Dedicated to the military history and civilization of the Eastern Roman Empire (330 to 1453)

"Time in its irresistible and ceaseless flow carries along on its flood all created things and drowns them in the depths of obscurity."

- - - - Princess Anna Comnena (1083–1153) - Byzantine historian

Friday, May 10, 2013

Byzantine Castle of Sant'Aniceto and the Theme of Calabria

The Castle of Sant'Aniceto (also San Niceto) is an Eastern Roman Empire castle built in the early 11th century on a hill in Motta San Giovanni, now in the province of Reggio Calabria, southern Italy.

It is one of the few examples of High Middle Ages architecture in Calabria, as well as one of the few well-preserved Byzantine fortifications in the world. The name derives from that of St. Nicetas, a Eastern Roman admiral who lived in the 7th-8th centuries.

The castle is one of the few Byzantine fortifications subjected to the work of restoration and recovery.

The castle has an irregular shape, which resembles the shape of a ship with the bow facing the mountain and the stern to the sea.

Near the entrance are visible and two square towers at the foot of a short climb which connects it with the plain below there is a church equipped with a painted dome with a painting of Christ Pantocrator , subject typical of Byzantine art.

The walls have a height varying from 3 to 3.5 meters , a thickness of about one meter and are still in excellent condition. The construction materials used are mostly made ​​of stone square, brick and mortar.

Theme of Calabria
Theme of the Byzantine Empire
ca. 950 AD
Capital  Rhegion (Reggio Calabria)

Following the Muslim conquest of Sicily, from 902 the Theme of Sicily was limited to Calabria, but retained its original name until the middle of the 10th century.  The Castle of Sant'Aniceto would have been the principal Roman fortification of the theme against Arab attacks from Sicily.
The themes or themata were the main administrative divisions of the middle Byzantine Empire. They were established in the mid-7th century in the aftermath of the Muslim conquests of Byzantine territory and replaced the earlier provincial system established by emperors Diocletian and Constantine the Great.

In their origin, the first themes were created from the areas of encampment of the field armies of the East Roman Army, and their names corresponded to the military units they had resulted from. The theme system reached its apogee in the 9th and 10th centuries, as older themes were split up and the conquest of territory resulted in the creation of new ones. The original theme system underwent significant changes in the 11th and 12th centuries, but the term remained in use as a provincial and financial circumscription, until the very end of the Empire.

Arab Pirates
For centuries the Eastern Roman Empire was subjected to an endless series of invasions and raids from Muslim forces in the Middle East and North Africa.  The Castle of Sant'Aniceto was one of many fortifications used to ward off attacks by Muslims looking for gold, slaves or conquest.


The castle was built as a refuge and a warning place during a period in which the ravages of Muslim Saracen pirates on the Calabrian and Sicilian coasts were frequent. When the Normans conquered southern Italy, the structure was enlarged, with the addition of rectangular towers.

The Muslim conquest of Byzantine Italy began began with their first settlement in Mazara, which was occupied in 827.  The Arab-Byzantine war over Sicily lasted until 902, when the last major Byzantine stronghold on the island, Taormina, fell.  Isolated fortresses remained in Byzantine hands for a time.

The Emirate of Sicily lasted from 965 until 1061.  It was during the early 1000s that the Castle of Sant'Aniceto was built.  It was part of the defensive system of the Eastern Roman Empire against constent raids or invasions of Muslims from both Sicily and North Africa.

Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus

The Fatimid Caliph Ismail al-Mansur named Hassan al-Kalbi as emir of the island. As his charge soon became hereditary, his emirate became de facto independent from the African government.

In 950, Hassan waged war against the Byzantines in southern Italy, reaching up to Gerace and Cassano allo Ionio. A second Calabrian campaign in 952 resulted in the defeat of the Byzantine army; Gerace was again besieged, but in the end Emperor Constantine VII was forced to accept having the Calabrian cities pay a tribute to Sicily.

In 956, the Byzantines reconquered Reggio and invaded Sicily. A truce was signed in 960. Two years later a revolt in Taormina was bloodily suppressed, but the heroic resistance of the Christians in Rometta led the new Emperor Nikephoros II Phokas to send an army of 40,000 Armenians, Thracians and Slavs under his nephew Manuel who captured Messina in October 964.

On 25 October, a fierce battle between the Byzantines and the Kalbids resulted in a defeat for the former. Manuel, along with 10,000 of his men, was killed in the fray.

The new Emir Abu al-Qasim (964–982) launched a series of attacks against Calabria in the 970s while the fleet under his brother attacked the Adriatic coasts of Apulia, capturing some strongholds.

As the Byzantines were busy against the Fatimids in Syria and the Bulgars in Macedon, the German Emperor Otto II decided to intervene, and the allied German-Lombard army was defeated in 982 at the Battle of Stilo. However, as al-Qasim himself had been killed, his son Jabir al-Kalbi prudently retreated to Sicily without exploiting the victory.

