Post-classical history


A city in Tuscany that was a major Mediterranean maritime and commercial power during the crusading period.

Seafaring from Pisa grew in importance from the ninth to the eleventh centuries. This is evident from numerous expeditions against the Muslims of North Africa, Sicily, and Spain, often mounted as counterattacks after Muslim incursions and sometimes carried out in collaboration with the Genoese. These official campaigns, often directed by the city’s viscount, built up Pisa’s naval dominance over the Tyrrhenian Sea and western Mediterranean, facilitating the city’s growing trade. In the course of the eleventh century Pisa became the most important city of Tuscany, also controlling Sardinia and Corsica.

Thanks to the close alliance between Matilda of Canossa, marchioness of Tuscany, the reform popes, and Pisa’s leading families, the city became involved in the political projects of the reform papacy, such as the Norman conquest of Muslim Sicily and the Spanish Reconquista, for example, in the form of attacks on Palermo (1064) and Tortosa (1092). The Pisan campaign against Mahdia (mod. al-Mahdiya, Tunisia) in 1087 was ordered by Pope Victor III and can be considered a type of a protocrusade, as it was connected with a pilgrimage to Rome. During the episcopate of Daibert, a close associate of Pope Urban II, Pisa was raised to an archbishopric, with metropolitan rights over Corsica (1092). It was also Bishop Daibert who enacted the decisive step leading to the formation of a commune at Pisa by promoting the internal peace through a general oath.

Daibert of Pisa accompanied Pope Urban II on his trip through France in 1095-1096 and, as papal legate to replace the deceased Adhemar of Le Puy, he led a Pisan fleet of some 120 ships to provide support for the army that had gone to the Holy Land in the course of the First Crusade (10961099). However, a series of military operations against Byzantium meant that it arrived in Syria only in September 1099, after the conquest of Jerusalem. After Daibert’s elevation to the patriarchate of Jerusalem (Christmas 1099) Pisa received certain rights in Jerusalem, Caesarea (mod. Har Qesari, Israel), and probably also in Jaffa (mod. Tel Aviv- Yafo, Israel), which came to be disputed with various ecclesiastical institutions in Palestine as late as 1156. In the spring of 1100 the fleet returned home, and after Daibert’s deposition (October 1102) no further official Pisan initiatives in the Holy Land are known for several decades. However, private ship owners and pilgrims from Pisa continued to come and to join the campaigns for the conquest of further Palestinian towns. A good relationship with the Norman princes of Antioch brought concrete benefits for the Tuscan city, as Tancred granted quarters in the cities of Laodikeia (mod. Al-Lādhiqīyah, Syria) and Antioch (mod. Antakya, Turkey) as well as a full exemption from tolls in the principality in return for the massive Pisan help in taking Laodikeia from the Greeks in 1108. It is unclear, however, whether these rights were maintained after Pisa’s treaty with the Byzantine emperor in 1110; this treaty, together with Pisa’s trading interests in Egypt and continuing expansion in the western Mediterranean (for example, the temporary conquest of the Balearic Islands, 1113-1115), may have distracted the city’s interest from Syria and Palestine.

King Baldwin II of Jerusalem granted five houses and an exemption from tolls (excluding those for pilgrims) in Tyre (mod. Soûr, Lebanon) after the city was captured in 1124, but it is doubtful how long these rights were maintained. A new phase was inaugurated by a treaty with King Baldwin III (1156), which was intended to end previous conflicts; it confirmed the Pisan privileges in Tyre and added further property as well as an independent law court and the right to establish a viscount in the city. The following year the king’s brother, Count Amalric of Ascalon, granted land for houses in Jaffa as well as a reduction in tolls. In 1154 the Pisans received land for a fondaco (market) in Laodikeia, a court, and other privileges in the principality of Antioch.

From this period Pisa’s engagement in the Levant grew steadily, and more and more Pisans remained in Outremer for longer than the usual trading seasons. Pisans settled especially in Tyre and in Acre (mod. ‘Akko, Israel) but also outside the Pisan quarters in the privileged coastal towns. Their presence in the county of Tripoli was much smaller, although some prominent figures of Pisan origin are known, such as a man called Plebanus, who married the daughter of the last lord of Botron and managed to purchase this lordship. For the principality of Antioch it is difficult to ascertain any permanent Pisan settlers outside their quarters in Antioch and Laodikeia.

