Castles by the sea

(addition – 12 August – chastel peleurim (Château Pèlerin).

Much time and ink has been spent on the likely originals for these two castles in folio 86v.

fol 86v minimap detail Alexandria 3castle fol 86v minimap castle onlyUnless I’ve substantially mis-read folio 86v’s orientation, the detail shown left marks a point on the eastern Mediterranean shore is meant for Constantinople and the other (right) a place some distance inland from the coast, but still apparently in the Egyptian delta. (The so-called ‘Volcano’ I rather think is meant to represent a pyramid).

Given the date I’ve posited for addition of these geometric structures to the older map  (I date their addition to between the mid-12th – mid-13thC), it seems worth offering other  examplee of how castles  were being drawn on Latin maps depicting that part of the world.

Below, the detail shows the coast of the eastern Mediterranean from Haifa to Damietta, as pictured in an  Itinerary to Jerusalem ( Brit.Lib. MS Royal 14 C VII f.4v. ),  attributed to Matthew Paris in southern England (St. Albans) 1250-1259 AD.

One of the Norman-French names has me stumped is problematic, but otherwise I make them as:

left to right:   ‘Kaifas’ (i.e. Caiphas = Haifa); chastel peleurim (Château Pèlerin, 8 miles south of Haifa); ‘Cesaire’ (Caesarea‘); ‘Jafel’ (‘Jaffa’); ‘escalione’ (Ashkelon); ‘te Darun’ ( ‘Daron’ or Darum’ monastery and Fortess = Deir al-Balah); ‘Damiettos’ (Damietta).

It’s an orderly progression (see modern map following). For that reason, I don’t think ‘Chastel Peleuim’ can be meant for Pelusinium/Pelusium. Do comment if you can work it out. (Click if Damietta is not visible).

maps and charts Holy Land shores Mat Paris Itinerary 13thC brightened

    (click if you can’t see the inset in the map below).

map eastern Med Crusader period blog


swallowtail from the medieval Genoese port of Caffa

swallowtail from the medieval Genoese port of Caffa

As most ‘Voynicheros’ know, ‘swallowtail’ crenellations were used within mainland Latin Europe (principally in some of the Italian city states) to signal political allegiances during Italy’s near-civil war over whether ultimate authority in western Christendom should be inherited through a royal dynastic line, or whether it should be granted to an elected religious leader.  The Ghibellines espoused the first, the Guelfs the second. Neither ‘party’ could be considered secular in the modern sense.

Since it was perfectly possible for a lord to be a Ghibelline and his son to be a Guelf, swallowtail merlons need not (even when incorporated in a castle) necessarily signal continuing adherence to one or the other.  However, because the issue was of such importance to the italian states, members of that region might ornament any castle with merlons of that type, and ornament even schematic figures with the style they espoused. Within Italy.

Beyond Italy, these ‘swallowtails’ could appear on crusader castle, or around mercantile centres such as Caffa, in which both Guelf and Ghibelline residents coexisted.  They do not signal party allegiance in those circumstances but only an enclave of more-or-less self-governing Latins.

Still, the Genoese were almost in a state of civil war over the issue during the twelfth and thirteenth centuries, to the point where the hundreds of Genoese who went as mariners to the Persian gulf are said to have wiped each other out to the last man.  It may even be so.

So, here’s a map showing which among the eastern harbours and ports were preferred by the Genoese.

ports holy land blog

Ports used by the Genoese in Syria and Egypt.


3 thoughts on “Castles by the sea

  1. To speak quite so broadly of the manuscript’s ‘provenance’ as Professor Bax has done (see pingback details) is misleading, in my opinion.

    There is the provenance of the parchment to consider; then of the inks; the pigments and the various stages of binding attested to by the manuscript itself.

    On quite a different level, one has to determine the provenance of matter recorded by this manuscript, and here the provenance of the script must be distinguished from that of the imagery.

    As parallel for this process – consider the example of a fourteenth-century English bible. It might be of English parchment or binding, but inscribed by a hand trained in France, and its imagery could, perhaps, be in a very conservative traditional style or in the most fashionable contemporary mode – say an Italianate courtly style.

    Thus, each facet and component element contributing to the manuscript’s formation has its own provenance to be considered – not to mention its content. In our hypothetical case, that provenance would require reference to the fact that a large part of the work’s meaningful content originates as much as two thousand years before, in the pre-Christian world, among an entirely different people and cultural environment, far away from England, France or Italy, on the eastern side of the Mediterranean.
    In one sense, then, the provenance of such a manuscript is described as ‘fourteenth century English’ but that describes only the manufactured object, not the imagery or the content – which latter is rightly: ‘eastern Mediterranean, c.1750BC – 2ndC AD’.

    Just so, in the case of the Vms, my comments in the post above relate to just one detail of one section in just one folio (fol.86v), and this detail is part of what I consider to have been a late revision/addition made upon the copy of a much older and non-European original map.

    Description of this one folio occupied several posts in this blog and in my preliminary investigative blog.

    But I do thank Stephen for his notice. 🙂


  2. Now, having opted for Avignon as subject of the triangular ground with roofed tower (within the ‘minimap’, I’m leaving open for the moment the last date I’d posit for the addition of these architectural structures, but I do not expect it will prove later than about the middle of the fourteenth century.


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