How To Build Zombie-proof Defences: Lessons From History

3 Jul

In the event of a zombie apocalypse, one possible survival strategy is to build some sort of defensive structure and hunker down behind it. In fact, you could almost argue that this would be an innate human response because ever since the dawn of time, we’ve used defensive structures to protect ourselves and our belongings.

At the most basic level, we have things like the corrals made by thorny bushes which are still used in Africa to keep people and cattle safe from lions, or small forts mounted on hilltops. More advanced are structures like the walls built by ancient Chinese and the Roman forces to protect their borders from hostile forces seeking to attack their empires. These often covered hundreds of miles and took many years to build, but they serve exactly the same function, and, indeed, they have many of the same characteristics, as the defences used to protect individual families or villages from wild animals.

In the event of a zombie apocalypse, we’d need to build defensive structures with these exact same characteristics, so we can learn a lot from history about how to build zombie-proof defences. In view of this, I want to consider four examples of structures built by our forebears and what we can learn from them when trying hold back the zombie hordes.

1. Hadrian’s Wall: Hadrian’s Wall was an ancient wall built by the Romans which effectively cut the island of Great Britain in two. It was 73 miles long, and almost 2000 years after it was built, some bits of it survive to this day. The key thing we can learn from Hadrian’s Wall is how to use natural features in the environment to enhance our defences. This is because Hadrian’s Wall was built, in part, on top of natural escarpments. This allowed the wall to tower above the surrounding countryside, giving those guarding it a view for many miles across a flat, wide valley and making it impossible for any attackers to creep up on it undetected. Just like ancient Roman walls, for zombie-proof defences, placement will be everything, and selecting just the right location to build them will determine whether it succeeds or fails. In particular, it would need to be placed in such a way that zombies can’t sneak up on it unnoticed. The greater the field of view, the better the chance of being able to kill off any zombies before they get close enough to mount an attack.

2. The Antonine Wall: The Antonine Wall is another ancient Roman wall built about 200 miles or so north of Hadrian’s Wall. The chances are, though, if you don’t live in Scotland, you’ll never have heard of it. This is for two reasons. Firstly, it was only occupied for a few short years before the Romans retreated back to Hadrian’s Wall, and secondly, because it wasn’t made of stone. Instead, it was made of turf and this means little trace of it remains. Why did the Romans choose turf over stone for this wall? Because it locally abundant and easy to work with. This meant they could build it much more quickly than if they’d tried to use stone. This was important, given that they were working in what was at the time hostile enemy territory which would only be secured once the wall was finished. What can we learn from this? Well, build your defences from whatever materials to have to hand and which allow you to throw them up as fast as possible. In this respect, I’d argue that a simple wall made of turf and earth pushed into place by a bulldozer would make much better zombie defences than concrete and bricks simply because of the speed you could construct them. Similarly, bales of straw might seem so much less secure than rock, but you can use them like massive building blocks and throw up high, secure walls in hours rather than the weeks or months it would take to build the same structures out of stone.

3. Crannogs: Crannogs are interesting little structures from the Iron Age. They consisted of an artificial island on which a single home or a small group of houses was built. What, you might be asking, can we learn from this? You might be thinking that it’s to use water as a defensive barrier, and that’s definitely one lesson worth remembering, but the more important one can be learned from how the people constructed paths out to some of these island strongholds. You see, they didn’t necessarily build causeways to link their islands to the shore. Instead, some built paths just below the water consisting of a series of stepping-stones. These stepping-stones weren’t laid out in a straight line or a regular pattern. Instead, they had dog-legs and sudden bends in them so that only those who were familiar with them knew the exact path. This meant those living on the island could race along it to the safety of their buildings, while any one attacking it would suddenly find themselves stepping into deep water and disappearing from sight. This exact same strategy is the key to making good zombie-proof defences. You have to accept that you’re going to have to leave your stronghold at some point, and if you do, you need some way of making sure the zombies can’t follow you home. I would argue that using this type of unpredictable and invisible pathway across water would be the perfect way to ensure that any pursuing zombies can’t easily chase you right up to your front door.

