Spolia in Fortifications: Turkey, Syria and North Africa

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Spolia in Fortifications:

Turkey, Syria and North Africa
Michael Greenhalgh,

Department of Art History

Australian National University

After briefly explaining why the East is worthy of study for its use of spolia, setting both the geographical scene and the chronologies involved, and examining the reasons for their very survival and availability, this paper will focus on their military reuse in fortresses and city walls. It provides an overview of the antique structures which were the models, set against the decline of civic life from late antiquity onwards, and concentrates on the aesthetic and the practical reasons for reuse, which include both strengthening and structural support, and conspicuous display, such as the widespread reuse of column shafts in fortress walls. Fortifications at Nicaea and Korykos, Ankara and Byblos will be examined, together with the reuse of antique reliefs at Seljuk and Halicarnassus, and of antique ‘architectural furniture’ at Myra. Finally, we shall look briefly at French experiences in Algeria in the 19th century, because these were probably analogous to those of our mediaeval forbears in Europe over a thousand years beforehand, when the antique monuments in the West were in a roughly similar state to those when the French invaded Algeria in 1830. If the French made very practical use of the spolia they found, then so did armourers: and details will be given of the reuse, well into the 19th century, of marble and granite columns as cannon balls.

Because of the special circumstances of Turkey and North Africa, the concept of alto medioevo is stretched beyond breaking-point, but with the bonus that studying such areas can provide us with insights into how the ancient monuments may have appeared to our mediaeval forbears - evidence largely unavailable in the West because of the pressure of further development in succeeding centuries, and hence obliteration of the majority of source monuments.
The French, for example, benefitted from this apparent “time shift” in Algeria. Given the very variable takeup of city-dwelling in that country, it much impressed the French when they invaded Algeria in 1830 that their direct predecessors as city-dwellers (and hence as architecturally aware, for both civilian and military works - indeed, as civilized people rather than barbarians) were the Romans, including their Byzantine successors. Their establishment there of a colonial empire provides the most recent thoroughgoing practical use of spolia, analogous to mediaeval usage.
In Turkey also, the population has never (until our century) been sufficient to devastate all the monuments (and one can still find classical sites there occupied by nomads, although fewer now than decades ago); and , as a thirteenth-century dervish put it, in a lament which might stand as a leitmotif for this paper, and which is repeated down the centuries: It is for the work of demolition that Turkish workmen must be hired. For the construction of the world is special to the Greeks [...] They erected numerous cities and mountain fortresses [...] so that after centuries these constructions serve as models to the men of recent times [...] [God] created the people of the Turks in order to demolish, without respect or pity, all the constructions which they see…1. However, destruction was necessary in order to build: many Turks took up alien traditions, and were as enthusiastic users of spolia as the Crusaders, as we shall see from the walls of Konya. The Seljuk Turks, especially, prized Greek and Roman architecture, and reused it for aesthetic ends. Their successors generally lived off spolia, often using it in a purely utilitarian manner. However, Mehmet’s reported reaction to the glories of Constantinople (cavalco da un luogo all’altro, considerande con grandissima maraviglia fabriche tanto rare2) suggests something more programmatic, as perhaps does that of Tamerlane before him, who wondered at the costly buildings of the temples, the faire ingraven pillars, the high pyramides; whilst at Jerusalem, he sought out all the antiquities of that auncient citie.3

