Spolia in Fortifications: Turkey, Syria and North Africa

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The Continuing Usefulness of Spolia II: Canons-Pierriers and Marble Cannon Balls
Another drain on spolia is the very convenience of column shafts for the cutting of cannon balls for pierriers - that is, cannon designed to throw stone and marble shot, rather than iron shot, with often devastating results for the enemy, because the marble or stone shot shattered, and acted somewhat like a shell. The pierrier was a common weapon in the mediaeval West, and accounts survive not only of the huge numbers of cannon balls manufactured by the French and English crowns, and their destructive power371. In a sense canons-pierriers are the descendants of ballistae, which perhaps survived from Antiquity into the 9 century as torsion catapults (used by the Normans at the Siege of Paris in 885-6), and then apparently replaced by counterbalanced manganons as used by Charles the Bald in 873 at the Siege of Angers and then Paristh. The Chevalier d’Arvieux372, suggests they may have been used against Acre during the Crusades, for he saw in Acre and the environs in 1658 de gros boulets de pierre et de marbre, dont quelques-uns ont jusqu’a quatre pieds de diametre, que les assiegeans jettoient dans la Ville et contre les murailles. This is likely, given William of Tyre's account373 of their destructive effect during the Crusader attack on Tyre: Excitebatur de collisis lapidibus et cemento dissoluto pulvis tam immensibus … quasi nubes interposita … in urbem cum impetu lapsi, aedificia magna cum habitatoribus in minuta redigebant fragmenta. Steinkrieg rather than Blitzkrieg?
The pierrier was, as a very large-bore cannon, a favourite of the Turks. It was conceivably invented by them or by the Venetians374, perhaps used by the Knights at Bodrum375, possibly used by the Turks in taking the Constantinople in 1453376, and undoubtedly in the offensives against Rhodes.377 The courtyard of the Palace of the Grand Master still holds over 1,000 of them, and there are some very large ones in the city ditches. The greatest device at Rhodes was an “engine” called The Tribute, noted for the huge pieces of Marble it threw with an unspeakable violence378 but, by another account, sometimes without much effect379. The great 40-ton Styrian Bombard at Constantinople in 1453 threw 700kg stones of 80cm diameter, but managed only three shots a day, and required over 100 men and 70 pair of oxen to manoeuvre380.
Their use survived in Turkey well into the 19 century. (Whether the use of hollowed-out shafts for a whole battery of cannon, reported at Pergamumth, caused damage, seems doubtful.) It is worth emphasising the enormous quantities of ammunition used by siege pieces: at Naumur in 1692, for example, the French had 262 pieces of artillery, and expended 40,359 cannon balls381. These were not pierriers, and artillery in the Middle Ages would have been less numerous; but the drain on marble column shafts - so usefully produced in near-standard gradations of diameter - would have been enormous. Again, there is evidence that marble funerary colonnettes were also used to make such shot382.
A French soldier383 examined the setup at the Dardanelles in 1726, and found that the pierriers there were seventeen feet long, of which eight feet are for the external length of the chamber, with an external diameter for the biggest of some two feet eight inches; thickness of metal: some eight inches, and throwing a ball of some 700 pounds in weight. Unnervingly, the Dardanelles batteries saluted with shot, not just powder, and the nearer they go to the vessel, the greater the compliment : in a manoeuvre made yet more famous by Lord Nelson, such balls would cross the Dardanelles, hitting the water one-third or half the way across, and ricocheting the rest. Pierriers were also used on Turkish vessels, but were less feared: the Chevalier de Clairac, writing in 1726, notes such shot often emplanted themselves in the ship's planks, and the captains, especially Venetians, would prise them out and take them home for souvenirs384. The Bosphorus and Dardanelles batteries were still using pierriers at the end of the 18 centuryth, and they could certainly sink ships385. They were still in use, and apparently still using re-cut antique columns, in 1838, with gunnery practice being a popular entertainment after mosque386. There are still plenty to be seen at the Dardanelles, with the large ones outside the Jandarma opposite Canakkale naturally whitewashed, military-fashion, and many more decorating the various World War One cemeteries. No Western armies appear to have used them in the 19 centuryth (although the French made use of Turkish stocks at Milianah: see below); but KilitBahir was still mounting eight pierriers (enormous bronze guns of ancient date, varying from 20 to 29 inches in diameter) in 1876387. In 1853, the Turks are still carving cannon-balls very accurately in the quarries of Mount Ida but, pour économiser le travail, les tailleurs de pierre turcs ont profité des belles colonnes en granit qui se trouvent dans Alexander-Troas388. But in spite of their reputation, advances in artillery and defence turned canons-pierriers into antiques. As a Royal Engineer reported in 1877 of the forts of Kilitbahir and Cannakale, These masonry towers, keeps and masonry batteries, must be classified with the stone shot guns that arm them - curious, as antiquities: useless, as fortifications or weapons389.

