Crusader Athens I
Burgundian Athens (1205 – 1311)
In 1204 a crusader expedition which was supposedly destined for Egypt to fight the Saracens and recover the Holy Land was diverted to Constantinople. The crusaders had not the money to pay the Venetians for their passage, and the Venetians, who longed to dominate the Eastern Mediterranean, diverted the expedition to Constantinople. The City was sacked, and the Venetians were paid with the booty. Instead of continuing with the Crusade, the Crusaders then decided to divide the empire among themselves as feudal fiefdoms.
Αll of Greece north of the Isthmus fell to Boniface III, Marquis of Montferrat, who held it as ‘King of Thessaloniki’. In 1205 he arrived in Athens, where archbishop Michael Akominatos handed over to him the Acropolis, probably in order to be protected from the depredations of Sgouros. In accordance with Western feudal custom he parcelled out much if his lands to subordinates, in return for their support. Attica, together with Megara, Boeotia and Locris, he gave into the hands of a Burgundian knight, Othon de la Roche. When the Burgundians arrived in Athens, they promptly plundered the cathedral treasury and library. Otho assumed the title ‘Grand Seigneur of Athens and Thebes,” and took up residence in Thebes, installing a governor on the Acropolis.
The Franks formed a ruling aristocracy, and initially they did not mix with the conquered population, who were, in the main, probably reduced to serfdom. Under Othon’s rule Athens prospered, but the citizens probably enjoyed little of this, as trading privileges were granted to Venetian and Genoese merchants.
Pope Innocent III sent a Latin archbishop, Berard, to replace Michael Akominatos, and Latin bishops to replace the other Orthodox bishops. The Latin rite of the West replaced the Greek rite in their churches. Αll the monasteries were placed under the control of the Catholic Archbishop. The abbot of Kaisariani promptly submitted to papal authority in order to ensure that his monastery should retain its tax exemption.
The Orthodox monks were expelled from Daphne. Despite their shared Christianity, the conquerors did not respect the monastery church. During restoration work on the cupola in 1895, two Crusader bolts were found embedded in the eyes of the famous representation of Christ as the Pαntokrαtor. In 1207, the pope invited the Cistercians to occupy the premisses. These ‘white monks,’ who knew the monastery as ‘Dalfinet’, added a western-style monastic cloister. The Cistercians were an austere, reformed order, and their churches were forbidden all superfluous decoration, so they may have covered the mosaics with plaster. The powerful dukes of Burgundy were by tradition buried in the mother house of the Cistercian order at Citeaux, and in imitation of this practice, the Burgundian rulers of Athens were each interned at Daphne.
The Latin clergy who came with the Crusaders were almost entirely either attached to cathedrals, functioned as private chaplains to great lords, or priests who held office in the cities and castles. The Latin priests were to remain a tiny and isolated minority in a hostile land. The Greeks saw the Latin priests as polluters. They rebaptized children baptized with the Latin rite, and washed clean altars used by Latin priests. No Orthodox archbishop of Athens was allowed to enter the city, and since the Latins had taken over the Parthenon, a church beside the Roman forum was adopted by the Greeks as their cathedral.
Many Orthodox monks may have retreated to the mountains to avoid persecution and to preserve their Byzantine tradition, and it is likely that the churches in the entrance of the Cave of Amomon (Davelis’ cave) were erected at this time. The dome of the larger church is inscribed with the date 1234, and was decorated with a mural, now removed to the Byzantine Museum, which represented the last Greek archbishop of Athens, Michael Akominatos, suggesting the conscious championing of the disinherited rite. [Read about the Orthodox Church under latin Crusader rule in Between Heaven and Earth.]
The nature of the records which tend to be kept and preserved ensures that the political history of any feudal society concerns almost exclusively the fortunes of the great noble families and the religious houses. Athens was no exception, so our knowledge of the period is virtually limited to such matters. In 1207 the Latin emperor Henry of Flanders toured the peninsula after restoring order among his vassals and attended a Te Deum in the Parthenon. In 1225, the homesick Othon returned to France, leaving his lands in Greece to his nephew, Guy Ι. Two mοnasteries were founded during his reign: Saint John the Hunter at Marathon and the Enclosed Monastery at Phyle.
In 1246, William of Villhardouin Prince of Achaia, found himself at war with the Venetians and called upon his vassals to assist him. Guy de la Roche, who was technically his vassal, not only refused to aid him, but actually assisted his enemies. In retaliation, William crossed the Isthmus and confronted Guy’s army at the pass of Mount Karydi. Guy fled the field of battle, leaving many of his warriors dead, and was forced to appear before the High Court of the barons of Achaia. But when Guy stood before the assembled lords, he asserted that William and the barons of Achaia were not his peers, and therefore not competent to judge him. He appealed over their heads to the most respected monarch of Christendom, King Saint Louis ΙΧ of France. At this, the assembled barons agreed to defer to the king’s judgement. Guy duly appeared at the royal court, where the king decided that he had been guilty of a technical offence, but a minor one, and that his journey to Paris was penalty enough in itself. The king then told Guy he could not return empty-handed, and asked what favour he might desire. Guy requested the title ‘duke of Athens’, and his wish was granted. From that point onwards, the heads of the family of de la Roche rules as dukes. It may have been as part of this conflict that, as a French traveller records, an engagement took place in 1250 near the ruins of the Villa Kifissia, which, at that date, were said to be still substantial. [Read about the ‘Duchy of Athens’ in Athens: The City.]
During the reign of Guy Ι Athens prospered. Venetians moved into Porto Leone (Piraeus). Duke John, who spoke Greek, succeeded him in 1263. He was in turn succeeded by his brother, William, who had married a Greek, and then by Guy II. When he died in 1308, the title passed to Walter de Brienne. Walter ambitiously sought to extend his territories at the expense of the restored Byzantine states. When they combined against him, he called on the help of the Grand Company of Catalan mercenaries.
The Catalans had been employed by Frederick II to place him on the throne of Sicily. Some 4,000 of them, finding peace unrewarding, had set out under the leadership of Roger de Flor, a falconer’s son and former Templar, to make their fortunes in the Levant. They arrived at Constantinople in 1303, where they were used with success against the Turks in Anatolia. Having employed them, the Byzantines feared them, and sought to rid themselves of the danger by murdering Roger and attacking the Company where they were camped in the Dardenelles. The Catalans repelled all attacks, and until 13071ived off the land, raiding the countryside up to the walls of the City. Then in that year they moved west, ravaged Thrace and Macedonia and entered central Greece.
Walter offered to employ them for six months against his enemies. He paid them two months wages in advance, and for the next six months they fought very successfully on his behalf. Then they demanded the remaining four months’ wages due to them, and refused to hand over some castles they had taken in southern Thessaly, pleading that they had nowhere else to go. Walter reluctantly paid some five hundred of them, and then ordered the rest to go away. They would not.
In 1311, Walter summoned all the French knights in Greece to his aid to rid the peninsula of the Catalan menace, and attacked them in Boeotia. The Catalans chose to confront the French in the Kopaic marshes. There the heavily armoured French knights sank in the mud and were massacred. Of seven hundred, only four are known to have escaped with their lives. Duke Walter himself was slain and beheaded.
Crusader Athens II
Catalan Athens (1311 – 1388)
Athens lay open to the mercenaries, who occupied it without opposition. Afraid of provoking universal wrath for upsetting the natural order of things by ruling without the sanction of royal or aristocratic blood, the Catalans decided to invite noble patronage as an insurance. They prudently asked Frederick II of Sicily to send one of his sons to be their ruler. He appointed Manfred, his five-year-old second son. For the next sixty years, as part of the duchy of Athens and Neopatras, Athens was theoretically governed from Sicily by a succession of dukes, not a single one of whom ever actually saw the Acropolis. They each governed through vicars-general.
