Post-classical history

The Latin East



The Mamluk conquest of Acre and the other Frankish-held cities and fortresses in 1291 marked the end of a western presence in Syria and Palestine that had its origins in the First Crusade. But elsewhere in the eastern basin of the Mediterranean, Latin rule persisted. The kingdom of Cyprus, established in the 1190s in the aftermath of the Third Crusade, survived as the most easterly of these western possessions until the Turkish conquest of 1571. In Greece and the Aegean, in the area that contemporaries often conveniently referred to as ‘Romania’, several of the regimes that had come into being in the early years of the thirteenth century after the conquest of Constantinople by the army of the Fourth Crusade continued to hold sway. The Frankish princes of Achaea and dukes of Athens between them ruled much of southern Greece; Italians held Negroponte and many of the smaller Aegean islands, while the Venetian republic governed Crete and the southern Greek ports of Coron and Modon. Though the Latins had lost Constantinople itself in 1261, in the fourteenth century western Europeans were able to add to the territories in the Aegean under their control, with Rhodes and Chios the most notable of these later acquisitions.

During the thirteenth century the most potent threat to continued Latin rule in Romania had come from the Greeks

of Nicaea or Epiros. But after 1300, as Byzantine power waned, so, as we have seen, the threat from the Turks came to the fore. The close of the thirteenth century saw the emergence of the Turkish warlord in north-western Asia Minor named Osman. As has already been described, his descendants, the Ottoman sultans, were in due course to overrun all these Latin possessions as well as the Byzantine empire, the Balkans, the other Turkish emirates of Asia Minor, the Mamluk sultanate, and more besides. In the seventeenth century, with the conquest of Crete from the Venetians, the Ottomans brought the history of western rule in the territories won during or after the crusades to the East to a close. Iraklion, the principal city of Crete, surrendered to the Turks in 1669, and despite the fact that Venetian garrisons were able to remain in a few other places in the island until 1715 and Venetian-led troops had spectacular though short-lived successes in Greece in the 1680s, the fall of Iraklion can be regarded as marking the end of an epoch.

War against the Turks, however, is only one of several themes that criss-cross the history of the western-ruled lands in the eastern Mediterranean during these centuries. Conflicts among the Latins themselves and between the Latins and the other Christian rulers, the Byzantine emperors and the kings of Cilician Armenia, are also prominent. More particularly, the forms that western government and society might take, the relevance to the Latin-ruled territories of commerce between East and West, and the vexed question of the extent to which the Latin regimes can be labelled ‘colonial’ and can be seen as prefiguring European colonial experiences elsewhere from the sixteenth century onwards are all topics that deserve attention. Throughout the Latin East people of western European extraction ruled over an indigenous population that was predominantly Greek in speech and in religious affiliation. How this underclass fared at the hands of the dominant minority is another subject of considerable interest. But before alighting on a few of these issues, a sketch of the political history of these disparate territories is called for, if only to provide a chronological framework within which to consider them.

The Kingdom of Cyprus

At the time of the fall of Acre the kings of the Lusignan dynasty had been ruling in Cyprus for a century. Many of the original Frankish settlers were, like the members of the royal house itself, people who had been dispossessed by Saladin’s conquests of 1187-8, and the arrival of many more refugees from Latin Syria during the course of the thirteenth century had had the effect of reinforcing the Latin position in the island. Since 1269 the kings of Cyprus had also laid claim to the title of king of Jerusalem, even though their right to do so had been contested by the Angevin kings of Sicily. However, in 1291 it was the then Cypriot king, Henry II (1286-1324), who had had possession of Acre and who had done what little he could to withstand the Mamluk assault.

Henry never completely lost sight of the idea that he might some day recover the kingdom of Jerusalem. He made some serious if in the event ineffectual attempts to co-operate with Ghazan, the Mongol ilkhan of Persia, during the latter’s invasions of Syria in 1299-1301; he attempted, again ineffectually, to enforce the embargo on western ships trading in Mamluk ports in the hope of weakening the sultanate economically and so making a Christian reconquest feasible, and on at least two occasions he sent memoranda to the pope on how a crusade to recover the Holy Land might be conducted. But there was no crusade to restore Christian rule in Jerusalem, and, even if there had been, Henry himself was scarcely in a position to profit by it. Any major expedition to the East at the beginning of the fourteenth century would have been led by the French, and, if successful, would almost certainly have established French or Angevin rule in the Holy Land. In the last decade of his life Henry was building up dynastic ties with the royal house of Aragon, the Angevins’ principal rival in the Mediterranean, but to no effect. In any case he had shown himself to be inadequate as a ruler. A baronial coup d’état led by his brother, Amalric lord of Tyre, in 1306 resulted in his suspension from power, and in 1310 he was sent into exile in Cilician Armenia. On Amalric’s death later that year Henry resumed his rule, but the legacy of this episode was renewed hostility with the Genoese and frosty relations with the Armenians. In other words, the king became embroiled in quarrels with the most powerful of the Italian mercantile republics in the East and with the only other Christian kingdom in the vicinity of his own realm.

The reign of Henry’s nephew and successor, Hugh IV (1324-59), saw a major reorientation. Instead of concerning himself with the Mamluk sultanate and the recovery of the Holy Land, Hugh turned his attention to the problems posed by the growing Turkish presence in the waters between Cyprus and the West. From the early 1330s until the end of his reign he was associated with the Knights Hospitallers of St John on Rhodes, the Venetians, and the papacy in trying to curb Turkish piracy in the Aegean, and he was also able to place the Turkish rulers of much of the southern coast of Anatolia under tribute. At the same time he seems to have stopped trying to enforce the embargo on trade with the Mamluks and to have sought better relations with the Genoese. His policy was eminently sensible. Since the end of the thirteenth century Cyprus had been enjoying considerable commercial prosperity, largely as a result of its position athwart one of the main trade routes between East and West. Safeguarding the shipping lanes to Europe was thus a matter of prudent self-interest. If Turkish pirates operating from bases on the western or southern coast of Asia Minor could interfere unchecked with international commerce, then the wealth that this trade brought Cyprus and its rulers would diminish and the island would be less able to fend off any future Muslim invasion.

It is customary to see the reigns of Henry II and Hugh IV as marking the apogee of the Lusignan kingdom. Visitors to the island commented on the wealth and prosperity they found. The Florentine business agent, Francesco Balducci Pegalotti, who was based in Cyprus in the early years of Hugh IV’s reign, described the enormous variety of merchandise traded there. The well-struck and plentiful coinage testifies to the abundance of silver flowing into the island. The surviving architectural monuments, notably the Premonstratensian abbey at Bellapais and numerous churches of fourteenth-century date in Famagusta of which the former Latin cathedral of St Nicholas is the most celebrated, are further evidence for the flourishing economy. But by the time the ageing and increasingly irrascible Hugh IV handed over power to his eldest surviving son, Peter I, this prosperity was already on the wane. The Black Death of 1347-8 had hit the island hard. As a result of the population loss agricultural and industrial production would have fallen, and since the international demand for merchandise slumped— there being fewer producers and fewer consumers—the wealth that accrued to the island through trade would have fallen correspondingly. But while this economic contraction affected all parts of the Mediterranean world, the situation in Cyprus was exacerbated by the fact that changing trade routes meant that a smaller proportion of the commerce between Asia and western Europe was passing through the island.

