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The Aegean under Frankish Rule

      Φράγκοι στο Αιγαίο (5/3/2006 v.1) The Aegean under Frankish Rule (5/4/2006 v.1)

Author(s) : Baroutsos Fotis , Petraka Eleni , Banev Guentcho (6/20/2005)
Translation : Papadaki Irene , Panourgia Klio (9/15/2005)

For citation: Baroutsos Fotis, Petraka Eleni, Banev Guentcho, "The Aegean under Frankish Rule", 2005,
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1. The expansion of Franks in the Aegean

Before 1204, the efforts of western Europeans (Franks) to occupy territories of the Byzantine Empire thrived only in the case of the Ionian Sea (Kefalonia and Zakynthos). The fall of Constantinople was a decisive turning point for the establishment of Frankish domination in Thessaloniki, mainland Greece, the Peloponnese and the Aegean Islands. According to the Partition Treaty of the Byzantine Empire territory, the largest part of mainland Greece was ceded to the Frankish crusaders. In practice, the partition was set aside because of the Venetians' unwillingness or incapability to occupy the areas yielded to them, as well as the emergence of Byzantine opponents, who founded independent sovereignties first in Ipeiros (Despotate of Ipeiros) and later in the Peloponnese (Despotate of Mystras).

After count Baldwin of Flanders ascended the throne of the Latin Empire of Constantinople and Thessaloniki was ceded to Boniface of Montferrat, the crusaders set to advance to the Byzantine territories granted to them according to the Partition Treaty. The expedition towards the south was planned and executed by Boniface, who wished to occupy eastern Greece and the northeastern Peloponnese. The sole obstacle to this operation was Leon Sgouros who, profiting from the Byzantine disarray, had dominated Argolida, Korinthia, Attica and Boetia. Sgouros’ resistance (1205-1208) was soon confined to three castles, those of Argos, Nafplio and Akrokorinthos. Boniface failed to conquer them and withdrew. The situation did not change after the death of Sgouros, as Theodoros Doukas, brother of Michael, despot of Ipeiros, succeeded him. The siege was continued by Geoffrey de Villehardouin, who managed to conquer the last fortress, that of Argos, in 1212.

Boniface installed vassals in Thessaly, Vodonitsa (Mendenitsa), Salona and Athens, where the most important Frankish state was established, the duchy of Athens, under the rule of Otto de la Roche. The disputes in the Frankish camp and the successful actions of Theodoros Doukas, despot of Epeiros, resulted in the shrinking of the Frankish states. By 1225, Thessaly and Macedonia fell to the Duke. The Frankish efforts to recover failed, because the territorial continuity of the Latin Empire was disrupted and the threat of the Bulgarians, the Doukas and the Niceans remained acute. The Byzantine Empire was restored in 1261 and several amongst the large Aegean islands came back under Byzantine control (Limnos, Mytilini, Chios). The Duchy of Athens was dissolved in 1311, when it was occupied by Catalans and Aragonese mercenaries, who later would advance, annexing Lamia, Nea Patra, Sidirokastro and establishing a second duchy, that of Nea Patra.

Between 1205 and 1208, William of Champlitte and Geoffrey of Villehardouin conquered Achaea, Helia, Messinia, Kyparissia and part of Arkadia. They founded the Principality of Achaea, which proved the more long-standing Frankish dominance in the Greek region. Despite the coalition with Venice and the constant support by the Pope, the principality ceased to exist in 1462, following the persistent attacks by the Despotate of Mystras and the Ottoman storm.

2. Introduction of the Feudal system

The Frankish presence induced the reweaving of the social fabric according to the model of western European feudalism. The new situation was codified in a text called “Assizes of Romania”. The duchies were administratively divined into baronies and feuds, which were given to hegemons’ vassals. The occupation and the new conditions of land ownership, as well as religious creed, constituted the differentiating elements in a society where all forms of contact between the conquerors and the conquested have been disdained. A typical case in point is the social ostracizing of the gasmouloi, the children of mixed marriages. The environment in which the Frankish dominance and the social relations within it were developed never stabilized, because of the constant conflicts as well as the changes in the dynastic continuity. Insecurity, total dependency upon the papacy and the western powers proved a profoundly destibilising factor, alienating the Frankish element from the local.

(Fotis Baroutsos)
(Transl. Eirini Papadaki)

3. The new settlers

Two terms were indiscriminately used to refer to the new settlers from the West, “Franks” and “Latins”, as much by the Byzantines as by the westerners themselves. These terms are generically connected to the linguistic and broad cultural identity of the people they define: Catalans, Burgundians, settlers from Champagne, Navarines, Normans, Florentines and Venetians. The term “Latins” was often used to refer to those who followed the Roman Catholic religion and, to the extent that Latin was the official liturgical language, the term had a religious implication. The term “Franks” has political implications to the extent that these settlers came from the former dominions of the Frankish state of Charlemagne.

