Post-classical history


Dyrrachion (mod. Durrës, Albania), also known as Dyr- rachium (Lat.) or Durazzo (It.), was a fortified city and Byzantine naval base on the eastern coast of the Adriatic Sea, which featured frequently as both a transit point and a target for crusaders from the West.

Dyrrachion was the center of an administrative district from the ninth century and the seat of a metropolitan of the Orthodox Church. One of the two western termini of the road known as the Via Egnatia, Dyrrachion maintained Byzantine power in the southern Balkans, especially over Diokleia (Montenegro), and provided communications with Byzantine possessions and forces in southern Italy.

The city was frequently fought over; it changed hands thirty-two times in the period 992-1392. It was attacked by Normans under the command of Robert Guiscard and Bohemund of Taranto in 1081. Although their naval force was defeated by the Venetians (then on friendly terms with Byzantium), they held the city until 1085. In 1185, it was again subject to Norman attack. After the Fourth Crusade (1202-1204), Dyrrachion was granted to Venice (1205), but it was recaptured by Greek forces under the despot of Epiros, Michael Angelos, around 1213.

Its history in the mid-thirteenth century is confused; the surrounding region was ruled for a time by the Bulgar tsar, John Asen II (1218-1241). In 1272, the king of Naples, Charles I of Anjou, claiming his rights over the Latin Empire of Constantinople, captured Dyrrachion, whose walls had been gravely damaged by a serious earthquake in 1267. The city had had a thriving mercantile life, exporting salt, wood, and timber and supporting a cosmopolitan population, before the earthquake. The earthquake caused the city, and the coastal plain on which it stood, to become a malarial swamp, rendering them uninhabitable. Nevertheless, the city passed back and forth between Angevins, Byzantines, and Serbs until it was taken around 1376 by Louis of Evreux with the aid of Navarrese mercenaries. In 1392, George Thopia, a local Albanian ruler who had gained control, surrendered it to the Venetians, who held it until its fall to the Ottomans in 1501.

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