Rationale: Why study Spolia?
When we study the past, we search for patterns, for influence, and hence for meaning – no more so than when we study spolia.Throughout the Middle Ages, and indeed to our own day, we have contemporary accounts which express enthusiasm for the prestigious materials of antiquity (especially marble, which could carry “power”4, columns, and squared building-blocks, some of large dimensions) – an enthusiasm for the heroic age, and the older the better (perhaps), similar to Pausanias’ attitude to his material5. Columns were attractive to the Middle Ages for a host of reasons. Not only were they almost a trademark of classical architecture, but they were easy to get at and easy to transport, because they could be rolled like logs. Usually of marble, they were (when monolithic) long and strong, and beautiful as well, because highly polished.
Not, of course, that reuse of spolia is restricted to Greek or Roman materials, or indeed to the Middle Ages. There are plentiful examples of pre-mediaeval use; at Rome, the 3 century BC Temple of Apollo Sosias used 5rdth century BC spolia to make a coherent monument with reference to the older antique. Nor is it unusual in Greece to find megalithic spolia in Christian churches, presumably with some meaning to be attached to the reuse6; and it has been argued that the history of monument construction and reuse in Messenia (SW Greece) specifically refers back to the Heroic Age7. And in at least one 12-century French account of abbey buildingth, the spolia may be antique, but taken from a ruined church – a mirror of what the Seljuk and Ottoman Turks did with earlier structures in Turkey. Cassiodorus8 is enthusiastic about the qualities of spolia: Sine usu jacere non decet, quod potest ad decorem crescere civitatis: quia non est sapientiae profutura contemnere. Et ideo illustris magnificentia tua marmorum quadratos qui passim diruti negliguntur, quibus hoc opus videtur injunctum, in fabricam murorum faciat deputari; ut redeat in decorem publicum prisca constructio, et ornent aliquid saxa jacentia post ruinas...
Spolia allow us to trace the afterlife of classical art and architecture (or, in different contexts, of Phoenician, or cyclopean architecture; or mediaeval architecture in Britain after the Dissolution of the Monasteries). Their very use generally reflects diminished population levels, whilst the quantity employed underlines the large scale of many classical cities. Sometimes there is an aesthetic component in reuse, so that classical gloria survives, as if reuse were a thermometer of a continuing classical tradition. But without documentary evidence, or abundant comparanda, there are manifold problems. Does display mean pride in one’s own or an adopted past? Or can use be equated simply with nonchalance?
Different aesthetic horizons from the Middle Ages mean that it is difficult for us to appreciate purposes of reuse, or contemporary impact: some of the great Byzantine basilicas of non-metropolitan Turkey (such as that at Xanthos) may well seem crude to us – but did they to contemporaries? Thus even when later travellers declare the high quality of walls which we know are decorated with column shafts (as at Aleppo9), they annoyingly refuse to mention anything beyond appropriate decoration, or an equivalent phrase. Even in the West, documentary or even narrative evidence of finding spolia is scarce10. Indeed, just because a monument exists, does not mean it was appreciated: for example, we know that many Crusaders saw Baalbec; but it seems to have made no impression. In 1100, Bohemond and Baldwin went up the Jordan Valley to the Litani Valley, but we have no accounts from them; whilst Fulcher of Chartres confused Baalbec with Palmyra . Even Ibn Battuta stayed only overnight, mentions that it is a beautiful old city, but says no more - although one Arab author classifies the ruins, along with the Lighthouse of Alexandria, the Lake of Tiberias and the Dead Sea as one of the marvels of Syria.11 One reason for disjuncture between our horizons and earlier ones is that the re-creation of the antique in the Middle Ages usually ignores antique monumentality, as Hansen12 states to be the case in the Renaissance before 1470: antique architecture only appeared as discrete decorative elements, typically elements of the columnar orders such as bases and capitals, disconnected from their monumental raison d’etre, the building as such. A parallel point he makes is the lack of interest in ruins – the skeleton of structure, as it were, on which the clothing can be placed. So, dealing with spolia, perhaps we should not be too exigent in expecting our rebuilds to look Roman to our eyes.
Spolia can help us study the aftermath of the classical world, because spoliation may protect antiquities, and help them to survive (for example, the great walls at Olympia or Pergamum). Sometimes reuse involves the complete dismantling of standing, intact antique structures (Pergamum, Korykos); but usually charting an afterlife is complicated by earthquakes, and stages of ruination and depopulation. Use of spolia offers us insights into the history of fortification and of religious buildings (large civic examples might once have existed, but none have survived from our period and area); into transportation: fewer antiquities survive the nearer they were to the sea; and into the mechanics of building, underlining the immense effort required to construct late antique spolia fortifications. All these features are easier to study in Turkey and North Africa, where we can infer what the monumental antique and spolia landscape of the western Middle Ages might have been like.