During the first three centuries of Frankish occupation of the Aegean five large waves of settlers came from the West.
A) The first tangible presence of Westerners dates from the 12th century and is connected to the activities of the Venetians, the Genovese and other Italian merchants.

B) Within the framework of the 4th Crusade there was a significant movement of populations both from the Roman states of Syria and from the West. Apart from Venetians, one comes across Burgundians, settlers from Champagne, Flanders and Lombardy, i.e. inhabitants from areas which once belonged to the state of Charlemagne and were thus called “Franks”.

C) The third wave of settlers appeared at around 1260 and is connected with the fall of the Roman Empire of Constantinople and the protection the Franks sought from the kings of Naples, the Anjou. Around the end of the 13th century several powerful families such as the Tousi, the Onoua, the le Mor and the bankers Adzagioli from Florence were active in the Aegean.

D) The largest influx of settlers from the West occurred after 1302 when the warriors of the Great Catalan Company arrived; they had found themselves without a job and were searching for new field of action. Thanks to them, political balances in the area shifted. The Catalans came into conflict with the Franks whom they defeated at the battle of Almyros in 1311 and took over the Duchy of Athens.

E) At around 1370, the Gascoigne and Navarine mercenaries appeared in the Aegean. They, like the Catalans, could no longer find work in the West and searched for a better fate in the East. Their numbers cannot easily be defined, but they definitely were a decisive factor in the political changes which occurred at the end of the 14th century, which were the prelude for the appearance of a new political power, the Ottomans.

4. Frankish states in the Aegean

Undoubtedly, the military conquest and political installation by Westerners in the Aegean were achieved thanks to the diminished role and possibility for intervention by the central Byzantine administration in the area. The newly formed political map of the Aegean created six regions with notable political organization and stability: the Roman Empire of Constantinople, the Kingdom of Thessaloniki, the Principality (later Duchy) of Athens and Thebes, the Duchy of the Aegean, the Thriarchate of Euboea (Negroponte), and the Principality of Achaia. Various smaller regions, areas of dominion by powerful families, such as the provinces of Vodonitsa and Salonon (Amphissa), also rose to play an important political role, as did the plethora of Italian noblemen who had settled on islands of the Aegean or the Ionian as subordinates of Venice or the Duke of the Aegean. The regime was atypical in certain areas which functioned as colonies and were governed by officials from Venice or Genoa who served on an annual or biannual basis. These were mainly the provost marshals (castellans) of Methoni and Koroni and the duke of Crete. It was under such as regime that the representatives of the Maona Genovese Company were installed on Chios after 1346.

5. The Frankish Aegean

The birth of the Frankish Aegean is chronologically placed at the beginning of the 13th century. Catalans, Turks, Jesuit Knights and Venetians, the main protagonist, were involved in constant antagonisms which caused numerous wars, alliances and all types of intrigue. According to the prevalent ideology of holy wars, the Aegean became a bastion in the struggle of Christianity against the threat posed by the Muslim Turks.
On the other hand, the Aegean was united with the rest of the Mediterranean on a commercial and financial level, as well as a political level.
For the first time after Late Antiquity the Aegean was unified with the wider Mediterranean world. Developments in the Archipelago had repercussions for Naples, Palermo, Rome, Barcelona and Paris; the Aegean area was, in turn, reversely affected by political developments in the West.

Also noteworthy are the tendencies of local rulers and governors in the Aegean to implement independent administration and operation. For example, the disputes with the Pope concerning titles and church property, as well as the disputes between the rulers of Athens Gigyo with the Anjou at the end of the 13th century, are well known. Occasionally moreover, the dependent rulers in the Aegean sought the suzerainty of Byzantine emperors by entering various agreements.

At an internal functional level, there was regeneration of financial structures. Attempts were made to unify weights and measures while the circulation of numerous coins of small value reveals commercial activity and a growth in business exchanges.

6. Evaluation

The unusual political framework which developed in the Aegean area during the period from the 13th to the 15th century, poses numerous questions related both to the socio-economic and the cultural dimensions of societies in the Aegean. In the study of the period of Latin – or Frankish – rule most western researchers have concentrated mainly on political and socio-economic issues, while the weight in the equivalent Greek bibliography is placed on the cultural dimensions, mainly art: painting and architecture. Noteworthy are more recent attempts for a more complete and complex examination of events connected to Frankish rule in the Aegean. Through new archaeological and numismatic research and the publication of new sources, attempts have been made to offer fresh answers regarding the affects of those sovereigns on the history of the Archipelago. Several functional areas of Aegean societies during the period in question, such as those related to the composition of populations, the relations between the native populations and the ruling classes, the exploitation of resources and the development of new production models, have not yet been entirely examined. At the same time, some basic issues such as whether it’s possible to speak of a regime of absolute feudalism or if there was a mixed society of “Byzantine-Frankish” character, remain under consideration.

(Guentcho Banev -Eleni Petraka)
(Transl. Klio Panourgia)




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