Home       Contact Us       Advertise       Support/Donate       Survival Seeds

03 May, 2014

Medieval Survivalism: Why Is This Not Already A Thing?

Many of us in the Prepper / Survivalist community believe in taking care to prepare for the worst case scenario, the time we know will probably never come, but we know in our hearts that to prepare for it simply means we will be better positioned to survive and thrive in whatever lesser disaster might actually occur. What I'm speaking of, of course, is a total TEOTWAWKI situation where TSHTF in a *BIG* way and things aren't going back to normal anytime in the foreseeable future. And, in such a situation, I advocate a philosophy I'm calling Medieval Survivalism

So much of Prepper / Survivalist philosophy revolves around the idea of a family and/or a small group banding together and, basically, trying to keep a low profile, while they attempt to survive on a small, isolated retreat property. The main reason such philosophies have never really sat well with me is that you're essentially just hoping for the best. You'll keep your head down, tend the garden, and feed the chickens, and you'll be armed in case there's trouble. And, if you've practiced shooting and you have a good group, this might even work as long as you've fending off a small-scale attack, but the first time you're faced with a larger attacking force - say, 20-30 MZBs - you're going to be dead and your wife and daughters are going to be raped and enslaved and someone else is going to be living in your nice retreat house and eating from your stored food. Period. 

We are spoiled by force multipliers - electronic sights and perimeter alarms, etc. - that we believe (falsely) make us safe. I'm sure you're firearms are a great comfort to you, but the marauders who will be coming for you have guns too, and they won't be constrained by Christian morals that might lead you to, for instance, allow a wounded, retreating attacker to escape alive. That may seem like a moral action to you, but, in reality, all you're doing is allowing someone to live who knows where your retreat is located, has gauged your strength, and who is now free to return in a month leading a larger force. And what about when the ammunition is all gone and/or there are no easily-obtainable parts for repairing firearms?

In the old world, people had better sense. Even in good times, some settlements were sufficiently isolated so as to be outside regularly-patrolled areas and therefore could fall prey to bandits, etc.  And, in harsher times, any village near the sea or a major river lived under constant threat of ships full of wild, heathen Danes and Norsemen, who would go viking to pillage and rape as they pleased. In a full-scale TEOTWAWKI scenario, that's what it's going to be like again, so we would be wise to take lessons from the people who lived through those times.

Hill fort in England
What I'm referring to, of course, are fortifications. Target Hardening. If we could all build castles, that would be awesome, but none of will have the money to do that. Even poor folks like us could band together, however, and build a hill fort. Maintaining the high ground has been an essential part of military strategy throughout all of history, so my ideal retreat property would be atop a hill.

First, you dig a defensive ditch around the base of the hill. In modern times, I would suggest it be sufficiently wide and deep to be able to trap a car someone might try to use to ram the wall you're going to build around your settlement. The earth removed from the ditch is transported to the top of the hill and used to create an earthen berm. This is basically an earthwork wall as wide as your ditch and as tall as your ditch is deep that surrounds the settlement, effectively doubling the height of the hill from the perspective of someone who might try to climb it. If the property allows, you can even create multiple concentric lines of these barriers, so that any attacker must fight through multiple levels that essentially becomes a killing ground. 

One of these ditches could even be a dog run: put a bunch of big mutts in there - between your walls and the outside - feed and water them by throwing food scraps over the wall and lowering water vessels by rope. These dogs then become both part of your defense (because they won't be accustomed to people being in the ditch and will be, basically, a feral pack) as well as an alarm system. If someone tried to sneak over the walls at night, the dogs barking and growling would alert those patrolling the walls. Mind you, the dog isn't foolproof. The beasts make noise even when nothing is going on, but nothing like they would if an intruder was in their ditch. You'd have to be mindful of the difference in the sounds. Also, your dogs could be poisoned, so they do not replace the need for guards walking the walls and standing posts in the watchtowers. 

Atop the earthwork wall, you then build a wooden palisade wall or a sturdier wall of cut logs, if you possess the means to fell them and haul them into place. You can actually place a wall atop each concentric earthwork, if you've built multiple levels and if you have the means to do so. You then build a fighting platform behind the wall, which your defenders stand upon to look down on your attackers (and shoot them, throw molotav cocktails, etc.). Obviously, they'll be shooting back, but logs will stop most bullets, and even a simple wooden palisade wall can be rendered ballistics-resistant by utilizing sand bags or building the wall with fronting and backing (a hollow, enclosed box) and filling the center with gravel and rocks. 

