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Viewpoints on the Fortress at Tabla Buţii in the Light of Archaeological Excavations  

By Adrian Ioniţă

        The fortress stands 20 km away from the closest human settlement. That is over 1300 m altitude, and about halfway the road linking the village of Slon (commune of Cerasu, Prahova county), south of the Carpathians, from the commune of Valea Buzaului (Brasov county) north of the mountains.

   The fortification stands east of the upper valley of the Teleajen, on the crest of the Siriu Mountains, about 2 km south of the old border between Wallachia and Transylvania ( Fig. 1). About 3 km north-east of the fortress there is the Tatarul Mare Peak (1476 m) in the Siriu Massif, about 5 km west of Zaganul Peak (1883 m) in the Ciucas Massif, 3 km north-west of the Boncuta Pass, and 2 km to the west there is the Valea Stânei trout breeding farm. Under the fortress, to the west, springs the stream of the fortress that flows into Telejenel, and about 200 m south-west there is the cemetery of the heroes killed in world war one.

   The fortress was excavated in 1995, 1996, 19981 by a team led by colonel Dan Capatâna from the National Military Museum2 with supplies and labour available from the Ministry of National Defense. The archaelogical research from 1995 began by the topographic raising of the walls still visible on the surface, and by partially uncovering the walls and towers covered by debris, in such a way as to establish their shape, tracks and sizes accurately. The archaeological investigation itself consisted in the carrying out, during the three campaigns, a number of 22 sections and cassettes where the 4 towers, the entrance of the fortress, the defense ditch and the precinct walls were researched. During the last campaign they performed also a marking, and protecting of the tracks of the fortress walls by using stone recovered during the excavations and mortar supplied by the council of the commune of Cerasu.

   Besides the destruction caused by time, the fortress suffered during the modern age a lot from the trenches practiced, close to the north wall, during the battles of world war one. It was further damaged by the clearing of the present road that was made by the bulldozer over 3 m inside the ruins, as well as because the gold diggers who damaged the surface of the fortress by digging more pits.

   The fortress is in the shape of a square with unequal sides, the longest of which are north-south oriented, with defense towers at the corners, and placed on a slightly irregular surface ( Fig. 2). The shape and sizes of the tower differ, as follows: the north-east tower (the shortest) is approximately square, the north-west one (in the highest spot of the fortress) is trapezoidal, the south-west one rectangular, and the south-east one has 5 sides. The south-east tower is the highest, and its exact layout and partition have been revealed through the archaeological research. The south side of the tower takes the shape of an obtuse angle, with the tip northwards, which allows building a triangular room in the east part of the tower. The overall number of the room is 4 (one more as compared with those shown in the plan drawn by W. Horwath3 ). The tower rooms communicate with one another, in a "wagon" pattern, the entrance into the tower being through the north side of the west room. The doors of the rooms of the main tower have different frames from the other towers. Such an entrance has slightly flattened sides, being fitted with grooves for fastening the door case.( Fig. 3). We cannot specify whether that was its original aspect or is due to later remakings. The 4 rooms had wooden floors and stoves, and a large amount of tiles were found in one of the rooms.

   Also the space inside the other towers could be inhabited as it was arranged as such, seemingly from the beginning, as it was endowed with floors and doors, or a recess in the east wall where also the entrance stood, the same as at the tower in the south-west corner.

   The fortress had two entrances, on the south side one with a 3.25 m opening, and on the north side the other one 2.8 m wide. At the southern gate there were two abutments on the outside, that might be regarded also as crane abutments. Other two abutments (only one of which has been preserved, while the other one must have been destroyed when the modern road was built) inside the fortress that, however, are not a prolongation of the outer ones, so that on the inside the entranceway is 3. 40 m. The north entranceway has no further facilities, as only the traces of the two thick wooden pillars in which the gate itself was fastened have been preserved. Above it a wooden tower must have been, judging from the traces left in the earth by the supporting pillars.

