Lordship and Feudality

Castles & Norman rule

The Norman lord exercised his power from the castle, his military power base where he lived and which in Norman times became a major feature of the Mezzogiorno landscape. The density of these forts impressed the German chroniclers, for example, whenever the imperial army went down there, and the presence of the castles was especially disliked in areas accustomed to the Byzantine imperial administration, particularly the towns.

The castle in fact served a purpose both military and symbolic since its very presence expressed the conqueror’s sway over his territory. One typical example was the towers erected away from the houses which they oversaw, maybe even built into the walls of subjected towns, close to gates where a toll was levied on anyone passing through. Each new possession taken over was marked in this way by the building of a castle or tower (Bari, 1075, Troia, 1080).

Many castles built at that time doubtless copied a model imported from Normandy – wooden towers raised on an artificial mound. Here lived the lord with a small group of men-at-arms, overseeing the collection of revenue from his domain or setting out on plunderous raids, which was all military operations in these private wars usually amounted to. Robert Guiscard’s castles in Calabria – Scribla and San Marco Argentano – certainly seem to fit this mid-11th c. model. At San Marco Argentano, the tower and the motte wall were rebuilt in stone in the 12th c., and significantly, the fort kept the name of Torre Normanna (the Norman Tower).

Elsewhere, in the mountainous regions, natural escarpments made castle-building easier, and often too, the Normans re-used earlier fortifications, especially in the Lombard principalities, where building chronology can sometimes be hard to establish.
Be that as it may, in the 11th c., the Norman conquest relied on castles scattered in a manner indicating how disjointed the takeover of power by the feudal lords really was. During the 12th c., the Norman monarchy set about regaining control of these castles for use as bases from which to defend the territory and levy men for service in the king’s armies

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