Dungeon

Dungeon

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A dungeon is a room or cell in which prisoner
Prisoner
A prisoner is someone incarcerated in a prison, jail or similar facility.Prisoner or The Prisoner may also refer to:* Prisoner of war, a soldier in wartime, held as by an enemy* Political prisoner, someone held in prison for their ideology...

s are held, especially underground. Dungeons are generally associated with medieval castle
Castle
A castle is a type of fortified structure built in Europe and the Middle East during the Middle Ages by European nobility. Scholars debate the scope of the word castle, but usually consider it to be the private fortified residence of a lord or noble...

s, though their association with torture
Torture
Torture is the act of inflicting severe pain as a means of punishment, revenge, forcing information or a confession, or simply as an act of cruelty. Throughout history, torture has often been used as a method of political re-education, interrogation, punishment, and coercion...

 probably belongs more to the Renaissance
Renaissance
The Renaissance was a cultural movement that spanned roughly the 14th to the 17th century, beginning in Italy in the Late Middle Ages and later spreading to the rest of Europe. The term is also used more loosely to refer to the historical era, but since the changes of the Renaissance were not...

 period. An oubliette is a form of dungeon which was accessible only from a hatch in a high ceiling.

Etymology


The word dungeon comes from Old French
Old French
Old French was the Romance dialect continuum spoken in territories that span roughly the northern half of modern France and parts of modern Belgium and Switzerland from the 9th century to the 14th century...

 donjon (also spelt dongon), which in its earliest usage, meant "a keep
Keep
A keep is a type of fortified tower built within castles during the Middle Ages by European nobility. Scholars have debated the scope of the word keep, but usually consider it to refer to large towers in castles that were fortified residences, used as a refuge of last resort should the rest of the...

, the main tower
Tower
A tower is a tall structure, usually taller than it is wide, often by a significant margin. Towers are distinguished from masts by their lack of guy-wires....

 of a castle
Castle
A castle is a type of fortified structure built in Europe and the Middle East during the Middle Ages by European nobility. Scholars debate the scope of the word castle, but usually consider it to be the private fortified residence of a lord or noble...

 which formed the final defensive position to which the garrison
Garrison
Garrison is the collective term for a body of troops stationed in a particular location, originally to guard it, but now often simply using it as a home base....

 could retreat when outer fortification
Fortification
Fortifications are military constructions and buildings designed for defence in warfare and military bases. Humans have constructed defensive works for many thousands of years, in a variety of increasingly complex designs...

s were overcome". The first recorded instance of the word in English
Middle English
Middle English is the stage in the history of the English language during the High and Late Middle Ages, or roughly during the four centuries between the late 11th and the late 15th century....

 near the beginning of the 14th century also meant "an underground prison cell beneath the castle keep". While some sources cite Medieval Latin
Medieval Latin
Medieval Latin was the form of Latin used in the Middle Ages, primarily as a medium of scholarly exchange and as the liturgical language of the medieval Roman Catholic Church, but also as a language of science, literature, law, and administration. Despite the clerical origin of many of its authors,...

 dom(i)niōn- "property" (and ultimately dominus "lord") as the original source, it is more likely that the word derives from the Frankish
Old Frankish
Old Frankish is an extinct West Germanic language, once spoken by the Franks. It is the parent language of the Franconian languages, of which Dutch and Afrikaans are the most known descendants...

 *dungjo, *dungjon- ("dungeon, vault, bower"), from Proto-Germanic *dungjōn, *dungō ("a cover, enclosed space, treasury, vault"), from Proto-Indo-European
Proto-Indo-European language
The Proto-Indo-European language is the reconstructed common ancestor of the Indo-European languages, spoken by the Proto-Indo-Europeans...