Although the term spolia includes anything reused from earlier buildings or artworks, and not necessarily from classical antiquity, for our purposes it is columns, granite, marble reliefs and veneers, and large building blocks which constitute the majority of the material covetted by the Middle Ages, East and West, Christian and Muslim alike, as we see throughout in the Patrologia Latina, where there are plentiful examples of what Sodini calls an un engouement extraordinaire pour les marbres, appréciés pour leurs couleurs et leurs veines in the earlier Byzantine centuries13. The Middle Ages are expansive on the features they especially prized in such spolia - often features they would have found difficult or impossible to reproduce conveniently themselves. One is that they are polished, and therefore gleam14; this same obsession is common, of course, in the West as well15. Another is that they are square, and therefore a decided help in good building construction16; the walls of Antioch were admired in part for this very reason17. Mortarless joints and iron- or lead-cramped joints are also an admired feature18, and people marvelled as late as the 19 century that the fit between the blocks could be so tightth. Pulling down an antique fortress allowed the Muslims to study earlier construction techniques, and a letter of 1179/80 provided the only thorough mediaeval description I have found admiring earlier techniques, including what might be antique tie-bars. It comes from Nour el-Din's and Salah el'Din's Livre des deux Jardins19, describing in a letter from El Fadhel to Baghdad in 1179/80 the destruction of the fortress of Beit al-Ahzan: La largeur de la muraille dépassait dix coudees: elle était construite en pierres de taille énormes dont chaque cube avait sept coudées, plus ou moins; le nombre de ces pierres de taille excedait vingt mille, et chaque pierre mise en place et scellée dans la batisse ne revenait pas moins de 4 dinars, et meme davantage. Entre les deux murs s'etendait une ligne de blocs massifs ... La chaux qu'on avait versée autour de la pierre pour la sceller s'était melée et incorporée ... elle, en lui donnant une force et une solidité supérieures à celles de la pierre elle-meme et déjouant, avec plus de succès que le fer, toutes les tentatives de l'ennemi pour la détruire. The very use of cut stone - spolia blocks - is thought worth recording, as is confirmed by El-Bekri's description of the amphitheatre at Sousse, of which little now survives: Ce vaste édifice, de construction antique, est posé sur des voutes très larges et très hautes ... Souca est entièrement batie en pierres de taille - and he seems to consider pierre de taille as a kind of stone, to which he gives a technical name20.
To the practical and aesthetic reasons for using spolia, we may add the interest of later generations in linking with their own past, or of invaders in constructing a local identity. This idea has been much supported for spolia in the West, as in Todisco's account21 of the antique lions, inscriptions and funerary reliefs at Melfi, where la rivitalizzazione di antichi blocchi inscritti ... si giustifica infatti nell'interesse, ricco di implicazioni ideologiche, da parte dei Normanni per il retroterra culturale delle regioni conquistate, e quindi di quelle romane dell'Italia meridionale.
Spolia are sometimes so prized that their discovery is hailed as a miracle, as in the description of the uncovering of marble blocks (when the building of Modena was held up for want of materials), which can be paralleled in the building of a church to the Mother of God in Jerusalem22: the site ... made it impossible for those who were preparing the foundations to bring columns from outside ... God revealed a natural supply of stone perfectly suited to this purpose in the near by hills, one which had either lain there in concealment previously, or was created at that moment ... So the church is supported on all sides by a great number of huge columns from that place, which in colour resemble flames of fire, some standing below and some above and others in the stoas which surround the whole church except on the side facing the east. Two of these columns stand before the door of the church, exceptionally large and probably second to no columns in the whole world. The colour might indicate a breccia, or a variety of giallo antico.
Such a high value placed on spolia explains its role as booty, for use in the most prestigious buildings. Thus for Saladin's repairs to the Al-Aksa mosque in Jerusalem in 1187: on fit venir du marbre dont on ne pourrait trouver le pareil, de cubes (de verre) dorés ... la facon byzantine, et autres objets nécéssaires, le tout amassé depuis longues années ... The Franks living in Jerusalem were some of them bought out by the Muslims, and the Franks abandonnèrent de nombreux objets qu'il leur fut impossible de vendre, tels que lits, coffres, tonneaux, etc. Ils laissèrent aussi une grande quantité de marbre qui n'avait pas son pareil, et qui consistait en colonnes, en tablettes, en petits cubes (pour former des mosaiques)…23 Thus could the Moslems imitate Rome, said by Ibn Al-Faqih Al-Hamadani to contain 24,000 churches, les plafonds, les murs, les pierres d'angle, les colonnes et les fenetres sont des monolithes de marbre blanc24. Muslims were perfectly happy to reuse Crusader spolia, often with just a light chiselling out of human features: they chose the most exquisite pieces for the Haram al Sharif. The Dikka in the Al-Aqsa mosque is almost completely made out of Crusader spolia, whilst in the north transept of the Holy Sepulchre, the spolia include 8thC Abbasid Corinthian capitals, and 11thC Byzantine material. Clearly, their watchword was quality, not necessarily origin25. Again, Muslim admiration for marble perhaps begins very early: it is related that Mahomet was buried in a wooden coffin with a marble roof over it, and an inscription in marble26; whilst the Ka’ba was very rich in marble27.