It is against this background that the dramatic events of Peter I’s reign (1359-69) should be viewed. Peter began by taking over the port of Korykos from its Armenian inhabitants and then, in 1361, seizing the important trading centre of Antalya from the Turks. As was shown in Chapter 11, in 1362 he travelled to the West and toured Europe, recruiting men for a crusade. He and his army left Venice in 1365 and, rendezvousing with the Cypriot forces at Rhodes, descended on the Egyptian city of Alexandria. The garrison was taken completely unawares; the city was captured and pillaged; the crusading army then withdrew on learning of the approach of the main Mamluk army from Cairo. This attack was followed in the course of the next few years by a series of lesser raids on the coast of Syria. Historians have argued about what Peter was doing. The crusading rhetoric of the time would indicate that he believed he could win back Jerusalem and the Holy Places of Christendom; what we know of the peace negotiations suggests that he was looking for trading advantages for Cypriot merchants. The crusade had originally been intended to have as its leader the king of France who as the heir of St Louis would have been expected to set his sights on Jerusalem. But the actual course of events—the destruction of a rival port to Famagusta and then the quest for trading privileges for his own subjects in the Mamluk sultanate—suggests that Peter may have been more interested in reviving his kingdom’s flagging commerce.

Whatever the truth, it is clear that Cyprus derived no benefit from Peter’s enterprise. Peace with the Mamluks was concluded in 1370, but by then the king was dead, murdered by a group of his own vassals. The Italian mercantile interests had been outraged by his attack on Egypt. In 1372, following a riot at the coronation of the new king, Peter II (1369-82), Cyprus and Genoa went to war. The next year, 1373, the Genoese captured Famagusta, and their destructive invasion was only halted by a spirited defence of Kyrenia castle. This war marked the end of Cyprus’s commercial heyday. The decline of Famagusta was aggravated by the destruction of the local merchants’ working capital, and by the 1390s the port had acquired the characteristics of a ghost town. It remained under Genoese control until 1464. As for the Lusignans, they now found themselves oscillating between a policy of trying to take Famagusta back by force and paying the tribute that the Genoese had imposed. Increasingly impoverished and isolated, they could no longer involve themselves in anti-Turkish activities in the Aegean or take other positive measures to enhance their position. Instead they allowed Cyprus to be used as a base for corsairs, many of them from Catalonia. As a result the Mamluk sultan took reprisals, launching a series of attacks on the island during the mid-1420s. In 1426 the Cypriot troops were overwhelmed at Khirokitia and the king, Janus (1398-1432), was, as we have seen, captured. Henceforth Cyprus was under tribute to Egypt, and when in 1517 Egypt succumbed to the Ottomans the tribute had to be paid instead to Constantinople.

Although they had had their problems, for two and half centuries the Lusignans managed to avoid serious succession crises. Beginning in 1458, however, this dynastic stability foundered. In that year King John II (1432-58) died, leaving a daughter, Charlotte, and a bastard son named James. James took refuge in Cairo. In i460, backed by an assortment of European adventurers, among whom Sicilians were prominent, and a force of Egyptian soldiers, he led an invasion of Cyprus. In the ensuing civil war, which lasted until i464, he overthrew the legitimate branch of the family and became king. It was some time before James could gain a measure of international recognition, but he did at least manage to establish relations with Venice and in 1472 married a Venetian noblewoman named Caterina Cornaro. Then in 1473 he died. A son, James III, was born posthumously, but he in his turn died the following year. Apart from Charlotte, now in exile in the West, and some illegitimate branches of the family, the royal house of Lusignan was extinct. In the turmoil surrounding the deaths of James II and his son, the Venetian authorities intervened to safeguard their interests and to prevent a group of James’s Sicilian counsellors and mercenary captains taking control. Until 1489 they maintained the fiction that James’s widow, Caterina Cornaro, was the ruling queen of Cyprus. They then ended the pretence, abolished the monarchy, and administered the island as part of their overseas empire.

Before the 1470s the government in Venice had not shown any particular interest in Cyprus. But after the loss of Negroponte to the Turks in 1470 and in the course of their attempts to collaborate with the Turkoman leader Uzun Hasan in their struggle against the Ottomans, the Venetians had come to appreciate the island’s economic and strategic potential. Their rule lasted from 1474 until the Ottoman conquest of 1570-71. The population rose steadily and the economy seems to have revived. The Ottoman conquest of Syria, Palestine, and Egypt in 1516-17 followed by the capture of Rhodes in 1522 left Cyprus in a particularly exposed position. The Venetians refortified the castle at Kyrenia and rebuilt the walls at Famagusta so as to withstand cannonade. At Nicosia, the capital, they decided that more drastic measures needed to be taken. The medieval walls there had never afforded adequate protection. Back in the 1450s the pope had set aside money from the sale of indulgences for refortifying the town, and copies of the indulgence printed by Gutenberg at that time are among the earliest instances of the use of printing with movable type. By the 1560s, however, it was thought necessary to dismantle the entire circuit and replan the fortifications from scratch using, as we have seen, the most up-to-date military designs. To achieve this programme it was necessary to demolish a large number of buildings including the Dominican church where many of the Lusignan kings had been buried. In the event the building work was not quite complete when the Ottomans launched their invasion. Nicosia fell in September 1570 after six weeks of fighting. Kyrenia surrendered without putting up any resistance. But at Famagusta the Venetian garrison endured a siege that lasted from September 1570 until August the following year and only surrendered when supplies of food and gunpowder were exhausted.

Rhodes and the Knights Hospitallers of St John

The loss of Latin Syria forced the Hospitallers to find a fresh role. Initially they established themselves in Cyprus, but once it became obvious that there was to be no return to the Holy Land they turned their attention elsewhere and in 1306 embarked on the conquest of the Byzantine-held island of Rhodes. It appears to have taken until 1309 before the island was fully in their hands, but from then until 1522 they used it as their headquarters (see Chapter 13) and as a base from which they attempted to halt Muslim depredations and expansion. They also occupied a number of the nearby smaller islands, and, although they busied themselves policing the shipping lanes, they were forever criticized for making insufficient use of the income from their extensive estates in the West. As we shall see, in 1344 they shared in a successful assault on Smyrna. They then had to shoulder most of the burden of defending it until it was captured and destroyed by Tamerlane in 1402. Towards the end of the fourteenth century the Hospitallers were also involved in efforts to defend southern Greece which was now coming under Turkish attack, but they lacked the resources to intervene effectively in the increasingly chaotic situation there. Tamerlane’s victory over the Ottomans at Ankara in 1402 had the effect of relieving the Turkish pressure on Greece, and within a few years the order, at odds with the other Christian rulers in the region, took the opportunity to withdraw. Spared the need to spend their revenues on Smyrna and Greece, the Hospitallers now concentrated on protecting Rhodes itself, the nearby mainland castle of Bodrum, and the surrounding islands.

