A hillfort (or hill fort) is a fortified mound used either as refuge or for a settlement. They were built on the apex of hills as a defensive technique, however, not all hillforts were built on hills. Hillforts are primarily found throughout Late Bronze Age and Early Iron Age Europe, although there are similar structures found all throughout the world during different time periods.

Hillforts refer to an elevated site with one or more ramparts made of earth, stone or wood, which have an external ditch. Most smaller hillforts were abandoned whilst larger ones were redeveloped.

These are not to be confused with the smaller and less defendable earthworks found on the sides of hills, known as hill-slope enclosures.

Types of Hillforts

Consequently, due to the different locations and time periods in which hillforts are found throughout the world, there are many types of hillforts. These differences are easily observed with the naked eye. and as such, the names of these sites change with the differing countries.

Differences in location:

Brent Knoll Camp
Located in a hilltop contour is the Brent Knoll Camp, England

Hilltop Contour: the classic hillfort; an inland location with a hilltop defensive position surrounded by artificial ramparts or steep natural slopes.

Inland Promontory: an inland defensive position on a ridge or spur with steep slopes on 2 or 3 sides, and artificial ramparts on the level approaches.

Interfluvial: a high point above the junction of two rivers, or in the bend of a meander.

Lowland: an inland location without special defensive advantages surrounded by artificial ramparts; typical of later settled oppida.

Sea Cliff: a semi-circular crescent of ramparts backing on to a straight sea cliff; common on rocky coastlines such as Ireland.

Sea Promontory: a linear earthwork across a narrow neck of land leading to a peninsula with steep cliffs to the sea on three sides; common on indented coastlines including Ireland, Cornwall, Brittany and west Wales.

Sloping Enclosure or Hill-slope enclosure: smaller earthwork on gently sloping hillsides; not a significant defensive position.

Differences in size:

> 20ha/50ac.: very large enclosures, too dispersed to defend, likely used for domesticated animals.

1–20ha/2.5-50ac.: defended areas large enough to support a permanent settlement.

< 1ha/2.5ac.: small enclosures, most likely individual farmsteads or animal pens.

Differences in ramparts:

British Camp
Multivallate rampart at British Camp

Univallate: a single circuit of ramparts for enclosure and defence.

Bivallate : a double circuit of defencive earthworks.

Multivallate: more than one layer of defencive earthworks, outer works defend the weakest approaches and may not be complete circuits; typically the inner circuit is original, with outer circuits added later.

Differences in entrances:

Simple opening: might indicate an enclosure, rather than a defended position; sometimes the main ramparts may turn inward or outward, and be widened and heightened to control the entrance.

Linear Holloway: straight parallel pair of ramparts dominating the entrance; projecting either inward, outward, or occasionally overlapped along the main rampart.

Complex: multiple overlapping outer works for example staggered or interleaved multivallate ramparts, or a zig-zag entrance way with sling platforms and well planned lines of fire.

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