- This is about European castles. For other uses see Dungeon (disambiguation)
A dungeon is a place where prisoners are kept. In the past, it used to double as the keep.
The word dungeon was derived from the Old French donjon
, which came from the Latin dominus
However, in French the term donjon means "keep" (a form of tower), and the term oubliette or cachot (a form of prison) is a more appropriate translation of the English "dungeon". This word is a false friend.
In its original medieval
usage, the dungeon was the keep
, the main tower
of a castle
which formed the final defensive position the garrison
could retreat to when outer fortifications
were overcome. It was also a safe, if not comfortable, place to keep prisoners. Once more luxurious housing for the lord of the castle was constructed, the dungeon was used mainly for this purpose. Its meaning has evolved over time to also mean an underground prison
or burial vault
, typically built underneath a castle
In 1613, Anton Praetorius described the terrible situation of the prisoners in the dungeons in his book Gründlicher Bericht über Zauberei und Zauberer (Thorough Report about Wizardry and Wizards).
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.
Modern criminal individuals who have built dungeons: