After an Epigraphic Expedition in Turkey and Greece…

Acting as a postdoctoral researcher for the ERC GRAPH-EAST project and its scientific team, I carried out a long field mission during summer 2022 in Turkey and some adjacent island of Greece. After a quite long, exhaustive series of travel arrangements as well as bureaucratic processes for permissions to inaccessible sites, the mission was overall a productive and, in some occasions, even surprisingly novel experience in my opinion. Therefore, I am feeling very glad on behalf of our project. In this case, I would like to share my documentations and discoveries in brief, accompanied by my impressions and research, concerning the Late Medieval Latin epigraphy in Turkey and Greece, also including the sites that I failed this time. My primary aim during the field mission was to document the inscriptions through detailed photography and taking basic measurements of them, which were formerly either omitted or considered superficially in the literature, so that our efforts shall produce new readings and interpretation in the context of epigraphy. The research is actually still ongoing and will be further elaborated during the 2022-2023 academic year.

Following our Cyprus field mission as the whole GRAPH-EAST project team in June-July, I went to Lesbos, Greece and documented the inscriptions in the Mytilene Castle. Even though Mytilene had a castle starting from ancient times, it had a significant reconstruction during the Gattilusio rule on the island between 1355-1462. This noble family from Genoa set close diplomatic and family relationships with the Byzantine imperial Palaiologos family, therefore acquired the island as a fief and established a dynastic lordship there. However, the Ottomans conquered the island and the castle was upgraded and extended in accordance with the offensive and defensive requirements of the gunpowder artillery era. Today, the upper citadel forms the period remained from the Gattilusio period and has tall, massive towers that were apparently built against traditional siege engines. Much wider middle and lower parts of the castle are Ottoman works to a large extent, who curiously reused many Gattilusio slabs, with or without inscriptions, on those sections built by them. Only one Gattilusio slab has an in-situ position in the present day, needless to say on the upper citadel. Two reused Gattilusio slabs with inscriptions mention the reconstruction of the castle in 1373. Both of them are in the vicinity of the gate of the middle part of the castle. This part has further reused slabs, but without any inscriptions. An interesting slab from the Gattilusio rule is the tombstone of Angineta Spinola, which is on display in the Ottoman magazine building in the middle section of the castle. The bas-relief of a praying lady, accompanied by two coats of arms, is surrounded with a Gothic minuscule inscription. The slab was seemingly moved from somewhere else, most probably a church in the castle.


Fig. 1-3 : Mytilene Castle from the east (upper citadel is on the left and lower citadel is on the right); and two Gattilusio inscriptions from the castle (Hasan Sercan Saglam).

After Mytilene, in the end of July, I moved to Bodrum. On the way, I visited the Anaia (Kadikalesi) archaeological excavations in Kusadasi with the hope of finding some epigraphic materials. Here, many examples of Middle-Late Byzantine pottery were discovered, which were actually ordered by Latin patrons, as the figures on them display, and since Anaia was a busy trade destination during the Late Medieval Period, where Italian merchants frequented its harbour. However, no inscription survived so far, except for a corroded seal. Near Anaia, the Güvercinada Castle and city walls in Kusadasi are often attributed to the Genoese but it is simply an urban myth and both structures remained from Ottoman times. In the further south, the St. Pierre Castle of Bodrum (ancient Halikarnassos) was primarily built by the Knights Hospitaller starting from the beginning of the 15th century, after their expulsion from the namesake castle in Smyrna due to the successful siege of Tamerlane in December 1402. The castle was continuously extended and upgraded with significant additions, which were all commemorated by mural slabs with coats of arms that most of them have inscriptions of different kinds in the context of style, content and language. The knights were able to hold the castle until the fall of Rhodes in 1522 to the Ottomans. From an architectural history point of view, the castle appears as a hybrid example, where a coastal citadel needed to be quickly upgraded to a massive cannon emplacement, throughout a period of one century during the turning point of Medieval times. The epigraphic inventory of the St. Pierre Castle can be defined quite rich, including more than fifty inscriptions on ramparts and a similar number of memorial inscriptions as well as graffiti remained from the resident knights that almost entirely can be seen in the so-called Tower of England. Nevertheless, the so-called towers of France, Germany, Italy, Spain and Gatineau, the Naillac Bastion, and the caponier also have such epigraphic materials of individual attempts, though with a relatively limited scale. A few inscriptions of the knights on the exterior corners of the former chapel in the courtyard of the castle can be mentioned as additional epigraphic examples in this case. I was able to document perhaps the majority of them, thanks to the generous collaboration of the Bodrum Museum of Underwater Archaeology centred in the castle. Personally, I found the bilingual, supposedly apotropaic inscriptions of Jacques Gatineau on the counterscarp rampart, who served as the castellan around the 1510s, as the most striking examples, which are waiting to be explained from many perspectives. Furthermore, multiple names of the knights in the Tower of England constitute a curious epigraphic group that require an interdisciplinary approach in order to be interpreted as well as to be linked with other inscriptions. Bilingual mural inscriptions with different combinations (Latin with Greek, French or English) are other distinctive features of the St. Pierre Castle in Bodrum.


