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The Mani Page 3

typical maniot villageThe feudal society of the Maniots developed during the 14th century. They lived in tribal villages under local chieftains and were known for their vendettas which sometimes went on for generations. An aristocracy arose from Byzantine refugee families known as Nyklians who were the only ones who had the privilege of erecting the marble roofed battle towers from which the vendettas were conducted, with the aim of destroying the towers and male members of the enemy clans. There were about 800 towers in all, both grouped in villages and isolated, their height increasing with the power of the family that built them. They were made of variously shaped blocks of stone and tower heights ranged from 15-25meters/50-80 feet high, were square in shape and comprised three or four rooms one above the other with ladders and trap doors in between. There were openings here and there in the walls where a gun or knife could be thrust out should a besieger attempt to scale the towers. Windows were few and small in size and the top floor crenellated in the style of fortresses. The villages of Kitta and Vathia in the south had the greatest concentrations of these towers.

a typical tower houseSince the common method of attack was bringing down the tower roofs, the towers were consequently built higher and higher, to four and five stores. Church bells signaled the beginnings of feuds, upon which those involved would confine themselves to their towers and fire at each other. Both clans weren't always inside though, as weapons included swords and stiletto as well as guns and rocks, as the records of an 18th century Maniot surgeon lists wounds from all of these, and demonstrate that he never lacked for patients.

Women were exempt from attack and were responsible for bringing food, ammunition, and whatever other supplies were needed. One of the rather amusing rules that prevailed during extended feuds, was that during harvest season there would be a truce, when the fighting would stop so that the harvest could be brought in.

Feuds ended either by the destruction of a family in battle or by surrender of an entire clan who were required to kiss the hands of the victors who had lost 'guns' (male children) in the battle, after which the victors would decide under what terms the losers could remain in the village.

1870 was the date of the last major feud (in the village of Kitta) quelled by an army detachment. Patrick Leigh Fermor, a very fine observer and writer published one of the best books about this region and its people during the 1960s-titled 'The Mani' (Penguin Books).

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