BMCR 2007.12.27

Castles of the Morea. Gennadeion Monographs, 4. The original 1953 text with a foreword by Glenn R. Bugh

, Castles of the Morea. Gennadeion monographs ; 4. Princeton, NJ: American School of Classical Studies at Athens, 2006. 1 online resource (350 pages).. ISBN 9781621390282. $75.00.

Castles of the Morea is surely the best known volume in the series of Gennadius Monograph series, and for many it may be the only title known. Long out of print, it was an understandable choice for reissue as part of the celebration of the 80th anniversary of the Gennadius Library. The book is buiilt around a collection of early 18th century technical drawings and plans, which were intended to inform the authorities in Venice about the defensive capabilities of their coastal fortresses in southern Greece and along the Ionian sea. These were not castles in the usual romantic sense, but functional structures on which the precarious survival of Venetian Morea would depend. Venice could have no doubt that when the Ottoman Empire at last recovered from the debilitating losses of the Cretan campaign, and the even more disastrous siege of Vienna, it would strike back fast and hard. As it happened, when the Ottomans did return in 1715, the undermanned Venetian garrisons collapsed even faster than the Ottoman garrisons had fallen in the1680s.

The Venetian drawings, are a collection centering on 28 plans made around 1701 by order of Francesco Grimani, Proveditor General of the Armies in Morea. In 1938, they were brought into the Gennadius Library in Athens, where Shirley Weber, the director of the library had long wished to have them properly studied and evaluated. In 1948, he called them to the attention of Kevin Andrews, one of the students in the first regular post-war session of the American School of Classical Studies at Athens. Andrews was a splendid choice for the task. He was fully prepared, despite complications of health, to plunge into the Greek countryside, traveling on the fringes of a still-smoldering civil war. Traveling sometimes by hitch-hiking, but mostly on foot, he spent several years drawing, measuring, and photographing all the monuments that could be found. The record he made is precious, because subsequent decades have not always been kind to the places he visited.

The approach to these monuments that was developed for the final study was unusual. Andrews arranged the sites in order of their conquest by the Venetians so that, by simply leafing through the book, one can follow the course of their successes and sense the hopelessness of the Ottoman defenders as they realized that they had no expectation at all of support from the Ottoman court in Edirne. The Venetians, by contrast, were emboldened by a sense that they were at last reclaiming the territories they had lost, often in humiliating ways, during the previous two centuries. Andrews echoes some sense of this theme of return, but his historical notes are brief, perhaps a bit too brief.

As Glenn Bugh points out, in his excellent new preface to this revision, Andrews made little use of Venetian sources other than standard multi-volume histories and the plans themselves. Where he does make reference to archival documents, it tends to be in translation. His excursions back into the medieval origins of most of his sites depended a great deal on William Miller’s The Latins in the Levant, an excellent choice, but one that was somewhat dated even 50 years ago. Within those limitations, however, his historical judgment was almost always sound. Glenn Bugh mentions a few small corrections that were offered in a review of the book by Antoine Bon, but given the authority of the reviewer, these testify more to the strength of what Andrews wrote than to any weakness. As Bugh points out, Andrews did what he was assigned to do, and did it very well.

The present revision offers two elements of great value over the two previous printings: the new preface by Glenn Bugh and the complete remaking of the facsimiles of the Grimani plans in color. Bugh’s introduction gives a biographical sketch of the author and a sympathetic appreciation of the organization of this book, as well as its relation to Andrews’ other well-known title, The Flight of Ikaros which describes Andrews’s immersion in Greece during his travels. I purchased my original copy of Castles of the Morea between 1956 and 1959, and The Flight of Ikaros was given to me just before I took ship for Athens to study at the American School of Classical Studies. Most readers of these two books are caught up by their romanticism, and, as the designated post-classical student of 1959-60, I was utterly entranced. I hoped, and it may be true, that I was occupying the same Loring Hall Annex room that he did, and imagined that I might be using the same brown-painted metal furniture that he said might drive him mad. In the spring of 1960, I undertook a research effort in the north of Greece that was as close to what Andrews had done as I could imagine. It was starkly unproductive, but it gave me a sense of Greece that I could not otherwise have acquired. Bugh remarks in his introduction that he does not know whether he ever met Andrews. I did, on a return from western Macedonia in 1960, but the meeting was not a success. It was so clear that he wanted no new association with any members of the American School that I drifted away at once, and never had the opportunity to speak to him again. His early estrangement from the atmosphere of the School can be read in his equation of ξένος ἀρχαιολόγος with προπαγανδιστής in his 1953 preface (p. vii of the 1953 edition), long before the ambassadorship of the execrable Mr. Tasca, whose support of the dictatorship of the Colonels tainted all Americans in his eyes. He was on the way to becoming a Greek, in every way he could, and that was something very different from my own naïve Philhellenism.

The reproductions of the Grimani plans at the end of the book are a triumph of modern book-production. Not only are they in color, but they also appear to be screened at something like twice the resolution of the black and white 1953 plates. Shadings of grey that vanished from the first printing add considerable depth to the present set of plates (see, for example, Plate XIII). Most importantly, the legends and the numeric and alphabetic keys can be read directly, usually without the need to refer to the transcription provided in Appendix C. The photographs in text, by contrast, have probably lost a bit in sharpness owing to the process used to make new plates, but nothing serious. The inking of the text is certainly darker. I note that Fig. 173, on page 154, which was originally upside down, has been corrected.

