Guilds Responsible for Manning Medieval Krakow’s Defensive Towers

Boy, that's a lot of towers.

In Krakow I visited the Barbican, which is one of the surviving structures of the defensive wall that was built to surround the Old City from the 13th to 17th centuries. From what I remember of the exhibit there, towers were placed in this wall about 40 meters apart, this distance having been determined by effective bowshot range so that the towers could support one another with arrow fire. Wikipedia says that the defensive wall stretched for 1.9 mile (3 km) and had 46 towers and seven main entrances leading through them, with which we could check that math.

As of 1626, one of these towers contained:

  • 3 harquebuses
  • 1 falconet
  • 6 muskets
  • 1 matchlock
  • 2 half-harquebuses
  • 5 armors
  • 1 sword
  • 13 halberds

There were not enough city guardsmen to man all the towers, so each of the city’s guilds were given responsibility for seeing to the defense of one tower.  I found the list of guilds to be an interesting and potentially D&D-useful glimpse of the life of a medieval city.

  • Masons of St. Michael’s Church
  • Harnessmakers
  • Painters
  • Salt-Works Managers
  • Barber-Surgeons
  • Leatherworkers
  • Tinsmiths
  • Knife-Grinders
  • Locksmiths (gate)
  • Armorers (gate)
  • Tawers (gate)
  • Cobblers (gate + also attributed to 3 defensive towers)
  • Red Tanners
  • Potters
  • Bookbinders & Wheelwrights
  • Cartwrights & Pasturers
  • Bathkeepers & Herringers
  • Executioners
  • City Guards
  • Soapmakers
  • Carpenters
  • Joiners
  • Furriers (gate)
  • Haberdashers
  • Inn-Keepers (two towers)
  • Comb-makers & Playing-card Makers
  • Sellers of Small Wares
  • Weavers
  • Hatters
  • Butchers (gate)
  • Cordovaners
  • Merchants
  • Bakers (gate)
  • Smiths
  • Saddlers
  • Ringmakers
  • Coopers
  • Goldsmiths (gate)

Guilds responsible for gate towers may have been more influential or powerful, although this wasn’t stated directly.

    The Barbican outside the wall

    I got the above from an exhibit in the barbican. You could also walk along a surviving section of the defensive wall and visit the two remaining towers. The exhibit there had a description of each of the towers, which often listed a different guild as responsible. In some cases this was likely  due to variance in translation, while in others it may have indicated a change over time. Here are the different guilds I noted in that exhibit:

    Sack-makers (instead of Leather-workers); Cutlers (instead of Knifegrinders); Belt-Makers (instead of Pasturers); Torturers (or City Hall Servants & Hangman’s Assistants); Hangman’s Tower; Sword Makers & Soap-Makers; Costermongers (instead of Sellers of Small Wares); Fustian Makers (instead of Weavers); Rope-Makers (instead of Joiners)

    In thinking about what this implies for D&D games, it’s instructive to consider the size of the city that contained all of these guilds. In the map below, the area surrounded by the green “planty” was the original walled city (a park now occupies the space of the former moat just past the defensive wall). As the woodcut above shows, there were also buildings outside the walls that contributed to the economic activity of the guilds.  Wawel Castle, and its brothel-cave,  is to the south, on a hill overlooking the city.

    Size of the medieval walled city of Krakow

    11 Responses to “Guilds Responsible for Manning Medieval Krakow’s Defensive Towers”

    1. July 21, 2010 at 5:11 pm

      Great post, useful info, cheers !

    2. 2 maldoor
      July 21, 2010 at 8:54 pm

      This is awseoms background. I suspect many of these cities are impossible to defend since the thieves’ guild always ends up selling access to their tower to the highest bidding invader.

    3. July 22, 2010 at 1:21 am

      Thanks for this awesomely informative post! It actually brings into focus a minor mystery related to the World of Greyhawk fantasy miniatures produced by Minifigs in the late 70’s/early 80’s. There was a pack called “WOG08 Infantry of the Guilds (6) spears, crossbows – Greyhawk”.

      I still don’t have a picture of the miniatures on my Minifigs Greyhawk page (http://greyhawkgrognard.blogspot.com/2008/06/minifigs-greyhawk-miniatures.html) but I’ve wondered what the heck the name might have meant, in the context of the World of Greyhawk. Now it makes perfect sense– these are troops that would have manned the various walls and gates of the City of Greyhawk during a siege.

      Thanks for clearing up a minor Greyhawkian mystery!

