bar·​bi·​can ˈbär-bi-kən How to pronounce barbican (audio)
: an outer defensive work
especially : a tower at a gate or bridge

Did you know?

You've heard of moats and drawbridges, but barbicans may be unfamiliar. Those stone outworks stand in front of the gate of a castle or bridge and historically helped prevent invaders from gaining access to the main entryway. Up to a point, the case for the history of the word barbican is well fortified. It is clear that English speakers seized the term from the Anglo-French barbecane, which in turn had been taken from the Medieval Latin barbacana (both of those words had the same meaning as the modern word). The etymological path crumbles from there, however. Some speculate that the ultimate ancestor of barbican might lie in a Persian phrase meaning "house on the wall," but that speculation has never been proven.

Examples of barbican in a Sentence

Recent Examples on the Web The building a barbican. Jonathan Michael Majors, The New Republic, 29 Dec. 2022

These examples are programmatically compiled from various online sources to illustrate current usage of the word 'barbican.' Any opinions expressed in the examples do not represent those of Merriam-Webster or its editors. Send us feedback about these examples.

Word History


Middle English, from Anglo-French barbecane, from Medieval Latin barbacana

First Known Use

13th century, in the meaning defined above

Time Traveler
The first known use of barbican was in the 13th century


Dictionary Entries Near barbican

Cite this Entry

“Barbican.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 4 Dec. 2023.

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