Dungeon: Wikis


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From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia

The dungeons of Blarney Castle.

A dungeon is a room or cell in which prisoners are held, especially underground. Dungeons are generally associated with medieval castles, though their association with torture probably belongs more to the Renaissance period. An oubliette is a form of dungeon which was accessible only from a hatch in a high ceiling. The image of dark, damp dungeons as the scene of lengthy incarceration and unspeakable cruelty is a powerful one in popular culture.



In its original medieval usage, donjon meant a keep, the main tower of a castle which formed the final defensive position to which the garrison could retreat when outer fortifications were overcome. The word dungeon is based on Old French donjon, which is derived from Latin dom(i)niōn- "property" (and ultimately dominus "lord"). By association of a tower with a prison, its English meaning has evolved over time to mean an underground prison or oubliette, typically in a basement of a castle.

In French the term donjon still refers to a "keep", and the term oubliette is a more appropriate translation of English "dungeon". Donjon is therefore a false friend to "dungeon" (for instance, the game "Dungeons and Dragons" is titled "Donjons et Dragons" in its French editions).

An oubliette (from the French oubliette - literally "forgotten place") was a form of dungeon which was accessible only from a hatch in a high ceiling. The word comes from the same root as the French oublier, "to forget," as it was used for those prisoners the captors wished to forget.

The earliest use of the word in French dates back to 1374, but its earliest adoption in English is Walter Scott's Ivanhoe in 1819: 'The place was utterly dark—the oubliette, as I suppose, of their accursed convent.'[1] There is no reason to suspect that this particular place of incarceration was more than a flight of romantic elaboration on existing unpleasant places of confinement described during the Gothic Revival period.


Few Norman keeps in English castles originally contained prisons, though they were more common in Scotland. Imprisonment was not a usual punishment in the Middle Ages, so most prisoners were kept pending trial or awaiting the penalty, or for political reasons. Noble prisoners would not generally be held in dungeons, but would live in some comfort in castle apartments. The Tower of London is famous as prison for political detainees, and Pontefract Castle at various times held Thomas of Lancaster (1322), Richard II (1400), Earl Rivers (1483), Scrope, Archbishop of York (1405), James I of Scotland (1405–1424) and Charles, Duke of Orleans (1417–1430). Purpose-built prison chambers in castles became more common after the twelfth century, when they were built into gatehouses or mural towers. Some castles had larger provision for prisoners, such as the prison tower at Caernarvon Castle. Alnwick Castle and Cockermouth Castle, both in Northumberland, had prisons in the gatehouse with oubliettes beneath them.[2]


Diagram of alleged oubliette in the Paris prison of La Bastille from Dictionary of French Architecture from 11th to 16th Century (1854–1868), by Eugène Viollet-le-Duc; the commentary speculates that this may in fact have been built for storage of ice.

Although many real dungeons are simply a single plain room with a heavy door or with access only from a hatchway or trapdoor in the floor of the room above, the use of dungeons for torture, along with their association to common human fears of being trapped underground, have made dungeons a powerful metaphor in a variety of contexts. Dungeons, in the plural, have come to be associated with underground complexes of cells and torture chambers. As a result, the number of true dungeons in castles is often exaggerated to interest tourists. Many chambers described as dungeons or oubliettes were in fact storerooms, water-cisterns or even latrines.[3]

An example of what might be popularly termed an "oubliette" is the particularly claustrophobic cell in the dungeon of Warwick Castle's Caesar's Tower, in central England. The access hatch consists of an iron grille. Even turning around (or moving at all) would be nearly impossible in this tiny chamber.

