Post-classical history

Frankish Greece

Frankish Greece refers to those parts of the Byzantine Empire conquered and ruled by Franks in central and southern Greece after the capture of Constantinople (mod. Istanbul, Turkey) by the Fourth Crusade (1202-1204). The main states established were the principality of Achaia and the duchy of Athens and Thebes. Other possessions, particularly in the islands, were held by the Italian republics of Venice and Genoa.

Greeks and Franks were no strangers to each other by 1204, especially in the major commercial and administrative centers of the Byzantine Empire, where Italian merchants and Norman mercenaries had been a presence since the late eleventh century. As disrupters of imperial peace they had been prominent both when crusading armies passed through the empire and when the Normans from Sicily had attacked parts of the empire in 1085, 1149, 1157, and again in 1185. Some of them had married Greeks and learned Greek. In Byzantine literary sources the Franks were labeled as barbarians, polluters of altars, and despicable cooks and were compared to dogs in their unseemliness, an abuse that seems to have enraged them more than any other obloquy. Despite this invective, which was limited to times of tension and to the works of Constantinopolitan writers, the Greek authorities appreciated the political, commercial, and military value of the Franks.

The Frankish states of Greece and their neighbors, c. 1215

The Frankish states of Greece and their neighbors, c. 1215

After 1204 Westerners continued to serve as mercenaries in Greek armies: they served with the Epirote Greeks against their fellow Franks in Thessaly in 1210; made a significant contribution in 1211-1214 by fighting against the Saljūqs of Rūm and the Komnenoi of the empire of Trebizond in the forces of Theodore I Laskaris, ruler of the Byzantine successor state at Nicaea; and cleared much of western Asia Minor of the Turks for Emperor Andronikos II Palaeologos, through the Catalan Company, in 1305-1309. With the occupation of territories of the former Byzantine Empire, the Franks came as rulers and settlers, and as such they brought change to the majority Greek populations in the spheres of politics, economics, religion, and social intercourse, and along with it, the need for accommodation on both parties.

The scant nature and uneven distribution of the evidence in the region lends support to polarized views of the extent to which a Franco-Greek society evolved after the conquest of Greece in the thirteenth century. Reliance on the literary sources, which are not always devoid of cultural nationalism, means reliance on anecdotal evidence for one view or another regarding the extent of symbiosis between the two cultures. The most recent approach is to move away from the construct of ethnicity to focus on everyday issues of gender, religion, and social status as revealed in the notarial documents surviving from Venetian Crete.


The initial reception of the Franks by the native populations differed dramatically; in Greece and the Aegean islands they were frequently welcomed as liberators and as guarantors of stability, whereas in Crete and Rhodes there was resistance that flared up into sporadic revolts throughout the period of Frankish occupation. Furthermore, there was little homogeneity among the invaders themselves. The Greeks referred to them in linguistic or religious terms as Frankoi (Franks) and Latinoi (Latins), but the Westerners were much more culturally diverse, being composed of (at various times and places) Burgundians, Catalans, Champagnards, Florentines, Genoese, Navarrese, Normans, and Venetians. These diverse groups were too small, and their effective control too brief and too limited, for anything other than an encounter between two societies rather than an acculturation between them to take place.

The Latin conquerors did not profoundly alter the society that they found in place in central and southern Greece. There was no attempt to remove the topmost rung of landlords (archons) and their client groups as had happened in Constantinople in 1204. This is the single most important difference between those areas of relatively peaceful conquest, such as Greece and the islands, and other areas of Latin settlement. Indeed, there was no need to do so, since the number of Franks was small and the available former imperial and ecclesiastical estates ample for their needs without dispossession of the native Greek archontic class. These were confirmed in the possession of their patrimonial lands together with the peasants settled there. Inheritance customs were also confirmed, and religious toleration was practically conceded for rural areas, although it was never given any legal sanction by inclusion in the Assizes of Romania. In Achaia, the archons prostrated themselves in front of William of Champlitte as a sign of submission and subordination and agreed to provide the homage and military service consonant with their rank. They had in effect been Fran- kicized or feudalized, yet there is much that is unknown behind this apparent easy integration.

Major campaigns outside Frankish Greece required Greek troops either as mercenaries or as vassals, as, for example, in Thessaly in 1259 and 1304 and the Tagliocozzo campaign in Italy in support of the Angevins in 1268. At some point prior to one of these engagements, as articles 70 and 71 of the Assizes of Romania make clear, there was an inconclusive discussion as to whether Greek archons could be summoned to provide mounted service on the same terms as Franks. In the pages of the Chronicle of the Morea, Greeks play substantial roles as military advisers and warriors in Latin armies as well as trusted functionaries and persons of influence in political and military society. Greek landowners seemed eager to attain Latin titles and honors; on Crete following sporadic risings, these were distributed as part of the pacification process. The majority group, the Greek peasantry, seems to have acquiesced passively in Latin rule. It seems that their status may well have been diminished. They were not allowed to buy, inherit, or bequeath landed property. No example of Frankish status being conferred on a Greek has yet come to light.

From the outset of the Frankish settlement, there was considerable cooperation between the conquerors and the majority population. Greeks served as guides and interpreters. Six Greeks served on the partition committee chaired by the chronicler Geoffrey of Villehardouin, and likewise in the Morea (Peloponnese) five Greek landowners served on the committee of twelve responsible for the initial land allocations. Access and translations were provided to Byzantine cadastral and fiscal documents, and in Crete oral evidence was gathered from local Greeks of substance. For many people in the former provinces of the Byzantine Empire not closely connected with the Byzantine court or the Greek Orthodox hierarchy, the Franks were not seen as a threat.