   Opposite the south side of the fortress was dug a defense ditch with a mouth opening of 14 m, going deep into the rock in the shape of the letter "V" ( Fig. 4). Along this ditch, opposite the south curtine were uncovered in the remains of two walls parallel to that of the curtine, one of them playing the role of counterscarp.

   The walls of the fortress (preserved till today at the level of the treading ground) are made out of carved quarry stones having variable widths, as follows: 1.20 m at towers and at the east and west curtains, 1.50 m at the south curtain, and 1.15 m at the north curtain.

   The fortress has several masonry portions worked rather awkawrdly, as regards the uneven use of mortar. The same wall contains wall portions where the stones are tightly linked by a lot of mortar. In others binder is very loose or lacks completely, because it was not laid from the beginning evenly and all over the masonry, or because its lime scarcity in time resulted in its leakage and disappearance from certain wall portions.

   Then, it was found that walls of the east and west sides of the fortification are not organically bound to the masonry of the towers in the south-east and south-west corners, as believed, but are added to them. The visible annexes in both cases mentioned, followed by the finding that, instead, the same walls, like that on the north side, are constructively boun to the other two towers, in the north-east and north-west corners, logically led to the conclusion that we deal with two different, if successive, construction phases. The fortress was built during two constructive stages, chronologically very close, but the plan was unitary from the very beginning. The fortification was conceived as a square with towers in the corners, but during the works the south part was raised first, as well as the two towers and the curtain linking them. That must be the real significance of the found annexes, not the existence of an initial plan aiming only at raising two towers linked by a wall, possibly also the defense ditch.

   Inside the fortress was reshaped several times. For instance, in the case of the wooden watch road along the walls, the wooden huts and annexes added to the walls, whose existence was indicated by the ash layer, nails and pits at the supporting pillars uncovered during the excavations, two ovens for baking, a fireplace, etc.

   Important for marking the crucial events in the later history of the fortress are, however, the stratigraphic observations, numismatic and epigraphic finds. Thus, it was found, from a stratigraphic viewpoint, that the fortress underwent serious damage revealed during excavations, when a considerable layer of boulders and refuse was uncovered, that fell from the south curtain into the defense ditch and mixed up with burnt wooden beams and burn traces, in general. This layer was dated by means of coins during the last third of the 16th century. The cause of these damages is not known, for unknown reasons, as any battle or siege should be excluded from the entire existence of the fortification. No written source makes any account of a battle here, and in the excavations one may remark the almost complete lack of weapons or military equipment. The only exception is the tip of an iron lance, with gloving tube, and with the active form in the shape of a leaf, found on the floor of the north-east tower.

   After that damaging the old walls of the fortress were rebuilt, as well as the supplementary fortification on the same south side, by deepening the defence ditch, seeingly covering its whole length, and by building an intermediate wall, almost in the middle of the ditch parallel to the precinct wall. The role of this double wall, is that of acting as another obstacle in the defense ditch, that is hard to cross anyway. And on the other hand, of making up together with the precinct wall, to which it is parallel, an extra narrow defense space in the way of the enemy. At the same time, the south outer bank of the defense ditch was strengthened by the construction of a counterscarp wall.

   Attention is paid to the further strengthening of the fortress possibly due to a stronger Ottoman danger during the 16th century, which generated the fortification of a series of fortresses and churches all over the south of Transylvania. We cannot know which was the aspect of the fortress in elevation (today only the level of the ground is extant). Or whether the walls were fitted with shooting holes for the artillery or for pitch casting, as found in Transylvanian fortresses, that adapted their fortification systems according to the fire weapons being used on a larger scale.

