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Hogwarts has dungeons, as we see many times - Snape has his classes in them, the Slytherins live down there - but why does Hogwarts have dungeons in the first place?

The Founders of the school built it, apparently:

"You all know, of course, that Hogwarts was founded over a thousand years ago – the precise date is uncertain – by the four greatest witches and wizards of the age. The four school houses are named after them: Godric Gryffindor, Helga Hufflepuff, Rowena Ravenclaw and Salazar Slytherin. They built this castle together, far from prying Muggle eyes, for it was an age when magic was feared by common people, and witches and wizards suffered much persecution."
Harry Potter and the Chamber of Secrets, chapter 9

And since they built it with the intention of having a school... why have dungeons? I can understand why they have towers, like a castle - we see them used for Astronomy and other classes. But they didn't have to make it exactly like a castle, complete with dungeons - were they going to lock up the misbehaving students?

Why does Hogwarts have dungeons when it was built with the purpose of education?

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    Doesn't Filch mention flogging students once? Surely dungeons would be used as you describe as well. – Gallifreyan Jul 31 '17 at 19:49
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    This is speculation, but castles weren't the only large structures in the dark/middle ages. The fact that it is a castle (and not an abbey, or some sort of dormitory) should belie that it had to meet a dual purpose or have a quality to be safe. It is next to a dangerous lake and a dangerous forest. Perhaps it had to be defensible, and have castle-like qualities to meet some needs. Maybe faculty and students traditionally tended to the forest so it wouldn't overgrow & threaten muggle populations. – Ross Jul 31 '17 at 20:00
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    perhaps Hogwarts, being built before Azkaban, served as a wizarding prison – NKCampbell Jul 31 '17 at 20:03
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    ....implausible....concerning a conversation about a magic castle? ;) - it was the dark ages after all. And - what better place to keep criminals than a magic building with some of the most powerful wizards on site? – NKCampbell Jul 31 '17 at 20:42
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    right - endangering kids on purpose would be sinister. Like, imagine, planting clues and objects around the castle so a first year could stumble into battling the dark lord that killed said student's parents...sinister :D - different times, different culture. Makes sense to me honestly – NKCampbell Jul 31 '17 at 20:47
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The dungeons might have been in use as dungeons when Hogwarts first opened.

While it does seem odd that a school is built with dungeons, The dungeons may have been used to lock away dangerous things, like magical creatures, or to keep certain items guarded. We know of at least one instance where a magical item, the Philosopher's Stone, was kept in the dungeons at Hogwarts. Historically, the dungeons might have been used in this way as well. It was considered safe enough during Harry's time at Hogwarts to guard the Stone in the dungeons while Hogwarts continued to function as a school, so it's possible that the Founders had the same sort of thing in mind when they chose to build dungeons. Dumbledore, who was the one who hid the Stone and would know, mentions that the room with the Mirror of Erised where Harry fought with Quirrell was in the dungeons.

“What happened down in the dungeons between you and Professor Quirrell is a complete secret, so, naturally, the whole school knows.”
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 17 (The Man with Two Faces)

The dungeons can also be used to safeguard less remarkable objects, like when Harry's Firebolt is confiscated.

“Filch fitted a new door and removed Harry’s Firebolt to the dungeons where, it was rumoured, Umbridge had set an armed security troll to guard it. However, her troubles were far from over.”
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 30 (Grawp)

This is another example that proves Harry's Firebolt is indeed being guarded in the dungeons.

“Liar.’ She shook his head again. ‘Your Firebolt is under strict guard in the dungeons, as you very well know, Potter. You had your head in my fire. With whom have you been communicating?”
- Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix, Chapter 32 (Out of the Fire)

It's possible that the dungeons were actually used to punish students in times gone by at Hogwarts.

“He wouldn’t believe they were lost, was sure they were trying to break into it on purpose and was threatening to lock them in the dungeons when they were rescued by Professor Quirrell, who was passing.”
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 8 (The Potions Master)

Filch also refers to the old punishments having died out, one of which was the students being hung from the ceiling by their wrists. It's less likely that he's simply exaggerating in this case, as he probably doesn't know that Harry can hear him, and he has no reason to make punishments sound worse for Snape, who would know what common Hogwarts punishments are anyway.