Notwithstanding the foregoing comments, many questions remain. Is reuse primarily practical before it is decorative or identity-giving28? Assessing intention is contentious and difficult. How would we tell? Is the movement always from practicality to decoration - from fortification to Palazzo Pitti, as it were - or is usage diverse? Does spoliation have universal constants? Is there any use of column shafts for decoration or strengthening west of Turkey and Greece? If we consider what might have been fashionable, are there any connections between the use of column shafts in the east, and of marble disks in Rome and ceramic bacini in (for example) Pisa, where there were probably once well over 2,000? If so, can we determine date-limits for such fashions? Again, does reuse of spolia signal a continuous classical tradition ? Not in Turkey, but there are separate Byzantine, Seljuk, and Armenian revivals. And what did the mediaeval spoliators learn from late antique spoliation? Does imitation operate here, as with imitation of original classical structures, as for example in bossed decoration?
What should be understand cases which seem to reveal no concern for earlier remains, such as at Kanytelleis, or the lack of interest archaic statues on Delos, although probably only half-buried? That is, Several of the kouroi in Delos Museum are degraded from the waist upwards, suggesting long exposure of their upper portions; others are degraded all over – and hence presumably ignored by the marble-hunters who came for columns Fromsuch evidence, can we posit an aesthetic stance which demonstrates lack of interest in archaic styles? Delos, conveniently on trade routes, was probably being robbed during the Middle Ages, and was being systematically plundered by the 17 century, and on a large scale.th Travellers kept a weather-eye open for likely materials29, even if the French Ambassador to Turkey visited the island in 1700, and could still examine les ruines incompréhensibles non seulement du temple d'Apollon, mais de l'isle entière … ce sont des montagnes de pierre et de marbre30. Kenelm Digby scavenged there for the British King, and Thomas Roe as agent for Arundel and Buckingham. Thus Chishull counts six granite columns erect, and notes that there were eleven standing when Spon and Wheler were there in 1675-6). He also notes pieces of the sacred lions facing the lake, but a local hunter assured him that a few years previously there were five whole ones.31 Stuart and Revett complain of continuing depradation in the following century, especially for new funeral monuments, but also for lintels and window cills; so that, in a few years, it may be as naked as when it first made its appearance above the surface of the sea 32. From the point of view of the ideology of reuse, such cases are interesting.
At Kanytelleis, on a ridge overlooking the south-facing coast of Turkey, not far from Korykos, and apparently never a city33, a Byzantine sanctuary was built with five churches - large and very imposing basilicas and monasteries, and all apparently constructed without recourse to spolia – and this in spite of the enormous quantities available in the immediate vicinity. Indeed, the Hellenistic watchtower, a splendid construction at the southern entrance to the city, survives, probably because it was still useful; but outside the city’s northern limits are some fine tomb terraces of much earlier date including, to the west, a temple tomb with barrel vault, and another with Doric columns. These announce the beginning of a still extant street of tombs, which is echoed on the city’s southern approach. So were the necropoleis (and watchtower) preserved as a testimony to the city’s august origins? Something similar occurs not many kilometres to the east, at Elaiussa Sebaste, a much larger classical settlement, where several of the many churches do indeed use spolia, but where, although the temples seen in the early 19 century have now goneth, the enormous necropoleis seem similarly intact. In both cases, of course, the visitor to the city would have been impressed by the approach; and at Elaiussa, the traveller passing along the coast, or even out to sea, would have seen the terraced necropoleis displayed along the ridge. To our modern minds, non-use would imply a much greater respect for the monuments than parcelling them into pieces and re-using them as spolia; but we have no evidence that, in Turkey, leaving ancient monuments intact meant anything beyond indifference, or a superabundance of targets for spolia.
Applying all these questions to a study of survivals in Turkey and round the Mediterranean to North Africa, five salient factors emerge:

  1. Most reuse of spolia is opportunistic, being played against a background of declining population, frequent danger, and an aggressive stripping of the past to accommodate the present;

  2. So ruthless was such stripping to become that we can recognise the same developing “marble starvation” in the East that we find in the West – that is, a dearth of matching materials, and a make-and-mend mentality;

  3. Marble, presumably robbed from ancient monuments, is prized (certainly by the 12 century) by Christian and Moslem alike, and collected over time - hoarded, in fact;

  4. However we must always be aware of differing aesthetic horizons. Although we have insufficient evidence to determine clear civic attitudes to spolia, such encroaching “marble starvation” is in itself a pointer toward aesthetic appreciation of the past, at least for the beauty of the materials, if not their matching regularity;

  5. We have much stronger evidence of aesthetic reuse of the past by the military, and for the defence of cities, where such work is frequently modelled on a consistent vision of the past which embraces spolia for practical as well as aesthetic purposes.

An Introduction to the Military Use of Spolia in Structure and Decoration
A common, but little studied, feature of city walls and fortresses from late Antiquity and through the Middle Ages is the extent to which they often owed their structure, and sometimes their embellishment as well, to the re-use of materials originally cut for some other location or purposeth.
The topic is of interest for several reasons.

  1. It demonstrates new methods of construction, especially in reusing columns as tie bars (since classical tie-bars, when used at all, are metal cramps.34 The first build of Anavarza is indeed Roman, but unless what we now see in the lower levels is also Roman, I can find no examples of limestone or marble baulks in Antiquity used to tie walls together. Perhaps, therefore, the move away from metal cramps is a marker of new and less careful methods, as well as a reflection of rush and invasion, and perhaps a fall-off of the necessary skills. Thus the Wall of Valerian in Athens (early 3rd century AD) uses cramps, whilst the Post-Herulian Wall (built after 267AD) does not. An indication that this technique had indeed fallen partly out of use in the Middle Ages is that, instead of being passed over as merely routine, it was received with marvel: on at least one occasion the huge blocks and tie-bars of a Roman wall were greeted with admiration in the Middle Ages, as in the dismantling of parts of the Wall of David at Jerusalem in 1239: les pierres estoient si granz que tuit s’en merveilloient. Elle estoit si fort maconee a chaux et ciment et a arainne, et les pierres soudeez a plomc et a grosses handes de fer acroschiez d’une part et d’autre que a trop grant painne et a trop grand force la porent ruer jus35. So when Willbrand of Oldenburg visited Beirut in 1212 and noted the use of iron cramps in the walls and towers36, was he looking at contemporary work, or classical work?

  2. The use of spolia in military structures highlights the prestige with which military architecture was surrounded: lacking information about palaces, the only other types of buildings we know to have been decorated consistently with antiquities are churches, and palazzi pubblici in Italy. Embellishment with spolia may indicate that such architecture was conceived as performing much more than simply a protective function: rather, it served as a symbol of political as well as of military power.

  3. Such reuse can be read, furthermore, as revealing a widespread and consistent respect for the antique past - especially in the most conspicious of its productions, namely architectural members, columns and reliefs - at a time when there was a dearth of contemporary productions to rival them.