   Another large rebuilding took place during the third decade of the 17th century, which is indicated by constructive layers dated by coins during that interval, and by a stone inscription, found at the outer base of the tower in the north-east corner on its west side. The inscription in the Hungarian language reads as follows:
      ARKOS A : 1633

Translation4 :
   Kalnuky Istvan Vice the royal judge in Erdövidék A had built in the ecclesiastical constituency of Erdövidék in the stone wall two stone walls (rows). 24th of July 1628
      Here were: Stephanus Benkö
         Stephanus Veres from Árkos (Arcus in Romanian): 1633
   Kalnuky Istvan was the royal judge in Erdövidék between 1627 - 1632 and possessed land and serfs in the village of Arcus (Árkos in Hungarian). Erdövidék is the territory around Miclosoara (Miklósvár in Hungarian) in the region of Trei Scaune (Háromszék Széke in Hungarian; Covasna county). Stephanus Benkö and Stephanus Veres are mentioned as noblemen in Arcus / Árkos in the military lustra from 16535 .

   The largest amount of archaeological material resulted from the three campaigns is made up of pottery. The oldest mediaeval pottery fragments6 date from the 14th-15th centuries and belong to a grey pot with the rim turned obliquely to the outside and the margin cut straight. For the next stage in the evolution of life and activities in the fortress , relevant seems to be the whole lot of pottery artifacts from pots with or without handle, of grey or brick-coloured paste dating from and after the 15th century. In the same way, another group of pottery with characteristic profiles, found over the entire fortress, proves its evolution duirng the next two centuries. As a matter of fact, the material from the last part of the history of the fortification are not only more numerous, but also given more different uses Of these we mention, among the pots themselves, the multitude of fragments of stove-pipe-pot with square rim, some of them decorated on the inside with rows of small lines made by the toothed wheel, the remains of patterned stove-pipes decorated with floral motifs, or depicting a horseman. At the same time, we remark a few thick fragments originating in large vessels for provisions, or the cup with handle decorated on the outside with knobs in relief, and green glaze.

   Besides the pottery also 11 coins were found, as follows:
1.Sigmund I Stary (King of Poland 1506 - 1548); 1509, AR. 2. Ferdinand I Habsburg (King of Western Hungary 1526 - 1563); 1546, AR. 3. Ferdinand I; 1563, AR. 4. Maximilian II (King of Western hungary 1563 - 1572); 1566, AR. 5. Rudolph II (King of Western hungary 1572 - 1608); 1585, AR. 6. Matthew II (King of Western Hungary 1608 - 1618); 1620, AR. 7 Sigmund III Vasa (King of Poland 1587 - 1632); 1620 (?), AR. 8. Gabriel Bethlen (Prince of Transylvania 1613 - 1629); 1625, AR; 9. Gabriel Bethlen; 1627, AR. 10. Ferdinand II (King of Western Hungary 1618 - 1625); 1638, AR. 11. Leopold I (King of Western Hungary 1655 - 1687); 1677, fourre.
The lack of a large amount of material from the 14th - 15th centuries, and above all that of coins can be explained by the removal of depositions up to the cliff during the remaking that the fortress underwent in time.

   We think that under the circumstances, starting from the date mentioned in the inscription, and taking into consideration Marcus Fronius' account that in 1689 the fortress was in ruins7 , we should admit that the fortress ceases to function during the last quarter of the 17th century, especially that the archaeological material allows such a presumption. It is obvious that sporadic superficial traces of temporary dwelling were found also after the military deserted it completely. Those traces were under the form of temporary rudimentary works with rough uneven walls, without mortar, with stones fallen off the damaged walls of the fortress, datable on the basis of the rather rich pottery, to the 18th century.

   The plan of the fortress at Tabla Buţii, a square with rectangular towers at the corners, can be found in a series of fortifications from the 14th century. We mention, therefore, in Moldavia: Cetatea Scheia, Suceava - phase 1, Neamt - phase 1 - built under the reign of Musat8 ; in Wallachia: Cetatea Giurgiu - Mircea the Old phase9 , "the inner precinct" of the Severin fortress10 - dating either from the second half of the 13th century or from the next century. Within the space of old Russia we may quote the fortress at Ivangorod, built in 149211 . This plan, a square with rectangular towers at the corners, belongs to a so-called "Polish-Baltic" type spread in the 14th century over a large area12 . It is surprising that the Tabla Buţii leaders chose a square plan instead of an irregular one following the outline and windings of the ground as can be found in most fortifications situated on heights in Transylvania. The surface on which it stands, in spite of uneven ground, allowed building the fortress on such a plan, probably considered to be more suitable for blocking the road crossing it on the inside.

