The beginning of castles

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The first castles in Scotland were built over 900 years ago. Where did they come from?

In this article you can find out:

  • What an archaeologist is
  • What buildings came before castles
  • Who first brought castles to Scotland
  • What a burgh was

This resource is suitable for Castles topics for P2, P3 and P4 (Second Level Curriculum for Excellence).

History and archaeology

Historians have discovered that as many as 2000 castles were built in Scotland.

Sometimes we can't see these castles. Their ruins can only be found underground. People have to dig in the ground to look for clues about what they were like. These people are called listenarchaeologists.

Archaeologists don't just tell us about castles. They can also use clues they find in the ground as evidence that tells us about the different types of buildings that kept people safe before Scotland's castles were built.

Archaeologists dig in the ground to find clues about how people used to live.

What buildings came before castles? 1500 BC–AD 1100

Before castles were built in Scotland, different types of building kept families safe from wild animals or attackers. Some of these building were called hill forts, brochs, crannogs, longhouses and roundhouses.

Many bits and pieces of these buildings can still be found in the ground today.

Lots of ways were used to make these buildings safe and hard to attack, like building up high on hills, surrounding them with water and using strong wooden fences. These ideas were also used by castle builders.

Find out more about what came before castles.

What came before castles?

The first Scottish castles, 1100–1200

It was King David I of Scotland who ordered many of the first castles to be built in Scotland.

His castles usually followed the motte and bailey style that was already used in England and Wales.

Find out more about King David I and the first castles.

Who built Scotland's first castles?

Burghs and marketplaces, 1100–1200

Wherever there was a castle, people would rush to build their homes nearby. They wanted to find work and to sell their goods to the people who lived in the castle.

King David I ordered special towns called burghs to be set up around a few of his castles.

Any new homes in a burgh had to be built in an organised way. Each burgh had its own marketplace. King David ordered everyone to use the new marketplaces to sell their goods.

Find out more about the first medieval towns and markets.

What is a Royal burgh?