John Haldon: the strategic geography of the northern Peloponnese: settlement, fortification and logistics
of research and results
The survey was carried out as the preliminary phase of a broader and more wide-ranging project on logistics ca. 500-1200, which will place the medieval written source material of all categories into the physical context which it purports to describe in recounting military activities, from movements of armies, recruitment of soldiers, provision of supplies, livestock, water to the siting and development of fortified centres etc. The aim is to provide a physical control on the claims of the medieval sources in respect of military activity, numbers and so forth, and the results will generate a major source of information for the analysis of medieval economic life and organisation.
The purpose of this initial survey was twofold: to determine the exact line of a number of routes used by both military and non-military traffic during the medieval period, and to relate these routes to fortified points/settlements and to supplies of water. The field survey of medieval routes described or alluded to in contemporary sources was carried out by vehicle and on foot. Several routes described in sources were confirmed by surface survey (chiefly on the basis of scattered ceramic evidence, but also by the evidence of standing remains of buildings, as well as proximity to deserted or occupied settlements). The majority of these routes connect sites still inhabited and were relatively easy to map. The initial focus was the medieval citadel of Akrokorinthos and routes were mapped as follows: Akrokorinthos eastwards - Isthmia; southeast - Kechrea; south - Mykenai, Argos, (Tripolis); southwest - anc. Nemea, Sterna, Tripolis; west - Zevgelateio, Sikyona, Xylokastro. Most of these are either still used as unmetalled roads or tracks, but are in places entirely covered by modern metalled roads. Branching out from these routes, however, and following valleys inland from the coast, on the one hand, or from arterial routes on the other, are several minor routes referred to in medieval histories and other documents, which were also mapped. The routes were for the most part not difficult to locate, since the terrain and landscape structure continue to determine the most practicable and widely-used routes or paths, many of them connecting existing hamlets or farms and well-known to local farmers, who provided valuable information on the more obscure routes.
Most of these tracks are waterless. Locating naturally-occurring sources of water proved problematic. Several roads are accompanied in autumn and winter by run-off streams and rivulets which provide restricted seasonal water supplies. The majority of the routes we examined are thus most easily accessible from late summer/autumn through the winter and into early Spring, although height and possible snowfall limit the use of some. Travel in midsummer must have been severely restricted by lack of water for large parties, and the limited written source material, where details of seasons are given, bears this out. By the same token, the movement of large bodies of people and animals is restricted even in the wetter seasons by the lack of large streams or rivers along most of the minor routes in the region, although it is clear that local knowledge is aware of mountain springs which are sometimes substantial. The movement of military forces in medieval times along such routes in these regions must, therefore, have been restricted to quite small numbers, for the most part, except where very large numbers of pack-animals carrying water were mustered (although the problem of fodder for such numbers of animals then arises). Along the valleys of the larger streams or rivers larger numbers can be supplied, and it is not surprising that accounts of medieval military movements can usually be associated with the routes which accompany them. As significant as a lack of, or a limited water supply, the nature of local agriculture seems also to have been crucial: many routes are inhabited only sparsely and produce only limited supplies of cereals or fruit, and can have supported only small additional numbers beyond the subsistance peasant population.
Major fortified centres are located along these routes and generally on a major water source (Argos, Nemea, Nafplion, Sikyona). They are supported by more extensive agricultural districts, and it is again clear from the medieval accounts that military movements tended to be restricted to major routes supported by medium-sized population centres where adequate supplies of food could be had. The brief accounts in the historical sources for the twelfth-fourteenth centuries for the history of military activities centred on Corinth/Akrokorinthos, for example, which was an important centre in the principality of Achaia after 1210, show that armies tended to move along these well-defined and well-supplied routes. The result is that the strategic geography of the regions is clearly inflected in terms of where and to what extent settlements or fortified centres were maintained, at key crossroads, at the heads of valleys giving access to agricultural plains, to coastal facilities such as ports or beaches where ships could be run aground and unloaded. An unexpected result of the survey of coastal routes was the location of a number of ruined watch-towers at sites associated with the movement of men and materials in the medieval period. While it was impossible to localise these in terms of specific mentions in the written sources, surface ceramic finds again suggested that they were part of the medieval strategic picture. Sites at Ormos Frangolimani, Koleyerolimani and near Ormos Sophikou may be associated with the military and naval movements which occurred in the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries in the fighting between Franks, Byzantines and Genoese, although the historical record is vague.
The provisional results of the survey can be used to support a number of tentative conclusions:
1. that the numbers given for military forces of all kinds in the majority of medieval written sources are completely untrustworthy. While this is generally accepted as a methodological principle, clear if circumstantial evidence that this is so can be derived from the fact that examination of several of the routes along which medieval armies are said to have marched, particularly where the length of the march in hours or days is known, showed that they could not possibly have provided the logistical support - water and foodstuffs, but esp. the former - necessary to maintain such forces.
2. it became clear that the totals for the size of armies maintained by various rulers or local potentates cannot have been as great as is often assumed, for similar reasons connected with the potential for logistical support offered by the local agriculture.
3. further and more detailed work needs to be done on medieval land use, the types and quantity of crop harvested and their nutritional value, before these conclusions can be placed in a more reliable scientific framework, but the survey carried out in August, and the analysis of the written sources completed as a first stage in this project, show that only this approach can bring the sort of results hoped for.
4. the relevance of applying this approach to earlier periods of medieval history, in both the Frankish west and the Byzantine east, was confirmed.
5. the methodological principles upon which this sort of survey and analysis depends need to be clearly articulated and a set of priorities in respect of survey work, source analysis, landscape studies and so on drawn up. The next stage of the project will be to write up these preliminary results for publication and to enunciate those principles.