In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Forts, Fortresses, and Fortifications

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Reference Works
  • Journals
  • Popular Works
  • Sieges
  • Trade Forts
  • City Walls
  • Fortifications as Social Spaces
  • Science and Technology
  • Archaeological and Architectural Studies of Forts

Atlantic History Forts, Fortresses, and Fortifications
Ty M. Reese
  • LAST REVIEWED: 30 December 2023
  • LAST MODIFIED: 22 August 2023
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199730414-0213


Forts, fortresses, and fortifications were constructed throughout the Atlantic world and by a great variety of peoples. In Europe, they served a role in the state-building that was occurring and have become part of the debate surrounding whether a military revolution occurred in Europe and, if so, what type of revolution was it and when did it commence. They were built in the Americas and West Africa for similar reasons but within those environments they took on even more roles, especially with regard to the ways in which they participated in ongoing cultural interaction and trade. For example, the forts of West Africa, predominately along the Gold Coast (present-day Ghana) were symbols of power, but they played more of an economic and diplomatic function than a military one. Forts are most often seen as defensive military structures, but they were much more than that. They were built in a vast variety of ways, including from the trace italienne style of Europe to the structures built by American Indians. While forts were everywhere, they are a little harder to locate in the scholarly literature. Forts are the subject of a great deal of popular works and also literature, often harder to access, produced by local, county, regional, and state history associations with it all being, for the most part, informative and well done. Beyond that, much of the literature about forts, fortresses, and fortifications forms part of other debates concerning the military revolution, the built environment, cultural interaction, trade, pirates and privateers, and larger imperial struggles.

General Overviews

A good starting point is Black 2004, an edited collection of essays that broadly explore war in the Early Modern period within the framework of the debates surrounding the European military revolution. This is a major component of much of the literature. Lee 2011 and Mortimer 2004 are similar in temporal framework but provide a clear summation of recent research, while Hanlon 2020 explores the evolution of European warfare in this period. Two more recent works, Chickering and Föster 2013 explores war within an Atlantic revolutionary context, and Sandberg 2016 follows Black 2004 and Lee 2011 in globally exploring conflict. Hogg 1981 provides a broad-ranging history of forts, while Maudlin and Herman 2016 broadly explores the built environment and its social consequences and includes forts as part of this.

  • Black, Jeremy, ed. War in the Early Modern World, 1450–1815. London: Routledge, 2004.

    Originally published in 1998. This collection of nine essays broadly examines the evolution of war in the Early Modern period and collectively works to refine our understanding of a European military revolution. Fortifications are mentioned throughout the essays with more focus within the essays on India and Europe.

  • Chickering, Roger, and Stig Föster, eds. War in an Age of Revolution, 1775–1815. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2013.

    This collection of essays explores war, within an Atlantic context, at the end of the eighteenth century. Much of the treatment of forts and fortifications occurs with respect to America.

  • Hanlon, Gregory. European Military Rivalry, 1500–1750: Fierce Pageant. Routledge, 2020.

    DOI: 10.4324/9780429428913

    A history of the increasing scale and innovation within early modern European warfare. Fortifications play an important role within this evolution.

  • Hogg, Ian V. The History of Fortification. New York: St. Martin’s, 1981.

    A broad-ranging history of fortifications.

  • Lee, Wayne E., ed. Empires and Indigenes: Intercultural Alliance, Expansion and Warfare in the Early Modern World. New York: New York University Press, 2011.

    This collection of ten essays explores the ways in which cultural interaction influenced military decisions. The essays utilize case studies to understand how power was projected and includes an essay on forts in North America.

  • Maudlin, Daniel, and Bernard L. Herman, eds. Building the British Atlantic World: Spaces, Places and Material Culture, 1600–1850. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2016.

    An edited collection of essays that broadly explores the built environment of the Anglo-Atlantic world. The essay by Emily Mann explores the construction of defensive structures while that of Christopher DeCorse looks at the role of the forts of West Africa.

  • Mortimer, Geoff, ed. Early Modern Military History, 1450–1815. Basingstoke, UK: Palgrave Macmillan, 2004.

    A collection of twelve essays that broadly explores military change in the Early Modern period and does so within the recent focus upon global change. Focuses upon technological changes, tactics, and costs that were all related to the growing power of the state.

  • Sandberg, Brian. War and Conflict in the Early Modern World, 1500–1700. Cambridge, UK: Polity Press, 2016.

    A global exploration of the development of military tactics and technologies and their relationship to political, social, and cultural developments. Examines different types of conflict—ethnic, mercantile, territorial—in this period.

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