 If you've built your fortress with multiple rings of concentric ditches, earthworks, and palisade or log walls, you can use retractable wooden platforms to move defenders between levels, allowing each concentric level to be defended then abandoned in a retreating action if overwhelmed during an attack. This would allow you to bleed an attacking force, decreasing their numbers and their morale and making their eventual retreat more likely. Remember, this is all about Target Hardening. Even a vicious gang of marauders won't want to lose men and would much rather move on to softer prey than tangle with a strong adversary. 

Leave only one narrow approach up the hillside and into your fortress, protected by a sturdy gatehouse. Making it so you can only be attacked by a few invaders at a time, and a small force could defend that approach indefinitely. Personally, I would keep a large van or bus parked inside the wall behind the gatehouse that runs just well enough to be parked in front of the gate when closed to protect your only vulnerable position from being rammed by an attacker's vehicle. The interior of the van or bus could even be modified with a woodstove install and the removal of some of the seating, creating a place where those on guard duty can get out of any inclement weather. 

Now, the area atop the hill and within the final level of earthwork and walls can thrive as a peaceful settlement. It will look like an empty bowl with the earthwork rearing probably ten feet above the ground and the palisade or log wall rising another ten feet above that, but within that space will be a secure (through probably muddy) place to raise children, garden, and thrive. 

The best sites will already have a well or a natural spring on the hilltop, and I would suggest building storehouses for food (granaries) on stilts to discourage vermin. Build cabins to live in and a communal longhouse for meals and community meetings. Build a one room schoolhouse, like the ones seen as recently as a hundred years ago, and a small church, if you are so inclined. Add a barn for tools, vehicles, ATVs, and even horses and to house the breeding pairs of livestock you keep alive through the winter to repopulate your herds in the Spring; and several tall observation towers to allow you to keep a watch over the surrounding area. Build storehouses for firewood.

Several greenhouses and chicken coops (great protein - eggs and meat - in a compact space), and small gardens can be located within the inner fortress (grow potatoes in vertical planter boxes to maximize space), but the lion's share of your crops and livestock can be grown and reared on the lands around the hill crested by your fort. Your watchtowers will provide you with sufficient warning to drive livestock into the fortress in the event that marauders draw near. You could even encourage others to live around your fort and offer them protection in return for a third of everything they grow, rear, and/or make and an oath to fight beside you in the common defense against any invaders. 

What I've described is the basis of an idea I'm currently forming to represent a new school of thought on survivalism based on the time-tested concept of Target Hardening. And, to be clear, this not something a single family would tackle (though, I suppose, it would be doable on a smaller scale).  Rather, this would be something a few families banding together might best accomplish. Building what I've described here would provide you with a fortress that 20 defenders with another 10-20 in support (ready to haul water to put out fires, etc.) could hold against 200 invaders. That's not me making a bold statement; it's a known military fact that a medieval army needed greater than 10-to-1 odds to storm and take a castle, which is why sieges were far more frequent. But you and I won't be facing besieging armies, content to sit outside our walls and starve us for months until we give up. They will be marauders, looking to rape and pillage and most of them won't fight at all, unless they think they can overwhelm you quickly and with little threat to their own lives. A biker gang or other group of thugs facing a killing field like the one I've described will, quite simply, move on to easier prey elsewhere. And, if they are stupid enough to fight, you will maul them in the meat-grinding widowmaker that is your defenses until they are no more, and people for a hundred miles around will hear of it and know you for a strength in the land that is not to be victimized, but rather feared and respected.

NOTE: For a smaller-scale family option, click here.

Both pics above are a 3D model of a hill fort that once overlooked the Danube river to guard that avenue of trade


  1. Always felt that a Midlands(England/Scotland) Reviers Bastle would be a good type of structure for this type of Bug in shelter? They are usually a 2 store Stone house with the access on the 2nd floor could be dropped in times of danger.

