The Peloponnese, occupying a strategic geographical position in the eastern Mediterranean, has experienced in its history down the years constant political and social changes. Many invaders have tried to conquer her; some succeeded. A physical result of this mix of historical, military, political and social circumstances is a broad and diverse network of fortifications located in the Argolid, Arcadia and Corinthia, areas whose fate in the past the rest of the Peloponnese followed.
In the orbit of Byzantium
Κόρινθος,ἥ ποτε Ἐφύρα, μητρόπολις πάσης Ἑλλάδος καὶ αὐτῆς Πελοποννήσου, τουτέστιν Ἀχαίας· οἱ γὰρ Ῥωμαῖοι τοὺς τὴν Πελοπόννησον οἰκοῦντας Ἀχαιοὺς ὀνομάζουσιν. Ἔστι δὲ πᾶσα ἡ νῆσος ὑπὸ ἐνὶ στρατηγῷ τεταγμένη, πόλεις ἔχουσα τεσσαράκοντα· ἐξ ὧν εἰσιν ἐπίσημοι Κόρινθος μητρόπολις, Σικυών, Ἄργος, Λακεδαιμονία τῆς Λακωνικῆς ἡ πρίν Σπάρτη, ἑτέρα μητρόπολις αἱ λεγόμεναι Πάτραι.
Πορφυρογέννητος, Περί Θεμάτων.
During the early Byzantine centuries the Peloponnese belonged to the preexisting Praetorian Prefecture of Illyricum, until its administrative status changed in the 7th century, when was introduced the organization of the Empire by Themes. The first safely dated testimony to the Theme of the Peloponnese, with its seat in Corinth, is in 805, but likely its foundation was in place from the end of the 8th century (783 or 786/788).
The First Byzantine period (4th7th centuries) was for the Peloponnese a time when the ancient lifestyle and the new sociopolitical conditions and attitudes related to the spread of the new Christian religion merged. At the same time the ecclesiastical administration was taking form through strong local dioceses that sent representatives even now to the Ecumenical Councils, as happened with the Bishop of Tegea, Ophelimos, at the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon in 451. Important religious establishments were established in the prefectures of the Argolid, Arcadia and Corinthia. In the Argolid basilicas are known in Argos, Epidaurus and Hermione, in Arcadia there is the Basilica of Thyrsos in Tegea and at Corinth the largest one in the Balkans, that of the martyr Leonidas at Lechaio, and also others such, e.g. of the Bishop Kodratos of Kraneio at Skoutela.
However, at this time the Peloponnese was afflicted by natural phenomena such as earthquakes, a plague in 542, and by raids that resulted in the plundering of many cities. Particularly so in 396/397, when the Argolid, Corinthia and Arcadia suffered the disastrous consequences of the invasion of the Visigoths under Alaric. Basically only Tegea under the lord Roufus successfully resisted. The insecurity spawned by the raids during this period is reflected in the construction of fortifications, such as the Examilios walls and the Byzantine fortifications of Corinth.
The cities were gradually changing form, abandoning the canons of urban planning and becoming centres for rural countryside surrounding them, the which is increasingly gaining in importance.
The Transitional Years (7th-9th centuries). The climate of insecurity persisted in the subsequent centuries. The late 6th century to early 7th century was marked by the raids of the Slavic tribes reaching the Peloponnese in waves. These barbarian tribes sought out for the most part the mountainous interior of the Peloponnese and its west. Many of the former residents seeking safety were forced to find shelter in naturally fortified sites, but also on the coasts or on islands controlled and better protected by the Byzantine fleet. A consequence of the above situation was to create citycastles. Typically, the Argives and Corinthians seem to have taken refuge, albeit temporarily, on the islands of Romvi and Aegina respectively, whilst the residents of Arcadia founded Arkadia in Messinia, some Laconians set up Monemvasia, while yet others fled to Tsakonia.
