barbican

noun
bar·​bi·​can | \ˈbär-bi-kən \

Definition of barbican 

: 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 outerworks stood in front of the gate of a castle or bridge and 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.

First Known Use of barbican

13th century, in the meaning defined above

History and Etymology for barbican

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

Keep scrolling for more

Learn More about barbican

Listen to Our Podcast about barbican

Statistics for barbican

Look-up Popularity

Time Traveler for barbican

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

See more words from the same century

More from Merriam-Webster on barbican

Britannica.com: Encyclopedia article about barbican

Comments on barbican

What made you want to look up barbican? Please tell us where you read or heard it (including the quote, if possible).

WORD OF THE DAY

to make faulty or ineffective

Get Word of the Day daily email!

Test Your Vocabulary

Find the Cousins

  • a-large-tree-with-many-branches
  • Which pair shares a common word ancestor?
True or False

Test your knowledge - and maybe learn something along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ
Dictionary Devil

Test Your Knowledge - and learn some interesting things along the way.

TAKE THE QUIZ

Love words? Need even more definitions?

Subscribe to America's largest dictionary and get thousands more definitions and advanced search—ad free!