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

Thursday, April 26, 2012

The Byzantine Fortress of Boreum (Bu Grada)

The frontier town and fortress of Boreum

Boreum:  A Byzantine fortress in modern Libya, now called Bu Grada.

As a frontier town, Boreum was mentioned by Ptolemy of Alexandria about 130 A.D. 

But in looking at the stunningly remote location, any commander assigned to this post must have been a major screw up.  The military post of Boreum was about as far from anything that resembled civilization as you could find under either Rome or Byzantium.

In the fifth century, the new tribal federation of the Laguatan threatened Roman Cyrenaica. Texts like Epistle 73 by Synesius of Cyrene, written in 409, describe the problems of the inhabitants, who felt abandoned by the central government. It is not entirely clear how far the invaders actually got, but the crisis was severe. Cyrene, for instance, was abandoned.

More than a century later, in the 530s, the Byzantine Emperor Justinian (527-565), sent garrisons to Paraetonium (modern Marsa Matruh) and Antipyrgon (Tobruk).This reorganization is known as the Ananeosis. He also fortified Ptolemais, Taucheira/Arsinoe, Berenice/Euesperides (modern Benghazi), two monasteries, and a place called Boreion or Boreum, which has been identified by R.G. Goodchild -using aerial photography - with a promontory northeast of modern Marsa al-Brayqah.

Religion  -  The Emperor Justinian converted the local Jewish population to Christianity (by force no doubt) and transformed their synagogue into a church.  The local tradition was the synagogue had been built by Solomon himself.

The historian Procopius says the local population right up to the time of Justinian were Pagan and made sacrifices to the Gods.  There were local shrines with large numbers of temple-slaves dedicated to Ammon and to Alexander the Macedonian.  Justinian converted them to Christianity, also by force.

Language  -  Procopius reports that civil servants from Libya who were promoted to posts in Constantinople had problems communicating with government staff.  They spoke only Latin and did not speak Greek.

The southern harbor; citadel to the right

By Procopius of Caesarea  (AD 500 – c. AD 565)

The Nile River, flowing out of India into Egypt, divides that land into two parts as far as the sea. The land, thus divided by the stream, is thenceforth designated by two separate names: the region on the right of the river is called Asia as far as Colchian Phasis, which divides Asia from the continent of Europe, or even all the way to the Cimmerian Strait and the River Tanaïs. In regard to this question those who are learned in these matters are in conflict with one another, as has been made clear in the Books on the Wars in the course of my description of the sea called Euxine.  And the land on the left of the Nile bears the name of Libya as far as the Ocean, which on the west marks the boundary between the two continents by sending out a certain arm which opens out into this sea of ours.  All the rest of Libya has received several different names, each region being designated, presumably, by the name of the people who dwell there.  However, the territory extending from the confines of Alexandria as far as the cities of Cyrenê, comprising the Pentapolis, is now the only region which is called by the name of Libya.  In that territory is a city one day's journey distant from Alexandria, Taphosiris by name, where they say that the god of the Egyptians, Osiris, was buried.  In this city the Emperor Justinian built many things, and in particular the residences of the magistrates and baths.

Remains of a building

The greatest part of this land of Libya chances to have been desert, which was in general neglected.  Yet our Emperor takes thought for this land also with watchful care, so that it might not have the ill fortune to suffer anything from inroads of the Moors who inhabit the adjoining country; and to this end he established there two strongholds with garrisons, one of which they call Paratonium, while the other, which lies not far from the Pentapolis, has received the name Antipyrgum. And the Pentapolis is removed from Alexandria by a twenty days' journey for an unencumbered traveler.   In this region of Pentapolis the Emperor Justinian surrounded the city of Teuchira with very strong fortifications.  The circuit-wall of Bernicê he rebuilt from its lowest foundations.  In that city he also built a bath for the use of the people.  Furthermore, on the extreme boundary of the Pentapolis which faces the south, he constructed fortresses in two monasteries which bear the names Agriolodê and Dinarthisum; and these stand as bulwarks against the barbarians of that region, so that they may not come down stealthily into Roman territory and suddenly fall upon it.

Remains of a pier in the southern harbor

There is a certain city there, Ptolemaïs by name, which in ancient times had been prosperous and populous, but as time went on it had come to be almost deserted owing to extreme scarcity of water.  For the great majority of the population, driven by thirst, had moved from there long ago and gone wherever each one could.  Now, however, this Emperor has restored the city's aqueduct and thus brought back to it its former measure of prosperity. The last city of Pentapolis towards the west is named Boreium. Here the mountains press close upon one another, and thus forming a barrier by their crowding, effectively close the entrance to the enemy.  This city, which had been without a wall, the Emperor enclosed with very strong defences, thus making it as safe as possible for the future, together with the whole country round about it.

Remains of a cistern

And there are two cities which are known by the same name, each of them being called Augila.  These are distant from Boreium about four days' journey for an unencumbered traveler, and to the south of it; and they are both ancient cities whose inhabitants have preserved the practices of antiquity, for they all were suffering from the disease of polytheism even up to my day.  There from ancient times there have been shrines dedicated to Ammon and to Alexander the Macedonian. The natives actually used to make sacrifices to them even up to the reign of Justinian.  In this place there was a great throng of those called temple-slaves. But now the Emperor has made provision, not alone for the safety of the persons of his subjects, but he has also made it his concern to save their souls, be thus he has cared in every way for the people living there. Indeed he by no means neglected to take thought for their material interests in an exceptional way, and also he has taught them the doctrine of the true faith, making the whole population Christians and bringing about a transformation of their polluted ancestral customs.  Moreover he built for them a Church of the Mother of God to be a guardian of the safety of the cities and of the true faith. So much, then, for this.

The eastern harbor

The city of Boreium, which lies near the barbarian Moors, has never been subject to tribute up to the present time, nor have any collectors of tribute or taxes come to it since the creation of man.  The Jews had lived close by from ancient times, and they had an ancient temple there also, which they revered and honoured especially, since it was built, as they say, by Solomon, while he was ruling over the Hebrew nation.  

But the Emperor Justinian brought it about that all these too changed their ancestral worship and have become Christians, and he transformed their temple into a church.

The southern moat

Beyond these lie the Great Syrtes, as they are called. And I shall explain what their form is and why they are given this name.  A sort of shore projects there, but is itself divided by the influx of the sea, and being hidden by the water it seems to disappear and to retreat back into itself; and it forms by its curve a very long crescent-shaped gulf. The chord of the crescent extends to a distance of four hundred stades, but the perimeter of the crescent amounts to a six-days' journey, for the sea, thrusting itself inside of this arm of the mainland, forms the gulf.  When a ship driven by the wind or wave gets inside the opening and beyond the chord of the crescent, it is then impossible for it to return, but from that moment it seems "to be drawn" (suresthai) and appears distinctly to be dragged steadily forward. 
Tunnel between the eastern harbor and the citadel

From this fact, I suppose, the men of ancient times named the place Syrtes because of the fate of the ships.  On the other hand, it is not possible for the ships to make their way to the shore, for submerged rocks scattered over the greater part of the gulf do not permit sailing there, since they destroy the ships in the shoals.  Only in small boats are the sailors of such ships able to save themselves, with good luck, by picking their way amid perils through the outlets.

(Procopius - Buildings)

(Livius - Boreum)

(Boreum of Cyrenaica)

Remains of rock chambers

No comments: