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  • Writer's pictureAdrian J. Boas

On False Impressions

Updated: Sep 6, 2018

Crusader Columns in Fortification

It is said that first impressions are everything, and generally, people desire to come across well in front of strangers. We often compensate for our natural weaknesses, or imagined weaknesses, through behaviour (exaggerated confidence), voice, dress, or displays of affluence. A perceptive observer sees through this, but in reality, most people are not very perceptive, and some remarkably unimpressive people achieve success in their lives by actually managing to fool most of the people most of the time.

If that is true for people`s behaviour, it is often true for the objects they employ to give a false impression. Fake objects (fake pearls or false teeth for example) are merely another case of human compensation. When nature does it, as when a praying mantis appears like a leaf or flower, although it too is trying to give a false impression, this does not seem pathetic because there is no conceit involved, no vanity. It is done in order to obtain food or to avoid becoming food.

In medieval fortification, impressions were also highly important, and perhaps should be seen in a similar light. Here too, life or death often depended on how strong they were, or at least, on how strong they appeared to be. Castle walls had to be massive in order to withstand attack by siege machines or undermining, and indeed, they generally were. On average fortifications were about three metres thick, and in extreme cases, they could be as much as ten metres across (for example, the enormous inner wall of the Templar fortress at 'Atlit). Fortifications were constructed using internal and external facings of large cut stones, and the space between the two was filled with rubble and very strong cement. Where they were available (as in former classical sites such as Caesarea, Ascalon and Sidon), ancient columns were laid horizontally through the thickness of the wall. They served to tie together the wall's outer and inner faces with the rubble fill, and did this so effectively that walls built in this fashion were regarded as the strongest type of defences, possibly impregnable. But columns were not always available and sometimes there were not enough of them. And this is where we find the deception. The builders (at Korykos in Turkey for example) took a single column and cut it into several short lengths, and then place these on the surface of the wall. It looked like the real thing, and no one approaching could know that it was superficial. People tend to see what they believe they should see, not necessarily what is actually there.

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