1911 Encyclopædia Britannica/Portcullis

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Portcullis (from the Fr. porte-coulisse, porte, a gate, Lat. porta, and coulisse, a groove, used adjectivally for “sliding,” from couler, to slide or glide, Lat. colare; the Fr. equivalents are herse, a harrow, and coulisse; Ger. Fallgatter; Ital. saracinesca), a strong-framed grating of oak, the lower points shod with iron, and sometimes entirely made of metal, hung so as to slide up and down in grooves with counterbalances, and intended to protect the gateways of castles, &c. The defenders having opened the gates and lowered the portcullis, could send arrows and darts through the gratings. A portcullis was in existence until modern times in a gateway at York. The Romans used the portcullis in the defence of gateways. It was called cataracta from the Gr. καταρράκτης, a waterfall (καταρρήγνυσθαι, to fall down). Vegetius (De re milit. iv. 4) speaks of it as an old means of defence, and it has been suggested that in Psalm xxiv. 7, 9, “Lift up your heads, oh ye gates,” &c., there is an allusion to a similar contrivance. Remains of a cataracta are clearly seen in the gateway of Pompeii. The Italian name saracinesca originates from the crusades. (See Gate.)