In Turkey and North Africa, and in spite of the encroachment of increasingly city-dwelling populations, fortifications built and decorated with antique spolia survive in great numbers, allowing us to chart aesthetic as well as practical use of earlier monuments, sometimes on the same site, sometimes brought from afar. Undoubtedly, earlier structures acted as exemplars, so that we find an enthusiastic use of Hellenistic-inspired bossed masonry at the time of the Crusades, some interest in the display of antique bas-reliefs and sculptures (especially lions), echoes of Constantinople's Golden Gate in several Anatolian city walls, a long-lived enthusiasm for the use for marble columns as both structural and decorative elements, and a revival of monumental inscriptions. Such enthusiasms are shared by Christians and Muslims alike.
Why did the interest in such uses of spolia eventually decline from what was, in this respect, the gold age of the Middle Ages? Firstly, because subsequently spolia enceintes were no longer built, except in French Algeria, gunpowder and new theories of defence stipulating radically different defences, often of great size. (Indeed, in North Africa, military action (often naval bombardment) meant that spolia in the walls of Algiers, the Tunis forts, Bougie or Oran were often pounded to dust.) In consequence, the decoration of military structures declined to perhaps shields and an inscription. Secondly, because the aesthetics in the West was usually for new, unitary buildings in which spolia had no place unless they were of exceptional beauty, such as the highly selective plundering by Westerners of Eastern sites such as Delos or Leptis, which was done for prize pieces of special marble or granite, rather than for the wholesale extraction of building materials, which was the purlieu of North Africans and Turks, who continued to rob antique sites wholesale, turning columns into cannon balls and bas-reliefs into tombstones, and carting away whole cities over large distances for use in buildings, roads and eventually railways.
Thirdly, the great vogue for marble in the West paradoxically saved spolia, if only from Westerners. Thus by the end of the 17 century the thirst for marble in Europe was so great that spolia could not satisfy it in terms of quantity, quality, or the work required for recutting - hence the enormously expensive quarries opened up by Louis XIV and his successors in Languedoc and the Pyrenees to staunch the crippling costs of imports from Carrara. Spolia were still imported into France throughout the eighteenth century, but as trophies and treasures of especially prized marbles and porphyries, not as building stone.
We may draw two general conclusions from the French relationship with Roman ruins which might inform us about the complexion of mediaeval re-use. The first is the nature, speed and extent of the reuse. The French, for all the exertions of their Engineers, often experienced considerable difficulty in re-erecting Roman fortifications because of the size of the blocks involved, and their lack of manpower and machinery; so it is incorrect to see the erection of spolia walls in the Middle Ages as rushed jobs: rather, they should be seen as intellectual statements of civic pride and aesthetic integrity. The second conclusion stems from the first: the French never lavished any aesthetics on their fortifications, in spite of abundant materials.th Why not? Because continually pressed for men, money and machinery; always needing money to build hospitals, latrines, bakeries, sewers; and soon influenced by changes in artillery and defence technology (including fears of a serious artillery-led attack by a European power, rather than Arabs armed with rifles) which made late antique walls truly antiquities at the same time as new constructions needed updating every few years. Spolia, as an index of tradition and permanence, were out of place in such a setting.
Thus the ideal of beautiful fortifications apparently attenuates with gunpowder and vanishes with 19 century technology, leaving the Middle Ages as the only period seriously to embellish their fortifications with spolia - and sometimes, as Matthew Paris has it, even cum altis turribus et propugnaculis et lapidibus quadris et incisis columpnis marmoreis decenter ornatoth.