Changes in church administration followed too as a result. New bishoprics were created, while some of the older saw their clout diminished or even increased.
The Slavs, settling down gradually, began to coexist peacefully with the local population and were absorbed into this as is vividly highlighted by recent archaeological finds in Arcadia. Gradually, the Byzantine power is established all over the Peloponnese, before the end of the 9th century. The Byzantines fully recovered control in the region after the campaigns of first the patrikios and logothete (chief minister) Staurakios in 783, and a little later of the military governor/general Sklerus in 805/806. In addition, significant efforts were made to consolidate the Christian faith with acts of an ecclesiastical nature by Petros, Bishop of Argos and by the Venerable Nikon the Metanoeite.
From the 7th century the Arabs made their hostile presence felt. The conquest of Crete in 827 by the Arabs was important for the safety of residents also of the Peloponnese, as Crete became used as a base for raiding. This even affected the area of Corinth, where some cities shrunk to safer locations inside the walls, as is indicated by the establishment of the diocese of Zemenon. From the Life of Saint Peter the Wonderworker of Argos it is understood that Argos and Nafplio at the end of the 9th century and early 10th were settlements in an organized social network. The wealth of the region must be considerable for cities to have been worth looting by the Arab pirates, let alone the opportunities for the taking of prisoners for ransom.
Middle Byzantine period (9th13th centuries) The victories against the new enemies of the Empire in these centuries these created conditions of normalcy and prosperity. Dozens of cities in Peloponnese are numbered in the work of the Emperor Constantine VII Porphyrogenitus Περί Θεμάτων (On Themes). Of five of those named, three definitely belong in the Corinthia (Corinth, Sicyon) and in the Argolid (Argos).
This acme was reflected in the Peloponnese both in the cities that prospered now, such as Corinth, Nikli and Argos, and in the religious establishments, such as the Monastery of the Virgin in Steiri in the Corinthia, alongside the Holy Monastery of Areia and the church of the Transfiguration at Platanitis in the Argolid.
In the first half of the 11th century the themes of Greece and the Peloponnese were combined. This organizational change resulted in a transfer of the administrative seat from Corinth to Thebes. In the same century there were established two other metropolises of Christianoupolis and Lacedaemonia; later in 1189 was created a metropolis also in Argos: all this thereby weakened the position of Corinth. Arcadia, in the early 10th century, belonged to the ecclesiastical diocese of Lacedaemonia, while the division of the diocese of Lacedaemonia itself into metropolis districts led to the establishment of bishoprics of Amykleio, with its seat at Nikli, and of Pissis, perhaps in the neighbourhood of Kynouria.
The necessity for a defensive shield and for the protection of citizens had nonetheless not disappeared. Arab raids afflicted the coasts of the Argolid even in the 12th century. Further, in 1147 the king of the Normans Roger looted the city of Corinth. In these circumstances, the castle of Larissa at Argos and the Acronafplia in the Argolid were recommissioned. Many cities in Arcadia though both survived the trials of the transitional centuries and evolved. Typical is the case of Tegea that first fortified itself and then renamed itself Nikli. And again in the case of Veligosti which developed into a thriving middle Byzantine municipality, as is well demonstrated by its designation in the Chronicle of the Morea as a region of notables. In Corinthia repairs and new constructions were made to the castle of Acrocorinth, whilst a Byzantine presence was probably to be found at Agionori, Angelokastro, Piada etc.
After the crusaders
Τέσσαρα κάστρη ἀφέντη μας, σὲ λείπουσιν ἀκόμη·
τὸ πρῶτον ἔνι ἡ Κόρινθος, τὸ δεύτερον τὸ Ἀνάπλι,
τὸ τρίτο ἔνι ἡ Μονοβασία, τὸ τέταρτον τὸ Ἄργος·
πολλὰ εἶν’ τὰ κάστρη δυνατὰ, καλὰ σωταρχισμένα.