  4. The lavish use of spolia makes clear just what large quantities of material were available well into the second millennium after Christ - so that the mid-11th century Persian author Nasir-I-Hosran exclaims that Nella provincia di Siria la terra e seminata di piu che cinque centomila colonne, capitelle e fusti; nessun sa a che cosa esse abbinao servito ne donde siano stato portate la.37 This is still the case: Burckhardt noted vast quantities of shafts of columns at Om Keis and, to its north east, over 190 standing full-height, and over 100 part-shafts standing at Gerash,38 whilst Buckingham counted nearly 200 in reuse in the town of Acre39.

  5. The phenomenon draws attention to one of the most abundant sources for later centuries of examples, not only of antique architecture and sculpture, but especially of inscriptions. In this respect, military architecture may be seen not just as a reflection of social attitudes, but as an actual instrument which, by re-using the past and displaying it, keeps at least some of the monuments of Antiquity in view rather than buried, and therefore actively helps in the various revivals of interest in the classical past that, in the West, inform the Middle Ages and determine the nature and extent of the Renaissance itself 40. The walls, in this sense, make the city. They should not only dissuade any attacker, just as the strength of a castle does, but their architectural decoration is also intended to indicate power and wealth. In exactly the same way the Middle Ages made the Renaissance in the West, while further East spolia walls have released their treasures only much later, over the last two centuries.

But we are hampered in our assessment of mediaeval walls because of a sparsity of information about the decoration on the antique enceintes on which they were probably modelled. Our knowledge of the gates of Rome and of Constantinople is an exception here, because they were so famous. To illustrate the problem from the West: the walls of Narbonne were highly decorated with spolia antiquities, clearly deliberately. It seems more than possible that this is in imitation of antique examples, most of which have of course disappeared. For example, nearby Toulouse had a South Gate, the Porte du Chateau Narbonnais, destroyed in the 16 century, which had bas-reliefs of “captives” to either side of a trophy, framed by cannellated columns. This was almost certainly antique in origin, with the statues and the blocks probably in reuse as spolia. Thus we learn that the chateau was formed de grosses pierres de taille avant plus tot apparoissance de dépouilles, reliques et vestiges d’autres bastions que d’avoir été faits à propos grandes pierres, de quoi les murailles d’iceliu étoient construites, n’[étoitent] d’aucun mortier, ne ciment assemblees, mais seulement l’une a l’autre cramponnées et de toutes parts ainsi iontes et rangées à la règleth. But it is impossible now to draw any parallels with the walls of Narbonne.