 *dhengh- ("to cover, hide, conceal"), related to Old High German
Old High German
The term Old High German refers to the earliest stage of the German language and it conventionally covers the period from around 500 to 1050. Coherent written texts do not appear until the second half of the 8th century, and some treat the period before 750 as 'prehistoric' and date the start of...

 tung ("a cellar, underground living quarter"), Old English dung ("a dungeon, prison"), and Old Norse
Old Norse
Old Norse is a North Germanic language that was spoken by inhabitants of Scandinavia and inhabitants of their overseas settlements during the Viking Age, until about 1300....

 dyngja ("a lady's bower"). In English, a dungeon now usually only signifies the sense of underground prison
Prison
A prison is a place in which people are physically confined and, usually, deprived of a range of personal freedoms. Imprisonment or incarceration is a legal penalty that may be imposed by the state for the commission of a crime...

 or oubliette, typically in a basement of a castle
Castle
A castle is a type of fortified structure built in Europe and the Middle East during the Middle Ages by European nobility. Scholars debate the scope of the word castle, but usually consider it to be the private fortified residence of a lord or noble...

, whereas the alternate spelling donjon is generally reserved for the original meaning.

In French the term donjon still refers to a "keep", and the term oubliette is a more appropriate translation of English "dungeon". Donjon is therefore a false friend
False friend
False friends are pairs of words or phrases in two languages or dialects that look or sound similar, but differ in meaning....

 to "dungeon" (for instance, the game "Dungeons and Dragons" is titled "Donjons et Dragons" in its French editions).

An oubliette (from the French oubliette, literally "forgotten place") was a form of dungeon which was accessible only from a hatch in a high ceiling. The word comes from the same root as the French
French language
French is a Romance language spoken as a first language in France, the Romandy region in Switzerland, Wallonia and Brussels in Belgium, Monaco, the regions of Quebec and Acadia in Canada, and by various communities elsewhere. Second-language speakers of French are distributed throughout many parts...

 oublier, "to forget", as it was used for those prisoners the captors wished to forget.

The earliest use of oubliette in French dates back to 1374, but its earliest adoption in English is Walter Scott
Walter Scott
Sir Walter Scott, 1st Baronet was a Scottish historical novelist, playwright, and poet, popular throughout much of the world during his time....

's Ivanhoe
Ivanhoe
Ivanhoe is a historical fiction novel by Sir Walter Scott in 1819, and set in 12th-century England. Ivanhoe is sometimes credited for increasing interest in Romanticism and Medievalism; John Henry Newman claimed Scott "had first turned men's minds in the direction of the middle ages," while...

in 1819: 'The place was utterly dark—the oubliette, as I suppose, of their accursed convent.' There is no reason to suspect that this particular place of incarceration was more than a flight of romantic elaboration on existing unpleasant places of confinement described during the Gothic Revival period.

History


Few Norman
Norman architecture
About|Romanesque architecture, primarily English|other buildings in Normandy|Architecture of Normandy.File:Durham Cathedral. Nave by James Valentine c.1890.jpg|thumb|200px|The nave of Durham Cathedral demonstrates the characteristic round arched style, though use of shallow pointed arches above the...

 keeps in English castles originally contained prisons, though they were more common in Scotland. Imprisonment was not a usual punishment in the Middle Ages
Middle Ages
The Middle Ages is a periodization of European history from the 5th century to the 15th century. The Middle Ages follows the fall of the Western Roman Empire in 476 and precedes the Early Modern Era. It is the middle period of a three-period division of Western history: Classic, Medieval and Modern...

, so most prisoners were kept pending trial or awaiting the penalty, or for political reasons. Noble prisoners would not generally be held in dungeons, but would live in some comfort in castle apartments. The Tower of London
Tower of London
Her Majesty's Royal Palace and Fortress, more commonly known as the Tower of London, is a historic castle on the north bank of the River Thames in central London, England. It lies within the London Borough of Tower Hamlets, separated from the eastern edge of the City of London by the open space...

 is famous as prison for political detainees, and Pontefract Castle
Pontefract Castle
Pontefract Castle is a castle in the town of Pontefract, in the City of Wakefield, West Yorkshire, England. It was the site of the demise of Richard II of England, and later the place of a series of famous sieges during the English Civil War-History:...

 at various times held Thomas of Lancaster (1322), Richard II
Richard II of England
Richard II was King of England, a member of the House of Plantagenet and the last of its main-line kings. He ruled from 1377 until he was deposed in 1399. Richard was a son of Edward, the Black Prince, and was born during the reign of his grandfather, Edward III...

