Post-classical history

Castles: Greece and Cyprus

For several reasons, crusader-period castles built by Latin settlers in Greece and Cyprus tended to be simpler and to contain fewer defenses than did strongholds in Outremer. Many sites in the mountainous terrain of northern Cyprus and southern Greece could be defended without the kind of complex fortifications built by the Franks along the flat Levantine coastline. Virtually all strategic sites or settlements in Greece and Cyprus were already protected by Byzantine, Roman, or older defenses that did not require major alterations. Furthermore, when Western settlers did carry out improvements, they employed local Greek craftsmen who recycled stone, making it difficult to distinguish between older Byzantine and newer Frankish structures. In areas such as northern Greece, Frankish rule was short-lived, leaving little time or money for major new construction projects. Franks in Greece and Cyprus did not have the same financial resources as the major castle builders in the Holy Land, such as King Louis IX of France or the military orders. Warfare also tended to be simpler. Whereas some thirteenth-century Egyptian armies contained thousands of troops equipped with trebuchets and other siege weapons, late Byzantine armies usually only contained a few hundred men. This also applied to the Frankish states in Greece, where piracy and localized warfare accounted for most of the fighting. The physical isolation of Cyprus meant that it, too, experienced little major warfare, and it was only after 1291, when the fall of the Holy Land increased the risk of a Mamlūk invasion, that large new fortifications were constructed.

In northern Greece, these factors prevented the Franks from building any major fortifications on virgin sites. Instead they either garrisoned existing strongholds or repaired the ruins of older ones. The chronicler Henry of Valenciennes described how the Latin emperor Henry (d. 1216) rebuilt the ruined Byzantine fortress of Pamphilon to strengthen his grip on Thrace. However, the fact that no archaeological remains have ever been found of this or any other major Frankish building projects reflects the tenuous nature of Latin rule in northern Greece.

In southern and central Greece, the much longer period of Western settlement means that more Frankish fortifications have survived. Karytaina, located in the mountainous interior of the Peloponnese (then the Frankish principality of Achaia), is a typical example. Built on an outcrop 150 meters (492 ft.) high, its north, south, and west sides were so steep that they did not require complete circuit walls. On the gentler eastern slope a single gateway, protected by a barbican, led to an outer bailey, which gave access to the upper fortress. This was divided into two courtyards separated by some kind of square central keep. The presence in the keep of well-dressed classical stones, which were probably fashioned for use in an older structure, suggests that this was a pre-medieval site. However, according to the Chronicle of Morea, the key Western source for the period, the castle was effectively rebuilt by Frankish lords of Karytaina in the thirteenth century. Presumably they constructed the bulk of the defenses, which were completed using poor-quality, uncut stones sometimes no more than 90 centimeters (351/2 in.) thick.

The use of recycled masonry or poor-quality stones to create successive baileys around a summit occupied by an isolated keep was typical of medieval fortifications in this area. At most such sites, the Franks’ reliance on existing fortifications is more obvious than at Karytaina. At Kalamata, situated to the south, the outer circuit walls predate the thirteenth century, because the Franks had to besiege the fortress when they first arrived in 1205. However, the rectangular central keep appears to be a Frankish construction, one of several such structures apparently added by the Franks to larger fortresses or acropolis sites, including Corinth, Athens, Neopatras, and Mistra. Towers of this kind were common in the West and, being easy to construct and defend, were built by settlers throughout the eastern Mediterranean region. However, in Greece the practice of using recycled or poor-quality stone makes it difficult to date these structures accurately. For example, the medieval tower on the Akropolis in Athens was constructed out of marble slabs from surrounding classical structures. It seems that this tower was built by Western settlers, but it is not clear whether it should be attributed to the thirteenth-century Frankish rulers of Athens, to their fourteenth-century Catalan successors, or to the late fourteenth-century Florentine Acciaiuoli lords of the city. Indeed, perhaps the only datable Frankish castle in Greece was Chlemoutsi (Clermont), built in the northwestern Peloponnese by Prince William I of Achaia around 1223. Its construction is well documented because it was funded with revenues seized from local church lands, a windfall that meant that Chlemoutsi, a hexagonal citadel protected by a large outer bailey, was built to a much higher standard than any other local Frankish strongpoint.

Frankish settlers also constructed many towers situated in the countryside rather than within a larger castle or acropolis. The tower of Markopoulo, situated about 20 kilometers (121/2 mi.) southeast of Athens, is a well-preserved example. Markopoulo’s external measurements are 5.4 by 8.2 meters (171/2 by 27 ft.), and it still stands to its crenellated height of 18-20 meters (59-65 72 ft.). Internally there are three floors, and although there is a ground-floor entrance, many other such towers only had a door at the first-floor level. Towers like Markopoulo were constructed using the familiar combination of recycled and uncut stones. Few contained features like fireplaces or cisterns, and they were presumably heated using braziers. This has led to the suggestion that such towers were only intended as refuge sites or lookout posts. It has been argued that the numerous towers on the island of Negroponte (Euboea) could all communicate using fire signals, thus forming a Venetian early- warning system against Turks or pirates. However, recent research indicates that few of these towers could communicate in this way and that most were actually fortified farmsteads designed for permanent occupation and lordly display. Their generic appearance and constant use throughout (and beyond) the Middle Ages make it difficult to date the medieval towers of Greece. Those on Negroponte were probably constructed by fourteenth-century Lombard settlers. On Chios the Genoese built more sophisticated round towers into the sixteenth century. Mainland towers like the one at Markopoulo probably date from the thirteenth or fourteenth century.