Occasionally, documents in the West suggest the reuse of antiquities in fortress walls, as at Lucera - but we do not know whether spolia were reused here for their convenience or for their beauty. Thus two documents of 130341 write of a location called Antiquallia, at Lucera - (presumably a find spot for spolia?) and requests the castellan of the fortress for materials in secondary reuse, item columpnas marmoreas et lapides antiquarum ecclesiarum pro constructione. In May 1304, another document refers to columpnas omnes existentes in fortellicia dci castri, que non sint affixe in aliquo opere. With other documents, we are not sure whether the references are to antiquities or not42.
Luckily, but again only in the West, we have in mediaeval manuscript illustrations plenty of supporting evidence for the prestige in which decorated walls were held. Such manuscripts frequently give emphasis to the importance of ramparts, of triumphal gateways, and of urban splendour43. To which we can add an admiring description of the gallo-roman enceinte at Angers, c.1150, that it consistit in moenibus vetustissimis, gloriam fundatorum recensens, in quadris lapidibus, which underlines the historical dimension.44 These can be backed up by surviving examples, albeit partial, of surviving antique gates and their mediaeval imitators: Frederick II’s gate at Capua was, according to one author, decorated with spolia45; as was Castel del Monte.46 Some surviving antique gates were decorated: Volterra's with heads, Perugia's with shields47, several with arcading and, sometimes, figurative pilasters and pillars48, some no doubt in imitation of triumphal arches49. Judging by the Golden Gate at Constantinople or Hadrian's Arch at Antalya, decorated gates may well have existed in Turkey50, and perhaps been imitated by the Knights, whose castle at Bodrum had Mausoleum reliefs flanking at least one gate51. In Athens, for example, the Krystalliotissa Gate which probably replaces an earlier one in the north flank of the post-Herulian Wall, dating to the period of Justinian52, is richly decorated, from the plentiful available materials. Similarly, the “castle” of the Acropolis at Athens was in a sense decorated, since it incorporated the Propylaea53, and it is not clear from early accounts by travellers whether they realised the fact, or believed them to be constructed as part of the castle itself. Reworking with spolia could indeed be confusing: the propylaea at Baalbec, for example, included the Roman flanking towers with some Arabic cladding to the propylaea, and the Temple of Bacchus became a lofty donjon54.
Even the frequent and widespread vogues for diapering of various kinds, including polychrome courses, probably originated in antique fashions of at least Hellenistic date55. In this regard, what connections may be established between imitation, spolia and pastiche?56 When spolia walls alternate different colours of stone, this could well be in imitation of the antique, but it is also a reflection of contemporary aesthetics., and is a technique which appears in mediaeval walls in Turkey. Foss identifies as Metabole the site where are to be found limestone spoils (perhaps 7 century, by analogy with Ankara and Sardis) carefully arranged in regular courses. They include numerous column drums and several doorstone tombs, all apparently without inscriptions. The whole effect, enhanced by the contrast between the whitish stones and the red bands of mortar between them, is highly decorative and quite unexpected.th - unexpected perhaps, but by no means unique: compare Ama, in Syria, which uses similar striations,57 and Haruniye, which horizontally stripes the east gate in dark and lighter coloured stone blocks.58 Mediaeval fortresses in Turkey were frequently built on the same site as their antique forbears; very often on top of the same foundations; often employing and making good what was found there. Imitation is therefore likely, with bossed masonry as another deliberate evocation of antique grandeur.
Certainly antique-inspired is the vogue for bossed masonry, the origin of which is clearly and plentifully to be seen in classical Greek architecture, and in many Hellenistic fortifications in Turkey (such as Assos), to be imitated in structures such as Urfa, Haruniye, Anavarza and Korykos. It is also possible that its use is primarily practical rather than simply decorative - namely, that such a profile better withstands the shocks of projectile-throwing siege engines59. Nevertheless,t Rumkale, the church has bossed decoration, underlining once more how the practical and the decorative can intertwine.60 Enlart61 even suggests that it was a common practice to apply bosses to new pieces of stone to match those of spolia. But the imitation of the past might also be in play at Porta Pinciana, Rome, and at the temple at Split, which seem to imitate the small lifting bosses left on some earlier work for a decorative or perhaps apotropaic intent,62 just as might have been the reuse of pagan spolia in Christian contexts, for which there is evidence in Turkey,63 just as there is with Bernward of Hildesheim in Germany.64 Pagan columns might sometimes have needed sanitizing as well, as with the apparent reference to Solomon’s Temple in the Pilastri Acritani.65
