Post-classical history


A Byzantine state in northwestern Greece (1204-1449/1479) established after the Latin conquest of Constantinople (mod. Istanbul, Turkey) by the Fourth Crusade (1202-1204), termed a “despotate” from around the middle of the thirteenth century.

Under the Angelos-Komnenos-Doukas dynasty, Epiros became one of the main resistance centers of medieval Hellenism against Latin domination, and the principal rival to the other major Byzantine successor state, the empire of Nicaea, for the recapture of Constantinople from the Latins. Michael I (1204-c.1215), the founder of the Epirot state, gradually annexed the entire northwestern coast of Greece, an area with a largely Greek population and minorities of Slavs, Jews, Armenians, and Vlachs, and also began the Greek reconquest of Thessaly (Central Greece). Michael’s half-brother and successor, Theodore (c. 1215-1230), secured the Epirot possession of Dyrrachion, Arta, Ioannina, and the important port of Naupaktos. He completed the conquest of Thessaly and expanded his territories eastward, extinguishing the Latin kingdom of Thessalonica (1204/ 1207-1224) and inaugurating another Byzantine Empire there by having himself crowned with the Greek title autokrator (emperor) as a manifestation of his ambition to restore Constantinople to Byzantine rule. His plans were, however, marred by his defeat at Klokotnitcha by the Bulgarians (1230), which led to the breakup of the Epirot possessions; Thessalonica eventually fell into the hands of the Nicaean emperor John III Doukas Vatatzes (1246), who had previously forced the Epirot ruler John (1237-1244), to relinquish the title of emperor for that of “despot” (Gr. despotes, i.e., local ruler) in 1242.

Following the defeat of an Epirot-Moreote coalition at Pelagonia (1259), Nicaean forces under Michael (VIII) Palaiol- ogos occupied much of Epiros, but Epirot independence was maintained in the territories around Ioannina, Preveza, Arta, and Naupaktos. From the thirteenth century, Epirot history is closely connected with developments in Thessaly, especially after the division of Epiros following the death of Despot Michael II (1268 or 1271), when Epiros was ruled by his sons Nikephoros I (1268/1271-1295/1296) and Thomas (1295/ 1296-1318), and Thessaly by his illegitimate son, the sebas- tokrator John I Angelos Doukas (1268/1271-1289/1290) and his successors till 1318. John’s death led to a rapid deterioration in Epirot-Thessalian relations, with a bold but ineffective Thessalian invasion of Epirot territories (c. 1296) taking place, probably with the connivance of the Byzantine emperor Andronikos II Palaiologos.

In 1318 the Italian Orsini dynasty seized control in Epiros. A brief Byzantine recapture by the Palaiologoi (1337) was followed by annexation by Tsar Stephen IV Dusan of Serbia in 1348/1349, inaugurating a period of harsh Serbian rule, which coincided with successive Albanian incursions, resulting in the capture of Arta by the Spata clan late in the fourteenth century. A vain attempt of the despot Nikephoros II, with the support of several Thessalian local lords, to oust the Serbs and Albanians from Thessaly resulted in a devastating defeat at the hands of the Albanians near the town of Acheloos in 1359. The Italians gained a more definitive hold in Epiros from the late fourteenth century onward. A member of the Florentine Buondel- monti house ruled in Ioannina (1385-1411), to be succeeded by Carlo I of the Tocco dynasty (established in the Ionian Islands since the early fourteenth century), whose long presence in the area was described in the early fifteenth- century Chronicle of the Tocco. Carlo I succeeded in seizing Arta from the Albanians (1416) and in unifying Epirot possessions in the early decades of the fifteenth century; however, his demise in 1429 precipitated the Ottoman advance westward: Ioannina fell to the Turks in 1430 and Arta in 1449, while the last Epirot vestiges were annexed by 1479.

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