In literature

Oubliettes and dungeons were a favourite topic of nineteenth century gothic novels or historical novels, where they appeared as symbols of hidden cruelty and tyrannical power, the very antithesis of Enlightenment values such as justice and freedom. Usually found under medieval castles or abbeys, they were used by villainous characters, often Catholic monks and inquisitors, to persecute blameless characters. In Alexandre Dumas's La Reine Margot, Catherine de Medici is portrayed gloating over a victim in the oubliettes of the Louvre.[4]

Modern criminals' dungeons

The term "dungeon" is still used to describe an underground prison, such as the hidden cells built by certain notorious criminals:


  1. ^ Oxford English Dictionary
  2. ^ Bottomley, Frank, The Castle Explorer's Guide, Kaye & Ward, London, 1979 ISBN 0718212169 pp 143–145
  3. ^ Bottomley, Frank, The Castle Explorer's Guide, Kaye & Ward, London, 1979 ISBN 0718212169 p 145
  4. ^ Alexandre Dumas, La Reine Margot, XIII Oreste et Pylade
  5. ^ McQuiston, John (1994-07-27). "Man Sentenced to Prison In Kidnapping of L.I. Girl". New York Times. http://query.nytimes.com/gst/fullpage.html?res=9C0DE2D6113EF934A15754C0A962958260. Retrieved 2008-08-22.  
  6. ^ "Josef Fritzl: Incest dungeon father could face up to 3,000 counts of rape". The Telegraph. 2008-08-03. http://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/newstopics/joseffritzl/2619085/Josef-Fritzl-Incest-dungeon-father-could-face-up-to-3000-counts-of-rape.html. Retrieved 2008-08-22.  
  7. ^ "Russian girls rescued after 3 years in rape dungeon". Sydney Morning Herald. 2004-05-07. http://www.smh.com.au/articles/2004/05/06/1083635279844.html. Retrieved 2008-08-22.  

See also

Source material

Up to date as of January 22, 2010
(Redirected to The Dungeon article)

From Wikisource

The Dungeon
by Samuel Taylor Coleridge

And this place our forefathers made for man!
This is the process of our love and wisdom,
To each poor brother who offends against us -
Most innocent, perhaps -and what if guilty?
Is this the only cure? Merciful God!
Each pore and natural outlet shrivelled up
By Ignorance and parching Poverty,
His energies roll back upon his heart,
And stagnate and corrupt; till changed to poison,
They break out on him, like a loathsome plague-spot;
Then we call in our pampered mountebanks -
And this is their best cure! uncomforted
And friendless solitude, groaning and tears,
And savage faces, at the clanking hour,
Seen through the steam and vapours of his dungeon,
By the lamp's dismal twilgiht! So he lies
Circled with evil, till his very soul
Unmoulds its essence, hopelessly deformed
By sights of ever more deformity!

With other ministrations thou, O Nature!
Healest thy wandering and distempered child:
Thou pourest on him thy soft influences,
Thy sunny hues, fair forms, and breathing sweets,
Thy melodies of woods, and winds, and waters,
Till he relent, and can no more endure
To be a jarring and a dissonant thing
Amid this general dance and minstrelsy;
But, bursting into tears, wins back his way,
His angry spirit healed and harmonized
By the benignant touch of Love and Beauty.

PD-icon.svg This work published before January 1, 1923 is in the public domain worldwide because the author died at least 100 years ago.

1911 encyclopedia

Up to date as of January 14, 2010

From LoveToKnow 1911

DUNGEON, the prison in a castle keep, so called because the Norman name for the latter is donjon, and the dungeons or prisons are generally in its lowest storey. (See KEEP.)

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Bible wiki

Up to date as of January 23, 2010

From BibleWiki

different from the ordinary prison in being more severe as a place of punishment. Like the Roman inner prison (Acts 16:24), it consisted of a deep cell or cistern (Jer 38:6). To be shut up in, a punishment common in Egypt (Gen 39:20; 40:3; 41:10; 42:19). It is not mentioned, however, in the law of Moses as a mode of punishment. Under the later kings imprisonment was frequently used as a punishment (2Chr 16:10; Jer 20:2; 32:2; 33:1; 37:15), and it was customary after the Exile (Mt 11:2; Lk 3:20; Acts 5:18, 21; Mt 18:30).

This entry includes text from Easton's Bible Dictionary, 1897.

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Up to date as of February 01, 2010

From Wikia Gaming, your source for walkthroughs, games, guides, and more!

A dungeon is an area accessible from a game's overworld that is designed for the player to explore, with monsters to fight, treasures to find, and puzzles to solve. This term usually applies to adventure games and role-playing games with a fantasy-based medieval period setting.

This article uses material from the "Dungeon" article on the Gaming wiki at Wikia and is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike License.

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