In the fifteenth century Rhodes became notorious as a base for corsairs, and in 1440 and again in 1444 the Mamluk sultan retaliated by sending his fleet to attack the Hospitallers’ possessions. However, unlike the Cypriots who had suffered grievously in similar circumstances in the 1420s, the Knights of St John were well prepared and had no difficulty coping with these assaults. A more immediate threat was posed by the Ottomans. In 1453 the Turks had conquered Constantinople; by 1460 they had overrun almost all southern Greece; in 1462 they occupied Lesbos and in 1470 Negroponte. Rhodes effectively blocked further naval expansion to the south and east. In the 1470s there were repeated Turkish raids on Hospitaller possessions, and in 1480 the Ottomans launched a major attempt to conquer the island and expel the order for good. The siege of Rhodes city lasted almost three months and in the end had to be abandoned. Although they had succeeded in fending off the invasion, the defenders were left greatly weakened, and their survival has to be attributed to a respite gained by the death of the sultan Mehmed II the following year and the subsequent succession disputes in which the western powers were able to use the threat of unloosing a captive pre-tender to the throne to prevent the new sultan, Bayezid II, from attacking Christian territories. It was not until 1522 that the Ottomans again launched a full- scale invasion. On this occasion the sultan, Suleyman the Magnificent, commanded his troops in person. As in 1480 the Turks closely invested the city of Rhodes, but this time it surrendered after a six-month siege.

The Principality of Achaea

By the end of the thirteenth century the Frankish principality of Achaea was already past its prime. The defeat at the hands of the Greeks at Pelagonia in 1259 had led directly to the Byzantine reoccupation of the south-eastern portion of the Peloponnese and to the prospect of further losses. In his need to find a protector Prince William II had turned to the Angevin king of Sicily, Charles I, and in 1267 had accepted his suzerainty. Charles, who had hopes of supplanting the Byzantines and re-establishing the Latin empire of Constantinople, was a natural ally. But after the rebellion of 1282 known as the Sicilian Vespers, his successors could no longer provide the sort of military and financial aid that was necessary. They were, however, able to exploit their position as overlords to intervene in the principality’s internal affairs, and the failure of the male line of the ruling Villehardouin family in 1278 gave them plenty of opportunity so to do. Between 1289 and 1297 the principality was ruled by William II’s daughter, Isabella, and her husband, Florent of Hainault, but after Florent’s death the Angevin kings in Naples sought ways of replacing Isabella and Mahaut, her daughter, by a member of their own house. Only briefly did this intention waver when in 1313 other ambitions led them to promote the marriage of Mahaut to Louis, a younger brother of the duke of Burgundy. It was at this juncture that the Angevin dominance was challenged by an Aragonese claimant, Ferrand, the younger son of King James I of Mallorca. With the Aragonese Catalan Company already ruling in the adjacent duchy of Athens there was a real possibility that the Aragonese would take control of the whole of Latin Greece. But it was not to be. A war between the opposing parties ended in July 1316 in a pitched battle at Manolada in which Ferrand was killed. Louis of Burgundy died shortly afterwards. In a series of high-handed actions King Robert of Naples thereupon ousted the widowed Mahaut and in 1322 had his own brother, John of Gravina, invested as prince. Mahaut died a prisoner in Naples in 1331.

Direct Angevin rule, however, failed to remedy the problems confronting the principality. Around 1320 the Byzantines had made some substantial gains in the central Peloponnese with the result that henceforth the principality was largely confined to the western and northern coastal areas. In 1325-6 John of Gravina led a substantial but as it happened unsuccessful expedition with the intention of recovering lost ground. He then retired to Italy, never to return. Instead he governed through a series of lieutenants, and this pattern of absentee rule continued after 1332 when as part of a family compact he surrendered his rights to Achaea to his youthful nephew, Robert of Taranto. Since 1297 there had been no resident prince who had had effective control, and it is therefore no surprise that the surviving feudatories tended to pursue their own policies and disregard the demands of their lord. In 1338 Catherine of Valois, who was Robert’s mother and also the titular empress of Constantinople, brought a substantial force of men-at-arms from Italy in an attempt to reassert princely authority. She withdrew in 1341 leaving the barons as intractable as ever. Exasperated by the alternating laissez-faire and interventionist policies of the Angevins, in the 1340s they looked in turn to the Byzantine power-broker John Cantacuzenus and to the king of Mallorca as possible alternatives to Neapolitan overlordship. What they wanted was someone who would defend and guarantee their possessions but not interfere in their affairs. It was too much to ask, and in any case neither ruler was in any position to take on the role they envisaged.

It was under Catherine of Valois’s patronage in the 1330s that her Florentine counsellor and financier, Niccolo Acciaiuoli, began to acquire fiefs and come to prominence in the principality. In 1358 the ineffectual and absentee titular prince, Robert of Taranto, granted him the valuable and strategically important lordship of Corinth. By then Turkish raids were becoming a major problem, and it was clear that the Angevins were incapable of doing anything to counter them. Indeed, after Robert’s death in 1364, the family engaged in a series of quarrels over who was to be the rightful prince while at the same time largely abandoning Achaea to its fate. In 1377 Queen Joanna of Naples leased the principality to the Knights Hospitallers of St John. It was they who introduced the force of Gascon and Navarrese mercenaries into Achaea known as the Navarrese Company. By the late 1370s Niccolo Acciaiuoli’s nephew, Nerio, had become lord of Corinth and had acquired Vostitsa on the Gulf of Corinth and Megara from the weakening Catalan regime in Athens and so had come to dominate the entire region. In 1379, with Nerio’s connivance a part of the Navarrese Company invaded the duchy of Athens and seized Thebes, the principal city, leaving the Catalans holding out in Athens itself. The rest of the Company remained in Achaea where its commanders assumed control of the towns and fortresses of the princely domain. They continued to hold de facto power when in 1381 the Hospitallers formally handed the principality back to Queen Joanna. In the early 1380s the series of political crises in southern Italy that led to Joanna’s overthrow ended the Angevin overlordship to all intents and purposes. In 1396 King Ladislas of Naples granted the title of prince of Achaea to the Navarrese leader, Peter of San Superan.

The growing Ottoman threat forced the various Christian powers in the Peloponnese into a measure of accommodation. The Navarrese turned to the Venetians whose fleet and whose control of Coron and Modon, Crete, and Negroponte meant that they were the most considerable military and naval power in the area. Nerio Acciaiuoli turned to Theodore Palaeologus, the Byzantine despot of the Morea, to whom in 1388 he gave his daughter in marriage. In the same year he succeeded in gaining control of Athens. However, a common front against the Turks proved elusive. The Byzantine occupation of Argos, a town that the Venetians had just purchased from the widow of its last lord, led to a protracted wrangle that was exacerbated when the Navarrese treacherously seized Nerio Acciaiuoli during negotations to settle this dispute. In 1394 Nerio died and Theodore seized Corinth. By then Ottoman power had reached as far as the northern shores of the Gulf of Corinth, and major incursions into the Peloponnese in 1387, 1394-5, and 1397 took their toll. In 1397 Theodore arranged for the Hospitallers to take charge of Corinth, and by 1400 he was even prepared to consider selling the entire despotate to them. The Ottoman defeat at the hands of Tamerlane in 1402 eased the pressure. Peter of San Superan died in 1402, and in 1404 Centurione Zaccaria, his widow’s nephew and a member of an old-established baronial family, swept aside Peter’s heirs and had the king of Naples invest him as prince of Achaea. It was Centurione who in the course of the next quarter of a century presided over the demise of the principality. It succumbed not to the Turks but to the aggressive acquisitiveness of the despots of the Morea, the last act being played out in 1430. The Byzantine despotate survived until the Ottoman conquest of 1460.