The exquisite plan of Old Navarino and the several plans of Nauplia and the Argolid have yet to be used to the full extent of their value. In addition to topographical and architectural details the Old Navarino plan (Plate X) shows an attempt to allocate the 43 pieces of ordnance captured with the fortress. A list of cannon, with their sizes is given, and red lines (now distinguishable on the color plan) suggest the ranges they were expected to cover. This detailed concern with one of the most antiquated of all the fortresses of Morea is a bit puzzling, but there is much that can be learned from it. The general map of Nauplia Bay (Plate XX) provides a vivid picture of the rich wetland formed by the Kephalari spring, which has now been turned into a stagnant pond by diversion tunnels, which take all the water for other uses.

With all my deep appreciation for the improvements this revision has brought, I am nonetheless a bit uncertain about the scholarly use of the book. When Andrews was writing there was a great deal of confidence in the possibility of dating monuments by wall-construction. This school of interpretation produced many valuable results, but it no longer carries quite the authority it once did. It is difficult enough to apply it rigidly to mortarless classical masonry, and much more difficult in the case of medieval building. Andrews wrote, as he had to, in the language of the time and did whatever he could to provide evidence for distinguishing Frankish from early Venetian from Ottoman from late Venetian construction. Most pages are filled with detailed measurements and technical descriptions. It would be ideal to have it in hand if one were present at the site, but it is somewhat difficult reading in the study.

Consideration of any Ottoman contribution to the sites is minimal. When there is clear evidence of an Ottoman repair or addition there is a certain undercurrent of argument that runs, “if Ottoman, then slovenly, and if slovenly, then Ottoman,” a judgment that may in part derive from a misunderstanding of what the Ottoman administration intended. The Venetians built to seventeenth-century standards because they expected to be besieged by forces with seventeenth- century artillery. Their triumph was Candia, with walls so wide that there is room for a small soccer field on top. The Ottomans rarely bothered with that sort of overbuilding because, in most areas, they did not really expect to face modern artillery. Ottoman ordnance had plenty of modern pieces, but it also included 14th-15th century petraries (loose-bore cannon throwing huge stone balls), which continued to be manufactured in Istanbul until the end of the 18th century, while western Europe had largely abandoned them as outdated by 1550. Except along the Austrian front, the threat that the Ottomans expected to face was piracy and brigandage, and slightly strengthened medieval curtain walls were all that was needed against such assaults. Corruption, disorder and fecklessness certainly affected their style of defensive architecture, but it cost a lot less than the great modernized redoubts of the most impressive Venetian fortresses. In Morea, Ottoman carelessness went against them but in Negropont (Chalkis) outdated Ottoman defenses were enough to discourage and defeat the Holy League. The contrast can best be seen on Palamedi, outside Nauplion, where the Venetians built massive modern fortresses (only hinted at in one of the Grimani plans, Plate XXIII, which must have drained the economy as well as the loyalty of the underpaid or unpaid local labor that was impressed to build them. The Palamedi forts were a manifestation of tactical despair—most of their gunports were directed not at an expected outside enemy but at one another. When put to the test, the 70 Venetian defenders surrendered at once in 1715, and the Turkish garrison after several months of starvation in 1822.

In rereading this book, I am struck by the absence of any reminder, until the summary chronology at the end, that the Francesco Morosini of the Morea campaigns was the same Morosini who was forced, in 1669, to surrender Candia to the Ottoman vizier, Fazil Ahmed Pasha. He was put on trial for the surrender, and although he was acquitted, it is difficult to believe that he was unaffected by the experience. I do not think that this is an irrelevant consideration. The 1688 campaign against Negropont (pp. 183-191), which ended in failure, hints at the visionary side of the Venetian effort. Von Königsmark, Morosini’s Swedish colleague, saw little point in it, and he was right. The trade routes that were already failing by 1470, when Sultan Mehmed II took the town (the last incantus for Negropont was a single galley, and seems to have been concerned almost entirely with Thessalian grain), were of almost no importance and, even had the siege succeeded, Negropont would have been a hideously expensive outpost, surrounded by hostile territory on both the mainland and the island of Euboea. Morosini squandered far too many precious lives on the siege, but that did not prevent him from being elected Doge that same year. The scapegoat for Crete had now become the hero of Morea. He knew Candia too well to imagine that he could hope to retake it, but an attempt to erase the bitter memory of the loss of Negropont in 1470 may have seemed a worthy alternative. The map of the Negropont campaign (Plate χχχ now readable in ways that the black and white map never was, shows that, to some degree, the siege of 1688 replayed the siege of 1470, and the final attempt at a breach was made in the same part of the wall. The Venetians must have known that when they came through the wall they would arrive on the upper level of the Bourkos redoubt, and perhaps that was their intention. Their other attempt at storming a breach brought them onto the roof of the Temple redoubt in the northernmost quarter of the city. They were probably well aware of the size and location of these defense works through the preservation of documents from the 15th century in Venice. In 1692, during the dogeship of Morosini, there was an attempt to reclaim a foothold on Crete by taking Canea (pp. 211-218, Plate χχχ and this was surely a continuation of Morosini’s determination to be avenged for the loss of Candia. In 1693, he was assigned again to the command of the Venetian forces in Morea. He was the last warrior doge.

There is much that can be learned from every part of this book, and especially from the Grimani Plans themselves. The sooner the job is begun, the better. No one who has watched the neglect and decay of the post-classical monuments of Greece can be sanguine about their survival. The absolute, irreparable destruction of medieval Negropont is summed up by Andrews, ” . . . all the sea and land walls have gone, the moat, the bridge, and the Euripos fort. These works, magnificent and irreplaceable, have been systematically demolished in order to give way to the tasteless uniformity of provincial boulevards.” We are unlikely to see quite so absolute an act of vandalism again, but it is a warning, and clumsy over-restoration is not much better. Castles of the Morea will long remain one of the essential foundations for this sort of study.