Fig. 4-6: Entrance to the outer courtyard of the Bodrum St. Pierre Castle with several mural slabs; and two Knights Hospitaller inscriptions from the castle (Hasan Sercan Saglam).

My next stop was Amasra (ancient Amastris) next to the Black Sea, in the beginning of August. This place was a renowned Genoese colony called Samastro during the 14th-15th centuries. The Amasra Castle is originally a Middle Byzantine fortification that protected the shrunk post-classical city against Arab raids. The successor Genoese needed to make several additions to the castle during their colonial occupation, which include a partition wall to create an inner castle area, a rectangular citadel within the inner castle, doubling the main gates, and heightening some towers. All these alterations were commemorated by mural slabs with coats of arms and inscriptions by the Genoese. The collaboration between the GRAPH-EAST project and the Amasra Museum was another fruitful work. Finding the trace of one of the former consuls of Samastro called Bartolomeo Zoaglio, in the expense registries of Caffa, whose name can be seen on a slab in the museum, was an unexpected discovery when the mission was still ongoing. Moreover, rereading the inscription about a former ruler called Pietro, which was previously misread, was another novel outcome of the detailed documentation in the Amasra Castle.


Fig. 7-9: Entranceto the inner citadel of the Amasra Castle; and two Genoese inscriptions from the site (Hasan Sercan Saglam).

In the middle of August, I visited Chios through Cesme, Izmir, where another alleged Genoese castle is located, which is just another Ottoman work like the case of Kusadasi. Chios is right opposite Cesme and it has a castle that had numerous major construction phases during the Byzantine, Genoese, Ottoman and Venetian periods. The island was also Genoese colony starting from the 14th century, until 1566, and was ruled by a specialized organization called maona, of the noble Giustiniani family. In the end of the 17th century, there was a short Venetian occupation for a couple of years in Chios, after the successful siege of Antonio Zeno, who restored the castle and hastily coated the predecessor Genoese defensive work. In this case, a Genoese inscription and a Venetian mural inscription on the castle with very close intervals around the main gate (Porta Maggiore) formed perhaps one of the unique epigraphic combinations that I encountered during this field mission, concerning two former Italian maritime states that were famous for their rivalry. Further domestic and funerary inscriptions from the Genoese period are currently on display in the Chios Byzantine Museum. As far as I am able to remember, the epigraphic inventory of Chios formed by far the richest collection in terms of functional diversity. 


Fig. 10-12: One of the bastions of the Chios Castle, built by the Genoese and was upgraded by a Venetian external work; and two inscriptions from the museum (Hasan Sercan Saglam). 

