As the title says: How can a warehouse be secured to the point of highest possible security within a 16th century setting?

The warehouse is located at a harbor and roughly 50 meters in length and 15 in width. It's owned by a really wealthy merchant and stores pretty much anything but weapons. There are other warehouses next to it, but the security of these don't matter for this question, as they are owned by other people. There are roughly three meters between two warehouse.

The warehouse has ten guards as of now, who are personally chosen and paid by the owner. There is also some kind of harbor watch patrolling the harbor in general. These two groups are unrelated with each other, but cooperate, if needed. All of them are forbidden to kill intruders or to hurt them more than needed to arrest them.

You can build whatever you like into the warehouse in order to tighten the security, but most of the space should be used for goods, as it is a warehouse after all.

Given these circumstances, how can it be further secured to an extent, where it becomes basically impossible to successfully break in and escape?

Just to make sure: This question is about thiefs, not about organized assaults by masses of armed fighters.

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    $\begingroup$ What sort of warehouse are we talking? Northern Germany? Western Seafront? Mediterranian? Chinese? Contemporary-Modern-Falsely-Moved-Back-In-Time? $\endgroup$
    – dot_Sp0T
    Commented Aug 1, 2017 at 18:47
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    $\begingroup$ This kind of setup typically leads to cat and mouse games which depend upon the tiny nuances of security. For example, if you store large boxes, someone could get in and out simply by hiding in the boxes. If everything is small, that's not an option. If accessablity isn't an issue, you could build it like a vault. $\endgroup$
    – Cort Ammon
    Commented Aug 1, 2017 at 18:49
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    $\begingroup$ pay the thieves guild to guard it. $\endgroup$
    – Marky
    Commented Aug 1, 2017 at 20:21
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    $\begingroup$ For a better word than police, try guard or watch. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 2, 2017 at 4:57
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    $\begingroup$ It's only 15 inches wide? :-) $\endgroup$
    – Makyen
    Commented Aug 2, 2017 at 5:26

7 Answers 7


Guards - The well-paid guards rotate randomly, so they never know which part of the warehouse they will guard when they will be working, or with whom they will work. This prevents a potential thief from working with or bribing a guard. Four guards patrol the exterior walls, while four patrols the interior walls. They have whistles which they use to sound the alarm. Two guards patrol the roof. Their patrols are worked out so that see each other every few seconds, and are trained to sound the alarm if their coworker is not where they need to be. The Guards have daggers, swords, and a single-shot pistol.

Lines of Sight - Around each wall is a walkway, 1 meter in width so that a guard has an unimpeded view of the entire length of the wall at once.

Dogs - Trained dogs live in the warehouse. They will sound the alarm by barking at anyone entering the warehouse they don't know.

Walls - The walls are thick brick, with windows at the very top (it's dark in a building and natural light is how you light such thing.)

Lighting - At night, torches illuminate the exterior walls, so there is no slinking up in darkness.

Door- The door is a thick iron, with a window in it so the guard can identify the person who is requesting entry. The door is opened by a geared system since it's too heavy for a man to open by himself.

Note: In the 1500's, guards would not hesitate to kill a thief.

Additional Note There needs to be some response if the alarm is sounded. An easy solution is to have guards work in three shifts of 8 hours. One shift is sleeping, one shift is in ready-status (meaning they are ready to react but otherwise unoccupied. They could be preparing food, doing maintenance, practicing, etc.) This allows us to have ten men ready at a moment's notice to react, and ten more in reserve.

Thought will need to be given to normal access. If breaking in is too hard, thieves will use social engineering to fool their way in. All additions and removals must be authenticated using a passphrase encrypted by a cipher disk. The list of passphrases changes every week. This makes sure the owner actually authorized the addition or removal without having to be present.

Guard placement diagram.