   The corroboration of archaeological material, the oldest dating back to the 14th - 15th centuries, and the plan analogies lead us to the opinion that the fortress was raised during the second half of the 14th century. Its raising is due to the Hungarian Kingdom south of the Carpathians, most probably during the reign of Louis I (1342 - 1382), whose 1358 diploma revealed the claiming of a passageway through Wallachia, between Brasov and Braila is well known13 . The fortress stood at the starting point of this road, serving also as customs, as its main function remaining the intercepting of the south access road that used to exist here. As a matter of fact, the main fortifying elements are in the south part (defense ditch, counterscarp wall, the strongest tower with 4 rooms, the abutment gate, and the swing bridge, etc.) which proves that the fortress faced potential enemy who was coming from the south (from Wallachia). About 100 m north of the fortress there is a high hill topping the fortification in such a way that any aggression from that spot would have been hard to thwart, which proves once again that the fortress was raised by those who theoretically were protected, that is by Transylvanians. The garrison of the fortress made up of several tens of soldiers (not more than 20 - 30) was ensured, at least in the 17th century as suggested by the inscription presented above, by the Szecklers in the Erdovidek area. As a matter of fact, a series of stove-pipes, the ones with horsemen, bear strong analogies to the finds from the Lazarea fortress (Harghita county) which proves the links or the presence of the Szecklers among those taking care of the proper work and defense of the Tabla Buţii fortress.

   As we corroborate the data obtained archaeologically with those resulted from analysing the plan, we cannot find arguments to maintain the hypothesis of identifying this fortress with "castrum quod Cruzeburc nominatur" mentioned in the May documents (?), the December 1222, respectively14 . No material (the 13th century ones that might support this supposition lack completely) do justifies such an assigning. The location of the Cruceburg "de novo constructum" by the Teuton knights in Tara Bârsei remains an open issue.

   For the same reasons, in the ruins existing at Tabla Buţii, we cannot see that fortress raised by the Teutones over the Carpathians "castrum, quod ultra montes nivium multis construxerant laboribus et expensis" 15 either. It had been occupied by the Hungarian royalty when the knights were sent away in 1225. This fortress, different from Cruceburg, does not stand at Tabla Buţii, but must be searched somewhere else. This fortress, at any rate different from Cruceburg, does not stand at Tabla Buţii, and it has to be searched somewhere else. The Tabla Buţii fortification is a much later monument that has nothing in common with the constructive activity of the Teuton Order. The documents mention that the order built five fortresses16 , but they have to be searched on the ground further on.

   As these data are already known, we are surprised by the fact that the fortress has been included in the stone fortifications from the 11th-13th centuries, where it used to figure under the name of Slon - Tabla Buţii, by the authors of chapter II. Europe in the Year One Thousand. Evolution of Romanian Society during the 9th - 11th Centuries. 4. Romanian Civilization. Byzantine and Western Cultural Influences, in the recent treaty of the history of the Romanians17 .

   As to the name, we consider that W. Horwath was right to think that it comes from the wine hogsheads, as wine was the main product of the inhabitants in Bârsa Country south of the Carpathians from Prahova and Buzau vineyards18 .

   Although it could not be locatedd on the oldest Transylvanian maps19 , the Tabla Buţii fortress must be that mentioned in the sources from the second half of the 17th century - Buzau fortress20 .