1 JALAL AL-DIN RUMI, in the Mamaqib al-Arifim, quoted by S. VRYONIS, Nomadization and Islamization in Asia Minor, in Dumbarton Oaks Papers, 29 (1975), p.71;

2 G. B. PODESTA, Annali Ottomanici, Vienna 1672, p.100;

3 R. KNOLLES, The generall Historie of the Turkes, London 1603, pp.222-3;

4 P. CHUVIN, A chronicle of the last pagans, Harvard 1990, p.76ff: despoliation of the Marneion in Gaza, after a decree in 398, and against much local opposition;

5 K.W. ARAFAT, Pausanias’ attitude to antiquities, in Annual of the British School at Athens, 87 (1992), 387-409;

6 G. HADJIMINAGLOU, Le grand appareil dans les églises des IXe - XIIe siècles de la Grèce du Sud, in Bull. Corr. Hellénique, 118 (1994), 161-97; cf. plates 1-3, fig. 16 for reuse from prehistoric megalithic blocks to sculptured bas-reliefs and capitals;

7 N. SPENCER, Heroic time: monuments and the past in Messenia, Southwest Greece, in Oxford Journal of Archaeology, 14.3 (1995), pp. 277-292;

th V. MORTET, Recueil de textes relatifs à l’histoire de l’architecture en France au Moyen Age, 2 vols, Paris 1911 (XI-XIIe siecles ) and 1929 (XIIe-XIIIe siecles), I.391, rebuilding of the Abbey at Ardres, near Boulogne, c.1172 by the Abbot Peter;

8 Epistola VII (Migne PL 69, 1865, pp. 547-8);

9 J. AEGIDIUS VAN EGMONT ( and J. HEYMAN), Travels through part of Europe, Asia Minor, the islands of the archipelago, Syria, 2 vols, London 1759, II, p. 336;

10 But see MORTET, Recueil de textes, cit., I.172 re. using antiquities for S. Pierre d’Oudenbourg, near Bruges, in 1081, they gathered nigris et durissimis lapidibus and In partibus vero aquilonis fundamentum quadris ac magnis lapidibus, ferro et plumbo firmitur infixis, antiqua fundaverat manus;

J. FOLDA, The art of the Crusaders in the Holy Land 1098-1187, Cambridge 1995, p.36;

11 H. MASSE, editor, Ibn Al-Faqih Al-Hamadani, Abrégé du Livre des Pays, Damascus 1973, p.143;

12 M. F. HANSEN, Representing the past: the concept and study of antique architecture in 15th century Italy, in Analecta Romana Instituti Danici, XXIII (1996), pp. 83-116: cf. p.85, pp.104ff;

13 J.-P. SODINI, Le commerce des marbres à l'époque protobyzantine, in G. DAGRON ed., Hommes et richesses dans l'Empire byzantin, I, IV-VII siècle, Paris 1989, 163-186. Quarries at Proconnesus, Phrygia and Thasos still working in this period; p.167 for quote;

14 e.g. PATROLOGIA LATINA, Hieronymus Sridonensis, Epistolae, vol XXII, 10, on decorating a church: marmora nitent, auro splendent laquearia, gemmis altare distinguitur;

15 cf.Archbishop ALFANUS of Salerno on the splendour of the mosaics at Montecassino: His alabastra nitere lapis porphyreus viridisque facit; his Proconissa pavita simul sic sibi marmora conveniunt ut labor hic mare sit vitreum;

16 e.g. PL BEDE, De templo Salamonis, vol XCI: Unde bene de lapidibus hujusmodi grandibus pretiosis et quadratis subditur…(O744D)

17 ACADEMIE DES INSCRIPTIONS, Recueil des historiens des croisades, historiens occidentaux, vol IV (1879), Baldrici Episcopi Dolensis Historia Jerosolimitana, IV, 51F, anno 1098, 84A, Antioch's wall is magnis et quadris lapidibus compactus et compaginatus est;

18 For HILDEBERTUS CENOMANENSIS, PL vol 171, 747A, Sermons, the Temple in Jerusalem is de lapidibus quadratis, politis, clavis et caemento conjunctis, ubi nex securis, nec malleus audita…; LEO MARSICANUS, PL vol 173, Chronicle of Cassino, writes of making a doorway de quadratis ac sectis lapidibus; R. DOZY & M.J. DE GOEJE, Description de l'Afrique et de l'Espagne par Edrisi, reprint ed. F. Sezgin in series Islamic Geography 4, Frankfurt-am-Main 1992, pp.358-8 for Arabic references to the use of lead in jointing stone blocks;

th C. FELLOWS, A journal written during an excursion in Asia Minor, London 1839: in the walls of Nicaea, the joints are generally too close to admit the blade of a knife between them;