Most urban fortifications held by the Franks in Greece were Byzantine and incorporated typically Greek features such as decorative brickwork and polygonal towers. Famous examples survive at Constantinople and Thessalonica, but they can also be seen at regional centers such as Spiga, a port in northern Asia Minor held by the Franks between 1204 and 1225. Spiga was protected by a Byzantine rampart flanked by a series of closely set pentagonal towers. Many fortifications of this kind were, again, constructed and repaired using poor-quality masonry, making it impossible to identify any Latin alterations. Instead modern historians must rely on written references to crusader repair work, such as Geoffrey of Villehardouin’s statement that in 1206-1207 Boniface of Montferrat, ruler of Thessaly, repaired the Byzantine walls of Serres in northern Greece. It seems that the only urban fortifications that the Franks built from scratch were those of Glarentza, a port in the northwestern Peloponnese established in the thirteenth century because of its convenient sea links with Italy. Gla- rentza’s defenses consisted of a single wall and ditch protecting the headland occupied by the town. The wall was approximately 2 meters (61/2 ft.) thick and pierced by at least two gateways, whose design was very simple compared with the complex entrances to Levantine cities such as Acre. This suggests that siege warfare in the Aegean region was often more primitive than in the Holy Land.

The fortifications of Frankish Greece shared many characteristics with those of Cyprus, whose physical isolation and Byzantine legacy meant that few new defenses were constructed there in the thirteenth century. In rugged northern Cyprus, the three Byzantine mountain castles of St. Hilarion (mod. Agios Ilarion), Buffavento (mod. Voufavento), and Kantara resembled strongholds like Karytaina. St. Hilarion was situated on a precipitous outcrop whose only vulnerable side, the southeast, was defended by three successive baileys. These defenses were essentially Byzantine, the most significant Frankish additions being later royal apartments. Outside the mountains, the only other substantial Byzantine stronghold on Cyprus was the citadel guarding the northern port of Kyrenia (mod. Keryneia). This castle consisted of a large, rectangular enclosure situated on a headland overlooking the port. On its landward side it was protected by an additional rampart flanked by typically Byzantine pentagonal salients. It was not substantially altered by the Franks before 1291.

Accounts of the invasion of Cyprus by King Richard I in 1191 in the course of the Third Crusade (1189-1192) suggest that the only other Byzantine castles on Cyprus were minor citadels at Limassol (mod. Lemesos), Paphos (mod. Pafos), Famagusta (mod. Ammochostos), and Nicosia (mod. Lefkosia). The archaeological evidence, along with an account by the German pilgrim Willbrand of Oldenburg (1212), indicates that during the first thirty years of Frankish rule these strongpoints were replaced by new towers of the type already mentioned in Greece. Their modest scale shows that thirteenth-century Cypriot warfare was limited to piracy, Greek rebellions, and relatively minor internecine conflicts. However, before its destruction in the earthquake of 1222, a larger Frankish castle, consisting of two concentric ramparts defending a square central courtyard, was built on a hilltop overlooking Paphos. The purpose of this stronghold remains unclear, but the fact that it was not reconstructed after 1222 suggests that it was built in connection with the Fifth Crusade (1217-1221), when Cyprus was used by crusaders fighting in Egypt and was targeted by a Muslim naval raid.

After 1291 fears of a Mamlûk invasion prompted a much larger building program. Famagusta’s isolated tower became one of four corner towers in a new, rectangular citadel, and a rampart was built around the city. Kyrenia’s Byzantine ramparts were strengthened with new defenses constructed out of ashlar masonry that was similar to that used in Outremer but far superior to what was normally used in Greece. Other features at Kyrenia, such as the complex new L-shaped gateway along the western front, confirm that this castle was improved against potential Mamlûk attacks involving counterweight trebuchets. However, no such attack ever came, and it was not until the Genoese invasion of 1373-1374 that building work increased dramatically. The Genoese managed to capture Famagusta through stealth, and then occupied Nicosia, where King Peter I (1359-1369) had built a new citadel, known as the Margarita Tower, but had not provided adequate urban defenses. After the Genoese withdrawal from Nicosia (1374), Peter II (1369-1382) and his successors completed these defenses and undertook other projects designed to keep the Genoese contained at Famagusta. James I (1398-1432) carried out repairs and alterations at Paphos, Nicosia, and Kantara and constructed the castle of Sigouri, a rectangular enclosure protected by a moat, on the plain opposite Famagusta. This proved a useful base for attacks on Famagusta, which was recaptured by Cypriot forces in 1464.

Many of these Greek and Cypriot fortifications no longer exist in their thirteenth- and fourteenth-century state because they were altered after the arrival of gunpowder. Some of the alterations were made by the Ottoman Turks, who controlled most of mainland Greece by 1500 and conquered Cyprus in 1571. However, many can be attributed to the Venetians, who held a number of Greek ports and islands after the Fourth Crusade (1202-1204), controlled Cyprus from 1489, and regained the Peloponnese between 1685 and 1715. On Cyprus the Venetians constructed eleven triangular artillery bastions forming a star around Nicosia. Similar bastions were added to Famagusta’s defenses, whereas other strongholds, such as Limassol and Kyrenia, had sloping embankments added to them to absorb the impact of cannon balls. Meanwhile, the mountain castles of St. Hilarion, Buffavento, and Kantara were demolished to prevent potential Ottoman invaders from using them. In Greece a similar process took place at sites like Modon and Coron, two heavily fortified ports in the southern Peloponnese. These sites were held by the Venetians from 1209 until 1500 and from 1685 until 1715. They had been fortified in some way since classical times, but their medieval defenses have mostly disappeared under much later earthworks and artillery emplacements.

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