Post-classical history

Acciaiuoli Family

A Florentine family of steel merchants and bankers, which rose to prominence in the fourteenth century at the Neapolitan court and in Frankish Greece. By tradition the family originated in Brescia and in 1160, following a dispute with Emperor Frederick I Barbarossa, moved to Florence, where it established itself in the Borgo Santo Apostolo. By the late thirteenth century, the Acciaiuoli were working with other banking families, such as the Bardi and Peruzzi, and came to prominence as the financial supporters of Charles I of Anjou, establishing a bank in Naples sometime after he came to power there in 1266.

The Acciaiuoli Company’s interest in Greece began when it made extensive loans to John of Gravina, who as younger brother of King Robert of Naples had been created prince of Achaia in 1322. The loans financed his expedition to the Morea and Epiros in 1325-1326, and in return the family received the fiefs of Lechaina and La Mandria in southwestern Greece. In 1334 the family passed these interests over to Niccolo (1310-1365), a member of a cadet branch of the family and soon to become its most distinguished scion as grand seneschal of Naples and a friend of Boccaccio and Petrarch; he also endowed the monastery of the Certosa outside Florence where he is commemorated in a magnificent tomb and frescoes. About 1335 Niccolo went to the court of Robert of Naples, where he became a close adviser (and rumored lover) of Catherine of Valois and tutor to her sons. He accompanied Catherine on an extended visit to the Morea (1338-1341). The visit was funded by loans from the Acciaiuoli Company, and Niccolo received many grants of land in the Morea, including the barony of Kalamata. In 1358 he was granted the town and castle of Corinth by his former tutee and now prince of Achaia, Robert of Taranto. On his death in November 1365, he left substantial interests in Greece, which were exploited by other family members.

Niccolo’s adopted nephew Nerio Acciaiuoli became lord of Corinth by 1367 and from this base set about extending his territories at the expense of his Catalan neighbors in the duchy of Athens, seizing Megara, Thebes, and Neopatras. Finally, in 1388 Nerio was able to capture the Akropolis at Athens from his erstwhile Navarrese allies and make himself duke of Athens. Nerio worked with Theodore Palaiolo- gos, despot of Morea (1380/1381-1407), to mount a concerted opposition to the Turks, and gave his eldest daughter, Bartolomea, in marriage to Theodore. In the same year, he married his second daughter, Francesca, to Carlo Tocco, lord of Kephalonia. Nerio died on 25 September 1394, leaving Corinth to his Tocco son-in-law. Athens he left to the clergy of the church of St. Mary on the Akropolis under the protection of Venice. His illegitimate son by his Greek mistress Maria Rendi, Antonio, was made lord of Thebes and Livad- hia. In 1402 Antonio seized Athens from the Venetians and ruled there as duke until his death in 1435. The duchy was then divided between the grandsons of his uncle Donato: Nerio II (1435-1451) and Antonio II (d. 1441).

On Nerio II’s death, his infant son Francesco I (Franco) succeeded him with his mother Chiara Giorgio of Boudonitza as regent. They were forced to recognize Ottoman suzerainty as a condition of a peaceful succession. In 1452 Chiara married the Venetian Bartolomeo Contarini, whose high-handed behavior led to complaints from the Athenians to Sultan Mehmed II. In 1454 the sultan summoned Contarini and Francesco I to Istanbul, where he ordered their deposition. Francesco I was not heard of again. The sultan replaced him with Francesco II, the son of Antonio II, who had been brought up at the Ottoman court, where he was conveniently at hand in 1454. In 1456 the Turks occupied central Greece. Francesco II was deposed as duke of Athens in 1458 and became an Ottoman pensioner, with the title lord of Thebes. He was murdered in 1460 on the orders of Sultan Mehmed II. Thus ended the line of the Acciaiuoli in Greece.

Other relatives held important ecclesiastical positions in Greece, serving as archbishops of Patras (1360 and 1394-1400), archbishop of Thebes (1428-1450), and bishop of Kephalonia (1427-1445). The family also produced three cardinals: Angelo (1349-1409), Nicola (1630-1719), and Filippo (1700-1766).

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