19 ACADEMIE DES INSCRIPTIONS, Croisades, cit., p. 206;

20 EL-BEKRI, Description de l'Afrique Septentrionale, trans M. G. de Slane, Algiers 1913, p.75; Abou-Obeid El-Bekir, a Spaniard, finished his MS in 1068;

21 L. TODISCO, L'antico nel campanile normanno di Melfi, in Mélanges de l'Ecole Française de Rome. Moyen-age, temps modernes, 99 (1987), 1, pp. 123-58; quote from p.149;

22 PROCOPIUS, Buildings, V.vi.16ff;

23 ACADEMIE DES INSCRIPTIONS, Croisades, cit., Extrait du Kamel-Altevarykh, III.705-6; for another example of Muslims getting marble as booty, cf. III.720, when they took Ladakiyah in 1188/9;

24 MASSE, editor, Abrégé du Livre des Pays, cit., p.179;

25 FOLDA, The art of the Crusaders, p.596 note 187, p.442-3, and figures 10.15a-d;

26 Chronicorum Turcorum, Frankfurt 1578, I, fol 62v: “De Mahometis Sepulchro”;

27 cf. the 12th century Voyages d’Ibn Jobair, M. GAUDEFROY-DEMOMBYNES, editor, V, Paris 1951, pp.107ff;

28 L. MARINO, in M. REY-DELQUE, editor, Le Crociate: L’Oriente e l’Occidente da Urbano II a San Luigi 1096-1270, exhib cat, Rome, Palazzo Venezia, 1997, pp. 259-62: L’uso dei materiali di reimpiego e di elementi lapidei en boutisse nella fabbrica dei castelli crociati;

th J. RANDOLPH, The present state of the islands of the archipelago, sea of Constantinople, and gulf of Smyrna, Oxford 1687, p. 20: The Ruins are carryed away by all ships who come to anchor here, so as part are in England, France, Holland, but most at Venice;

29 J. SANDYS, Sandys Travails etc, London 1652. p.9: The ruins of Apollo’s temple are here yet to be seen, affording fair pillars of marble to such as will fetch them, and other stones of price, both in their nature and for their workmanship;

30 Paris, Archives Nationales, K1318-19, Relation du Voyage de M. de Ferriol, ambassadeur extraordinaire du Roy à la Porte Ottomane, 7 February 1700, pp.14-15;

31 E. CHISHULL, Travels in Turkey and back to England, London 1747 – but relating travels fron 1698 to 1702, p.61 for Tournefort on Delos (there in 1701-2);

32 Stuart and Revett were on Delos in March 1753, and their account was published in 1794, in Antiquities of Athens III, p. 57. Their editor, Willey Reveley, notes that The antiquities, described in this chapter, are said to have been taken away by a Russian fleet, in the last war against the Turks (loc.cit). This process halted only when the French began digging there, in 1873;

33 S. HILL, The Byzantine Churches of Cilicia and Isauria, Aldershot 1996, 179ff;

th F. BEAUFORT, Karamania, or a brief description of the south coast of Asia-Minor and of the remains of antiquity, with plans, views etc collected during a survey of that coast, under the orders of the Lords Commissioners of the Admiralty, in the years 1811 and 1812. MS in Kew, Public Record Office [hereafter PRO], ADM7/847;

th cf. SPOLIEN in Lexikon des Mittelalters VII Munich 1995, cols 2129-2131 incl bibliography;

34 GINOUVES & MARTIN, Dictionnaire méthodique, pp.103ff and plates 28-9;

cf. A. FRANTZ, The Athenian Agora, XXIV: Late Antiquity A.D.267-700, Princeton 1988, p.126.

