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Sicilian Castles and Coastal Towers

Signaling a Shift in Trade Networks, Territorial Organization, and Defensive Strategies in Post-Medieval Sicily

Scott Kirk
Published Online: 2017-11-16 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/opar-2017-0021


While much attention has been paid to the development of castles as the hallmark architectural symbol of the Middle Ages, less attention has been given to the changes in European defensive strategies that occurred between the 15th and 17th centuries. It was at this time when the modern nations of Europe began to take form, as sea-based trade between distant nations took precedence over land-based trade routes. This paper examines how this transformation manifested in the defensive structures of Sicily, Italy, where the hilltop castles of the Middle Ages gradually gave way to a more cohesive network of coastal towers around the island. Putting this transition in its historical context, presenting an anthropological model from which to view this transition, and using geospatial methods to track these changes, the results of this study indicate that as defensive towers began to dominate the Sicilian coast around the 16th century, their command over the environment was no greater than that of the feudal castles which were still in use. Yet, unlike the castles of feudal lords, these towers represented an island-wide system of defense and the beginning of an adherence to a more centralized power structure then seen previously.

Keywords: Sicily; GIS; post-Medieval; trade; defense


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About the article

Received: 2016-01-21

Accepted: 2017-11-02

Published Online: 2017-11-16

Published in Print: 2017-11-27

Citation Information: Open Archaeology, Volume 3, Issue 1, Pages 313–338, ISSN (Online) 2300-6560, DOI: https://doi.org/10.1515/opar-2017-0021.

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