bar·​bi·​can | \ ˈbär-bi-kən How to pronounce barbican (audio) \

Definition of barbican

: an outer defensive work especially : a tower at a gate or bridge

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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

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

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Cite this Entry

“Barbican.” Dictionary, Merriam-Webster, Accessed 20 Feb. 2020.

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