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, September 17, 2015

Byzantine Petrelë Castle, Albania

Defending The Roman Balkans

Petrelë Castle is a castle in Petrelë, central Albania. Its history dates back to Justinian I.

The castle of Petrelë has a rich history, containing a tower which was built in the 6th century AD.

Roman Era

The lands comprising modern-day Albania were incorporated into the Roman Empire as part of the province of Illyricum above the river Drin, and Roman Macedonia (specifically as Epirus Nova) below it.

The western part of the Via Egnatia ran inside modern Albania, ending at Dyrrachium. Illyricum was later divided into the provinces of Dalmatia and Pannonia.

The Roman province of Illyricum or Illyris Romana or Illyris Barbara or Illyria Barbara replaced most of the region of Illyria. It stretched from the Drilon River in modern Albania to Istria (Croatia) in the west and to the Sava River (Bosnia and Herzegovina) in the north. Salona (near modern Split in Croatia) functioned as its capital. The regions which it included changed through the centuries though a great part of ancient Illyria remained part of Illyricum.

South Illyria became Epirus Nova, part of the Roman province of Macedonia. In 357 AD the region was part of the Praetorian prefecture of Illyricum one of four large praetorian prefectures into which the Late Roman Empire was divided.

By 395 AD dioceses in which the region was divided were the Diocese of Dacia (as Pravealitana), and the Diocese of Macedonia (as Epirus Nova). Most of the region of modern Albania corresponds to the Epirus Nova.

The Roman Empire and its administrative divisions, c. 395 AD.
The dark red line on the left is the border between the Eastern and Western Empires.
Petrelë Castle is located in the Roman province of Epirus Nova.

Byzantine Era

In the first decades under Byzantine rule (until 461), Epirus nova suffered the devastation of raids by VisigothsHuns, and Ostrogoths. In the 4th century barbarian tribes began to prey upon the Roman Empire. 

The Germanic Goths and Asiatic Huns were the first to arrive, invading in mid-century; the Avars attacked in 570; and the Slavic Serbs and Croats overran the region in the early 7th century. About fifty years later, the Bulgars conquered much of the Balkan Peninsula and extended their domain to the lowlands of what is now central Albania. In general, the invaders destroyed or weakened Roman and Byzantine cultural centers in the lands that would become Albania.

In the early 9th century, the Byzantine government established the theme of Dyrrhachium, based in the city of the same name and covering most of the coast, while the interior was left under Slavic and later Bulgarian control. Full Byzantine control over modern Albania was established only after the Byzantine conquest of Bulgaria in the early 11th century.
Emperor Justinian I

Towards the end of the 12th century, as Byzantine central authority weakened and rebellions and regionalist secessionism became more common, the region of Arbanon became an autonomous principality ruled by its own hereditary princes.

After the Fourth Crusade, the region came under the control of the Despotate of Epirus, but its control was never firm.  

The Byzantine administrative system of the themes, or military provinces, contributed to the eventual rise of feudalism in Albania, as peasant soldiers who served military lords became serfs on their landed estates.  The rulers of these themes were practically independent of Byzantium.

What is today Albania would remain largely part of Byzantine empire until the Byzantine civil war of 1341–1347, when it fell shortly to the hands of the Serbian ruler Stephen Dushan.

Petrelë Castle

Procopius of Caesarea wrote 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.

"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."  

In ancient times Petrelë was known as Petralba, which translated from Greek means 'the stone' of 'alba', therefore "The stone of Albanians". One can definitely see why it is called such, since the town and its castle are built on a huge stone on top of a small mountain. 
Halfway up the hill on which Petrela is situated are noteworthy remains of defensive walls which comprise terracing operations on the S, E, and W sides; above each section is a level area. On the best preserved, which is on the W side, rises a building to a height of 5 m and to a length of 20 m. 
The walls form a double ring, of which the outer section is built of square blocks which form a pseudo-isodomic structure strengthened by buttresses. In the vicinity, fragments of Hellenistic pottery have been discovered.
The tower in the center was built in the 5th century AD, although most of the remainder is Byzantine dating from between the 11th and 14th centuries. In later years the castle was used mostly to watch for Ottoman troops marching towards inner Albania.
The Petrela Castle was part of the signaling and defense system of the Kruja Castle. The castles signaled to each other by means of fires.