The first two of these officers were very competent. Despite the enmity of both the Papacy and the Venetians, under Berenguer Espanol, and Don Alfonso Fadrique the Catalans consolidated their hold over the region. At first Catalan corsairs did considerable damage to Venetian trade in the region, then in 1319, after long negotiations, Don Alfonso Fadrique agreed to disarm their vessels and attack no other ships in the Saronic Gulf, or in the vicinity of Negroponte. Such ships as they had were to be drawn on shore, a plank taken from each vessel, and its tackle to be stored on the Acropolis. They could only maintain ships in the Corinthian Gulf, where they posed no problem to the Serene Republic.
Despite the presence of a governor, the several municipalities of the Catalans were virtually self-governing corporations; according to a contemporary ‘true Catalan municipalities transferred to the very heart of classic Greece.’ Documents for internal use were written in Catalan, and for external use in Latin. It seems likely that over time, the poorer Catalans sank to the social level of the Greeks. Continuous opposition by the Church alienated many Catalans, and in 1322 Pope John ΧΧII ordered the Latin Patriarch of Constantinople to take stern measures against apostates, suggesting that some of them had turned to Orthodoxy.
The Aegean was a very disordered region at this time. In 1329-30, the Turks ravaged Attica on no less than four occasions. In 1332 Turkish corsairs raided the coast, and in 1367 tried to take the Acropolis. Another danger lay in the mercenary company of Navarre, which had found a base in Boeotia. With the support of the Knights of St. John, these adventurers, so like the Catalans in their early days, also marched on Athens. They were resisted by the vicar-general, Romeo de Bellarbe and the Greek notary Demetrios Rendi. Two years later, they withdrew into the Peloponnese.
The Athenians then petitioned King Pedro IV for favours in recognition for their loyalty in this struggle. Demetrios Rendi received lands and serfs. Α village church near Athens and the area lying around it, now part of the conurbation, and still bears his name.
In order to supplement the population of Attica, diminished by attacks from corsairs the king invited Christian Albanians to settle in Attica. In the early 1420s a group settled at Elefsina (ancient Eleusis). At this time, Nerio Acciajuoli, a Florentine adventurer who had become lord of Corinth and Megara, decided to add Athens to his dominions. He had alliances with the despot of Mistra, and the Imperial Viceroy in Thessaloniki. His forces ready, he required only a pretext. In the county of Salona, a fief of the Catalan Duchy, lived the widowed countess Helene and her daughter, Maria. Nero made her an offer of marriage to his brother-in-law, Pietro Saraceno. The dowager countess, a descendant of a Byzantine emperor, scornfully refused to give her daughter to a ‘Florentine merchant.” Predictably, in 1388 Athens, together with Thebes and Levadeia, was captured by Nerio. The king of Naples cοηferred upon him the title of duke.
The Catalans disappeared from Athens almost without trace. The memory of the Greeks in respect of the Catalans is uniformly negative. As late as the nineteenth century people would use the reproach ‘What a Catalan!’
Crusader Athens III
Florentine Athens (1388 – 1456)
Nerio recognised Greek as the official language of his domains. Greek elders or demogerontes had some say in the government of the city. He asked the Patriarch of Constantinople to appoint a metropolitan to Athens, for the first time for nearly two centuries. He took up office in the church of Panayia Soteria (Our Lady of Salvation). Even though the man appointed, Dorotheus, had to be expelled in 1392 for plotting against the Acciajuoli, Nerio nevertheless accepted a replacement, Makarios. Nerio also kept a Greek mistress, no less than Maria Rendi, the daughter of Demetrios Rendi.
Nerio was later held hostage by the Navarrese Company after their leader had treacherously agreed to safe passage for him to meet to discuss matters of common interest and was ransomed on the pleas of the Florentines and Genovese. In order to raise the money needed, however, the silver plates were stripped from the doors of the Parthenon, and most of its treasures, accumulated over centuries, sold to secure his release.