11th Century Muslim Soldiers
North Africa and Sicily 
Byzantine Infantry, 11th Century
Stratēlatai Tagma & Varangian Gaurd Tagma, re-created military units.  The Eastern Roman forces fought a 75 year long war with Muslims for the control of the island of Sicily.
With the support of the Fatimids, al-Akhal defeated two Byzantine expeditions in 1026 and 1031. His attempt to raise a heavy tax to pay his mercenaries caused a civil war. Al-Akhal asked the Byzantines for support while his brother abu-Hafs, leader of the rebels, received troops from the Zirid Emir of Ifriqiya, al-Muizz ibn Badis, which were commanded by his son Abdallah.

In 1038, a Byzantine army under George Maniaces crossed the strait of Messina. This included a corps of Normans which saved the situation in the first clash against the Muslims from Messina. After another decisive victory in the summer of 1040, Maniaces halted his march to lay siege to Syracuse. Despite his conquest of the latter, Maniaces was removed from his position, and the subsequent Muslim counter-offensive reconquered all the cities captured by the Byzantines.

The Norman Robert Guiscard, son of Tancred, invaded Sicily in 1060. The island was split between three Arab emirs, and the sizable Christian population rose up against the ruling Muslims. After taking Apulia and Calabria, Roger I occupied Messina with an army of 700 knights.

Emperor Nikephoros II Phokas
As a general and later as Emperor he
organized campaigns in Sicily, the
Saracen Emirate of Crete, Mesopotamia,
Syria, Cyprus and Bulgaria.

In 1068, Roger de Hauteville and his men defeated the Muslims at Misilmeri but the most crucial battle was the siege of Palermo, which led to Sicily being completely in Norman control by 1091. After the conquest of Sicily, the Normans removed the local emir.

By the 11th century Muslim power in the Mediterranean had begun to wane.

With the passage of Calabria under the rule of the Normans , who conquered the fortress around the year 1050 , this structure was renovated and expanded with the addition of some rectangular towers. From this time were written documents that give news.

During the thirteenth century the castle became the command center of the burgeoning feud Sant'Aniceto who in 1200 was plagued by wars between the Angevins and Aragonese who took turns on the territory of Reggio, and like many other areas of Calabria , passed in different hands; in 1321 it was handed over to the Angevins.

In 1434 the Holy Niceto became barony and dominates the territories of Motta San Giovanni and Montebello (a reference earlier Motta San Giovanni is located in a document of 1412 ).

With the passage of time Sant'Aniceto gradually lost power and came into conflict with the city of Reggio and for this reason it was destroyed in 1459 by the Duke Alfonso of Calabria . Sant'Aniceto then finally fell at the hands of Reggini supported by the Aragonese, the final winners of the age-old struggle against the Angevins.

In a document dated 1604 Holy Niceto is said to belong to the Barony of Motta San Giovanni .

Arab troops of the period.

The Byzantine Castle of Sant'Aniceto

Castle of Sant'Aniceto
Italy, Motta Sant'Aniceto, Reggio Calabria. The Byzantine castle of Motta Sant'Aniceto was built in the 11th century. In the background, the Etna volcano.  The Byzantine troops in the castle were looking directly at the now Muslim conquered island of Sicily.  The Arabs were constantly attacking Byzantine troops in southern Italy. 

Emirate of Sicily
Map of Italy on the eve of the arrival of the Normans. The area they eventually conquered included Sicily, and all the territory on the mainland south of the Holy Roman Empire (the bold line), as well as southern regions of the Papal States and the Duchy of Spoleto.
The Emirate of Sicily was an Islamic state on the island of Sicily, which existed from 831 to 1072. Its capital was Palermo.
Muslims, who first invaded in 652 AD, seized control of the entire island from the Byzantine Empire in a prolonged series of conflicts from 827 to 902. Despite the invaders' Arabic language and Islamic faith, an Arab-Byzantine culture developed, producing a multiconfessional and multilingual state. The Emirate was conquered by Christian Norman mercenaries under Roger I of Sicily who founded the County of Sicily in 1071.
The Sicilian Muslims remained citizens of the multi-ethnic County and subsequent Kingdom of Sicily until deportations in the 1240s. Their influence remains in elements of the Sicilian language.

Southern Italy in 1084 after the Eastern Romans were driven out of Italy.  The map shows the remains of the Kalbid emirate, then fought over by multiple claimants, on the eve of the final Norman conquest.

(Castle of Sant Aniceto)          (History of Islam in southern Italy)

(Muslim conquest of Sicily)          (Themes of the Byzantine Empire)


Richard said...

Greetings from Callatis, Scythia Minor.

Gary said...

Welcome. Great photo of yourself.