 (1400), Earl Rivers
Anthony Woodville, 2nd Earl Rivers
Anthony Woodville, 2nd Earl Rivers was an English nobleman, courtier, and writer.He was the eldest son of Richard Woodville, 1st Earl Rivers and Jacquetta of Luxembourg. Like his father, he was originally a Lancastrian, fighting on that side at the Battle of Towton, but later became a Yorkist...

 (1483), Scrope
Richard le Scrope
Richard le Scrope was Bishop of Lichfield then Archbishop of York.Scrope earned a Doctorate in canon law. He was provided to the see of Coventry and Lichfield on 18 August 1386, and consecrated on 19 August 1386. He was given the temporalities of the see on 15 November 1386. He was consecrated at...

, Archbishop of York
Archbishop of York
The Archbishop of York is a high-ranking cleric in the Church of England, second only to the Archbishop of Canterbury. He is the diocesan bishop of the Diocese of York and metropolitan of the Province of York, which covers the northern portion of England as well as the Isle of Man...

 (1405), James I of Scotland
James I of Scotland
James I, King of Scots , was the son of Robert III and Annabella Drummond. He was probably born in late July 1394 in Dunfermline as youngest of three sons...

 (1405–1424) and Charles, Duke of Orléans (1417–1430). Purpose-built prison chambers in castles became more common after the 12th century, when they were built into gatehouse
Gatehouse
A gatehouse, in architectural terminology, is a building enclosing or accompanying a gateway for a castle, manor house, fort, town or similar buildings of importance.-History:...

s or mural towers. Some castles had larger provision for prisoners, such as the prison tower at Caernarvon Castle. Alnwick Castle
Alnwick Castle
Alnwick Castle is a castle and stately home in the town of the same name in the English county of Northumberland. It is the residence of the Duke of Northumberland, built following the Norman conquest, and renovated and remodelled a number of times. It is a Grade I listed building.-History:Alnwick...

 and Cockermouth Castle
Cockermouth Castle
Cockermouth Castle is in the town of Cockermouth in Cumbria on a site by the junction of the Rivers Cocker and Derwent.The first castle on this site was built by the Normans in 1134. Significant additions were made in the 13th and 14th centuries. The castle played a significant role in the Wars...

, both in Northumberland, had prisons in the gatehouse with oubliettes beneath them.

Features



Although many real dungeons are simply a single plain room with a heavy door or with access only from a hatchway or trapdoor
Trapdoor
A trapdoor is a door set into a floor or ceiling .Originally, trapdoors were sack traps in mills, and allowed the sacks to pass up through the mill while naturally falling back to a closed position....

 in the floor of the room above, the use of dungeons for torture
Torture
Torture is the act of inflicting severe pain as a means of punishment, revenge, forcing information or a confession, or simply as an act of cruelty. Throughout history, torture has often been used as a method of political re-education, interrogation, punishment, and coercion...

, along with their association to common human fears of being trapped underground, have made dungeons a powerful metaphor
Metaphor
A metaphor is a literary figure of speech that uses an image, story or tangible thing to represent a less tangible thing or some intangible quality or idea; e.g., "Her eyes were glistening jewels." Metaphor may also be used for any rhetorical figures of speech that achieve their effects via...

 in a variety of contexts. Dungeons, in the plural, have come to be associated with underground complexes of cells and torture chambers. As a result, the number of true dungeons in castles is often exaggerated to interest tourists. Many chambers described as dungeons or oubliettes were in fact storerooms, water-cisterns or even latrines
Garderobe
The term garderobe describes a place where clothes and other items are stored, and also a medieval toilet. In European public places, a garderobe denotes the cloakroom, wardrobe, alcove or an armoire. In Danish, Dutch, German and Spanish garderobe can mean a cloakroom. In Latvian it means checkroom...