On April 12, 1204 the Crusaders conquered Constantinople, dissolved the Byzantine state and partitioned the lands between themselves. But the document on the distribution of the empire (Partitio Terrarum Imperii Romaniae) was largely theoretical, because the lands still had to be won. Although in the Partitio the Peloponnesus was allotted to the Venetians, yet by "right of conquest" it was already in the hands of the Franks. The Frankish conquest of the Peloponnese had begun in 1205 in the northwest part of the Peloponnese, with the Frankish knights being led by William of Champlitte and Geoffrey I de Villehardouin: between them they founded the Frankish Principality of Achaea. In the Treaty of Sapienza in 1209, the Peloponnese, except for the ports of Methoni and Koroni, passed officially to the Franks, who were to swear fealty to the doge of Venice. A few local rulers, such as the lord of Nafplio, Argos and Corinth, Leon Sgouros, resisted the new conquerors – for a while.
After the departure of Champlitte, Villehardouin set about the distribution of fiefs in his territory. The Peloponnese was divided into 12 baronies, with a variable number of fiefdoms in each. Arcadia was divided into four baronies: Akova with 24 fiefdoms,
Karytaina with 22, Veligosti with four, and finally Nikli with six. Kynouria was the last to be taken: it was given as a fiefdom to the Barony of Geraki.
The Argolid with the important castles of Larissa, Nafplio, Kiveri and Thermisia, after brief occupation by the Villehardouins, was granted in 1212 to the Duke of Athens, Otho de la Roche.
The Corinthia was not made a barony, but a castellany, as it was dependant directly on the Prince of the Morea. The castellany embraced Acrocorinth and Penteskoufi, Vasilika, Angelokastro, Ag. Georgios Polyfengous, Ag. Vasileios, Ligourio, Piada and Xerokastello.
The battle of Pelagonia in 1259 was the instrument for important historical changes. The winners, the Byzantines, exchanged the person of William de Villehardouin for the castles of Monemvasia, Geraki and Mystras. The castles were confirmed as Byzantine in 1261 at the socalled "Ladies' Parliament” held in Nikli, probably in the church of the Palaia Episkopi. This marks the beginning of the consolidation and the gradual expansion of the Byzantines into the Peloponnese. Immediately in 1263 the Byzantines came under attack by the Franks: the sebastokrator Constantine Palaeologus, brother of Emperor Michael VIII, came to provide extra help from Constantinople.
During the 14th century Byzantine domination in Peloponnese was further extended and consolidated. From the second decade of this century, under the Commissioner of Mystras Andronicus Palaeologus Asan, significant castles in Arcadia, like Karytaina and Akova, were taken. Moreover, in 1348/1349, the administrative Byzantine eparchy of Morea was upgraded to a Despotate. The title of ‘despot’ was held by worthy members of the Kantakouzenos and Palaeologus families.
Apart from the Byzantine aggregation of power, other external factors gradually weakened the Principality of Achaea, such as the presence of the Catalan and then the Navarrese Companies, let alone the increasingly frequent interventions of the Ottomans.
Ottomans and Venetians in the Peloponnese
Ἀκόμα τούτη τὴν ἄνοιξι - Ραγιάδες, Ραγιάδες,
τοῦτο τὸ καλοκαῖρι – Καημένη Ρούμελη,
ὅσο νὰ ῾ρθῃ ὁ Μόσχοβος - Ραγιάδες, Ραγιάδες,
νὰ φέρῃ τὸ σεφέρι – Μοριᾶ καὶ Ρούμελη.
After the conquest of Constantinople in 1453, the Ottomans steadily advanced into the Balkan provinces. By 1460 the Peloponnese, apart from Monemvasia and the towns under Venetian occupation (namely Argos, Nafplio, Methoni, Koroni), was occupied by Mehmed II the Conqueror.