The Pisan rights in the kingdom of Jerusalem were extended by King Amalric as a result of the massive support for his campaigns against Egypt. In 1165 Pisa received in Tyre a square that was nominally designated for the benefit of all nations. This maneuver gave the Pisans the role of protector of commerce in Tyre and thus favored the process by which citizens of smaller cities in Tuscany and elsewhere declared themselves Pisans in order to enjoy the Pisan privileges. Three years later, thanks to its help during the siege of Alexandria, the commune gained land for the construction of a fondaco and a church as well as an independent court in Acre with jurisdiction over their compatriots. The regulations for the Pisan court at Acre imply that by that time there were already many Pisans living outside their own quarters and in possession of fiefs in the kingdom, as these Pisans were under the jurisdiction of the royal courts.

The conquest of much of Outremer by Saladin (1187) created a situation in which the Frankish states were even more dependent on the naval support offered by the Italian maritime cities. It was Pisa that was the most engaged in the defense of Tyre (1187), and the city sent a fleet of fifty-two ships under Archbishop Hubald as papal legate for the Third Crusade in 1189. As a result, the city gained a series of generous privileges for Tyre, Jaffa, and Acre, generally including property, permission to have its own officials and weights and measures, reduced taxation, and jurisdiction over Pisans inside and outside the Pisan quarters (1187-1189). The Societas Vermiliorum, a communal (but short-lived) organization formed by Pisans and others with Pisan status, received further properties in and around Tyre and Acre from Conrad of Montferrat (1188) for its exceptional merits in defending Tyre.

Henry of Champagne, who came to the throne of Jerusalem in 1192, attempted to break the power of the Pisans by restricting their number in Tyre to thirty persons, obliging them to surrender any fiefs they held in the kingdom (1193), and even banning them from Acre (1195). However, Pisan retaliation in the form of piracy and a blockade obliged Henry to restore the status quo of before 1187. The privileges attained by the end of the twelfth century, as well as Outremer’s growing dependence upon naval support, meant that the main ports of Palestine became flourishing centers of Pisan trade. In the northern principalities of Antioch and Tripoli no major new rights were conceded to the city from the end of the century.

Little is known about the internal organization of the Pisan communities in Outremer, although it seems that, from the mid-twelfth century at the latest, permanent Pisan settlers were present in more substantial numbers than the Genoese or Venetians. This trend may have been encouraged by Pisa’s policy of including foreigners in the Pisan trade community in order to share fiscal advantages and to enlarge the extent of Pisan trade. Pisa also had a much more populated hinterland than Venice or Genoa.

The lack of surviving documentation means that it is difficult to establish the main trade items, apart from strategic supplies such as iron, wood, and pitch (all from the mines and forests of Pisa’s hinterland and Sardinia), as well as the transport of pilgrims. Like the much-better-documented Genoese trade, Pisan activities in Outremer were directed toward the Islamic trade centers, such as Damascus and Aleppo, and the goods traded would have been similar to those of Genoa.

Though the viscounts seem to be the older institution in the Pisan colonies in Outremer as heads of the community and of the law court (first attested at Tyre in 1156), the consuls in various ports appear to be the more important representatives of Pisa and its colonies, particularly the consul at Acre (first mentioned in 1179). The consul at Acre was responsible not only for Acre and the kingdom of Jerusalem but for all Syria, and was the only consul to be chosen by the major Council of Pisa, while the others were elected by the consuls of the Ordine del Mare (Council of Maritime Affairs). The consuls, responsible for law, administration, and finances, were assisted by a local assembly and various officials, depending on the size of the individual Pisan community. The privileges of 1187 and 1189 give an interesting insight into the complex legal and social structure of the Pisan communities, listing several different categories: scapuli (independent Pisans who were only temporarily present), burgenses (Pisans who were also citizens of the kingdom), milites (knights, presumably fief-holders), and comiti (ships’ captains).

The excellent relations and collaboration with Frederick II, Holy Roman Emperor and king of Sicily, during his rule in the kingdom of Jerusalem brought about a general confirmation of Pisan rights along with substantial new rights, including a court and privileges for Jerusalem itself (1229). In the following period Pisa remained on the imperial side against Genoa and the baronial opposition to Frederick. After the withdrawal of the imperial vicar (1246), Pisa and the Pisan colonists, with some local support, maintained their position for some years, but in the so-called War of St. Sabas Pisa could only withstand the Genoese thanks to its alliance with Venice, concluded in 1257. Eventually a defeat in the battle of Meloria close to the Tuscan coast (1284) destroyed the major part of the Pisan fleet and broke Pisan sea power.

Pisan merchants nevertheless continued trading with the Levant (primarily with Egypt, Cyprus, and Cilicia), through the fourteenth century, though on an ever-decreasing scale. Genoa and Venice won the competition for the lucrative Mediterranean trade, while Pisa became a secondary power with a growing interest in the central Italian mainland and its industries, until it was subjugated by the leading Tuscan city, Florence, in 1406.

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