Medieval fortifications in Boeotia

1. Fortified towns and castles

Due to the fragmentary nature of the existing remains and the limited research related to the fortification and the town-planning of those Byzantine towns and settlements still laid over the location of ancient fortified cities, the picture we have is in a certain degree unclear. On certain occasions it seems that ancient cities were still inhabited during the Byzantine period, after repairs and reinforcements of ancient walls had taken place, whenever deemed necessary. Inside the precinct, as well outside of it, remains of habitation are located; churches lying in ruins, and on some occasions, during the Frankish occupation (1204-1460), we have the erection of a tower in the middle of the citadel. A central tower was erected in castles smaller in scale, built around the same time to control roads, like in the castle of Verva. In any case, repairing and completing already existing fortifications imposed limitations on medieval towns, concerning the size, the place of towers, gates and so forth.

At Thebes, it is believed that the fortified core of the town during the Byzantine period was still the Kadmeia. The town, however, seems to have expanded during the 11th-12th century.

Recent excavations revealed many parts of the medieval fortification at the edge of the hill of Kadmeia, which can be dated to the period of the Frankish occupation, and which runs over previous fortifications. The fact that almost no part of the ancient or Byzantine fortification is anymore visible, besides the “Frankish” tower (fig. 1) to the north and another tower to the south of Kadmeia (tower inside the Ktistakis property), must be attributed to the reuse of their building material. The location of the towers of the medieval fortification of Kadmeia corresponds to that of the ancient city gates.

The so-called “Frankish” tower (also known as the Saint Omer tower) is rectangular in shape, with dimensions of 13,60 Χ 16 m. Its height is 12 m. and the wall thickness is 3 m. There are two rectangular vaulted chambers on the ground floor (fig. 2). Today it is surrounded by the courtyard of the Archaeological Museum of Thebes. It was part of the castle of Kadmeia, which according to the Chronicle of Moreas was built by Nicolas II de Saint Omer after 1287. A little south at Kamdeia, excavations brought to light parts of the lord’s palace, destroyed by the Catalans probably in 1331 and which is known to have bore wall painting decoration with battles of the Crusaders in Syria and depictions of castles in Syria and Palestine.

The castle of Livadeia still dominates over the town. A building phase of the older fortification from the Justinianic age (6th c.) has been located on the lower part of the castle’s northeastern tower, while in the Middle Byzantine period are dated parts of the outer precinct of the castle and some repairs of the aforementioned tower. This period’s wall masonry consists of rubble stone and pieces of brick stone reinforced with timber frames. The walls protected the fortified town, outside of which an unfortified suburb was developed.

Livadeia (fig. 3) rose in prominence during the period of the Catalan occupation (1311-1388). A large part of the fortification belongs to this period. Both fortified precincts were erected then, reinforced with towers and ramparts, a stronghold with a nearby building complex-governor’s residence, as well the walls on the top of the hill.

Among those towns where repairs of ancient walls are attested (and occasionally an extra-muros expansion) are Chaeronea, Amvrossos (mod. Distomo), Thespiai (renamed Erimokastro in the Byzantine period), and its seaport Siphai (mod. Alyke), Plataea, Steiri and Antikyra. The latter expanded during the Early Christian period outside of its Hellenistic fortifications, and in relation to which, for the protection of the homonymous bay, were erected the castle of Vourlias and a fortified settlement in the Mounta peninsula, at the other side of the bay. Traces of habitation and fortifications have been located on the islands of the bay of Antikyra, Daskaleio and Tsarouchi, while similar remains of fortifications of the Early Christian - Early Byzantine period exist on the island of Kouveli, at the bay of Dombraina.

Often a tower is raised between the habitation area and the settlement’s churches, thus becoming as fortified as castle, while lying on major locations. This happened in the case of Davleia for example, which acquired special importance during the period of the Catalan occupation, at Eutresis, at Panakto, and perhaps at Koroneia. Similar planning is attested at Ypsilanti, where remains of a precinct are also traced, surrounding houses and a small church, and at Arma (former Spachides), on the top of the hill of Dritsa and on the location of an ancient town, where remains of a ruined castle are traced probably from the period of the Frankish occupation: at the foothill are lying the remains of walls and on the top those of a tower.