The Duchy of Athens

During the thirteenth century the duchy of Athens had flourished under the rule of the Burgundian La Roche family. The dukes had been more than able to hold their own despite the fluctuating fortunes of their neighbours to north and south, and the duchy had enjoyed the benefits of prosperity, dynastic stability, and military success. In 1308 Duke Guy II died childless, and the duchy passed to a cousin, Walter of Brienne. Within a short time of his accession Walter was faced by the arrival on his northern border of the army of mercenaries known as the Catalan Company. As a fighting force it had had its origins in southern Italy during the wars between the Angevins and the Aragonese that had begun in the aftermath of the Sicilian Vespers of 1282. In 1303 the Catalans had hired their services to the Byzantine emperor who had used them against the Turks of Asia Minor; they then turned against their paymaster and did an immense amount of damage to Byzantine territory in Thrace before moving into Thessaly. Walter thought he could use the Catalans to further his own ambitions to dominate that region; a campaign fought in 1310 was highly successful, but Walter was not prepared to reward them in line with their expectations. They advanced into his duchy and in March 1311 crushed his forces in a battle fought by the river Kephissos. The Athenian knights, reinforced by contingents from elsewhere in Frankish Greece, were induced, like the English at Bannockburn three years later, to charge into a marsh. The slaughter was immense. Walter himself was killed and the Catalans were able to occupy the whole of his duchy.

The new regime lacked international recognition. The Catalans naturally turned to the Aragonese royal house for support and accepted the nominal overlordship of successive members of the Sicilian branch of the family as dukes. But the hostility of the Angevins of Naples, the French, and the papacy towards the Aragonese kept them isolated. There could be no co-operation between Catalan Athens and Angevin Achaea, and so the mutual support that had normally been a feature of relations between the two major Frankish principalities in southern Greece in the previous century no longer applied. The Briennes, who were well connected in both France and Naples, could count on papal backing, and when in 1331 Walter of Brienne’s son and namesake, Walter II, led a substantial army in an attempt to regain his patrimony the expedition had the status of a crusade. Even so, he was unable to make any headway against the Catalans, though he and his heirs continued to intrigue against them. For most of the time until the early 1370s the papacy kept the Catalan leadership under the ban of excommunication, and it was only the increasing danger from the Turks that from the 1340s onwards brought about a gradual softening of papal attitudes.

In the opening decades of the fourteenth century the Catalan Company had been a formidable power, but with the passage of time its prowess dwindled. In 1379 the Navarrese Company invaded the duchy and seized Thebes, leaving, as we have seen, the Catalans holding Athens but little else. The beneficiary was the Florentine lord of Corinth, Nerio Acciaiuoli, who by the mid-1380s had occupied almost all the former Catalan territories and who completed his conquest with the occupation of the Acropolis at Athens in 1388. Nerio turned to King Ladislas of Naples for legitimization of his acquisitions, but on his death in 1394 the despot of the Morea seized Corinth, while the Venetians, anxious to pre-empt an Ottoman take-over, occupied Athens. Venetian rule lasted until 1402 when Nerio’s bastard son, Antonio, who in the meantime had gained control of Thebes, wrested the city from them. In Venice Antonio’s success was viewed as a major humiliation, but once it became clear that he was not going to follow it by attacking Negroponte the Venetians chose to acquiesce. Antonio was to rule until his death in 1435. The Ottoman threat, which in the 1390s had assumed major proportions, had receded and Athens once again enjoyed a measure of prosperity. After i435 the duchy passed to Antonio’s cousins. The family retained Athens itself until the Turkish take-over of 1456 and was allowed to keep Thebes until 1460 when the Ottomans had the last duke murdered.

The Genoese in the Aegean and Black Sea

The Fourth Crusade had established Venice as the dominant western maritime power in Romania, and the interests of Genoa, her great rival, had for a time suffered in consequence. However, with the demise of the Latin regime in Constantinople in 1261, the Genoese came into their own. It was then that they acquired Pera, the suburb on the opposite side of the Golden Horn from the Byzantine capital, which they turned into a major centre for trade. But their commercial enterprise spread far further afield. By 1280 the Genoese had taken control of Kaffa in the Crimea, and until late into the fifteenth century their merchants were to be found at many other trading centres around the shores of the Black Sea. These Black Sea ports gave them access to Russia and, more importantly, to Asia. Before the end of the thirteenth century there were Genoese-owned ships on the Caspian Sea and an appreciable Genoese mercantile community in Tabriz. In the first half of the fourteenth century we find them trading in India and China. Access to Asia for these more distant ventures was either via Pera and the Black Sea or through the Cilician Armenian port of Ayas. Disruption of trade routes in inner Asia and a loss of confidence following the Black Death meant that after about 1350 such ventures largely ceased, but there was still considerable profit to be had through trade in the Black Sea, the Aegean, and the Levant.

The Genoese were not particularly interested in acquiring land for its own sake. What they wanted were places in which their merchants could trade securely. Kaffa remained in their hands until 1475; Pera until 1453, and Famagusta in Cyprus, which they captured in 1373, until 1464. Rivalry with the Venetians was intense. Since early in the thirteenth century Venice had dominated the southern and western waters of the Aegean; Genoa by contrast sought to assert its influence over the eastern and northern parts. But it was left to individual Genoese to acquire territory. In the 1260s the Emperor Michael VIII had granted the Zaccaria family Phocaea on the western coast of Asia Minor and the right to exploit its alum deposits. The Zaccarias proceeded to found New Phocaea, and in 1304 Benedetto Zaccaria occupied the nearby Byzantine island of Chios. His kinsmen’s rule in Chios lasted until 1329 when the Greeks were able to reclaim it. However from 1346 Chios and Phocaea were again in Genoese hands, now governed by a business consortium known as the Mahona of Chios. The island was noted for its production of mastic, but the Genoese developed its port as a centre for trade in other commodities, notably alum from Phocaea and slaves. In the first half of the fourteenth century the Genoese began to cast covetous eyes at the more northerly island of Lesbos, but it was not until 1354 that a Genoese adventurer named Francesco Gattilusio, who had come to prominence for his role in the coup which ousted the Emperor John VI Cantacuzenus, acquired this island. The Ottomans took control of Phocaea and New Phocaea in 1455 and seized Lesbos in 1462. Chios, however, remained in Genoese hands until 1566.

Venetian Romania

In the aftermath of the Fourth Crusade Venice acquired direct sovereignty over Crete and the twin ports of Coron and Modon in the south of the Peloponnese, and at the same time encouraged individual members of Venetian patrician families to take control of many of the smaller Aegean islands for themselves. Chief among the beneficiaries of this policy were the Sanudi who from early in the thirteenth century ruled over the Cyclades and Sporades with the title of ‘duke of Naxos’ or ‘duke of the Archipelago’. In 1383 their duchy passed to the Crispi family. Other Venetians acquired islands for themselves and held them as vassals of the dukes of Naxos. Technically the Sanudi were vassals of the princes of Achaea and so not dependent on Venice in any formal sense, but in practice the Venetians were careful to ensure that these islands were held by their own people as part of their policy of keeping the approaches to Constantinople in friendly hands. The Sanudi were vigorous rulers, but even they could not prevent the islands being ravaged by pirates and, especially in the case of some of the smaller islands, being systematically depopulated by Turkish slavers. Frequently rulers had to induce settlers from elsewhere to come to make good the losses. The islands became notorious as havens for corsairs, and the generally unstable political and military situation was exacerbated by some long-running feuds among the local lords. By the 1420s the dukes of Naxos were tributary to the Ottomans, but their duchy was still to have a long history. The last duke was not deposed until 1566, and vestiges of Christian lordship in these smaller Aegean islands continued until 1617 when a group of minor islands, of which Siphinos was the most important, finally passed under direct Turkish rule. Venice herself held Tenos and Kythera until the eighteenth century.