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    $\begingroup$ Make sure the roof is stone as well. Don't want someone starting a fire to clear the building... $\endgroup$
    – CaM
    Commented Aug 1, 2017 at 20:21
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    $\begingroup$ +1 for the dogs. It's amazing how often people forget the value of dogs! $\endgroup$
    – JBH
    Commented Aug 1, 2017 at 20:43
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    $\begingroup$ I can't be the only one picturing Dishonored right now, can I? $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 1, 2017 at 21:36
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    $\begingroup$ @PaulTikI dogs can be trained only to accept food from a certain person or to eat only from a certain bowl etc. In this way random bits of meat that were poisoned would be ignored. $\endgroup$
    – Sarriesfan
    Commented Aug 2, 2017 at 11:11
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    $\begingroup$ Spread the rumour that the dogs have rabies. Put false foam on their snouts. $\endgroup$
    – RedSonja
    Commented Aug 2, 2017 at 14:17

It is impossible to steal something from a given warehouse if the thing is not in the given warehouse.

If the owner is worried about theft at one particular time, he can quietly switch his wares with those of the owner of the warehouse next door, who is a purveyor of fine dungs. The guards and the police are not told of this switch, which is done with much cup-game style comings and goings of boxed goods. In fact much ado is made of heightened security, reinforcing the doors, and so on.

Your thief will by cunning and skill gain entry to the warehouse undetected, exiting through an escape tunnel bored in advance. He will find that he has made off with an urn of dung. The owner will need to reimburse his neighbor for the loss of his dung.

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    $\begingroup$ But why would one store dung in an urn? $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 2, 2017 at 6:54
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    $\begingroup$ Don't ask... Really. $\endgroup$
    – Sarkouille
    Commented Aug 2, 2017 at 9:04
  • $\begingroup$ @SebastianLenartowicz As a security measure, read the thread :P $\endgroup$
    – SPavel
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 2:50
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    $\begingroup$ Ok so thats how to prevent an attack one is aware of by simply obscure the security and simply not use the warehouse.... assumptions. OP asks how to best possible secure the ware house. Simply using another place and not securing it best possible is out of scope. Sorry but I will -1 this, since Securing it the best possible and simply not securing it if goods are in danger are opposite things. $\endgroup$
    – Zaibis
    Commented Aug 3, 2017 at 10:56

Minor points to guards

  1. Pay your guards very well, so much so that significant bribes are insufficient to make them risk a long and valuable income stream as their regular job.

  2. Make the guards a corps, rather than just employment.

  3. Care for your guards - feed them, arm/equip them well with current arms and armour.

  4. Care for their families - any guard injured or killed and their spouse is covered for life, and children till age of maturity.

All this engenders a loyalty amongst the guards who will then put in th extra effort. Compare this with mall renta-cops who don't really care once they clock-out.

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    $\begingroup$ Very good points, especially about caring for the family of the injured or fallen guards. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 2, 2017 at 16:00

Other answers have covered the physical aspects of security, but how about it from the intellectual side?

In every large warehouse, you not only need to know what is there, but where it is. Even back then, manifests were used in the shipping industries.

So here is what you can do to further befuddle potential thieves:

First, require everything to come in to your warehouse in generic, standard sized crates. Number the crates and reuse them. The people who crate the stuff have no communication with the guys who put the crates away in the warehouse. This will make it hard for a thief to attempt to control where, exactly, the goodies are going to be.

Next, Once the crate is put away, number and location are recorded. That way you can track where a crate is in the warehouse and retrieve it when you need to.

Now, for the clever bit. Encrypt the manifests, (retain the original inside each crate). The encrypted manifest is kept in the office (preferably offsite). Using another, different, encryption cipher, encrypt the record of which manifest is associated with which crate. Finally, a third cipher to encrypt the records of which crate is in what location in the warehouse. At the end of the day, destroy any un-encrypted information on crate location, by fire.