Today there is a restaurant inside the castle. The castle offers spectacular views of the Erzen valley, the hills, olive groves, and surrounding mountains.

Petrelë Castle

(Roman provinces)      (History of Albania)      (Petrele Castle)

(Albania under the Byzantine Empire)      (Petrele)

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Siege of Bari - Normans vs Byzantines in Italy

Norman Soldiers.
Thanks to Dargarth.org

The Final Battle
The Byzantines are driven from Italy after 
decades of war with the Normans.

The "Accidental" Norman Invasion of Italy

The Eastern Roman Empire rarely caught a break.  The Empire was constantly pressed from every side by pagan barbarians, Persians, Muslims or fellow Christians.

The Norman conquest of southern Italy spanned most of the 11th and 12th centuries, involving many battles and independent conquerors.

Immigrant Norman brigands acclimatized themselves as mercenaries in the service of Lombard and Byzantine factions, communicating news swiftly back home about opportunities in the Mediterranean. These groups gathered in several places, establishing fiefdoms and states of their own, uniting and elevating their status to de facto independence within fifty years of their arrival.

Unlike the Norman conquest of England (1066), which took a few years after one decisive battle, the conquest of southern Italy was the product of decades and a number of battles, few decisive. Many territories were conquered independently, and only later were unified into a single state. Compared to the conquest of England it was unplanned and disorganized, but equally complete.
Norman Robert Guiscard
Duke of Apulia and Calabria

The earliest reported date of the arrival of Norman knights in southern Italy is 999, although it may be assumed that they had visited before then.

A serious use of Norman mercenaries took place during a revolt (1009-1022) in southern Italy against the Catapanate of Italy, the regional Byzantine authority.

The rebels used a newly arrived band of Normans sent by Pope Benedict, which combined with the Lombards to battle the Byzantines.  A detachment of the elite Varangian Guard was sent to Italy to fight the Normans. The armies met at the Ofanto near Cannae, the site of Hannibal's victory over the Romans in 216 BC, and the Battle of Cannae was a decisive Byzantine victory. A historian wrote that only ten Normans survived from a contingent of 250.

The Normans had no interest in peace. They acted as mercenaries on both sides, they would obtain good terms for the release of their brethren from their captors regardless of outcome.

Slowly the Normans expanded their control over southern Italy.  Then the Normans invaded Muslim controlled Sicily in May 1061, crossing from Reggio di Calabria and besieging Messina. The Normans crossed the strait first, landing unseen overnight and surprising the Saracen army in the morning. When Norman troops landed later that day, they found themselves unopposed and Messina abandoned.  Over the next 30 years the Muslims were driven out of Sicily.

The Byzantines struck backs under Nikephoros Karantenos,an experienced Byzantine soldier from the Bulgar wars.  In 1067, when Constantine X desired to retake the lost cities of Apulia, he sent Karantenos with Mabrikias to BariTarantoCastellaneta, and Brindisi were reconquered from the Normans and a garrison of Varangians was established at the latter under Karantenos. 

When the Normans put Brindisi under siege in 1070, Karantenos feigned surrender and then attacked the Normans as they were scaling the walls on ladders. He beheaded a hundred corpses and crossed the sea to Durazzo with the heads, thence shipping them off to Constantinople to impress the emperor.

Karantenos was given the title of strategos of Brindisi.

This was the last sucess against the Normans. In 1068 the Normans turned their attention to Bari,  the capital of the Byzantine catapanate.

The Norman Conquest of Italy
Normans were hired as mercenaries by different sides in Italy.  Slowly they became more organized and started to create a Norman state by conquering Muslim held Sicily and Byzantine southern Italy.

Norman Cavalry
Thanks to Angelfire.com

Castello Normanno-Svevo (Bari)
The castle was built on a former Byzantine fortified site.  Bari was the capital of the Catepanate of Italy.  The current look and plan of the fortress might be close to the Byzantine floor plan.  The castle is surrounded by a moat on all sides, except the northern section, which was bordering the sea and can be accessed from the bridge and the gate on the southern side.

