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Late 18th century barracks from the reign of George III, Edinburgh Castle, Scotland.

Barracks, the English word based on an old Catalan word "barraca" (hut), were originally temporary shelters or huts[1][2] but are now better known as specialized buildings for permanent military accommodation; the word may apply to separate housing blocks or to complete complexes. Their main object is to separate soldiers from the civilian population and reinforce discipline, training, and esprit de corps. They were sometimes called discipline factories for soldiers.[3] Like industrial factories, some are considered to be shoddy or dull buildings, although others are known for their magnificent architecture such as Collins Barracks in Dublin and others in Paris, Berlin, Madrid, Vienna, or London.[4]


Barracks in Gdańsk, Poland.
Barracks of the 117th infantry regiment in Le Mans, France (c.1900).

Early barracks such as those of the Roman Praetorian Guard were built to maintain elite forces. There are a number of remains of Roman army barracks in frontier forts such as Vercovicium and Vindolanda. From these and from contemporary Roman sources we can see that the basics of life in a military camp have remained constant for thousands of years. In the early modern period they formed part of the 'Military Revolution' that scholars believe contributed decisively to the formation of the nation-state[5] by increasing the expense of maintaining standing armies. Large, permanent barracks were developed in the 18th century by the two dominant states of the period, France the "caserne" and Spain the "cuartel". The English term ‘barrack’, on the other hand, derives from the Spanish word for a temporary shelter erected by soldiers on campaign, barraca. Because of fears that a standing army in barracks would be a threat to the constitution, barracks were not generally built in Great Britain until 1790, on the eve of the Napoleonic Wars (though a few small barracks were built earlier than this, usually in border or coastal locations). Woolwich (1776) is an early example of an urban barracks in Britain (significantly, it was built by the Board of Ordnance rather than by the Army).

Early barracks were multi-story blocks, often grouped in a quadrangle around a courtyard or parade ground. A good example is Berwick Barracks, among the first in England to be purpose-built and begun in 1717 to the design of the distinguished architect Nicholas Hawksmoor. During the 18th century, the increasing sophistication of military life led to separate housing for different ranks (officers always had larger rooms) and married quarters; as well as the provision of specialized buildings such as dining rooms and cook houses, bath houses, mess rooms, schools, hospitals, armories, gymnasia, riding schools and stables. The pavilion plan concept of hospital design was influential in barrack planning after the Crimean War.

The first large-scale training camps were built in France and Germany during the early 18th century. The British army built Aldershot camps from 1854.

By the First World War, infantry, artillery, and cavalry regiments had separate barracks. The first naval barracks were hulks, old wooden sailing vessels; but these insanitary lodgings were replaced with large naval barracks at the major dockyard towns of Europe and the United States, usually with hammocks instead of beds.

These were inadequate for the enormous armies mobilized after 1914. Hut camps were developed using variations of the eponymous Nissen hut, made from timber or corrugated iron.


Barracks housing conscripts of Norrbottens regemente in Boden, Sweden.
German barracks for troops of Bundespolizei (federal police) in Frankfurt, Germany.

In many military forces, NCOs and enlisted personnel will frequently be housed in barracks for service or training. Junior enlisted and sometimes junior NCOs will often receive less space and may be housed in bays, while senior NCOs and officers may share or have their own room. The term "Garrison town" is a common expression for any town that has military barracks, i.e., a permanent military presence nearby.



Barracks blockhouses were used to house troops in forts in Upper Canada. The Stone Frigate, completed in 1820, served as barracks briefly in 1737-38, and was refitted as a dormitory and classrooms to house the Royal Military College of Canada by 1876. The Stone frigate is a large stone building originally designed to hold gear and rigging from British warships dismantled to comply with the Rush-Bagot Agreement.


The majority of the Portuguese Army bases is referred as a quartel (barracks). In a barracks, each of the dormitory buildings is referred as a caserna (casern). Most of them are regimental barracks, constituting the fixed component of the Army system of forces and being responsible for the training, sustenance and general support to the Army. In addition to the regimental administrative, logistic and training bodies, each barracks can lodge one or more operational units (operational battalions, independent companies or equivalent units). Although there are housing blocks within the perimeter of some regimental barracks, the Portuguese current practice is for the members of the Armed Forces to live out of the military bases with their families, inserted in the local civilian communities.

Many of the Portuguese regimental barracks are of the CANIFA model. These type of barracks were built in the 1950s and 1960s, following a standardized architectural model, usually with an area of between 100 000 and 200 000 square metres, including a headquarters building, a guard house, a general mess building, an infirmary building, a workshop and garage building, an officer house building, a sergeant house building, three to ten rank and file caserns, fire ranges and sports facilities. The CANIFA barracks were designed to lodge 1000 or more soldiers.

United Kingdom[edit]

Barracks at Hampton Court Palace (1689), Greater London; these are Britain's oldest surviving purpose-built barracks.

Generally, only single and unmarried personnel or those who choose not to move their families nearby live in the barracks. Most British military barracks are named after battles, military figures or the locality.


In Poland barracks are represented usually as a complex of buildings, each consisting of a separate entity or an administrative or business premises. As an example, the Barracks Complex in Września.

United States of America[edit]

In basic training, and sometimes follow-on training, service members live in barracks. The U.S. Marine Corps have gender-separate basic training units. The U.S. Army has gender-separate basic training, but like the United States Coast Guard, U.S. Air Force and U.S. Navy, has training where male and female recruits share barracks, but are separated during personal time and lights out. However, all the services integrate male and female members following boot camp and first assignment, except the various combat arms elements.

After training, unmarried junior enlisted members will typically reside in barracks. In the 21st century, these service members are generally housed in individual rooms conforming to the DoD's "1+1 standard," though exceptions still exist. During unaccompanied, dependent-restricted assignnments, non-commissioned and commissioned officer ranks may also be required to live in barracks. Amenities in these barracks increase with the rank of the occupant.

Unlike the other services, the U.S. Air Force officially uses the term "dormitory" to refer to its unaccompanied housing.

During World War II, many U.S. barracks were made of inexpensive, sturdy and easy to assemble Quonset huts that resembled Native American long houses (having a rounded roof but made out of metal).

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Oxford English Dictionary, 2nd. ed. barrack, n.1
  2. ^ Barracoon
  3. ^ Black, Jeremy, A Military Revolution?: Military Change and European Society, 1550-1800 (London, 1991)
  4. ^ Douet, James, British Barracks, their social and architectural importance, 1660-1914 (London, 1997)
  5. ^ Roberts, Michael The Military Revolution, 1660-1760 (Belfast, 1856); reprinted with some amendments in Rogers, Clifford, ed., The Military Revolution Debate Rogers, Clifford, ed., The Military Revolution Debate: Readings on the Military Transformation of Early Modern Europe (Boulder, 1895)


  • Black, Jeremy, A Military Revolution?: Military Change and European Society, 1550-1800 (London, 1991)
  • Dallemagne, François, Les casernes françaises, (1990)
  • Douet, James, British Barracks, their social and architectural importance, 1660-1914 (London, 1997)
  • Roberts, Michael The Military Revolution, 1560-1660 (Belfast, 1956); reprinted with some amendments in Rogers, Clifford, ed., The Military Revolution Debate Rogers, Clifford, ed., The Military Revolution Debate: Readings on the Military Transformation of Early Modern Europe (Boulder, 1995)
  • 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica

External links[edit]