Then was established the livas (sanjak) of Moria, which was part of the beilerbeilikio (eyalet) of Rumelia. The latter territory was divided into provinces (kazas), which in turn were divided into communities. In the 17th century the Peloponnese was a separate Eyalet, though excluding the sanjak of Mistra (Mystras, Koroni, Vardounia) which from the 16th century belonged to the Eyalet of the Islands of the Archipelago.
The Second VenetianTurkish war led to a treaty in 1503, with losses to the Venetians. In the Peloponnese they lost the important trading stations of Methoni, Koroni and Pylos. Later, in 15321534 the Spanish fleet seized from Ottomans the castles of Koroni, Patras, Pylos, Rio and Antirio. In 1537-1540, in the Third VenetianTurkish war, further losses were sustained by the Venetians in the Peloponnese, namely Nafplio and Monemvasia.
However the Sixth VenetianTurkish War of 1684-1699 saw the conquest of the Peloponnese by the Venetians under Morosini in the three successive campaigns of 1685, 1686, 1687. Essentially the entire Peloponnese became Venetian in 1690, with the capture of Monemvasia.
During the Second Venetian occupation (1685-1715), the administrative division retained the 24 regions in force during the Turkish occupation. These areas are grouped into four larger geographic regions or administrations, the provinces (provinciae), which in turn are made up of areas/territorii (themes): 1) Provincia di Romania with its capital at Nafplio (Nafplio, Argos, Corinth, Tripolis, Ag. Petros Tsakonias), 2) Provincia d'Accaia, capital at Patras (Patras, Vostitsa, Kalavryta, Gastouni), 3) Provincia di Messenia, capital at Neo Navarino (Neo Navarino, Methoni, Koroni, Androusa, Kalamata, Leontari, Karytaina Fanari, Kyparissia (in Arkadia) and 4) Provincia di Laconia, capital at Monemvasia (Monemvasia, Mystras, Chrysafa, Elos, Ano and Kato Mani).
However, this last period of Venetian rule did not last long. In 1714-1715, in the final VenetianTurkish war, the Peloponnese returned to Ottoman hands, which was ratified by the Treaty of Passarowitz in 1718. A few decades later, in 1770, the revolt of the Orloff Events in the Peloponnese took place, prompted by Russia: it was soon suppressed. In 1774 the RussoTurkish War (1768-1774) came to an end with the Treaty of Küçük Kaynarca, which supported the Orthodox Church and the Greeks to the extent that they were free to sail their vessels under the Russian flag.
The years of revolution
Είναι καιρός να αποτινάξωμεν τον αφόρητον τούτον Ζυγόν, να ελευθερώσωμεν την Πατρίδα, να κρημνίσωμεν από τα νέφη την ημισέληνον να υψώσωμεν το σημείον, δι’ ου πάντοτε νικώμεν! λέγω τον Σταυρόν, και ούτω να εκδικήσωμεν την Πατρίδα, και την Ορθόδοξον ημών Πίστιν από την ασεβή των ασεβών Καταφρόνησιν.
In 1814 there was founded in Odessa by Skoufas, Tsakalov and Xanthos the ‘Society of Friends’. Its aim was to liberate Greece from the Ottomans. Important personalities from the Peloponnese participated in the project. Revolution broke out in the spring of 1821. In that same year the rebels seized the administrative centre of the Moria, Tripolitsa/Tripolis. At Epidaurus, the First National Assembly and the adoption of the first Constitution was held: Corinth was appointed the first capital of the new state. In 1823 the Second National Assembly, at Astros, and the adoption of a new Constitution was accomplished. The revolution was threatened with extinction during the years of fighting and looting by Ibrahim (1825-1827) and his Egyptian forces, but in October 1827 the united fleet of England, France and Russia overwhelmed the TurkishEgyptian fleet at Navarino. The Greek revolution survived to fight on. In 1830 the London Protocol ratified the political independence of Greece, that had already been determined in the Treaty of London of 1827.
At this time the castles of the Peloponnese and central Greece were the theatre of bloody warfare, which for most of them was at least the last such round of events.