Fortifying seascapes

Bronze Age fortified sites of the north-eastern Adriatic Sea

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(Presented at “Socio-Environmental Dynamics over the Last 12,000 Years: The Creation of Landscapes IV” conference held at Kiel University, March 24 - 27, 2015)

The north-eastern Adriatic archipelago (Kvarner, Croatia) was famously labelled as the “Amber Islands” by ancient Greek sources, testifying to its crucial position on the so-called Amber Route during the later prehistory. An intense network of maritime connections had been put in place already by the Early Neolithic, and developed particularly during the Bronze and Iron Ages under the influence of Aegean contacts.

However, the organisation of this network on local scale remains unclear, as well as the real importance of seafaring for local cultures which developed as intermediaries along the Adriatic coast. What is usually perceived as far reaching interregional maritime exchange network, most probably consisted of a series of “small worlds” characterised by different intensities of local connections, as demonstrated by T. Tartaron (2013) for the Aegean. The seascape, culturally meaningful and socially constructed aquatic (or amphibious) space, emerged on the intersection of these local-global relations and tensions.

When considering indices of integration of the north-eastern Adriatic into large scale Mediterranean networks it is vital to distinguish three different phenomena: import of foreign goods, dis/similarities between regional styles of material culture, and finally the organisation of local settlement systems. The order in which these phenomena are listed in order of their increasing importance in the studied area for the Bronze Age period. Aegean or other imports are very sparse, there are some stylistic connections reaching deeper into the Mediterranean, but it is essentially the settlement pattern that provides the clearest evidence of maritime character of local cultures. On the peninsula of Istria a series of fortified Bronze Age sites situated on isolated promontories of islets is well known, while the overall settlement pattern can be shown to gravitate towards the coast. The highest ranking sites, such as Monkodonja (Teržan et al. 1999) are often placed at safe distance of several kilometres inland from the coast. Taking these observations together, it would seem that in spite of some far reaching exchange, it was interregional or even local contacts that gave the basic shape to the Adriatic Bronze Age maritime network.

Just as the landscape, the seascape can be considered as a domestified space, but in a radically different manner. Few things can be materialised on water: besides oral tradition, seascapes are primarily construed through visual references to land or sky. Therefore, the visibility analysis can be a potent method for apprehending some aspects of this process. An interesting case for this kind of analysis is provided by the island of Lošinj that boasts a particularly high density of Bronze Age fortified sites. This unusual activity cannot be explained by the terrestrial environment of the island, which is dry and rocky, but rather by its position along the maritime route running along the Eastern Adriatic. These sites were set up not only for the purpose of surveillance, but also to be seen by oncoming travellers, perhaps in a sense of an identity marker.


Tartaron, (T.) 2013: Maritime Networks in the Mycenaean World. Cambridge Univ. Press

Teržan (B.), Mihovilić (K.) and Hänsel (B.) 1999: Eine protourbane Siedlung der älteren Bronzezeit im istrschen Karst. Prähistorische Zeitschrift 74-2, 154–193.