So if a thief wants the goodies, before he even contemplates physical access to the building, He has to solve the manifest cipher and locate the right one. Then he has to solve the crate cipher. Then he has to solve the location cipher. That is 3 difficult challenges, each of which can take days. If you are really paranoid, keep the encrypted manifests in one location, the crate records in another and so on, forcing the thief to make 3 break ins before he even gets to the warehouse.

Of course you are talking about 16th century, so it's not perfect. It should be hard enough so that only the really, really determined would even try. Even they might look at the problem and decide to find an easier mark.

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    $\begingroup$ We are talking 16th century. Simply writing the manifest would count as an effective encryption as most thieves at that time would not be able to read. $\endgroup$
    – Tom
    Commented Aug 2, 2017 at 12:31
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    $\begingroup$ @Tom quite true, but I have been horribly spoiled by a plethora of fantasy novels where the organized thieves are far more educated than we would give them credit for. $\endgroup$
    – Paul TIKI
    Commented Aug 2, 2017 at 13:35
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    $\begingroup$ I can solve any encryption issue with a length of pipe: just have to threaten the right guy. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 2, 2017 at 14:48
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    $\begingroup$ @PaulTIKI, they had clocks, gears, and locks. While such a contraption would look rather steampunkish, I don't see why it couldn't be built. $\endgroup$ Commented Aug 2, 2017 at 17:45
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    $\begingroup$ @AndrewNeely that creates some mental images that are all kinds of cool $\endgroup$
    – Paul TIKI
    Commented Aug 2, 2017 at 18:49

No goods on the ground floor.

If you can make it a multi-level warehouse, you could have the ground floor devoted entirely to security. With no stairs (ladders for people, a winch for crates/barrels only) to upper levels, thieves would be hard pressed to get in and get out with an appreciable amount of goods, any attempt to steal an entire crate or barrel would require the use of a winch, which would be difficult to do in silence and secrecy. Obviously, stone is the building material of choice here as this is not a particularly fire-safe design.

  • $\begingroup$ He stated in the question he wanted to avoid losing too much space for storage. This would likely lose you a lot of space. $\endgroup$
    – P.Lord
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 13:27

In addition to physical security you have to consider your staff (the ones who carry the goods around -- you will need them). Does the owner personally check all employees leaving the warehouse? That might put a dent in time avaiable for other business activities. Or do the guards check? Collusion could easily lead to inside jobs being possible, and rewarding the guards for reporting suspicions about the other staff could lead to false reports if they want extra money and general bad feeling between the guards and the staff. That's not good if you want your staff to report attempts to bribe/force them to steal. And there's always blackmail -- however well paid, find an employee with a dirty secret and they're yours.

It's possible that the guards are also the storekeepers, but being able to carry crates/roll barrels would restrict the weapons they could carry.

So trusted supervision of staff is necessary too

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    $\begingroup$ In the 1500s European society, no need to find someone with a dirty secret. Just scream WITCH! at the top of your lungs and watch what happens. If you can't call the target person a witch for whatever reason, do it with a close relative of theirs. $\endgroup$
    – user
    Commented Aug 2, 2017 at 8:28
  • $\begingroup$ @MichaelKjörling this is effectively making up a dirty secret in a particular context, which could work well. I didn't want to assume C16th Christian culture though. There will be an equivalent in most cultures, a breach of religious or sexual norms that could be vouched for by corrupt witnesses. $\endgroup$
    – Chris H
    Commented Aug 2, 2017 at 8:35
  • $\begingroup$ You are forgetting that in almost all societies the poor were seen as liars and a thief would be poorer than a guard. Likely even if they actually had a dirty secret no one would believe them. $\endgroup$
    – P.Lord
    Commented Jul 5, 2018 at 13:30

There are already good points made on the guards and their treatment.

But the architecture of the ware house can by made more secure:

No entry to the stored goods (neither for people nor for goods) on the ground floor

All goods are brought in and out via a crane and the opening window for the goods is on the first floor or higher. People must climb up a ladder (which is removed at night) to enter the warehouse. The guard may have a special guard house or guard room with no direct connection to the storage room.


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