The Three Year Siege of Bari

The Normans had increased their possessions in southern Italy and now aimed to the complete expulsion of the Byzantines from the peninsula before concentrating on the conquest of Sicily, then mostly under Islamic domination.
Large military units were called from Sicily and, under Count Geoffrey of Conversano, laid siege to Otranto to the south of Bari.
The next move was the arrival of Robert Guiscard, with a large corps, who laid siege to the Byzantine city of Bari on 5 August 1068. Within the city there were two parties: one wanting to preserve allegiance to the Byzantine empire, and another that was pro-Norman. When the Norman troops neared, the former had prevailed and the local barons shut the city's gates and sent an embassy to emperor Romanos IV Diogenes in order to seek military help. The negotiations offered by Robert were refused.
Otranto fell in October, but at Bari the Norman attacks against the walls were repeatedly pushed back by the Byzantines. Robert decided to blockade the city's port with a fortified bridge in order to thwart any relief effort. The Byzantines, however, destroyed the bridge, and managed to maintain a link with their homeland.

Byzantine New Varangian Guard at the Abbey Medieval Festival 2012

Romanos IV named a new catepan, Avartuteles, and provided him with a fleet with men and supplies for Bari. The Byzantine fleet arrived at the city in early 1069, but in the meantime a Byzantine field army was defeated by the Normans, who occupied Gravina and Obbiano. Robert did not return immediately to Bari, and in the January 1070 he moved to Brindisi to help the Norman forces then besieging that coastal fortress. Brindisi capitulated in the autumn of 1070.
The situation in Bari was then critical, and the population suffered from famine. Avartuteles plotted to have Robert assassinated, but the Byzantine patricius Byzantios Guideliku failed. A delegation of citizens asked the catepan to improve the city's defence, or otherwise surrender it to the Normans. Avartuteles played for time, sending another embassy to Constantinople. He obtained the arrival of a fleet with grain in Bari. When the grain ran out, a group of citizens again asked the catepan to beg the emperor to send an army as soon as possible.
Romanos IV, whose generals had been repeatedly defeated by the Normans, and with few free troops to dispatch, sent twenty ships under the command of a Gocelin, a Norman rebel who had taken shelter in Constantinople. Stephen Pateran, appointed as new catepan of Italy, came with him. However, the Normans intercepted the Byzantine ships off Bari and scattered them. The Norman sailors identified Gocelin's ship and, despite the loss of 150 men, finally captured it; Stephen was instead able to reach Bari. He soon recognized that the defence had become impossible; a local noble, Argyritsos, was sent to negotiate with the Normans. The latter offered acceptable conditions, and Bari surrendered on April 1071.


Stephen Pateran was initially imprisoned, but was later allowed to return to Constantinople with other Byzantine survivors.

With the fall of Bari, the Byzantine presence in southern Italy ended after 536 years. Emperor Manuel I Komnenos tried to reconquer southern Italy in 1156-1158, but the attempt turned into a failure.

At the same time Byzantine Bari was falling to the Normans, the Emperor Romanos IV Diogenes was fighting for his life during the disastrous Byzantine defeat at the Battle of Manzikert in Armenia.  For losing the battle Romanos was cruelly blinded on June 29, 1072 and then sent into exile to Prote in the Sea of Marmara. Without medical assistance, his wound became infected, and he soon endured a painfully lingering death.

Bari, the capital of the Catapanate of Italy
The approximate territorial extent of the 
Catapanate of Italy (in yellow).
The themes of Calabria, Longobardia and Lucania together formed a larger military province - the Catepanate of Italy.  The Catepan (military governor) coordinated the local Roman armies of the three themes to defend Italy. 

Results of a Norman Victory
The Byzantines are driven out of Italy and into the Balkans. The Norman Duchy of Apulia and Calabria is created.  The Normans continue their war against the Muslim Emirate of Sicily.

Norman infantry advancing up a hill.  
Thanks to Oocities.org

(Battle of Cannae)      (Norman conquest of southern Italy)      (Bari)

(Catepanate of Italy)