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

Tuesday, May 21, 2019

The Roman Fortress of Ksar Lemsa

Protecting Roman North Africa

Limisa is a town and archaeological site in Kairouan GovernorateTunisia.
Little is known of the ancient Roman city of Limisa. A few excavations have been carried out and only the Byzantine citadel and the small Roman theater are known. The municipal organization is also only slightly understood. 
The city had the status of civitas at least until the beginning of the reign of the Emperor Septimius Severus then as a Municipium sometime before 208.
From an architectural point of view, epigraphy mentions an arch and the restoration of thermal baths built under Constantine at the end of the 4th century.
According to Victor of Vita the basilicas of Lemsa had been burned in 305.
This fine Byzantine fortress with its strikingly well-preserved walls (except for the SE side) can be seen from afar dominating the valley in the middle of a field of ruins. A gushing stream flows down the mountainside next to it. 
The citadel probably was built by the Patrician Salomon in the reign of the Emperor Justinian, who established his country-wide system of fortifications in the first half of the 6th c. Built with materials from the monuments of the ancient city.

Ksar Lemsa

Byzacena was a Late Roman province in the central part of Roman North Africa, which is now roughly Tunisia, split off from Africa Proconsularis. The town of Limisa was a Roman-Berber civitas in the province of Byzacena.

Ksar Lemsa was one of many North African fortifications that protected coastal Roman cities from desert raiders. A number of the forts were built by the Patrician Solomon.

The Roman Re-Conquest of Africa

Following the defeat of the Vandals by Belisarius (533-534 AD) Roman fortifications were built throughout North Africa.

The fortifications not only protected against raiders from the desert, but also helped protect against any revolt by local forces.

The fortified towns stretched from Septum at the Pillars of Hercules in Morocco to Egypt. 

The larger forts acted as both military stations and as a refuge for the population in times of invasion. The smaller forts were isolated but kept watch at strategic locations such as guarding a narrow defile or an important agricultural center.

The Romans developed a coded signaling system. Beacons from station to station would signal the composition, character and numbers of an invading force.

The fortresses were often rectangular. The thickness of the walls raged from 7 feet to 9 feet thick. Surviving walls range from 26 feet to 32 feet high.

The fort towers were of varying shapes. They were usually two story. The basement opened to the courtyard and the top story to the walk along the wall. Sometimes they have no doorway to the wall-walk and were capable of being held independently as a place to make a last stand.

By Procopius    
The Buildings of Justinian
Written in the 550s AD

These things, then, were done by Justinian at modern Carthage. In the surrounding region, which is called Proconsularis, there was an unwalled city, Vaga by name, which could be captured not only by a planned attack of the barbarians, but even if they merely chanced to be passing that way.  This place the Emperor Justinian surrounded with very strong defenses and made it worthy to be called a city, and capable of affording safe protection to its inhabitants.  And they, having received this favour, now call the city Theodorias in honour of the Empress.  He also built in this district a fortress which they call Tucca. 

In Byzacium there is a city on the coast, Adramytus by name, which has been large and flourishing from ancient times, and for this reason it won the name and rank of metropolis of the region, since it chances to be first in point of size and, in general, of prosperity.

The Vandals had torn the circuit-wall of this city down to the ground, so that the Romans might not be able to use it against them. And it lay conveniently exposed to the Moors when they overran that region.  Nevertheless, the Libyans who lived there tried to make provision, so far as they could, for their own safety, and so they made a barricade out of the ruins of the walls and joined their houses together;  and from these they would fight against their assailants and try to defend themselves, though their hope was slight and their position precarious.  So their safety always hung by a hair and they were kept standing on one leg, being exposed to the attacks of the Moors and to the neglect of the Vandals.

Tower of Ksar Lemsa

However, when the Emperor Justinian became master of Libya by conquest, he put an exceedingly massive wall about the city and stationed there an adequate garrison of troops, thus giving the inhabitants assurance of safety and enabling them to disdain all enemies.  For this reason they now call the place Justinianê, thus repaying the Emperor for their deliverance and displaying their gratitude simply by the adoption of the name, since they had no other means by which they could requite the Emperor's beneficence, nor did he himself wish other requital. 