1 The Chronicle of the Archaeological Researches, the 1995 campaign, the 30th National Session of Archaeological Reports, Braila, 2 - 5 May 1996, pp. 121 - 122 (in Romanian); D. Capatâna, 'Cetatea de la Tabla Butii, jud. Prahova', in Revista Muzeului Militar National (RMMN) - Supliment 1, 1996, pp. 24 - 25; The Chronicle of the Archaeological Researches, the 1996 campaign, the 31st National Session of Archaeological Reports, Bucharest, 12 - 15 June 1997, pp. 61 - 62 (in Romanian); D. Capatâna, E. S. Teodor, 'Cercetarile de la Tabla Butii, Masivul Siriu (1360 m), judetul Prahova', RMMN- Supliment 4, 1998, pp. 64 - 71; The Chronicle of the Archaeological Researches, the 1998 campaign, the 33rd National Session of Archaeological Reports, Vaslui, 30 June - 4 July 1999, pp. 118 - 119 (in Romanian).
2 The team included: L. Chitescu, S. Teodor from the National History Museum of Romania, B. Ciuperca from the Prahova County Museum, Al. Badescu from the National Military Museum, A. Ionita, D. Spânu from the "Vasile Pârvan" Institute of Archaeology in Bucharest, and the students Irina Costea, M. Dinca from the Department of History in Bucharest.
3 W. Horwath, 'Die Kreuzburg und der Bosauer Pass', in Das Burzenland IV, 1, Brasov, 1929, table. 6, fig. 46.
4 The translation was made by: dr. Benkö Elek from the Institute of Archaeology in Budapest, Mrs Tudos Kinga from "N. Iorga" Institue of History, and dr. Lukács Antal from Department of History in Bucharest, to whom acknowledgements are due.
5 Information received from Mrs Tudos Kinga, to whom acknowledgements are due.
6 Besides the mediaeval material, near the north gate of the fortress was uncovered a pit from which were picked up pottery fragments and a metal artifact belonging to the metal age (Late Hallstatt) probably denoting a seasonal dwelling in that place.
7 Gh. I. Cantacuzino, Cetăţi medievale din Ţara Românească (sec. XIII - XVI), Bucuresti, 1981, p. 132.
8 Gh. Diaconu, N. Constantinescu, Cetatea Şcheia, Bucuresti, 1960, p. 111, fig. 56.
9 D. Capatâna, 'Cercetari arheologice la cetatea medievala de la Giurgiu', Studii si materiale de muzeografie si istorie militara 16, 1983, p. 151.
10 M. Davidescu, Monumente medievale din Turnu-Severin, Bucuresti, 1969, p. 11, fig.1.
11 V. V. Kostockin, 'Krepost" Ivangorod', in N. N. Voronina (red.), Materialy i issledovanija po arheologii Drevnerusskih gorodov, tom II, Materialy i issledovanija po arheologii SSSR 31, 1952, p. 242 and the followings, fig. 5.
12 Gh. Diaconu, N. Constantinescu, op.cit., pp. 111, 115 - 116.
13 DRH D, Relatii între tarile române, I (1222 - 1456), Bucuresti, 1977, doc. 39, p. 72.
14 Idem, doc. 2, p. 5 cf. doc. 1, p. 1: "castrum quod Cruceburg nominatur, quod fratres predicti de novo construxerant".
15 Idem, doc. 5, p. 11.
16 Idem, doc. 7, p. 16 "cum multo labore ac proprii effusione cruoris, quinque castra fortia construendo" cf. doc. 8, p. 18.
17 St. Pascu, R. Theodorescu (red.), Istoria românilor, vol. III. Genezele românesti, Bucuresti, 2001, p. 301, fig. 79 / 4.
18 W. Horwath, op.cit., p. 55.
19 H. Meschendörfer, O. Mittelstrass (red.), Siebenbürgen auf alten Karten, Lazarus / Tannstetter 1528 - Johannes Honterus 1532 - Wolfgang Lazius 1552 / 56, Historisch-Landeskundlicher Atlas von Siebenbürgen, Heidelberg, 1996.
20 Gh. I. Cantacuzino, op.cit., p. 136; cf. idem, Cetati medievale din Tara Româneasca în secolele XIII - XVI, Bucuresti, 2001, pp. 176 - 183, with the entire relevant literature.