If earlier architectural members were redolent of past prestige and important in invoking it for the present, this was all the more the case with sculpture, which had itself frequently played an essential part in the political programs of antique rulers. As Hanfmann66 writes of sculptural programs in Asia Minor, These sermons in stone [...] did preach a definite ideology. While official acknowledgment was made to the ruling power of Rome, the main theme was a classicizing attempt to extol the past glories of the Greek mythical world, of the city’s history, and of the Greek literary education and culture [...] while enjoying the benefits of the organizing ability and the comforts of the Roman present. Cultural “hand me downs” are an important element in several aspects of mediaeval cultural life, from law and poetry to surveying, the art of war and wine-making. Fortress building and decoration are no exception, so strongly were our forbears influenced by the continuing prestige attributed not only to the antique achievement but also to its many surviving remains. To the potency of tradition, of course, is added the sheer pragmatism of military engineers, who appear to have used the best material they could find, and frequently to have distinguished (almost as if they were painting a portrait) between the “good side” of a structure - that is, one which would be readily visible to visitors - and the others, which could safely be constructed out of inferior materials.
The point of such decoration was that it was politic to impress; and we know from travellers' accounts that they certainly admired monuments made of spolia, whether or not they realised this was how they were made. Thus Niccolo da Martoni, who visited Athens in 1394, writes: qui introytus est de lapidibus marmoreis, pulchris laboribus fabricatus, sic pulcer sicut est introytus turrium civitatis Capue (an estimation which would no doubt have pleased Frederick). But it naturally gets better inside: in quo castro est[imo?] quedam sala magna in qua sunt columpnae magne XIII, Supra quas columpnas sunt trabes longi pedibus triginta, et super ipsas trabes sunt tabule marmoree: magnum et mirabile opus videtur.67. Equally, Chaucer via Boccaccio might have echoes of admiration for the “Frankish Tower” on the Acropolis68.
Similarly, the great spolia walls of Africa are held in high esteem by Leo Africanus, who approaches his task in an ordered but far from formulaic fashion, so that his descriptions might easily appear in tables rather than as running text. Indeed, his book69 generally judges cities and their prosperity by the grandeur of the walls, which he always notes, although he sometimes had to contrast the poverty of the latter with the grandeur of the former70. Equally, he always notes carefully when a city is Roman in origin, as distinct from when it is African; and he does so from a standpoint of almost complete ignorance of the Greek and Roman geographers71, so that we may accept his observations as eye-witness reports. A great admirer of what the Romans left, he is no apologist for his own day, which seems to him often degraded, and he frequently condemns later generations for letting fortifications fall into ruin.Thus El Hama e una Citta anticha edificata da Romani e cinta di mura fatte di pietre grosse e molto ben lavorate, e fino di d’hoggi si veggono tavole di marmo con lettere intagliate su le porte; le case e le strade di questa citta sono brutte, e gli habitatori poveri. Urbs Citta is Roman, 190 miles south of Tunis, e sono in lei molte antiche reliquie de Romani: come sono statue di marmo, tavole di marmo su le porte con latine lettere intagliate per entro, e molti muri di pietre grosse e lavorate. The town was then taken by the Goths, deserted, and came back to life only as a village. Costantine has walls which are antiche, alte e grosse, e fatte di certe pietre negre, e lavorate, whilst at Stefe they are di pietre belle e grosse fatte in forma quadre. At Bresch, near Oran, Nella citta rimangono molte vestigia de gli edifici, e fabriche de Romani, e di quelli sono fatte le mura, just as they are at Sersel and at Deusen. He has wide experience of things Roman, and can make comparisons with what he has seen in Europe. So Tebessa72 he recognizes as a Roman city, e cinta d’intorno d’alte, forti e grosse mura, fatte di alcune grosse pietre lavorate, le quali somigliano alle pietre, che sono nel coliseo di Roma; ne io per tutta l’Africa, ne in tutta Europa ho veduto mura di quella sorte. Ma le case di dentro sono altretanto brutte. And at Caphsa, the walls are of grossissime pietre lavorate, come sono quelle del coliseo di Roma, and the streets are lastricate di pietre negre, come sono le strade di Napoli e di Firenze.
Leo was in no doubt about the symbolic value of the Roman inscriptions he saw displayed in spolia walls. For him they were triumphalist, and no less than the proof that the Romans have destroyed African civilization and replaced it with their own. He muses on what lost African writing would have been like, finding it strange that the inscriptions on tombs or walls should be Roman, not African. Why was it lost? Because of the inevitable and traditional annihilation by every race of the monuments of their predecessors: quando I Romani, che fur loro nimici, dominarono quei luoghi, essi, come e costume de vincitori, e per maggior lor disprezzo, levassero tutti i lor titoli e le lor lettere, e vi mettessero I loro, per levar infieme con la dignita de gli Africani ogni memoria, e sola vi rimanesse quella del popolo Romano … Non e adunque da maravigliarsi che la lettera Africana si perdutta … This theme appears in the index as Romani, destruttori delle memorie Africano. 73
It is clear, therefore, that the military use of spolia, both in structure and as decoration, offers a rich source for investigation; and some sites will be studied in more detail below.
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