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

Monday, January 19, 2015

Kaninë Castle, Albania - Roman and Byzantine Fortress

Kanine Castle is near the Bay of Vlorë, an inlet on the Adriatic Sea.

For the generals and Emperor in Constantinople, just waking up in the morning must have been a nightmare.

Trying to defend the Eastern Roman Empire must have been a frightening job.  The borders were unbelievable long stretching from Morocco and Spain to the Alps to the Danube out to the Crimean Peninsula to the Caucasus Mountains, Mesopotamia down to Egypt and the Sahara.  It was not unusual for the Roman military to be fighting wars on three continents at the same time.

The frontiers of the Empire would have been dotted by an endless series of major and minor fortifications.

The manpower required to staff all of these posts stretched the army to a breaking point.

Kanine Castle

While browsing the net I accidentally ran across Kanine.

There is absolutely no reason to feature this castle.  It is like a joke historical marker that says, "Nothing happened on this spot."  But I like a challenge.

The Empire was dotted with endless anonymous outposts.  Officers and troopers were assigned the thankless tasks of keeping order at remote locations far from any real civilization.

Kanine would have been one of those remote posts.  Until the Norman invasions in the 11th and 12th centuries not too much happened in the province.  All the barbarian invasion action would have been further east on the Danube River frontier.

Still, the fort would have been important for keeping order among the local population and defend the coast from any raids by pirates.

The Castle of Kanine was located in the Theme of Dyrrhachium.  This was a Byzantine military-civilian province (theme) located in modern Albania, covering the Adriatic coast of the country. It was established in the early 9th century and named after its capital, Dyrrhachium.


The castle is believed to have been erected in the 3rd century B.C. In the 4th century B.C. the castle was transformed into a fortress town.  It would have served as a military post for both a united Roman Empire as well as for the Eastern Empire.

Kanine Castle was built in the village with the same name which is about 6 km from Vlorë. The castle rises on the side of the Shushica Mountain, about 380 meters above the sea level. The castle was built on the site of an ancient settlement, one of the oldest in the Vlorë region. 

Vlorë is one of the oldest cities of Albania. It was founded by Ancient Greeks in the 6th century BC and named Aulōn, one of several colonies on the Illyrian coast, mentioned for the first time by Ptolemy (Geographia, III, xii, 2). Other geographical documents, such as Peutinger's "Tabula" and the "Synecdemus" of Hierocles, also mention it. The city was an important port of the Roman Empire, when it was part of Epirus Nova.

It became an episcopal see in the 5th century. Among the known bishops are Nazarius, in 458, and Soter, in 553 (Daniele FarlatiIllyricum sacrum, VII, 397–401). The diocese at that time belonged to the Patriarchate of Rome.

In the 6th century A.D. the castle was reconstructed by Justinian I as part of his program to beef up the Balkan fortifications of the Empire. 

In 733 it was annexed, with all eastern Illyricum, to the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople, and yet it is not mentioned in any Notitiae episcopatuum of that Church. The bishopric had probably been suppressed, for, though the Bulgarians had been in possession of this country for some time, Avlona is not mentioned in the "Notitiae episcopatuum" of the Patriarchate of Achrida

During the Latin domination, a Latin see was established. Several of the Latin bishops mentioned by Le Quien (Oriens christianus, III, 855-8), and whom Eubel mentions under the See of Valanea in Syria, belong either to Aulon in Greece or to this Aulon in Albania (Vlorë).

Norman Infantry
The Normans and the Romans fought against each other for
the control of Italy and the Balkans.
Battle of Dyrrhachium
Catepanate of Italy

Vlorë played a central role in the conflicts between the Norman Kingdom of Sicily and the Byzantine Empire during the 11th and 12th centuries.

The castle was the center of the Principality of Valona in the 14th century.

The Principality of Valona, on the coast of modern Albania, had been fought over repeatedly between the Byzantines and various Italian powers in the 13th century. Finally conquered by Byzantium in ca. 1290, it was one of the chief imperial holdings in the Balkans. 