In the early thirteenth century the Venetians had taken advantage of the situation in the former Byzantine lands to gain staging posts along the main route to Constantinople and the Black Sea. Coron and Modon, ‘the two eyes of the Republic’ on the south-western tip of Greece, were useful ports of call on the way to both the Aegean and the Levant. Nearer Constantinople the island of Negroponte (or Euboea) had been part of the territory assigned to Venice at the time of the Fourth Crusade, but in the event it came into the control of three Lombard families who held their lands as fiefs of the Venetians. A Venetian bailo had charge of the principal port, the city of Negroponte, but it was only gradually that Venice came to acquire direct control over the rest of the island, a process which was more or less complete by the 1380s. Negroponte remained the most important piece of Venetian territory between Crete and Constantinople until it fell to the Turks in 1470. There were two major breaks in the chain of Venetian-controlled ports along the route to Constantinople. One lay at the southern end of the Adriatic. After 1204 the Venetians had hoped to acquire Corfu, but it was denied them. Eventually, however, in 1386 they did obtain this island, and they held it until the collapse of the republic in 1797. The other break in the chain lay in the approaches to Constantinople itself. Here the Venetians wanted the island of Tenedos which is strategically situated opposite the entrance to the Dardanelles, but their rivals, the Genoese, also had designs on it, and eventually the conflicting ambitions of the two cities led to war. The hostilities lasted from 1376 to 1381 and, despite the dramatic spectacle of a Genoese blockade of Venice, they ended inconclusively with Tenedos being declared a no man’s land from which its Greek inhabitants were to be expelled.

After the war of Tenedos the growth of Ottoman power, coupled with the weakness of the Latin principalities in southern Greece and the effective end of any pretensions of the rulers of Naples to overlordship there, provided Venice with both the opportunity and the pretext to acquire additional territory. Besides Corfu, she acquired other footholds at the southern entrance to the Adriatic in the general area of what is now Albania. Further south she gained Lepanto (Naupaktos) on the Gulf of Corinth in 1407 and Navarino on the western coast of the Peloponnese in 1417. On the Aegean coast the Venetians had bought Argos and Nauplia in 1388, and eventually, in 1462, Monemvasia came under their rule. For a few years, as we have seen, the banner of Saint Mark even flew over Athens and Thessalonica (1423-30). In time all these were to succumb to Ottoman pressure. The fall of Constantinople in 1453 meant that these islands, ports, and fortresses lost their focal point. They were still valuable in themselves, but increasingly Venice’s political and commercial interests were shifting away from Romania and towards her territorial possessions in northern Italy which in the fifteenth century were expanding dramatically. What Venice could not do was hold back the Ottoman advance. To preserve her trade she attempted to pursue policies of appeasement. When these failed there was war. In the war of 1463-79 she lost Negroponte; in the war of 1499-1503 she lost Modon, Coron, and Navarino; in the war of 1537-40, Monemvasia, Nauplia, and some islands including Aegina. In the war of 1570-3 she lost Cyprus.

Cyprus and Crete were Venice’s two most substantial acquisitions in the eastern Mediterranean. Cyprus was in Venetian hands for less than a century and during that time enjoyed a period of relative peace and prosperity. Crete, however, had been acquired after the Fourth Crusade and remained a Venetian possession for almost five centuries. Once the Venetians had got over the initial problems of taking control, they found themselves confronted with a sequence of rebellions led by the local Cretan landowners. The most serious of these erupted in the 1280s under the leadership of Alexis Kallergis and lasted for sixteen years. In the end the Venetians had to allow the indigenous Cretans to retain their property and customs, and they even had to make concessions with regard to the Orthodox Church hierarchy. In 1363 it was the turn of the Venetian settlers in Crete to rebel against their home government. What sparked the revolt were the excessive demands being placed upon them by the Venetian administrators in the island. It lasted until 1367 and was suppressed with relentless savagery on the part of the authorities. After that the population remained generally docile. Acculturation between Greeks and Latins proceeded and the island prospered. This prosperity was interrupted by Turkish raiding, notably in 1538, 1562, and 1567. The Venetians invested heavily in fortifying the main towns, as the castle and walls at Iraklion, or Candia as it was then known, and the huge fortress at Rethymnon bear witness. But military strategists realized that when the Turks decided to attack Crete in earnest, its defence would depend on Venice’s ability to use naval power to intercept the invading army. It was not until 1645 that the blow finally fell. The Turks were able to take advantage of Christian indecision and gain the initiative. By 1648 they had overrun the whole of Crete except for Iraklion. The siege of Iraklion lasted for a further twenty-one years, and the ‘War of Candia’ came to be viewed throughout Europe as an epic struggle. During that time the Venetians won several major naval engagements, and when in 1669 they surrendered Iraklion they managed to salvage naval bases in Crete at Suda, Spinalonga, and Grabusa which they held until 1715, together with the islands of Tenos and Kythera and some areas in Croatia which they had recently conquered at Ottoman expense.

The surrender of Iraklion was not the end of Venetian involvement in Romania. In 1684 the Holy League under the aegis of Pope Innocent XI comprising Venice, Austria, and Poland came into being to make war on the Ottomans. The Venetians took the lead in overrunning southern Greece in a campaign that is remembered chiefly for the destruction of the Parthenon during the siege of Athens of 1687. In 1699 at the peace of Karlowitz Venice’s possession of the Peloponnese was confirmed, but in 1715 the Ottomans were able to reconquer it with little opposition. When in 1718 the peace of Passarowitz brought hostilities to an end, Venice still retained the Ionian islands and the nearby mainland strongholds of Butrinto, Parga, Preveza, and Vonitza.

During the later Middle Ages diversity and fragmentation were the most obvious characteristics of the Latin East. At first glance we see assorted outposts of the West clinging precariously to the margins of the Islamic world in which French and Italian landowners lorded over Greek peasants while all around Venetian and Genoese merchants and seafarers quarrelled over trade. A closer examination, however, shows a more complex structure of relationships. The crusades to the East had been aimed primarily at the Muslim world, but the lands that were now under Latin rule had all been wrested from the Christian Greeks. In the thirteenth century the Byzantines had had some success in winning back lost territory, but except in the Peloponnese, where the despots of the Morea eventually extinguished the principality of Achaea in 1430, the Byzantine threat to the Latin possessions had evaporated by about 1300. In the fourteenth century it was the Latins who once again were gaining at Greek expense as Rhodes, Chios, and Lesbos passed from Byzantine into western hands. Venice and Genoa profited from and even promoted the dynastic strife that so weakened the empire from the 1330s onwards. For example, in the 1350s Venice actively supported the Emperor John VI Cantacuzenus, while Genoa backed his rival, John V Palaeologus. Later, in the 1370s, Venice looked to John V to give them the coveted prize of Tenedos at the same time as Genoa was helping John’s rebellious son, Andronicus, in the hope that they could thus forestall their rivals and acquire the island for themselves. In the fourteenth and early fifteenth centuries the Italians were able to dominate ever more fully the commercial life of Constantinople, enriching themselves at Byzantine expense. The Genoese colony at Pera flourished while Constantinople itself languished. From 1343 the Byzantine crown jewels were held in pledge in Venice, and, as it turned out, they were never to be redeemed.