4. Masada: Masada was an ancient fortress built in what is now Israel. When it was built, many thought this fortress was impregnable, as it was sited on the top of a massive rock plateau which could only be climbed using one of three narrow, winding paths. Any would-be attackers trying to storm this fortress would have to travel in single file along these paths and so could easily be picked off by those defending it. Then came the Romans, who saw this problem and worked out a way round it. They took their time and built a ramp out of local stone which they could simply march straight up and attack the fortress itself. By now you’re probably wondering what this has to do with zombies, after all zombies can’t think or build ramps, can they? No, but get enough of them together in one place and they’ll start piling up against your defences. With enough zombies and enough time, they’ll build a ramp to the top of your defences made out of their own bodies up which those coming up behind can clamber and make it into your stronghold. What can you learn from this? Simply this: no defences will be truly zombie proof unless you have way of clearing away any bodies to prevent pile ups. If it were me, I’d probably do this using fire to cremate any undead whenever it looked like a pile up might be starting, either using something like a flame-thrower, or just a flammable liquid poured over them and set on fire. However, you’d have to remember you can only use this if your defences are made of something what would burn – like the straw bales I mentioned earlier. Other options might be to use an armoured bulldozer or snowplow to physically remove any pile ups before they get too high, but such things might not be easy to come by.

So, from these examples from the past, we can see that the best zombie-proof defences will be those which use natural features in their environment to enhance their defensive capabilities, that use whatever local materials that are abundant and quick to work with so you can build them in a hurry, that have an entrance way which is not easy for zombies to follow you in, and that you have a way of clearing away bodies to prevent pile ups. If you follow these pointers, it’s likely that you’ll be able to hold the zombies at bay for as long as you need to. If not, it’s likely that your defences won’t last long and you’ll be overrun in no time at all. These same rules will apply regardless of whether you’re trying to defend a single building, an entire town, or even half a continent.

From the author of For Those In Peril On The Sea, a tale of post-apocalyptic survival in a world where zombie-like infected rule the land and all the last few human survivors can do is stay on their boats and try to survive. Now available in print and as a Kindle ebook. Click here or visit to find out more. To download a preview of the first three chapters, click here.

To read the Foreword Clarion Review of For Those In Peril On The Sea (where it scored five stars out of five) click here.

10 Responses to “How To Build Zombie-proof Defences: Lessons From History”

  1. Jc Loh 04/07/2014 at 03:16 #

    Safer to hide on an island since zombies can’t swim. But wait, what if the island is infested with these dastardly creatures? Oh no, we are so gone!!!!!!!!

    • cmdrysdale 04/07/2014 at 10:16 #

      I agree, an island should always be safer, at least until the zombies arrive on it out of the blue and then you’re in deep trouble! Yes, zombies can’t swim, but they can drift with the currents and can still be washed up on a distant ashore. The difficult thing would be finding an island which the zombies couldn’t reach. I’ve already got one picked out just in case …

      • Jc Loh 08/07/2014 at 04:37 #

        Do tell sir!!

      • cmdrysdale 08/07/2014 at 22:44 #

        If I tell you, everyone would want to go there, and it’ll only be a good place to hole up if there aren’t other people there!

  2. F 05/07/2014 at 22:46 #

    I think that in a zombie apocalypse I would go for a castle. It’s already built and I don’t think zombies can surpass a stone wall. And if they make a ramp, you can tear it down through the arrowslits.

    • cmdrysdale 06/07/2014 at 11:26 #

      Castles are certainly a good option. The only problem is that you’d have to find a suitable one. There aren’t a lot of castles around these days, and many have had their defences removed or modified (moats filled in, drawbridges no longer work, portcullises removed and so on) so it would take a bit of work to make them zombie proof again.

      • F 06/07/2014 at 21:24 #

        Yes, we would probably have to barricade the door, but it is still safer than an empty house or the grocery store. Unhabited islands would be safer, so it might be a good idea to go to one. Well, if I knew how to sail, of course.

      • cmdrysdale 06/07/2014 at 22:07 #

        You’re definitely right that a castle would be safer than an empty house or a grocery store. As I said above, the uninhabited island approach is the one I favour myself, and I even have my preferred island picked out, but I’m lucky enough to live near the coast and know how to sail. It’s not really an option if you live in the middle of a continent far from the sea, though!

  3. F 06/07/2014 at 22:25 #

    Well, I live relaticvely close to the sea, but, as I said, I don’t know how to sail. I’ve also made my plans, though, that’s why I spoke about castles. There’s one close to where I live. It is small, so guarding it would be easy. It has a well and only one door, which happens to be functional and, for what I’ve seen, very resistant.

    • cmdrysdale 08/07/2014 at 22:42 #

      Sounds like you’ve really got your plans worked out!

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