A Survey of the Urban Centres, Rural Settlement and Castles of the Military Orders in the Latin East, (c. 1120–1291), Abingdon, Oxon.; New York, N.Y.: Routledge, →ISBN, part III (The Defence of the Latin East), page 171:
      Another form of machicolation known as slot (or slit) machicolation was formed by leaving an open slot above and before a gate. Box machicolation, which Kennedy refers to as ‘true machicolation’, appears in Early Islamic fortifications. The direct source is clearly Islamic, although box machicolation is also present on pre-Islamic Syrian tower houses.
  2. (architecture) A projecting parapet with a series of such openings.
    • 1816, [James Sargant Storer], “Tattershall Castle, Lincolnshire”, in The Antiquarian Itinerary, Comprising Specimens of Architecture, Monastic, Castellated, and Domestic; [], volume VI, London: Published for the proprietors, by W[illia]m Clarke, [], OCLC 1008109193:
      The main walls were carried to the top of the fourth story, where a capacious machicolation enclosed the tower, on which there is a parapet wall of great thickness, with arches: this was to protect the persons employed over the machicolations.
    • 1874, George Edmund Street, chapter V, in Brick and Marble in the Middle Ages: Notes of Tours in the North of Italy, 2nd edition, London: John Murray, [], OCLC 459105433, page 75:
      In the Contrada della Pace there remains a very bold fragment of a castle tower. It is built of very roughly-jointed stone, and is perfectly plain till near the top, where it has a bold machicolation with tall square angle-turrets, the whole battlemented with a forked battlement.
    • 1999, W[illiam] H. Clements, “The Spanish and the Minorcan Towers”, in Towers of Strength: The Story of the Martello Towers, Barnsley, South Yorkshire: Leo Cooper, Pen and Sword Books, →ISBN, page 54:
      [E]ach tower, except those at Santandria and Sargantana Island, had a machicolation over the entrance. In the larger towers this machicolation was supported by five or more corbels while the smaller towers had a smaller machicolation supported by four corbels.


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  1. 1.0 1.1 machicolation”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, March 2000.
  2. ^ machicolation, n.”, in Lexico,; Oxford University Press, 2019–present.
  3. ^ † machecole, v.”, in OED Online Paid subscription required, Oxford, Oxfordshire: Oxford University Press, March 2000.
  4. ^ machecolled, ppl.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007, retrieved 11 January 2019; “machecolling, ger.”, in MED Online, Ann Arbor, Mich.: University of Michigan, 2007, retrieved 11 January 2019.

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