Though on occasion the emperors benefited from western crusading enterprises, the Latins established in the Aegean could not or would not offer them any substantial help in the face of Ottoman advance. Not even the Hospitallers on Rhodes were in a position to have any tangible effect on the fortunes of the empire. In any case the attitudes of both the Greeks and the Latins to the Turks could on occasion be distinctly ambivalent. During the Byzantine civil war in the 1340s, John Cantacuzenus allied with the Ottoman leader Orkhan to whom in 1346 he gave his daughter in marriage. Then in 1352. the Genoese, who were hostile to Cantacuzenus, also entered a formal alliance with Orkhan. It was in the confused political circumstances of these years that the Ottomans first established themselves on European soil. In 1387 the despot of the Morea was using Turkish troops in his war against the principality of Achaea; in 1388 the Venetians were upbraiding the lord of Corinth, Nerio Acciaiuoli, for assisting the Turks in attacking their territory; in 1394-5 the Turks in conjunction with the ruler of Achaea, Peter of San Superan, were attacking the despot. In the kaleidoscopic shifting of alliances at this period both Greeks and Latins showed a readiness to side with the Turks against their fellow Christians. Sometimes they did so out of fear of what might happen to them if they refused Turkish demands for assistance; on other occasions they deliberately set out to use the Ottomans to score off their co-religionists. Thus in 1399 Antonio Acciaiuoli and the Turks were threatening to seize Athens which earlier had belonged to Antonio’s father and which the Venetians had subsequently taken. Among the Christian rulers in Romania only the Venetians and the Hospitallers consistently avoided alliances with the Turks, while in the hundred years from the middle of the fourteenth century to the middle of the fifteenth the Genoese had a long and profitable alliance with them. Indeed, the Genoese were even drawn into the dynastic conflicts which from time to time convulsed the Ottoman sultanate, as for example in 1421 when they were providing Murad II with ships and troops in his struggle with his brother, Mustafa. The Ottoman-Genoese alliance ended in 1450 with a seemingly unprovoked Turkish attack on Lesbos. With the exception of Chios, the Genoese lost all their possessions in the Aegean and Black Sea to the Turks within a few years of the fall of Constantinople in 1453.

In Cyprus the political situation was less confusing. Relations between the Cypriot kings and the rulers of Cilician Armenia, the only other nearby Christian kingdom, were frequently poor. The problems originated in the first decade of the fourteenth century. Amalric of Tyre, who had usurped power in Cyprus in 1306, had married the king of Armenia’s sister, and their descendants, alienated from the ruling branch of the Lusignan dynasty in Cyprus, remained prominent in the Armenian realm. Between 1342 and 1344 and again at the very end of the kingdom’s existence in the 1370s Amalric’s descendants occupied the Armenian throne. The ill-feeling between the kings of Cyprus and their Armenian cousins may have been exacerbated by commercial rivalry between the ports of Famagusta and Ayas. It must have resulted in less military aid being sent to Cilicia than might otherwise have been the case. On the other hand, the rulers of Cyprus never found themselves having to ally with a Muslim power against other Christians, although in the 1440s their suzerain, the sultan of Egypt, did insist on the Cypriots allowing his fleets to take on supplies en route for their assaults on Rhodes. At one point, however, a Christian power seriously considered a Muslim alliance against Cyprus. In 1383 the Genoese were engaged in imposing their own candidate, James I, on the throne of Cyprus, and when their plans ran into difficulties it was proposed that they should bring in Turkish troops from the nearby emirate of Karamania to help enforce their will. In the event it proved unnecessary, which from the point of view of the Cypriots was just as well.

It would therefore be wrong to assume that people in the Latin East in the later Middle Ages automatically valued Christian solidarity above all else and refused to engage in friendly relations with their Muslim neighbours. In the long term the struggle against the Turks dominated the history of the entire region, but rivalries between competing Christian powers could and did on occasion lead to military co-operation with the Turks, even though such co-operation could easily stimulate and facilitate further Turkish expansion at Christian expense. Nor did the consideration that strife among the Christian powers would make Muslim conquests all the more easy necessarily count for very much. Internecine warfare between Christians was commonplace. It ranged from the feuding between the lords of minor Aegean islands or petty acts of piracy to conflicts involving some of the greatest powers of Christian Europe. In the first half of the fourteenth century the conflict between the French and the Aragonese cast its shadow over the Latin East. From the 1280s onwards this conflict had had as its focus the bitter struggle between the Aragonese and the Angevins—themselves a cadet branch of the French royal house—for control of southern Italy. Achaea was an Angevin dependancy; Athens, under the Catalan Company, looked to the patronage of the Aragonese royal house. There could be no accommodation or co-operation between the two, and it is no surprise that the French claimant to Athens in the 1330s, Walter of Brienne, could turn to the Angevins for support in his attempt to supplant the Catalan regime. Since the 1270s the Angevins and the Lusignans of Cyprus had disputed the title to the kingdom of Jerusalem. In the early fourteenth century the kings of France took the lead in seeking to organize a crusade to win back the Holy Land, but, as we have seen, a French-led crusade can have had little appeal in Cyprus: the Lusignans knew that they would not be installed as kings of Jerusalem, and, if the crusade failed, Cyprus would be likely to bear the brunt of any Muslim retaliation. In the 1310s the childless king of Cyprus, Henry II, was prepared for his kingdom to pass to the Aragonese royal house. In the event there was no French-led crusade and no Aragonese acquisition of Henry’s kingdom, but things could have turned out very differently. The Angevins had other irons in the fire, such as the overthrow of the Greek regime in Constantinople and the restoration of the Latin empire, and there can be no doubt that in the first quarter of the fourteenth century this lingering and increasingly unrealistic programme inhibited papal attempts to aid the Byzantines. However, by the mid-fourteenth century Angevin power in Italy was waning and France was fully occupied with war with England. At the same time the Aragonese were finding that they could not readily intervene in the Latin East in any effective manner. So strong was the hegemony of the Genoese and Venetians that the Aragonese found that their merchants could never do more than trail far behind them in third place, and with the demise of the Catalan Company’s rule in Athens Aragonese influence dwindled further.

In the Aegean and the adjacent waters of the Mediterranean, where communication by sea was often more important than communication by land, naval power was of the utmost significance. Rulers such as the Hospitaller masters or the kings of Cyprus possessed ships which they could use to patrol the seas and curb piracy, but the greatest concentration of naval strength lay in the hands of the Genoese and Venetians. In an age in which merchant galleys could double as warships, their domination of trade between Europe and the eastern half of the Mediterranean meant that they wielded great power. They could use their navies to protect their trade, and in building up their mercantile marine they could enhance their war fleets. In the case of Venice, where the government regulated shipping to an appreciable extent, there was a deliberate policy of establishing Venetian-controlled ports of call along the routes to Constantinople and the East. At Genoa there was no such central control, but the Genoese were no less aggressive in seeking trading centres which they could possess for themselves. Both maritime powers competed for markets and commercial privileges and both were prepared to flaunt their power to ensure that their merchants could continue to maximize their profits and trade with as few impediments as possible.