There are no sure guides to the population of Frankish Greece. The invaders of the Morea in 1205 numbered between 700 and 1,000 men. Historians have no idea of the number of women present with the army; certainly the leading men brought their wives eastward after the fighting was over. The Latins have been estimated as constituting one- third of the population in the towns of central Greece in the fourteenth century, and this proportion has been accepted for Frankish Greece as a whole [Rubiô y Lluch, “La Grecia catalana”]. Certainly the overall population of Franks was not large, given that they tended to live in towns, leaving the countryside largely to the majority Greek population. Underpopulation was a problem for the Franks in the East. Constantinople continued to exert its attraction for Western settlers, as did Cyprus, despite the fact that King Guy of Lusignan had advertised the attractions of the island widely to Western knights and the Greek landowners had been expropriated. Immigration from the West did not appeal to many. As early as 1212 there were insufficient Latin priests, and the attempt by Otho of La Roche to establish a parochial structure around a core of twelve Frankish residents met with no success. A century later, in 1336, it was noted that Franks in central Greece and on the island of Negroponte (Euboea) were attending Orthodox services and even having their children baptized into the Orthodox rite because of the scarcity of both Franks and Latin priests in the region; these circumstances were attributed by Pope Benedict XII to the unstable and dangerous conditions that prevailed there. It would appear that Franks were being absorbed into the Orthodox, who formed the vast majority of the population.

In 1224 Pope Honorius III had described Frankish Greece as Nova Francia (New France). It was to remain a frontier society throughout its existence. The incomers sought to maintain control by means of institutions imported from their homelands. They also attempted to maintain a racial, linguistic, and territorial distinctiveness from their Greek subjects. The Assizes of Romania provided the framework for this. The Catalan chronicler Ramon Muntaner noted the purity of French diction in the early fourteenth century, and the marriage market he described following the battle of Halmyros seems to indicate a marked preference for Western brides on the part of the Catalans.

The Chronicle of the Morea gives many examples of bilingualism among the Frankish ruling class, however, by the second generation of Frankish rule. Interpreters had played an important role at the time of the conquest and continued to do so in the Angevin court of Naples, yet settlers in Romania learned Greek, perhaps after the example of Stephano Bon, who took lessons in a Greek monastery near Candia (mod. Irakleio) in Crete. He took a Greek wife, spent his life engaging in commercial endeavors that required him to negotiate with Cretan farmers, and was buried there after his death. Material regarding mixed marriages is patchy. There had been marriages between Greeks and Franks from the beginning of the Western influx into the eastern Mediterranean. The Latin and Greek churches seemed to have discouraged them, while acknowledging that rulers had to marry for reasons of state despite religious or social preference. Yet Western women were always in short supply. In the early fourteenth century intermarriage between nonnoble Westerners and Greek women is mentioned as an issue for the first time in papal letters; this has been taken as evidence that intermarriage was increasing, yet for some Greek chroniclers it was an issue before this time. In the main, mixed marriages, and the children of such unions, escaped official notice until times of tension, as in Constantinople in the 1260s when Greek chroniclers such as Akropolites and Pachymeres concerned themselves with the loyalties of the gasmouloi (children of mixed parentage).

Religious Life

Religious differences remained the great stumbling block to assimilation. There is some evidence to indicate that, following the crusader conquest of Constantinople in 1204, Pope Innocent III thought that Greek Orthodoxy as such would simply cease to exist. A Latin church hierarchy was imposed, but it failed to reach out into the countryside. It was not a missionizing church and did not appeal to the Orthodox population. Very few Greeks, indeed, adopted Catholicism. Greek priests who Latinized were often treated with violence to their property and isolated from their fellow Greeks. The new church depended on the Frankish nobility and landowners to support it. Its attempts to extend ecclesiastical tithes and fees to the Greek rural population often led to violence against the archdeacons concerned; often such incidents were followed up with papal appeals to local Frankish landowners to intervene, apparently with little or no response from the latter.

Papal provision to bishoprics from the late thirteenth century onward led to increased absenteeism and a further weakening of the Latin Church. In 1404 a naval contingent made up of three galleys manned by the Knights Hospitallers tried to organize resistance against the Ottomans among the inhabitants of Galaxeidi, on the north coast of the Gulf of Corinth. The Galaxidhiots took their money and accepted the church that the knights built there but then threatened to hand them over to the Turks if they did not leave, since “the Franks do not believe in the true Christ and are in fact anti-Christs” [Rosser, “Byzantine ‘Isles of Refuge’ in the Chronicle of Galaxeidi,” p. 145]. This event as well as the appeal of the Orthodox population on Naxos to the Ottoman sultan in 1466 was a measure of how little love was lost between the two official religious communions and how the Orthodox community saw the advent of the Ottomans as a measure of relief.


More than just capitulation and acquiescence were required if a hybrid society was to develop. Changes in self-perception and in perception of the other, Frank or Greek, would have to take place. The two and a half centuries of Frankish rule in Greece led to a gradual assimilation of the minority Frankish population into Hellenic culture. Whatever members of the elites in both Byzantine and Western cultures might write, ethnic identities had become blurred and at the day-to-day level merged. Only where Latin rule persisted, as on Crete until 1669, did ethnic labels persist in law codes and other official documentation.

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