During the Catalan occupation, on the location of ancient Akraiphnion of Karditsa (La Cardaniça), the land belonging to the Puigpardines family was reported to have been organized according to the feudal system, but no remains of the castle survive. In the area of modern-day Neochorion of Thespiai, near Thebes, lay Neopleu’s fief with its castle, granted by Friedrick III to the Franciscan priest Locansa in 1367.

On the top of the hill of the monastery of Hosios Loukas there was a castle, probably of medieval times, which was built on the location of a previous fortification. The four sides of the walls survive, the masonry of which includes lime mortar and brick stones.

To the west of the point of junction between the new road to Delphi and the road to Distomo the remains of the castle-stronghold of Verva still stand, probably belonging to the period of the Catalan occupation. They preserve the remains of a fortification with a square watch tower in the middle and remains of retaining walls all over the slope. The fortification entrance was on the west side. The existing remains remind us of the castle on the hill of Hosios Loukas. Finally, remains of a medieval fortification precinct, namely of the castle of Korynos, of maximum dimensions 90 Χ 50 m., lay 3 kilometers south of the village Prasino.

2. Towers

As it becomes apparent from figure 4, in Boeotia, as well as in other regions of continental Greece, a network of fortified towers was developed during the period of the Frankish occupation, surviving up to a great height (14-15 m) on certain occasions (tower of Aliartos, Livadostras/Riva d’ostria, Ypsilanti or Petra). The towers could have more than one level (tower of Ypsilanti, Livadostras, Davleia etc.) and an entrance on the first level or even higher, or could have only a ground and a first floor with the entrance at the ground floor. In general, their dimensions are similar and their wall-masonry is remarkably alike (fig. 5), while the exterior decoration as well as other building elements in general are absent. All these make the precise dating of their erection very difficult. For example, only the tower of Tanagra preserves remains of a pointed-arched window. Occasionally, existing ancient towers were completed and reused during the Frankish period (tower at Thisvi and Chaeronea), as it is clear from the differences on their wall-masonry. In general, because towers did not have a drainage system, it is assumed that they were not designed to withhold long-lasting attacks.

Towers could serve multiple functions and all of them did not play the same role. The towers stood: a) by main roads, watching over the area, like at Thourio, b) by the sea, at major ports, such as at Antikyra or Livadostra, c) by the lake shore, such as the towers at Ylike and Paralimni, and d) incorporated within the network of small settlements-villages, at Kaparelli/Melissochori. As far as the latter type of towers is concerned, P. Lock and J. Bintliff believe that these towers were the houses of lower-class Frankish feudal lords and their location must be connected with the position of their land estates and depended villages which provided them with revenues, rather than for the communication or the combined defense of the territory. Actually, the choice of the best and most fortified location for the erection of a tower could lead to the transfer of the depended settlement as in the case of Askri-Zaratova.

Four known towers are today destroyed; the towers at the citadel of Gla, Hagia Marina, Schematari (destroyed during the Second World War) and Antikyra (destroyed in the 1960s during the construction of the ΠΕΣΙΝΕ factory). The tower at Ylike was covered by water after the drying of Lake Kopaïs and the diverting of the waters of Ylike lake at the end of the 19th century. Its upper part is visible on the west end of the “Klimataria” peninsula, when the water-level falls.

The cases of towers that incorporated Byzantine churches are interesting; the tower of Hagios Thomas at the homonymous village, incorporating a 12th-century church and the cross-shaped tower in the dependency of Hosios Loukas at Antikyra, incorporating an 11th-century two-storied church and was linked with the collection of custom-duties during the 14th century.

3. Fortified monasteries

Special mention must be made on the fortification of important monasteries in Boeotia; of Hosios Loukas and Sagmata. The monasteries, built in mountainous, isolated places are protected by a precinct, with cells and other auxiliary facilities attached to it. The surviving walls of these monasteries contain elements of a Middle Byzantine fortification system, such as the trapezoid ground-plan, the arrangement of passages at the entrances and the reinforcement of the defensive ability of the complex with towers.