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

Thursday, September 17, 2015

Byzantine Petrelë Castle, Albania

Defending The Roman Balkans

Petrelë Castle is a castle in Petrelë, central Albania. Its history dates back to Justinian I.

The castle of Petrelë has a rich history, containing a tower which was built in the 6th century AD.

Roman Era

The lands comprising modern-day Albania were incorporated into the Roman Empire as part of the province of Illyricum above the river Drin, and Roman Macedonia (specifically as Epirus Nova) below it.

The western part of the Via Egnatia ran inside modern Albania, ending at Dyrrachium. Illyricum was later divided into the provinces of Dalmatia and Pannonia.

The Roman province of Illyricum or Illyris Romana or Illyris Barbara or Illyria Barbara replaced most of the region of Illyria. It stretched from the Drilon River in modern Albania to Istria (Croatia) in the west and to the Sava River (Bosnia and Herzegovina) in the north. Salona (near modern Split in Croatia) functioned as its capital. The regions which it included changed through the centuries though a great part of ancient Illyria remained part of Illyricum.

South Illyria became Epirus Nova, part of the Roman province of Macedonia. In 357 AD the region was part of the Praetorian prefecture of Illyricum one of four large praetorian prefectures into which the Late Roman Empire was divided.

By 395 AD dioceses in which the region was divided were the Diocese of Dacia (as Pravealitana), and the Diocese of Macedonia (as Epirus Nova). Most of the region of modern Albania corresponds to the Epirus Nova.

The Roman Empire and its administrative divisions, c. 395 AD.
The dark red line on the left is the border between the Eastern and Western Empires.
Petrelë Castle is located in the Roman province of Epirus Nova.

Byzantine Era

In the first decades under Byzantine rule (until 461), Epirus nova suffered the devastation of raids by VisigothsHuns, and Ostrogoths. In the 4th century barbarian tribes began to prey upon the Roman Empire. 

The Germanic Goths and Asiatic Huns were the first to arrive, invading in mid-century; the Avars attacked in 570; and the Slavic Serbs and Croats overran the region in the early 7th century. About fifty years later, the Bulgars conquered much of the Balkan Peninsula and extended their domain to the lowlands of what is now central Albania. In general, the invaders destroyed or weakened Roman and Byzantine cultural centers in the lands that would become Albania.

In the early 9th century, the Byzantine government established the theme of Dyrrhachium, based in the city of the same name and covering most of the coast, while the interior was left under Slavic and later Bulgarian control. Full Byzantine control over modern Albania was established only after the Byzantine conquest of Bulgaria in the early 11th century.
Emperor Justinian I

Towards the end of the 12th century, as Byzantine central authority weakened and rebellions and regionalist secessionism became more common, the region of Arbanon became an autonomous principality ruled by its own hereditary princes.

After the Fourth Crusade, the region came under the control of the Despotate of Epirus, but its control was never firm.  

The Byzantine administrative system of the themes, or military provinces, contributed to the eventual rise of feudalism in Albania, as peasant soldiers who served military lords became serfs on their landed estates.  The rulers of these themes were practically independent of Byzantium.

What is today Albania would remain largely part of Byzantine empire until the Byzantine civil war of 1341–1347, when it fell shortly to the hands of the Serbian ruler Stephen Dushan.

Petrelë Castle

Procopius of Caesarea wrote of the many fortifications built or re-built by the Emperor Justinian (r. 527 - 565) to protect the Roman peoples of the Balkans from barbarian invasions.

"For it has as neighbours nations of Huns and of Goths, and the regions of Taurus and of Scythia rise up again it, as well as the haunts of the Sclaveni and of sundry other tribes — whether they are called by the writers of the most ancient history Hamaxibian or Metanastic Sauromatae, and whatever other wild race of men really either roams about or leads a settled life in that region." 

"And in his determination to resist these barbarians who were endlessly making war, the Emperor Justinian, who did not take the matter lightly, was obliged to throw innumerable fortresses about the country, to assign to them untold garrisons of troops, and to set up all other possible obstacles to an enemy who attacked without warning and who permitted no intercourse."  

In ancient times Petrelë was known as Petralba, which translated from Greek means 'the stone' of 'alba', therefore "The stone of Albanians". One can definitely see why it is called such, since the town and its castle are built on a huge stone on top of a small mountain. 
Halfway up the hill on which Petrela is situated are noteworthy remains of defensive walls which comprise terracing operations on the S, E, and W sides; above each section is a level area. On the best preserved, which is on the W side, rises a building to a height of 5 m and to a length of 20 m. 
The walls form a double ring, of which the outer section is built of square blocks which form a pseudo-isodomic structure strengthened by buttresses. In the vicinity, fragments of Hellenistic pottery have been discovered.
The tower in the center was built in the 5th century AD, although most of the remainder is Byzantine dating from between the 11th and 14th centuries. In later years the castle was used mostly to watch for Ottoman troops marching towards inner Albania.
The Petrela Castle was part of the signaling and defense system of the Kruja Castle. The castles signaled to each other by means of fires.

Today there is a restaurant inside the castle. The castle offers spectacular views of the Erzen valley, the hills, olive groves, and surrounding mountains.

Petrelë Castle

(Roman provinces)      (History of Albania)      (Petrele Castle)

(Albania under the Byzantine Empire)      (Petrele)

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