    4. 4 Matt
      July 22, 2010 at 6:26 pm

      I think it’s also interesting (and rarely shows up in fantasy RPG products) how small ancient and medieval cities were. I live in Las Vegas, and was amazed to discover that ancient Rome, a city with a population possibly close to that of modern Las Vegas would have fit (approximately) inside the grounds of our international airport (McCarran). Old cities were a bit cramped – small streets, high population density – and, for the most part, were not divided into nice and neat “quarters” of merchants, nobles, thieves, etc. I think having many different “factions” all crammed into a tight quarters and always mixing whether they like it or not a great catalyst for conflict and adventure.

    5. 5 Charlatan
      July 22, 2010 at 7:42 pm

      I had a similar first reaction. Even if the wall maximized the enclosed area, I think you’d end up at about 0.7 sq km (or, my math may suck). That’s small! Even the Old City in London is a square mile! And the irregular shape of the walled area is just going to diminish the area enclosed.

    6. 6 Naked.
      July 22, 2010 at 9:44 pm

      One thing that is easy to forget is how rapidly we move in modern society. In an ancient city it could be prohibitively costly in terms of time to get across a large area. Certainly by foot, and then when you add horses to the equation you have to figure out where to store them and feed them. Just think of how long it takes to walk from the Battery to the bottom of the Park — this is recreational now because we can pop on the subway and head back downtown but back then you would need to find someplace to sleep.

      I am kind of amazed nobody invented bicycles before the late 19th century, but then roads must have been really, really crappy. Cobblestones nearly rattle cars apart going 20mph. The Appian Way, which was sort of a series of spaced-out bricks, must have been a slog even at the pace of a donkey pulling a cart.

      The recent HBO miniseries Rome was amazing on a lot of fronts. One thing that caught my eye was how close in proximity its leadership often was to the population. True, most citizens (and slaves, etc.) did not live within Rome, but even within the city itself, it must not have been uncommon to catch a glimpse of Pompey or Brutus or Caesar when he returned from his conquests (think the beginning of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar). These figures had their bodyguards, naturally, but it is unthinkable to be so close to our leadership now, say, within near physical contact. Ancient figureheads had far more to worry about from those closest to them, while assassination was profoundly rare from strangers. Hold this up to the modern age, when assassinations, because of explosives tied to automobilies and snipers and such, are the province of the unseen stranger, while because of forensics one’s household and confidants, and their poisons and garrottes, are much better trusted.

      A time machine for visiting the past, yes. But how stunning, to bring a Cicero or Cato forward to look at our simply flawless spools of asphalt highway and capacities to commute into New Jersey in an hour distances (over the Meadowlands) it would take a horseman a couple days to traverse.

      We are deeply lucky, gentlemen, to have the things we have.

    7. 7 Naked.
      July 22, 2010 at 9:51 pm

      Oh damn. Remembered something else — I caught somewhere and will have to look up, an article about how often postal service would hit the major sections of London during Jane Austen’s age (i.e. early 1800s). It was something like several times a day. Therefore an invitation to a dinner later that evening could be received in the morning and a response delivered in the afternoon — by the professional postal service (I think). That is how tightly-knit the city was even then, geographically-speaking. Meanwhile post outside the city (say, to Bath) could take a few days.

    8. 8 Charlatan
      July 30, 2010 at 2:36 am

      Regarding tower placement: 46 towers over 3km would be a tower would have been about 65m apart, right? However,if the effective bowshot range was 40m, two adjacent towers would be able to overlap in their coverage of the intervening wall; not enough to support another tower, but enough to cooperate in their defense of the gaps. Does that sound plausible?

      Also, did you have an indication of what the population of the city was at the time of those guild rolls?

    9. July 30, 2010 at 2:46 am

      That sounds reasonable; sadly I did not expect so much medieval goodness & thus did not have my laser rangefinder for collecting accurate data myself. The 40 meter figure is from my memory of the placards at the exhibit.

      I don’t remember seeing a population figure, and this is the kind of thing at which a shallow Google search is poor.

    10. 10 Naked
      July 31, 2010 at 11:41 pm

      Is it wrong to point out these defenses weren’t all that effective? It seems for a few hundred years at least, nearly every generation saw Poland get overrun by some foreign invasion or another — even the Swedes got into it at one point. The problem of living on plains with huge empires waxing and waning on all sides, Austrians, Russians, Prussians, etc.

      It wasn’t until the post-War era you’ve really had a Poland free from warfare, semi-sovereign unto itself, and not having some force come in and kill a third to half of its population and all its intellectuals. And only the last 20 outside Soviet control. Reading the Krakow guidebook I remember thinking, “couldn’t somebody give these poor people a break?”

    11. 11 Big Dummy
      December 18, 2015 at 3:23 pm

      Actually those towers defeated the Mongols during their 3rd and last invasion of Poland in 1387

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