“Follow me,’ said Filch, lighting a lamp and leading them outside. ‘I bet you’ll think twice about breaking a school rule again, won’t you, eh?’ he continued, leering at them. ‘Oh yes … hard work and pain are the best teachers if you ask me … It’s just a pity they let the old punishments die out … hang you by your wrists from the ceiling for a few days, I’ve got the chains still in my office, keep ’em well oiled in case they’re ever needed … Right, off we go, and don’t think of running off, now, it’ll be worse for you if you do.”
- Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone, Chapter 15 (The Forbidden Forest)

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    It's possible Filch is exaggerating in the hope of convincing his current bosses to let him use worse punishments. Or it's just wishful thinking on his part. – Peter Cordes Jul 31 '17 at 23:43
  • @PeterCordes Thanks for catching my typo, it's fixed now! :) Yes, it's possible Filch is exaggerating, I'll check my book and see if I can figure out the most likely explanation. :) – Bellatrix Aug 1 '17 at 0:41
  • Or he wanted to scare them and/or make them feel fortunate and more willing to comply. Not saying he wouldn’t enjoy doing those things... – Pryftan Mar 11 '18 at 20:12
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Simple answer:

Its a castle. Castles have dungeons.

Realistic answer:

Rowling probably didn't think about the fact that the common definition of the word "dungeon" is not appropriate for a school. Instead it was used for worldbuilding. "Dungeon" is easier to say then "dark, dank, dirty, damp, subterranean, room". It evokes the necessary mental image without getting wrapped up in the details. It seems reasonable for the Slytherins to operate from a dark, dank, dirty, damp, subterranean, room. They are in a castle. Ergo, Dungeons.

Technical answer:

Although many real dungeons are simply a single plain room with a heavy door or with access only from a hatchway or trapdoor in the floor of the room above, the use of dungeons for torture, along with their association to common human fears of being trapped underground, have made dungeons a powerful metaphor in a variety of contexts. Dungeons, in the plural, have come to be associated with underground complexes of cells and torture chambers. As a result, the number of true dungeons in castles is often exaggerated to interest tourists. Many chambers described as dungeons or oubliettes were in fact storerooms, water-cisterns or even latrines.
Dungeon

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    "Rowling probably didn't think" - I'm already out on this answer. If there is one thing the seven books show - is her ability to think about the meaning of words, their placement, and usage – NKCampbell Jul 31 '17 at 20:49
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    Rowling valued story over pedantry. This is why we have horcrux foreshadowing in book 2 and 200-1000 students. – amflare Jul 31 '17 at 20:52
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    "It's a castle. Castles have dungeons." I think it's really as simple as that, actually. – The Dark Lord Jul 31 '17 at 21:15
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    @NKCampbell I'd love to see the version of Harry Potter you read, it sounds much better than the one I read. – KutuluMike Jul 31 '17 at 22:59
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    @NKCampbell - despite your rabid fanboyism, Rowling has proved many times that she doesn't really think about details like that. – Davor Aug 2 '17 at 10:28
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That's neither the only nor the most significant inconsistent element in the books.

My best guess is that Rowling chose to have a medieval castle as a school, thought that medieval castles have dungeons in them and therefore incorporated dungeons in the school-castle.

It's in fact way more disturbing in the French version - which is the one I read as a child - because dungeon is translated in it as donjon, which means keep.

Given that the author focused way more on the story than the details, I tend to assume that whatever isn't stated in the story isn't part of it and don't leave much space for interpretation.

If it's said that there are dungeons but never mentionned what they were built for, I assume that there are dungeons solely because there are dungeons, and because she wanted gloomy and jail-y areas in the castle as a set for actions. That allows her to tell us things about the Syltherins - who reside in the dungeons - and Snape in particular since he gives his classes and has his office in them.

As far as I know or am concerned, the dungeons are just that, a set for actions that felt like they would be better in a gloomy atmosphere.

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