Post-classical history

Assizes of Romania

The Assizes of Romania (Fr. Assises de Romanie) are a law code representing the legal practice of the Frankish states in Greece established after the overthrow of the Byzantine Empire by the Fourth Crusade (1202-1204).

The 219 clauses of the Assizes are a fusion of feudal custom, pre-1204 Byzantine law, and the traditions of the Latin kingdom of Jerusalem. Although effectively the code that regulated the relationship of the prince of Achaia with his feudatories at some stage, the Assizes were also consciously identified with both the kingdom of Jerusalem and the Latin Empire of Constantinople (“Romania,” Fr. Romanie). The law code survives in ten manuscripts (all in Italian) that derive from a decision by the Venetian senate in 1452 to commission an official translation for use in Venice’s Aegean possessions. This would suggest the wider acceptance of the code in the Frankish states of the Aegean region, rather than merely in the lands of the princes of Achaia, although it is only in those lands that there is an independent record of its use.

The Italian translation was based on an official compilation made by an unknown French jurist sometime between 1333 and 1346, possibly for the visit of Catherine of Valois to the Morea as princess of Achaia in the period 1338-1341. The compilation reflected the Assizes as they were known in the early fourteenth century, a time when the Angevin kings of Naples ruled in Achaia and were concerned with their relationship as absentees to the local Frankish baronage. However, the Assizes existed in some form by 1276, when they were cited in the French version of the Chronicle of the Morea in the account of a lawsuit brought by Margaret of Neuilly to claim the barony of Akova. Like all feudal customs, the Assizes were a developing body of law. However, in the texts that have survived it is impossible to distinguish which clauses existed before 1276 (that is, before the commencement of Angevin rule) and which were original to the first Frankish rulers of Achaia.

The majority of the clauses deal with the fief, and issues of investiture, service, forfeiture, escheat, relief, and wardship connected with it. There are eighteen clauses that deal with the place of Greeks in a society now ordered by a minority group of Western lords, and nineteen that deal with women. Interesting light is shed on Latin literacy, relations between Franks and Greeks, and various categories of unfree Greek serfs only recorded in the Assizes. Regrettably the chronological context of all of this information is lacking.

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