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Bible Encyclopedias

1911 Encyclopedia Britannica


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A tent is a portable habitation or place of shelter, consisting in its simplest form of a covering of some textile substance stretched over a framework of cords and poles, or of wooden rods, and fastened tightly to the ground by pegs. Throughout the greater part of the interior of Asia the pastoral tribes have of necessity ever been dwellers in tents - the scantiness of water, the consequent frequent failure of herbage, and the violent extremes of seasons compelling a wandering life. Tents have also been used in all ages by armies in campaign. In ancient Assyrian sculptures discovered by Layard at Nineveh the forms of tent and tent-furnishings are similar to those which still prevail in the East, and it appears that then as now it was a custom to pitch tents within the walls of a city. The ordinary family tent of the Arab nomads of modern times is a comparatively spacious ridged structure, averaging from 20 to 25 ft. in length, but sometimes reaching as much as 40 ft. Its covering consists of a thick felt of black goat hair (cp. Cant. i. 5 - "black as the tents of Kedar"), or sometimes of alternate stripes of black and white disposed horizontally. The ridge or roof is supported by nine poles disposed in sets of three, the central set being loftier than those at each end, whereby a slope outward is formed which helps to carry off rain. The average height inside at the centre is 7 ft. and at the sides 5 ft., and the cloths at the side are so attached that they can easily be removed, the sheltered end being always kept open. Internally the tent is separated by a partition into two sections, that reserved for the women containing the cooking utensils and food. The jourt or tent of the Kirghiz of Central Asia is a very capacious and substantial structure, consisting of a wooden frame for sides, radiating ribs for roof, and a wooden door. The sides are made up of sections of laths, which expand and contract in lozenges, on the principle of lazy tongs, and to their upper extremities ribs are lashed at regular intervals. Over this framework a heavy covering of felt is thrown, which is either weighted down with stones or, when necessary, stitched together.

In Western countries tents are used chiefly in military encampments, by travellers and explorers, and for temporary ceremonial occasions and public gatherings. The material of which they are composed is commonly a light linen canvas or navy duck; but for tents of small size stout cotton canvas is employed, being light, strong, elastic, and sufficiently waterproof. These tents vary in size from a low-pitched covering, under which a couple of men can with difficulty creep, up to spacious marquees, in which horticultural and agricultural shows are held, and which can accommodate thousands of persons.

The marquee is distinguished from the tent by being a ridged structure, devoted to show and social uses; but the humblest tent made - the tente d'abri or shelter tent of the French army - is also ridged in form. The tente d'abri affords sleeping accommodation for six men, and consists of a rope stretched over three low poles and fixed into the ground. Four separate squares of canvas buttoned together are thrown over the rope and pegged to the ground on each side so as to form a low ridge. Two other squares are used for covering the ends, being thrown over the slanting rope ends by which the poles are pegged to the ground. Each of the six men using the tent carries one of the squares of canvas besides his quota of the poles, rope and pegs. In the British service tentes d'abri are often improvised by fastening together blankets or waterproof sheets over a stick. The gipsies and travelling tinkers of England have an equally unpretentious tent, which consists of a framework, of hazel rods bent so as to form a series of low ridges, the ends being stuck into the ground, and over this frame blankets or other coverings are thrown and pegged down. The simplest, but at the same time the least convenient, of ordinary tents is the conical, consisting of a central pole with ropes and canvas radiating from it in an unbroken slope to the ground. The common army bell tent is of this type, but the conical roof terminates at about i ft. 9 in. from the ground, and from it there hangs verticall y a curtain which is loosely pegged to the ground or looped up to allow of the free circulation of air when the tent is unoccupied or the weather is favourable. This form, however, covers much ground in proportion to the accommodation it affords, as the space round the circumference is of little value. A tent, therefore, which has sides or a fall is a much more convenient structure. The counterpart of the conical is the pyramidal tent, the four equal sides sloping to the ground; and this form with a fall or sides makes the square tent, which is both convenient in shape and firm in structure. Small tents are also made, modified from the Arab form, with a central pole and two lower lateral poles. In the umbrella tent the roof is supported by a set of ribs which radiate from the pole, precisely as the ribs of an umbrella spread out from the stick.

The tents and marquees in use in the British army are the following: The bell tents (single or double thickness) 16 ft. in circumference, accommodating in active service 3 officers, 7 sergeants or 15 men each; the Indian general service tents, of various sizes, square with pyramidal roofs, the Indian "E.P." and "Staffsergeants'" tents, which are much roomier than the tents used in India on active service, "hospital marquees" and "operating tents." In former wars, when small professional armies were employed and it was customary to pay extraordinary attention to the soldier's comforts, the train of an army included a full tent equipment, which helped to diminish the already small degree of mobility of which it was capable. Under the Revolution and Napoleon, and generally in the 19th century, the system of housing armies in the field under canvas was practically abolished (except as regards more or less rough tentes d'abri) and replaced by that of billets and bivouacs. The strain entailed upon the transport by complete tentage may be judged from the fact that a single battalion on the minimum scale would require four waggons, each with one ton load of poles and canvas, that is, the regimental transport would be doubled.

A tent equipment (of the tente d'abri type) was introduced into the German army about 1888, and the troops of Austria and Switzerland also possess tents. In the Russian army cavalry and engineer troops are excepted from the otherwise universal issue of canvas shelter.

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Bibliography Information
Chisholm, Hugh, General Editor. Entry for 'Tent'. 1911 Encyclopedia Britanica. 1910.

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