.

An example of what might be popularly termed an "oubliette" is the particularly claustrophobic cell in the dungeon of Warwick Castle
Warwick Castle
Warwick Castle is a medieval castle in Warwick, the county town of Warwickshire, England. It sits on a bend on the River Avon. The castle was built by William the Conqueror in 1068 within or adjacent to the Anglo-Saxon burh of Warwick. It was used as a fortification until the early 17th century,...

's Caesar's Tower, in central England. The access hatch consists of an iron grille. Even turning around (or moving at all) would be nearly impossible in this tiny chamber.

In literature


Oubliettes and dungeons were a favourite topic
Topic
Topic or Topicality may refer to:* Topic , what is being talked about* Topic * Topic , a brand of confectionery bar* Topics , a work by Aristotle* Topical, a medication applied to body surfaces...

 of nineteenth century gothic novels or historical novel
Historical novel
According to Encyclopædia Britannica, a historical novel is-Development:An early example of historical prose fiction is Luó Guànzhōng's 14th century Romance of the Three Kingdoms, which covers one of the most important periods of Chinese history and left a lasting impact on Chinese culture.The...

s, where they appeared as symbols of hidden cruelty and tyrannical power, the very antithesis of Enlightenment
Age of Enlightenment
The Age of Enlightenment was an elite cultural movement of intellectuals in 18th century Europe that sought to mobilize the power of reason in order to reform society and advance knowledge. It promoted intellectual interchange and opposed intolerance and abuses in church and state...

 values such as justice and freedom. Usually found under medieval castles or abbeys, they were used by villainous characters, often Catholic monks and inquisitors
Spanish Inquisition
The Tribunal of the Holy Office of the Inquisition , commonly known as the Spanish Inquisition , was a tribunal established in 1480 by Catholic Monarchs Ferdinand II of Aragon and Isabella I of Castile. It was intended to maintain Catholic orthodoxy in their kingdoms, and to replace the Medieval...

, to persecute blameless characters. In Alexandre Dumas's La Reine Margot, Catherine de Medici is portrayed gloating over a victim in the oubliettes of the Louvre
Louvre
The Musée du Louvre – in English, the Louvre Museum or simply the Louvre – is one of the world's largest museums, the most visited art museum in the world and a historic monument. A central landmark of Paris, it is located on the Right Bank of the Seine in the 1st arrondissement...

.

Modern criminals' dungeons


The term "dungeon" is still used to describe an underground prison, such as the hidden cells built by certain notorious criminals:
  • Marc Dutroux
    Marc Dutroux
    Marc Dutroux is a Belgian serial killer and child molester, convicted of having kidnapped, tortured and sexually abused six girls during 1995 and 1996, ranging in age from 8 to 19, four of whom he murdered. He was also convicted of having killed a suspected former accomplice, Bernard Weinstein,...

    , Belgium
  • John Esposito
    Katie Beers kidnapping
    Katie Beers was kidnapped in New York in 1992 at age 9, by a friend of the family, and held in an underground bunker for sixteen days. She was eventually found alive.-History:...

    , United States
  • Josef Fritzl, Austria
  • John Jamelske
    John Jamelske
    John T. Jamelske is an American serial rapist-kidnapper who, from 1988 to his apprehension in 2003, kidnapped a series of girls and women and held them captive in a concrete bunker beneath the yard of his home in DeWitt, a suburb of Syracuse, New York, United States.-Early life:Jamelske was born...

    , United States
  • Viktor Mokhov
    Viktor Mokhov
    Victor Mokhov is a Russian criminal who in 2000 kidnapped 2 girls, 14 and 17 years old, and kept them in a basement for almost 4 years....

    , Russia
  • Wolfgang Priklopil
    Wolfgang Priklopil
    Wolfgang Priklopil was an Austrian communications technician. In 1998, he kidnapped 10-year-old Natascha Kampusch and held her for eight years, committing suicide after she escaped....

    , Austria
  • Li Hao (李浩), Peoples Republic of China