35 Cf. the reference in MARINO, L’uso dei materiali, cit., to a MS by Rotelin (which he doesn’t himself reference) on the dismantling of the walls of the Tower of David at Jerusalem in 1239;

36 C. MARSHALL, Warfare in the Latin East 1192-1291, Cambridge 1992, p. 103;

37 Cited in P. EGIDI, Appunti su alcune costruzioni di Siria e di Palestina, Architettura e Arti Decorative I 1921-2, 411-417: cf. p.414;

38 J.L. BURCKHARDT, Travels in Syria and the Holy Land, London 1822, pp. 272, 263-4; for the importance of columns, cf. A. SEGAL, From function to monument: urban landscapes of Roman Palestine, Syria and Provincia Arabia, Oxford 1997, pp. 5-53;

39 J. S. BUCKINGHAM, Travels in Palestine…, London 1821, p.74;

40 For but one example of how scholars studied spolia in walls not only for their “ornaments” but especially for the content of their inscriptions, long before the CIL, see J. RABY, A seventeenth-century description of Iznik-Nicaea, Istanbuler Mitteilungen 26, 1976, pp. 149-86; M. GREENHALGH, The survival of Roman antiquities in the Middle Ages London 1989; and now L. DE LACHENAL, Spolia: uso e reimpiego del antico dal III al XIV secolo, Milan 1995;

th M. LABROUSSE, Toulouse antique des origines a l’etablissement des Wisigoths, Paris 1968, pp.281ff. The quotation is from A. NOGUIER, Histoire Tolosaine, 1556, p.23. For an illustration, cf. P. WOLFF, editor, Histoire de Toulouse, Toulouse 1974, p.26;

41 P. EGIDI, Codice diplomatico dei Saraceni di Lucera, Naples 1917; - Documents 727, 729, 758;

42 L. DE LACHENAL, Il gruppo equestre di Marco Aurelio e il Laterano. Ricerche per una storia della fortuna del monumento dall'eta medievale sino al 1538, in Bollettino d'Arte, 74 (75) (1990),. Pp. 16-32. J.L.A. HUILLARD-BREHOLLES, Historia diplomatica Friderici II, V, Paris 1862, p. 912: the text of 22 April 1240, entitled de lapideis imagininus usque Luceriam mittendis et portandis - refers to bas-reliefs which might have been antique;

43 P. TOUZET, L’Architecture militaire du VIIe au XIIIe siècle d’après les enluminures de manuscrits, in Bulletin Trimestriel de la Société Antiquaires de Picardie, (1977), pp. 17-35; when the buildings inside city are represented, p.18, ils sont d’ailleurs de caractère également antique, munis de frontons, de colonnades et de toits à larges tuiles, until the 10th century;

44 MORTET, Recueil, II, p. 79;

45 M. CAMILLE, The gothic idol: ideology and image-making in medieval art, Cambridge 1989, p.276;

46 L. DE LACHENAL, Il rilievo frammentario con cavalieri reimpiegato a Castel del Monte. Alcune note sugli esordi della scultura lapidea in Apulia, in Riv. Ist. Naz. d'Archeologia e Storia dell'Arte, XIV-XV (1991-2), pp. 131-52; cf. also DE LACHENAL, Gruppo equestre, no. 61, 1-52; and 62, 1-56, where she cites and illustrates (25-6) the equestrian group, much damaged, placed above the entrance to a ground-floor room in the courtyard of Castel del Monte, which she parallels with a nude equestrian statue/relief over an entrance gate to the castle at Lagopesole (now lost. cf. M. RIGHETTI TOSTI CROCE, La scultura del castello di Lagopesole, in A. M. ROMANINI, editor, Federico II e l'arte del Duecento italiano, Galatina 1980 (Atti del III Settimana di Studi ... Rome 1978), pp. 250-1 & fig. 28);

47 K. DORNISCH, Die griechische Bogentore. Zur Entstehung und Verbreitung des griechischen Keilsteingewoelbes, Frankfurt-am-Main 1992, pp.189-91, pp.191-195, and plates 28a & 28b;

48 H. BUESING, Roemische Militaerarchitektur in Mainz, Mainz 1982, pp.60-63, 261: Capua, Trier, Autun, Regensburg for arcading; Porta Praetoria at Mainz with pillars with life-size figures; and cf. P. Gros, L’architecture romaine du début du IIIe siècle avant Jésus-Christ à la fin du Haut-Empire, I: les monuments publics, Paris 1996, pp.26-55 for a typological overview of walls and city gates, and pp.56-94 for honorific and triumphal arches;

49 F. S. KLEINER, The study of Roman triumphal and honorary arches 50 years after Kaehler, in Journal of Roman Archaeology, 2 (1989), pp. 195-206, for review article;

50 A. GABRIEL, Voyages archéologiques dans la Turquie Orientale, Paris 1940, pp. 133ff. for the likelihood that the Karphut Gate at Diyarbakir is actually antique (hence the elegant arches and columns: his fig. 101);
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