Genoese relations with Cyprus provide a good example of how this assertiveness might work in practice. The Genoese had enjoyed commercial privileges in the island from the early thirteenth century. By 1300, however, their relations with the authorities were poor. Partly this had come about because in their view the Cypriots had shown too much sympathy towards their rivals, the Venetians, and partly because the Cypriots were trying to limit the extent of their privileges and enforce the papal embargo on trade with the Mamluk ports. The Genoese did not take kindly to what they regarded as attempts to restrict their ability to trade where and when they liked and with a minimum of overheads, and in the 1310s the situation deteriorated to the extent that they engaged in punitive raids on the coast of Cyprus. The Cypriot authorities naturally enough wanted to make sure that as much as possible of the wealth that accrued through trade found its way into their coffers and they were not prepared to sacrifice any more of their sovereignty in order to attract overseas merchants to do business on their soil. On the other hand, Cyprus needed the Genoese merchants if the island’s commercial prosperity was to be sustained, and trade continued, albeit against the background of a stream of disputes, most of them petty in themselves. In 1364 a more serious incident occurred in Famagusta when a number of Genoese nationals were killed. On that occasion King Peter I conceded all the Genoese demands for compensation as he was anxious that nothing should interfere with the crusade he was then about to launch. However, in 1372 the government in Cyprus refused Genoa’s demands for reparations after a similar incident, and, as we have seen, war resulted. In 1373 the Genoese sent a war fleet, captured Famagusta and inflicted a considerable amount of damage on the island. They retained Famagusta as a secure base from which to trade and attempted, with admittedly fluctuating success, to impose tribute on the Lusignans. It could be argued that the Cypriots had largely brought this catastrophe upon themselves, but the fact remains that the Genoese had used their naval power to defend and enlarge the interests of their merchants and in the process had greatly weakened a major outpost of Christendom.

There was an enormous amount of profit to be made from trade, and in the struggle to grab as much as possible for themselves Venice and Genoa frequently came into conflict. Between the 1250s and 1381 there were four major wars between them. Of these, the war of St Sabas which began in 1256 originated in a dispute over property in Acre, but the other three, those of 1294-9, 1350-5, and 1376-81, arose principally from their rivalry in Romania. Although much of the military action took place in the West, it was the trade of Constantinople and the Black Sea that in each case provided the casus belli. Paradoxically, military success did not necessarily lead to commercial hegemony and in no instance did either side win so convincingly as to put a stop to the other’s trade. But Genoa’s failure in the war of Tenedos, coming so soon after the expenses incurred in her invasion of Cyprus, ushered in a period of political uncertainty, and after that Genoese interests in the eastern Mediterranean gradually diminished. In the fifteenth century Venice retained a dominant share in the trade with Egypt and Syria and bore the brunt of Ottoman naval activity in and around the Aegean, while Genoa ceased to aspire to her rival’s prominance. Crete and, from the 1470s, Cyprus were valuable Venetian assets. Genoese Chios could not compare.

In none of the Latin possessions in the East did western Europeans ever make up the majority of the inhabitants. In rural areas especially the bulk of the population was Greek. The ports were cosmopolitan. Famagusta for example had a large Arabic-speaking Syrian community which lived alongside Greeks and Franks, Italians, Jews, and Armenians. Many people, even quite poor people, owned domestic slaves, and the surviving documents suggest that they could be of Slavonic, Asiatic, or black African extraction. There would always be a short-term population of merchants and seafarers, but among the long-term residents there were many who could claim status as Venetians or Genoese even though they had never lived in their supposed city of origin. Evidence survives from the early fifteenth century to suggest that a lingua franca comprising an eclectic mixture of words and phrases drawn from all the local languages existed for everyday converse. Most of the people of European extraction in the East probably spoke a form of Italian. In Cyprus, Achaea, and Athens the original feudal landholders had been French, but in course of time Italians or Catalans superseded them. In the case of Athens the change came violently with the advent of the Catalan Company in 1311. In Achaea it was during the fourteenth century that the nobles with French names gave way to Italians. In Cyprus the process was slower, although at the end of the fourteenth century a western visitor to the island noted with apparent surprise that the king spoke ‘fairly good French’. It was only with the accession of James II and the civil war of 1460-4 that Italian or Spanish names came to predominate among the nobility.

In the early stages of Latin rule the western conquerors generally kept themselves apart from the mass of the population. But gradually intermarriage and general proximity broke down the barriers and allowed acculturation between the different elements in the population to proceed. Confessional allegiance was a determining factor. The western regimes invariably introduced Latin bishops and clergy and sought ways of reducing the Greek clergy to subordinate status. Normally this entailed the transfer of endowments to the Latins and the elimination or reduction of Greek bishoprics. The Greek clergy were obliged to acknowledge the jurisdiction of their Latin superiors and ultimately that of the pope. Not surprisingly many demurred, but many did not and there are even instances of Greek clergy taking their litigation to Rome. The Latin rulers knew that they had to tread warily. If they allowed the Greek clergy too much independence they could become the foci for discontent; if they were too heavy-handed in their treatment of them popular outbreaks again were likely. In Cyprus by 1300 each Latin bishop had a Greek as a coadjutor who had responsibility for the Greek-rite priests and churches in the diocese. At least twice in the fourteenth century the authorities in the island intervened to prevent clergy newly arrived from western Europe from trying to impose conformity to Latin usages on the Greeks and thereby sparking a riot. In practice a modus vivendi between Greeks and Latins evolved. It would not match the aspirations of the theologians or the publicists on either side, but it seems generally to have satisfied the bulk of the population. In the fourteenth century absenteeism by the higher Latin clergy became increasingly common, and that too may have had the effect of lowering tension. In their different ways the political crises, the Black Death, and the Papal Schism of 1378 all contributed to a weakening of the Latin church establishment in the East, and this decline continued throughout the fifteenth century.

It is against this background that beginning in the fourteenth century we start to find complaints that Latins were attending Greek services. It may be that in many instances such behaviour followed from the absence of Latin priests, but often people would have done so out of preference: intermarriage and bilingualism must have had some effect on social and religious attitudes. Occasionally too we find instances of Greeks or other eastern Christians who had been converted to Latin observance. In the fifteenth century the Cypriot Audeth family provides evidence of the erosion of traditional loyalties. The Audeths were Syrian Jacobites, but in the 1450s one of their number was a canon of Nicosia cathedral and later titular Latin bishop of Tortosa; at about the same time another member of the family endowed masses in his will in Jacobite, Coptic, Maronite, Greek, and Armenian churches as well as in the Latin cathedral at Nicosia. It is hard to know how common such switching of allegiance was or to analyse satisfactorily the elements that motivated it. The blurring of confessional divisions was mirrored in contemporary art and architecture. For example, icons survive that are clearly the work of Greek masters but which bear Latin inscriptions or that bear Greek inscriptions but which were commissioned by Latin donors; a king of Cyprus composed a Latin office for use on the festival of a Greek saint, Hilarion; at Famagusta the Greek cathedral was rebuilt in the fourteenth century in a thoroughly western style of Italianate Gothic; elsewhere there is a hybridization of architectural forms with motifs taken from both western and Orthodox traditions. Some church buildings betray signs of alteration to allow separate altars for use by Latin and Greek priests. It was in Crete that the cross-fertilization of artistic traditions had its greatest effect with the development of the school of painting which had El Greco as its most famous member. In the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries Cretans were producing popular literature in Greek largely modelled on Italian prototypes. Western travellers sometimes looked askance at those Latin settlers in the East whose speech and dress had come to resemble that of their Greek neighbours, but the fact that such changes occurred suggests that far from remaining polarized, society had melded together to an appreciable extent.

