Fortified Camps and Refuges

I’ve been thinking a bit about fortified camps and refuges lately. This is largely prompted by my TOP SEKRET project, but also prompted a bit by my reflections on our ongoing study of the site of Pyla-Vigla on Cyprus. The question I keep having is how does one distinguish a fortified camp from a refuge.

Camps, at least for the Classical to Roman period served to accommodate soldiers for a short period of time. In fact, the Romans built fortified camps at the end of every days march. These camps differ, of course, from the more long-term camps – occupied for a number of years or even longer – known from the Roman period at strategically significant places in the Mediterranean, along borders, or in areas where longterm garrisons were stationed.

James R McCredie Fortified Military Camps in Attica Hesperia Supplement vol 11 1966 pdf page 13 of 156

During the tumultuous Hellenistic period, numerous sites identified with short-term, strategic occupation appear across Greece, and a small number have been identified in Cyprus as well. Archaeologists have argued (pdf) that these likely served the needs of armies on the march or engaged in short-term fortification of the tactical locations or enemy territory. The argument for such episodic or short-term activities rests on two main features of these camps.

First, the material from such sites typically represents the short-term character of activities in these areas. Assemblages tend to be remarkably cohesive, largely utilitarian in character and chronologically unified.

Second, the fortification walls at these sites tend be rough, inelegant affairs. They rarely have proper ashlar polygonal or isodomic styles and often utilize natural features like rock outcrops or steep slopes to supplement the course of the wall. The remains of the wall, even if they seem imposing to us today, may have simply been the stone socles for mudbrick superstructures. 


If the camps had any easily defined buildings within their circuits, they tended to be simple in design and rather small. In Greece they clearly featured tile roofs; in Cyprus, the roofs might have been reed and mud. In short, these rough-and-ready fortifications lacked the monumentality of the famous Attic border forts or the Hellenistic fortification that dot the Ionian coast of Turkey.

Refuges are a less clearly identified type of fortification in the landscape. In fact, some scholars have interpreted fortified camps as refuges. The material evidence for a refuge would likely be similar to that produced by a short-term military encampment. Moreover, a refuge, set away from the main areas of settlement and more likely to be hidden than monumental would manifest similarly in the landscape. 

The best way, I suspect, to begin to make arguments for the function of remote fortified sites is to locate these places within larger settlement patterns and roads and routes through the landscape. Intensive survey has played a part creating dynamic landscape of settlement and movement in Greece and Cyprus. It seems possible that this work will present a way to understand rather modest, short-term, rural fortifications as well.

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