Between 1386 and 1394 more of the Albanians who had been invited by King Pedro to settle in Attica turned up, and were allowed to stay. These settlers, who generally occupied lands in Northern Attica, were usually small ‘clans’ of related families, under the command of a leader whose name was perpetuated in the name of the district in which they settled. These names, such as Malakassa, Liossia, etc., are still in use today as the names of the villages they built.
When he died, Nerio left a will which seems calculated to generate maximum mischief. He left the revenues of the city to the Catholic Cathedral. The income from his famous stud farm was to be used to maintain twenty canons to pray for his soul. He also ordered that the doors of the Parthenon should be replated with silver. He left to Antonio, a natural son by Maria Rendi, who was therefore as Greek as he was Italian, property in Thebes and Livadeia. Otherwise, he appointed his youngest daughter Francesca as his heir, and committed her to the care of Venice.
The Greek archbishop Makarios, insulted by the terms of Nerio’s will, which he considered effectively gave the city into the hands of the Roman Catholic archbishop, Ludovico de Prato, invited the Turks to occupy the city. Α Turkish force arrived, but the Acropolis resisted, its governor, Matteo Montana, arranging to hand over the city to the Venetians on condition they respected the rights of the citizens. The nearest Venetian official, the baillie of Negroponte (Chalkia), sent a force which drove off the Turks, and in 1395 raised the lίοn of Saint Mark over the Acropolis.
The Venetians were not inspired by the ancient associations of the city; nothing seemed to move them but commerce. The Acropolis was a strong fortress, and they simply wanted it to keep it out of the hands ofthe Turks. They actually had a lot of trouble finding someone prepared to take on the responsibility of governor, or podesta, before appointing the nobleman Albano Contarίni.
At this point, in February 1395, Νίccοlό da Martoni, an notary from Capua, visited Athens on his way back from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. He kept a full diary and spent two days in the city, providing the earliest description of Athens during the Frankish period. He wrote that the city had been reduced to the size of a small town under the shadow of the Acropolis, and estimated that it had something like one thousand hearths.
He described ‘the great hall’ of the castle, the Propylaea, as having ‘thirteen great columns, over which were beams thirty feet long, and over these beams slabs of marble. Churchwardens conducted him over ‘the Church of Saint Mary’, (the Parthenon) which had sixty columns outside and eighty inside. There were four other columns which surrounded the high altar, which were of jasper and supported a dome. Rain fell through the open roof there into a beautiful cistern. He was then taken to see the relics of the cathedral, which included the figure of the Virgίη painted by Saίnt Luke, covered in gems, the head of Saίηt Makarios, arms of Saίnt Dionysios, Saίηt Cyprian and Saίηt Justίn, the elbow of Saίηt Maccabeus, and a copy of the Gospels written in gold letters on parchment by Saίnt Elena, mother of Saίnt Constantίne, with her own hand. On one of the interior columns, he was shown the cross made by Dionysios the Areopagite at the moment of the earthquake which took place when Jesus died on the cross. He saw in a cleft of the wall, ‘the light which never fails’.
Outside, beyond the castle ramparts, he was taken to see the two pillars of the choragic monument of Thrasyllos, between which, he was told, there used to be an idol gifted with the power of sinking hostile ships as soon as they appeared on the horizon. In the lower city he noticed numbers of fallen columns and fragments of marble. He saw the Stadium, and visited the ‘House of Hadrian’ (the temple of Olympian Zeus), the ‘study of Aristotle, and the remains of the ancient aqueduct at the foot of Lycabettos.
Fear of the prowling Turks and the feud between Nerio’s two sons-in-law, made travelling in Attica difficult and dangerous. N’iccοlό rode along the Sacred Way in fear of his life, and was relieved to reach the safety of Acrocorinth.
In 1397, Sultan Bezayit sent two generals with a force of 50,000 to devastate Greece. On returning from the Peloponnese, they may have sacked Athens in 1397, although such are the records that there is some doubt about the exact date, or even whether such a disaster ever actually happened.