Byzantine rule lasted until the 1340s, when the Serbian ruler Stefan Dušan, taking advantage of a Byzantine civil war, took Albania. 

"Upon the death of the young Andronikos [III], the worst civil war that the Romans had ever known broke out. It was a war that led to almost total destruction, reducing the great Empire of the Romans to a feeble shadow of its former self."  --- Memoirs of John Kantakouzenos, Book III.

Valona fell in late 1345 or early 1346, and Dušan placed his brother-in-law, John Asen, brother of the Bulgarian Tsar Ivan Alexander, in charge of Valona as his capital, and with Kanina and Berat as his main fortresses.

The civil war proved a critical turning point in the history of the Byzantine Empire.  After the end of the second civil war, Byzantium was an empire in name only.

Kaninë Castle, Albania

Kanine Castle, Albania

Defending The Roman Balkans
  • The Castle of Kanine was one of the many fortifications built or re-built by the Emperor Justinian (r. 527 - 565) to protect the Roman peoples of the Balkans from barbarian invasions.  Below are a few selections by the historian Procopius about the fortification project.

By Procopius of Caesarea
The Buildings of Justinian

For it has as neighbours nations of Huns and of Goths, and the regions of Taurus and of Scythia rise up again it, as well as the haunts of the Sclaveni and of sundry other tribes — whether they are called by the writers of the most ancient history Hamaxibian or Metanastic Sauromatae, and whatever other wild race of men really either roams about or leads a settled life in that region. 

And in his determination to resist these barbarians who were endlessly making war, the Emperor Justinian, who did not take the matter lightly, was obliged to throw innumerable fortresses about the country, to assign to them untold garrisons of troops, and to set up all other possible obstacles to an enemy who attacked without warning and who permitted no intercourse.  
Emperor Justinian I

Indeed it was the custom of these peoples to rise and make war upon their enemies for no particular cause, and to open hostilities without sending an embassy, and they did not bring their struggles to an end through any treaty or cease operations for any specified 
period, but they made their attacks without provocation and reached a decision by the sword alone. 

. . . . .Thrace and especially all the suburbs of Byzantium.  The people there build and adorn their suburbs, not only to meet the actual needs of life, but they display an insolent and boundless luxury and all the other vices that the power of wealth brings 
when it comes to men.  And they accumulate much furniture in their houses and make it a point to keep costly objects in them. Thus, when it comes about that any of the enemy overrun the land of the Romans suddenly, the damage caused there is much greater than in other places, and the region is then overwhelmed with irreparable calamities.  

The Emperor Anastasius had determined to put a stop to this and so built long walls at a distance of not less than forty miles from Byzantium, uniting the two shores of the sea on a line where they are separated by about a two-days' journey.  By this means he thought that everything inside was placed in security. But in fact this was the cause of greater calamities. For neither was it possible to make safe a structure of such great length nor could it be guarded rigorously.  And whenever the enemy descended on any portion of these long walls, they both overpowered all the guards with no difficulty, and falling unexpectedly upon the other people they inflicted loss not easy to describe.

But the Emperor rebuilt those portions of these walls which had suffered, and making the weak parts very strong for the sake of the guards, he added the following devices.  He blocked up all the exits from each tower leading to those adjoining it; and he built from the ground up a single ascent inside each individual tower, which the guards there can close in case of emergency and scorn the enemy if they have penetrated inside the circuit-wall, since each tower by itself was sufficient to ensure safety for its guards. Also inside these walls he diligently made provision for safety, not only doing what has just been mentioned, but also restoring all the parts of the circuit-wall of the city of Selymbria which happened to have been damaged.  These things then were done by the Emperor Justinian at the long walls.

(Procopius - Buildings)

The Roman Empire in 1340
The civil war of 1341 proved a critical turning point in the history of the Byzantine Empire.  After the end of the second civil war, Byzantium was an empire in name only.

(Vlorë, Albania)      (Kanine Castle)      (Principality of Valona)

(Civil war of 1341)      (Dyrrhachium Theme)   


Anonymous said...

That image of Justinian gives me nightmares. Looks AI-generated.

Gary said...

Badly done too