There was also a certain other town on the coast of Byzacium which the inhabitants used to call Caputvada. At that point the Emperor's fleet landed and there the troops first set foot on the land of Libya, when they made the expedition against Gelimer and the Vandals.  In that place also God revealed that marvellous and indescribable gift to the Emperor which I have described in the Books on the Wars. For although the locality was exceedingly arid, so that the Roman army was very hard pressed by lack of water, the ground, which previously had been completely dry, sent up a spring at the place where the soldiers were building their stockade,  for as they dug, the water began to gush forth. 

So the earth threw off the drought which prevailed there, and transforming its own character became saturated with drinking-water.  Because of this circumstance they built a satisfactory camp in that place and spent that night there; and on the next day they prepared for battle and, to omit what intervened, took possession of Libya.  So the Emperor Justinian, by way of bearing witness to the gift of God by means of a permanent testimony — for the most difficult task easily yields to his wish — conceived the desire to transform this place forthwith into a city which should be made strong by a wall and distinguished by its other appointments as worthy to be counted an impressive and prosperous city; and the purpose of the Emperor has been realized.

Emperor Justinian

For a wall has been brought to completion and with it a city, and the condition of a farm land is being suddenly changed.  And the rustics have thrown aside the plough and lead the existence of a community, no longer going the round of country tasks but living a city life.  They pass their days in the market-place and hold assemblies to deliberate on questions which concern them; and they traffic with one another, and conduct all the other affairs which pertain to the dignity of a city. 

This then was done in Byzacium on the sea. In the interior of this land and to its farther parts, where barbarian Moors live hard by, he built very powerful outposts against them, because of which they are no longer able to overrun the Roman dominion.  He surrounded each one of the cities with very strong walls, since they stand on the rim of the territory; these bear the names Mammes, Teleptê and Cululis. He also constructed a fort which the natives call Aumetra, and in these places he stationed trustworthy garrisons of troops. 

In the same way he assured the safety of the land of Numidia by means of fortifications and garrisons of soldiers, each one of which I shall now mention.  There is a mountain in Numidia which is called Aurasius, such as chances to be found nowhere else at all in the civilized world.  For this mountain rises steeply to a towering height and its perimeter extends to a distance of about three days' journey. It offers no path as one approaches it, having no ascent except over cliffs.

The Emperor Justinian, however, expelled from there the Moors, and Iaudas who ruled over them, and added this mountain to the rest of the Roman Empire.  As a precaution in order that the barbarians might not again make trouble by getting a foothold there, he fortified cities about the mountain which he found deserted and altogether unwalled. I refer to Pentebagae and Florentianae and Badê and Meleum and Tamugadê, as well as two forts, Dabusis and Gaeana; also he established there sufficient garrisons of soldiers, thus leaving to the barbarians there no hope of attacking Aurasius.

And at Gadira, at one side of the Pillars of Heracles, on the right side of the strait, there had been at one time a fortress on the Libyan shore named Septum; this was built by the Romans in early times, but being neglected by the Vandals, it had been destroyed by time.  Our Emperor Justinian made it strong by means of a wall and strengthened its safety by means of a garrison.  There too he consecrated to the Mother of God a noteworthy church, thus dedicating to her the threshold of the Empire, and making this fortress impregnable for the whole race of mankind. 
So much for these things. There can be no dispute, but it is abundantly clear to all mankind, that the Emperor Justinian has strengthened the Empire, not with fortresses alone, but also by means of garrisons of soldiers, from the bounds of the East to the very setting of the sun, these being the limits of the Roman dominion.

Sleeping chambers inside the fort of Ksar Lemsa.

(Ksar Lemsa)      (commons.wikimedia)      (Limisa)

(lonelyplanet.com)      (looklex.com)      (Lemsa)      (History of Fortifications)