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Privately Owned Towers in Dalmatian Towns during the High and Central Middle Ages

Nikolić Jakus, Zrinka
Privately Owned Towers in Dalmatian Towns during the High and Central Middle Ages // Towns and Cities of the Croatian Middle Ages: Authority and Property / Benyovsky Latin, Irena ; Pešorda Vardić, Zrinka (ur.).
Zagreb: Hrvatski institut za povijest, 2014. str. 273-293

Privately Owned Towers in Dalmatian Towns during the High and Central Middle Ages

Nikolić Jakus, Zrinka

Vrsta, podvrsta i kategorija rada
Poglavlja u knjigama, znanstveni

Towns and Cities of the Croatian Middle Ages: Authority and Property

Benyovsky Latin, Irena ; Pešorda Vardić, Zrinka

Hrvatski institut za povijest



Raspon stranica


Ključne riječi
Kule, dalmatinski gradovi, gradsko plemstvo, srednji vijek
(Towers, Dalmatian towns, urban nobility, Middle Ages)

One of the main expressions of power of urban nobles during the Central and High Middle Ages in the majority of Mediterranean towns, was a possession of a fortified residence or a refuge. Many townscapes were dominated by mighty private towers, visual assertions of distinguished families. Similar examples can be found in Dalmatia, especially in the documents of Split and Trogir but also in Dubrovnik, Rab, and Zadar. There, towers seem to have been mostly connected to city walls. Thomas the Archdeacon explains in his chronicle that after the settlement of Salonitan refugees in the ancient imperial palace, the rich built their houses, and those who lacked money for building got the towers, while the rest of the people settled in crypts. However, it does not seem that the towers were inhabited only by “the middle class, ” since the leader of the refugees himself, Sever the Great, had a home consisting of a palace and tower in the south-eastern corner of the palace. This early inheritance and control of ancient Roman ruins which were suitable for fortification by the urban nobility seems common in Italy and some other regions of Mediterranean Europe. Most of the later references to private towers of Split are indeed connected to the walls of the palace. In the Split feud in the thirteenth century, described by Archdeacon Thomas, the party of “Vitalis” took shelter in a tower over the northern gate of the city. The opponent party took refuge in the tower of Kalenda, which was probably located somewhere in the south-west part of the wall. The tower of the rich Split merchant Ciprian de Ciprianis shared the borders with the northern side of the archdiocesan complex which was the former palace of Sever the Great. For some others, it may be presumed that they might have also been connected with the city walls, since they were in the proximity of external buildings while for some the location cannot be deduced at all. The only still standing Romanesque casa turrita is situated beside the western entrance of the Diocletian palace (the “Iron Gate”) but it is more of a representative, than defensive, nature. In Trogir, historian John Lucius suggested that after the twelfth-century destructions, the city authorities must have allowed rich citizens who financed reconstruction of towers of city walls to keep them. This issue is better understood for the period from the second half of the thirteenth century onwards, thanks to richer sources and the work of Irena Benyovsky Latin and Ana Plosnić Škarić. Their research on the topography of the dwellings of Trogir nobility show that most of them were close to the walls of the old city (before the expansion to the west in the thirteenth century). The examples of private towers in Dubrovnik at the end of the thirteenth and the beginning of the fourteenth century also show their connection with town fortifications of that period as well as individual property over the towers. Some examples in Rab could also be connected to the old fortifications. It seems puzzling that there is only one private tower mentioned in Zadar sources. It belonged to the house of Count Dominic Morosini, whose son Roger sold it in 1193. This house is described as being situated in front of the church of St. Mary the Great, which was situated very close to the city wall. This house might have also been attached to the walls, in the same way as the examples in Trogir. It is possible that in Zadar the possession of private noble towers was discouraged by the Venetian authorities, who may have rightfully seen such towers to be the places of mutiny and resistance. Thus, the only tower known to be erected was supposed to protect a Venetian Count from the locals. The towers thus seem to have performed two functions: providing military protection in case of feuds, but mainly serving as family residences (the casa-torre or tower-house). The Split sources mention the examples of defensive use in the thirteenth, and the residential one in the fourteenth century but the earlier use of towers as residential should also not be neglected. The remains of the few existent towers show that these towers contained windows even in the lower part. In this regard, they were similar to the Venetian examples, which were more of a representative than a defensive character. I could not find evidence that the towers presented the joint property of the whole lineage, although they could be held by one branch of the lineage. A possible example is the private tower of the Gauzigna clan in Rab on the top of which Albert, senior stirpis, along with the rest of the male members of the clan, founded the private chapel of St. Stephen. However, it might have been that only the chapel was supposed to be the property of the whole lineage. On the other hand, in several other examples, the individual character of ownership of towers is evident in the fact that parts of them could be owned by women, at least while they kept the right to equal shares of inheritance. This feature seems to be in accordance with Venetian practice, and in contrast with the usual Italian practice described by Heers and his followers. A possibility that some family towers if not performing defensive role, might have served as a suitable place for women of the family, who might have preferred a religious life over marriage but were not cloistered nuns, should also not be discarded. In the earlier period, the Split towers are sometimes mentioned as having several different owners, who seem not to be related to one another: a Split document dated to 1040 (although suspected to be a forgery from the twelfth century) mentions how the prior (Split mayor) Nicifor bought parts of a tower from nine different people, two of whom were priests while four were women (including the wife of one of the priests). In all but one case they do not seem to be related. This tower does not appear to have belonged to nobility or any particular family. It would be wrong to see in them tower societies, societies of shareholders who are not necessarily kinsmen but who imitate kinship ties. They may have been simply occupants with some mutual, already forgotten relation, but even this interpretation may be overstating their connections, since shares in towers seem to have been sold at will. There are no records of any kind of tower societies that might have been organised on the basis of keeping the tower for mutual protection. The spatial position of towers in Trogir and Split as well as records from Dubrovnik provides some support to the old idea of John Lucius that the city walls first developed as the obligation of noble families to protect them. In Zadar, Venetian authorities probably prevented or discouraged such a role for fear of the rebellious Zadar nobility.

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Znanstvena područja


Projekt / tema

Filozofski fakultet, Zagreb

Autor s matičnim brojem:
Zrinka Nikolić Jakus, (232972)