In September, I visited Enez (ancient Ainos) in Thrace, next to the border between Turkey and Greece that is marked by River Maritsa. The Ainos Archaeological Excavations kindly welcomed me as a member of the scientific board this season, on behalf of the GRAPH-EAST project. This place was the second Gattilusio lordship like Lesbos during the 14th-15th centuries, which gradually extended its territories to the nearby North Aegean islands, including Samothrace, Imbros, Lemnos and Thasos. The city lies on a triangular peninsula with three hills, surrounded by lagoons and estuaries. There is a Late Byzantine castle on the central hillside, which was sufficient only to provide shelter to its former inhabitants during a threat. Then, during the naval supremacy of the Gattilusio rule, two wall courses were stretched with a right angle from the castle towards the lagoon, in order to reclaim the formerly abandoned coastal parts. There used to be many Gattilusio inscriptions in Ainos, both in Greek and in Latin, though only two of them remained, which are on the both arms of the aforementioned coastal walls and are dated 1385 and 1413. These inscriptions are important to display the multi-layered architectural phases of the Enez Castle starting from its Byzantine origin and the transformation it had over time.


Fig. 13-15: Coastal extensions and the main enceinte of the Enez Castle; and two Gattilusio inscriptions on its walls (Hasan Sercan Saglam). 

Meanwhile, as a part of another scholarly occasion, I had chance to visit the southwestern provinces of Turkey and I looked for the Latin epigraphic testimonies there; more precisely at the St. Nicholas Church in Demre (ancient Myra), being a busy Christian pilgrimage site starting from the Middle Ages, and the city walls of Antalya (ancient Attaleia), where a few Lusignan mural slabs with coats of arms were placed during a short occupation by the Kingdom of Cyprus. I was unable to detect any inscriptions in those places yet, but my coincidental visits enabled me to realize the number of potential Medieval Latin epigraphy sites in Asia Minor, which require more attention in future studies. Likewise, the remaining Gattilusio fortifications along the Aegean coasts of Turkey, namely the towers of the BüyükMaden Island in Ayvalik and the Mardaliç Island in Dikiliand the Candarli Castle again in Dikilialso brought no epigraphic evidence during this mission.

Fig. 16: Kingdom of Cyprus mural slab with coat of arms, formerly on the city walls of Antalya, now in the Antalya Archaeological Museum (Hasan Sercan Saglam).

Finally, in the beginning of October, I visited Istanbul, once the capital of the Byzantine Empire called Constantinople. The city has two major periods of the Medieval Latin epigraphic testimony, being the Latin Empire (1204-1261) following the Fourth Crusade, and the colonial occupation of the Genoese on the other side of the Golden Horn, in Galata (whom called it Pera), which lasted between 1267-1453. During this visit, I was able to obtain permission to document and study the Latin as well as Genoese mural and funerary inscriptions kept in the Istanbul Archaeology Museums, for the GRAPH-EAST project. Those include the fragmentary Franciscan frescoes from a converted Byzantine church, construction slabs once stood on the Galata Walls, and the tombstones of the Genoese colonists, formerly covered the floor of the former San Domenico Church, which was converted into a mosque by the Ottomans in the late 15th century (now Arap Mosque). Other than the museum, three Genoese slabs are currently on display in the Galata Tower, a couple of them are in private possession,three tombstones were reused by the Ottomans on the Arap Mosque that one of them has a defaced inscription, and two Genoese mural slabs are still on the walls in the present day that one of them is inscribed, as the only in-situ example in this context. Moreover, the collaboration of the Latin Catholic Cemetery in Istanbul contributed to our inventory of funerary epigraphy as well, with two examples with long lives until finding their ultimate positions there. Finally, perhaps the most surprising outcome of the Istanbul mission has become a Late Medieval Latin graffiti found inside a converted Byzantine church, now a mosque. To my knowledge, it is the first graffiti example in Latin from the historical period in question in Istanbul. Thanks to the skills that we were taught as a part of the GRAPH-EAST project trainings, it is possible to return defaced or faded inscriptions to a large extent, which causes further curiosity and excitement. Nevertheless, the Istanbul phase is still a huge work in progress, therefore I must admit that more discoveries, naturally accompanied by efforts are waiting for the GRAPH-EAST project in 2023 from this magnificent city. Stay tuned…


Fig. 17-19: Ossuary of the Latin Catholic Cemetery, covered with numerous tombstones; and graffito and funerary inscription examples from Istanbul (Hasan Sercan Saglam). 

Cite this blog post
Hasan Sercan Saglam (2022, October 14). After an Epigraphic Expedition in Turkey and Greece…. ERC GRAPH-EAST. Retrieved June 19, 2024, from

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