A palisade – sometimes called a stakewall – is typically a fence or wall made from wooden stakes or tree trunks and used as a defensive structure.
Typical construction consisted of small or mid sized tree trunks aligned vertically, with no spacing in between. The trunks were sharpened or pointed at the top, and were driven into the ground and were sometimes reinforced with additional construction. The height of a palisade ranged from a few feet to nearly ten feet. As a defensive structure, palisades were often used in conjunction with earthworks.
Palisades were an excellent option for small forts or other hastily constructed fortifications. Since they were wood, they could be quickly and easily built from materials readily available. They proved to be effective protection for short-term conflicts, and were an effective deterrent against small forces. However, due to their wooden construction, they were also vulnerable to fire and siege weapons.
Often, a palisade would be constructed around a castle as a temporary wall until a permanent stone wall could be erected. They were frequently used in New France.
Ancient Greece and Rome
Both the Greeks and Romans created palisades to protect their military camps. The Roman historian Livy describes the Greek method as being inferior to that of the Romans during the Second Macedonian War. The Greek stakes were too large to be easily carried, and were spaced too far apart. This made it easy for enemies to uproot them and create a large enough gap in which to enter. In contrast, the Romans used smaller and easier to carry stakes which were placed closer together, making them more difficult to uproot.
Precolumbian North America
Many settlements of the native Mississippian culture of the Southeastern United States also made use of palisades. The most prominent example is the Cahokia Mounds site in Collinsville, Illinois. A wooden stockade with a series of watchtowers or bastions at regular intervals formed a 2-mile-long (3.2 km) enclosure around Monk's Mound and the Grand Plaza. Archaeologists found evidence of the stockade during excavation of the area and indications that it was rebuilt several times, in slightly different locations. The stockade seems to have separated Cahokia's main ceremonial precinct from other parts of the city, as well as being a defensive structure.
Other examples include the Angel Mounds Site in southern Indiana, Aztalan State Park in Wisconsin, the Kincaid Site in Illinois, the Parkin Site and the Nodena Sites in southeastern Arkansas and the Etowah Site in Georgia.
In South Africa, a common means to prevent crime is for residential houses to have perimeter defences such as brick walls, steel palisade fences, wooden palisade fences and also electrified palisade fences. The City of Johannesburg promotes the use of palisade fencing over opaque, usually brick, walls as criminals cannot hide as easily behind the fence. In the City of Johannesburg manual on safety one can read about best practices and maintenance of palisade fencing, such as not growing vegetation in front of palisades as this allows criminals to make an unseen breach.
- Media related to Palisade at Wikimedia Commons
- The dictionary definition of palisade at Wiktionary