In Cyprus the kings habitually employed Orthodox Greeks to staff their central financial department, the secrète, and there by the 1460s they were issuing letters in French, Italian, or Greek as necessity dictated. In the fourteenth and fifteenth centuries it would seem that a tightly knit group of Orthodox ‘civil service’ families dominated the personnel. The early fifteenth- century Cypriot historian, Leontios Makhairas, belonged to one of these families, and his chronicle, influenced by the demotic Greek of the time, provides a valuable insight into the extent to which western loan words had been absorbed by the local intelligentsia. It also reflects the attitudes of a member of that class: proud and defensive of his Orthodoxy with perhaps a hankering after the order of a bygone, imperial age; quizzical of converts from Orthodoxy to Catholicism, but also loyal and respectful towards his Lusignan masters.

To a large extent the rulers in the Latin East were content to allow their subjects to live as they always had done. In Crete and southern Greece a class of Greek landowners survived the takeover, and by 1300 they had persuaded the authorities to accept them as an integral part of the social hierarchy. Rural communities generally retained their pre-conquest organization, the chief difference being that the ruler or the landholder to whom taxes were due was now Latin rather than Greek. There is no reason to suppose that the Latin regimes were any harsher on the peasantry than their predecessors had been, and indeed it may well be that the lot of the paroikoi, the unfree serfs, if anything improved. Alongside their agrarian wealth, most rulers could expect some share in the profits of commerce. The Venetian territories were administered by officials sent from Venice for whom the need to facilitate their merchants’ enterprise remained a priority. Indeed, furthering the interests of Venetian commerce was the principal raison d’être of many of their overseas possessions. But all rulers could benefit from tolls on trade and from the general prosperity that commercial activities could bring.

In some cases rulers or landowners would invest in agricultural or industrial processes. A good example is provided by the sugar industry that was developed in both Crete and Cyprus. The growing of sugar cane requires plentiful supplies of water, and so almost certainly the industry entailed changes in land use from the usual types of mixed arable farming to the production of this one cash crop. Sugar factories such as those excavated at Kouklia and Episkopi in Cyprus would have been expensive to build and would have needed a large labour force. Owners would therefore have needed substantial capital, and they may have employed slaves to work the factories. Not surprisingly it was only the wealthiest individuals or corporations that could engage in sugar refining: the king at Kouklia; the Hospitallers at Kolossi; the Venetian Cornaro family at Episkopi. The product would have been almost all exported to western Europe, and in the case of the Hospitallers and the Cornaros the profits would have been mostly exported as well: to Rhodes as part of the Cypriot responsions or to Venice to swell the fortune of one of the leading patrician families. This example of an agrarian-cum- industrial enterprise leads naturally to the question of how far the Latin regimes in the eastern Mediterranean prefigured the colonial enterprises of a later epoch. In certain aspects the Cypriot sugar industry anticipates the plantations in the Caribbean, but the parallel is far from complete.

Everywhere in the Latin East the ruling élite was alien, intruding into societies in which language, social organization, and religion differed from its own. That in itself was unexceptional: the ruling élite in the Ottoman empire was just as intrusive, at least in the European sector, and the Mamluk élite in Egypt was racially distinct from the indigenous inhabitants and kept itself aloof from them. But the Latin regimes varied considerably. In the Venetian possessions the local governors were appointed from Venice by the republic for a fixed term to administer the territory in accordance with the republic’s requirements. At the other end of the spectrum, the kings of Cyprus were answerable to no one and governed their kingdom in their own interests. In a political sense therefore the Venetian ports and islands can be dubbed colonies, while Lusignan Cyprus cannot. The Genoese possessions, which enjoyed greater autonomy than did their Venetian counterparts, and Achaea and Athens under Angevin or Aragonese suzerainty fall somewhere between these extremes.

But can the Latin East be said to have been colonial in an economic sense? Venice and Genoa both looked to their overseas territories to provide foodstuffs and raw materials: wine, olive oil, grain, dried fruit, alum from Genoese Phocaea, sugar, and later cotton from Crete and Cyprus. The Venetians in particular tried to ensure that their merchants and shipowners traded between Venice itself and their eastern markets, but the Genoese were less regulated, and Genoese ships bearing the produce of the Genoese possessions were under less obligation to unload in their home port. So although the Latin East did send primary products to Europe, it is again only in the case of Venice that the relationship can be considered thoroughly colonial. Otherwise produce was sold in other parts of the Mediterranean world. The more valuable commodities, such as silk from Thebes, mastic from Chios, and sugar, required higher levels of investment, but they never developed to same extent as the monocultures which typified the economies of the Canaries, the Caribbean, or the southern United States in later times. As a result, nowhere in the East found itself totally dependent on just one product and so ran the risk of disaster if the market collapsed. The idea that the local economy was geared to serve the interests of a distant ruling power did not apply. For the Italian maritime republics a sizeable proportion of the wealth came from long-distance trade in luxury goods. So far as the Latin East was concerned, this entailed a share in the profits from what was essentially a transit trade. Constantinople, Famagusta, Ayas in Cilician Armenia, and the Black Sea ports all flourished, at least for a time, as entrepôts in the eastern spice trade and their prosperity depended heavily on the continued presence of western merchants. These merchants collectively wielded considerable economic power, but that did not necessarily enable them to dominate the local political establishment.

In the rural areas the landlords exploited their rights over the land and the peasantry and creamed off the profits. Many landlords, even in Venetian Crete, lived locally. Others did not, and that meant that the profits from the land could well be taken out of the local economy altogether. Thus for example, at least some of the wealth generated by the sugar plantations and refinery at Episkopi in Cyprus belonging to the Cornaro family would have left the island to enrich the family in Venice. Clearly the Cornaros’ investments prefigured later colonial enterprises, but on the other hand it could be argued that they were behaving no differently from the landholders of an earlier, Byzantine age who had syphoned off the agrarian profits from the provinces of the empire to support themselves and their households in Constantinople.

In an earlier chapter it has been suggested that in the central Middle Ages Palestine and Syria had been subjected to religious colonization. They were now lost, and to label western society in the Latin East in the late medieval period a colonial society is too sweeping. The rulers, settlers, and merchants were concerned to make enough money to secure their livelihoods. In some respects they anticipated the actions of the planters and colonial administrators of more recent times. But to concentrate attention solely on such features would be to distort reality. Western rule was not so different from what had gone before. The Latins did not set out to change society, and the indigenous population was probably no worse off than previously. The idealism of the crusaders of the twelfth century may not have been so much in evidence, but over and above the urge to make money and conserve their possessions the idea that the Latins were holding the forces of Islam at bay and defending Christendom was never totally eclipsed. The rulers of Cyprus, the Hospitallers on Rhodes, the Venetians in their centuries- long struggle against the Turks all recognized that they had a religious duty to maintain themselves in the face of Muslim assaults, and if their sense of spiritual motivation was mixed with the more mundane requirements of self-defence and the maintenance of their livelihood, they were neither the first nor the last to find themselves in that position.

If you find an error please notify us in the comments. Thank you!