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The Byzantine Kastron (fort)

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Kastrophylax

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    Posted: 11 Jul 2009 at 20:26
The Byzantine kastron, from the middle through the late Byzantine periods (c. 600-1461), was both a defensive and administrative outpost within a thema or katepanikon.  One could make an argument that it was around in the early Byzantine period, but then it was very similar to a Roman fort.
 
From the middle period, however, with the decline in classical city life, the kastra became very important, as it housed military officials and their staffs.  It was usually garrisoned with mobile guard troops which could strike quickly when problems arose on the borders.  In the late period we see the names of kastrophylax (chief guard of the fort) and tzaousios (commander of troops) mentioned in documentary records more frequently.  Sometimes the provincial governor (kephale) would use the kastron as a staging area or rest point.  In some kastra were located churches and even administrative headquarters for the local bishop.
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote rider Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11 Jul 2009 at 21:24
So, logically, the kastra became the origins for new cities, just as in Rome at earlier times (sometimes)?
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Byzantine Emperor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11 Jul 2009 at 21:29
Originally posted by rider rider wrote:

So, logically, the kastra became the origins for new cities, just as in Rome at earlier times (sometimes)?
 
I would say they took the place of some of the medium-sized cities in the Byzantine world.  The kastra had certain features of cities, yet served largely a military purpose overall.  Now, villages did appear around the vicinities of kastra.  Indeed, village life survived through the late Byzantine period.  Also, the larger sister cities to Constantinople survived, such as Thessaloniki, Mystras, and Trebizond.


Edited by Byzantine Emperor - 11 Jul 2009 at 21:30
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote rider Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11 Jul 2009 at 21:31
You mentioned that the administrative, military and sometimes the ecclesiastical sides of the life all resided in kastra (what's the correct plural?). Therefore, I'd assume that they played an important part on many occasions (perhaps a commander of kastra who became too greedy...). 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Byzantine Emperor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11 Jul 2009 at 21:44
Originally posted by rider rider wrote:

You mentioned that the administrative, military and sometimes the ecclesiastical sides of the life all resided in kastra (what's the correct plural?). Therefore, I'd assume that they played an important part on many occasions (perhaps a commander of kastra who became too greedy...). 
 
singular = kastron
plural=kastra
 
Concerning greedy officials, yes, the garrison of kastra did act as an ad hoc police force when needed.  I have examined some documents from the archives of Mt. Athos which detail instances where the apographeus (accountant, scribe) of a certain province was trying to pocket money on the side and was found out.  The local tzaousios was ordered to arrest him and bring him to trial.
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote rider Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 11 Jul 2009 at 21:50
Which brings me to wonder, did the Romans (in Rome or Constantinople) have any concept of JAG? 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote drgonzaga Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12 Jul 2009 at 03:23
Hey, Rider, the problem here is that kastra in the Byzantine epoch, like their counterparts in the Islamic world and even the Christian Western Mediterranean are the persistance of old Roman patterns: al-qasr, alcazar, castellum, castle from castra, -um.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Byzantine Emperor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12 Jul 2009 at 03:29
Originally posted by drgonzaga drgonzaga wrote:

Hey, Rider, the problem here is that kastra in the Byzantine epoch, like their counterparts in the Islamic world and even the Christian Western Mediterranean are the persistance of old Roman patterns: al-qasr, alcazar, castellum, castle from castra, -um.
 
Yes, linguistically speaking, but do you mean functionally and institutionally as well?
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote drgonzaga Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 12 Jul 2009 at 04:20
Yes, BE, for as the old patterns of urban life decayed and disintegrated, the administrative and military comes more or less assumed the duties and responsibilities once held by the civitas. Even in areas where classical urban patterns persevered--be it in the Iberian peninsula or the Byzantine-Syrian frontier both military, administrative, and commercial life focused upon the fortress: in Arabic the derivative represents both a palace and/or a fortress.
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Patrinos Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 17 Jul 2009 at 19:28

I think that this transformation of the "byzantine" administration and society structure is on of the most important keys of the survival of the empire for so many centuries.

Sourses, as BE mentioned, from the time of Justinian I ,started to use more frequently the word "kastron" in order to describe what earlier was called "polis"-"polisma"-"polichne". "Kastra" worked as preservers of the grecoroman way of civil life,now along with christian(specifically orthodox, after a point) tradition, but in the same time worked as "protectors" of the developing village life, within the surrounding choria. Choria supplied the city-castles/"kastropoliteies" what was necessary for the urban life and the latter provided safety when it was needed, and it was not few times, in South Balkans and in Minor Asia...

PS. My mother's village's name has the word "kastron" as second component, but the castle ruins' that are still visible are more likely frankish.



Edited by Patrinos - 17 Jul 2009 at 19:41
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Byzantine Emperor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 21 Dec 2009 at 04:26
Originally posted by drgonzaga drgonzaga wrote:

Yes, BE, for as the old patterns of urban life decayed and disintegrated, the administrative and military comes more or less assumed the duties and responsibilities once held by the civitas.
 
This is definitely true for the West.  However, in the East I do not think the decay and disintegration was as pronounced. 
 
One obvious difference was that there still was an emperor and administration at Constantinople with a reasonable amount of control (even in the worst times) over the provinces.  Also, in addition to Constantinople, there were still major sister cities that did not experience institutional decay as comparable ones in the West, such as Ravenna.
 
Originally posted by drgonzaga drgonzaga wrote:

Even in areas where classical urban patterns persevered--be it in the Iberian peninsula or the Byzantine-Syrian frontier both military, administrative, and commercial life focused upon the fortress: in Arabic the derivative represents both a palace and/or a fortress.
 
Still, I would argue that in the East this occurred at the village level rather than the city.  Not that there were not kastra in cities for defense, but in terms of the fortress becoming the central administrative structure and institution in place of traditional structures such as the the assembly of decurions and city council.
 
Originally posted by Patrinos Patrinos wrote:

Sourses, as BE mentioned, from the time of Justinian I ,started to use more frequently the word "kastron" in order to describe what earlier was called "polis"-"polisma"-"polichne". "Kastra" worked as preservers of the grecoroman way of civil life,now along with christian(specifically orthodox, after a point) tradition, but in the same time worked as "protectors" of the developing village life, within the surrounding choria.
 
Thank you for the overview of the relevant terms.  I should have mentioned a few more for the sake of context!
 
Indeed, during the reign of Justinian I one starts to see the active substitution of other forms of administration in place of traditional ones.  The various laws in Justinian's Codex mention new officials placed in charge of tax collection and general provincial oversight.  The creation of the vindex is a prime example of this.  The decurionate class was as good as extinct by this point and needed to be replaced.  Also, it is interesting to see the increasing amount of secular authority and privilege which Justinian granted to bishops and high church officials.
 
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Post Options Post Options   Thanks (0) Thanks(0)   Quote Byzantine Emperor Quote  Post ReplyReply Direct Link To This Post Posted: 27 Dec 2009 at 18:52
Bumped, in case drgonzaga or others would like to add any further thoughts. Big smile
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