    1. You just gave me the idea for another article. Thank you. Lol

  2. If you got a community of people to build this type of hardened shelter I'm sure by the time it was done they would be a close knit group willing to fight for each other and their families. It's an excellent community builder.

  3. Good info, what about attaches from air. Any suggestions.

    1. I suppose you could build an underground bunker to retreat to. Truly, though, I would say that, if you're being attacked from the air, you've already lost. In that instance, I would negotiate from the position of acknowledging you know they'll eventually take the fort, but both sides will take losses doing so. Offer to pay them tribute each year if they'll leave you in peace. That sucks, but at least your people get to live. The English used to pay the Danes and Norse to go away and stop viking along their coasts. Unfortunately, you'd probably have to exchange hostages to keep both sides from breaking the truce.

    2. Keep in mind, you aren't gonna be fighting modern armies. You'll be defending yourself against rioters and biker gangs with typical small arms.

  4. I would consider doing this now, while heavy equipment is still available if I had a site I could use. Doing it now could also mean being able to use modern building materials for buildings and for reinforcing the walls and ditches. I'd almost consider building one and moving in with family and very close friends right now. Great article and something to seriously think about right now.

  5. I think of FT McCallister near Savannah,Ga. It was built almost as an after thought during The War of Northern Aggression to protect Savannahs Backdoor. Its an earthen fort and withstood direct attacks and hits from enemy warships, often multiple ships at once. Finally it was taken by Sherman from land. Thick earthen fortifications like this can withstand most any type of munitions plus its barricading effect keeps aggressors out. The earthen lodging and living quarters were as dense and protective as the walls this would protect from aerial bombardment. Just a thought

    1. Perfect. If I lived nearby, I'd be making plans to commandeer and occupy it when TEOTWAWKI hits. :-)

  6. Do not forget to include food and water for an extended siege. Sooner or later you have to tend your fields and acquire H2O. Sticks and stones may not break your bones but rotting animal carcasses/disease will. There is no perfect defense just alternative ideas and the human brain willing to adapt to changing conditions.

  7. The idea of a pack of semi feral dogs in one of the ditches could backfire one you. If somehow the fortifications were breeched and the pack got into the general melee, they would be as likely to attack the defenders as the attackers. On the other hand, a pack of well-socialized livestock guardian breed dogs would defend their home to the death.

  8. Spring on a hilltop? I see that all the time. You're gonna have to collect and store rain water, maybe in one of those trenches.

  9. In this type of scenario, wouldn't portable heavy weapons (rocket/grenade launchers) be an issue? Even possible commandeered military equipment?

  10. It's a nice idea until you de-construct it.

    First of all such communities invariably change. You can't farm and shoot, so you need people who are guards and soldiers. These farming communities seem, historically, to have rapidly changed from farming communities guarded by soldiers into a peasant communities ruled by heavily armed warrior aristocrats who protect them, and who also take all the best food, screw the best looking women and kill any peasant who gets in their way.

    I want to be a warrior aristocrat please...

    Second, recent history in Serbia, Libya, Somalia and various other bits of the world, along with some longer term stuff on the frontier between Afghanistan and Pakistan invariably show that the marauder bands so much feared by survivalists never form and things are run by local warlords.

    Warlords tend to have fixed power bases and go in for sieges...

    The medieval model won't work.

    What actually seems to have worked is the late medieval Italian 'city state' model. You need a big group of people, some form of elective but ruthless autocracy and a decent militia backed by mercenaries from 'out of town' who are so foreign that they have no desire to become your feudal overlord.

    In other words, organise your city...

  11. War of Northern aggression? Lmao. The civil war, you dope. The one you southern Hicks lost. Own up sucker. You broke the rules, and we called your assets on it, and won. That ridiculous flag you fly belongs to us now.


All comments on this blog are moderated, meaning they don't appear until approved by me. So, when your comment doesn't appear immediately, *DO NOT* throw a hissy-fit and assume I'm refusing negative comments (yes, it really happened). I approve pretty much everything that isn't obvious SPAM, negative or not, and I promise you that will include your hissy-fit comments, accusing me of a grand conspiracy to squash dissenting ideas (also really happened). The result, of course, being that you will look like a fool, and the rest of us will laugh heartily at your stupidity.