Luckily for the hard-pressed Christians of the East, Sultan Bezayit was defeated by Tamarlane in 1402 at the battle of Ankara, and himself taken captive. This unexpected development ensured that for some time the power of the Turks would be eclipsed. This offered Antonio the chance to recover Athens for the Acciajuoli. He suddenly marched against the city. The bailey of Negroponte collected 6,000 men to go to its relief, but Antonio laid an ambush in the Pass of the Anephorites, took him prisoner, and resumed the siege of the Acropolis. After seventeen months, when the last horse had been eaten, the garrison surrendered and were allowed to leave.
Antonio paid tribute both to the Venetians and the Turks, and so preserved his (relative) independence for many years. He married a priest’s daughter from Thebes, and when she died, a Byzantine aristocrat, Maria Melissini. He was able to provide Athens with an interlude of peace, when all around was in turmoil. The contemporary Athenian historian, Laonikos Chalcocondyles says that he even managed to improve the city.
Most authorities think that it was he who erected the tall ‘Frankish Tower’ in front of the Propylaea, opposite the Temple of Athena Nike. On a turret on top of this tall structure, beacon fires visible from Acrocorinth could be lit to give warning of corsairs in the Saronic Gulf. He built a villa by the Illissos at the spring of Kallirhoe, and took over a nearby chapel built on the site of a temple of Artemis known as Our Lady on the Rocks, for the personal use of the ducal family.
Antonio invited further Albanian settlement of areas of south-east Attica, at Spata and Liopesi, etc., where again the settlers’ leaders gave their names to the districts in which they built their homes. These were unrelated to the Albanians who had already settled in the north of Attica, and even today the Arvanites of the south-east differ in dialect and customs from those of northern Attica.
There seems to have been no antagonism between the Greeks and the small Florentine community, which boasted names like Medici and Machiavelli, for Florentine rule was infinitely preferable to Burgundian, Catalan, Venetian or Turkish.
When Antonio died, the Athenians felt sufficiently self-confident to make an attempt, in the person of his widow and her relative George Chalcocondyles, to take charge of the city themselves. An Athenian archon, Michael Laskaris, journeyed to the Turkish court to gain the consent of Sultan Murad II to this coup, but he was imprisoned. Antonio’s cousin Nerio took over the city and banished the Chalcocondyles family.
Under Nerio II the city enjoyed a brief revival. Between 1418 and 1435 more Albanians were invited to settle, bringing their f1ocks with them. Many crossed to Salamis and Aegina. Despite occasional Turkish raids, and an outbreak of plague in Ι423, it was said that ‘agriculture blossomed under the care of Albanian peasants and the wooded mountains were used for hunting and hawking.’ Nicolo Machiavelli wrote to a cousin: ‘You have never seen a fairer land nor yet a fairer fortress than this.’
Unfortunately, this idyllic picture is only relative. There were still pirate raids to contend with. In 1424, Turkish raiders attacked the monastery of the Annunciation, known as Daou Pendeli, on the far slopes of Mount Pendeli. They returned on the next year, and beat and tortured the sole survivor of the massacre with great savagery before finally killing him by driving a burning stake through his body.
In 1436 Cyriacus of Ancona visited Athens, wrote about his stay, and returned in February 1444. He was very interested in ancient monuments, and marvelled at the great walls which had crumbled under the weight of centuries; the marble buildings, houses, and temples, all kinds of sculptures, rendered with wonderful skill: but now a huge mass of ruins. He copied inscriptions and made sketches. On the Museion Hill, for example, Cyriacus sketched the Philopappus monument when it was still in an almost complete state of preservation. He also visited the ruins of Piraeus, and saw the great marble lion which gave to the port its medieval name.
When Νeriο died, his widow and Pietro Almerio, the Venetian govemor of Nauplia, her new husband, seized the dukedom, the Athenians complained to the Sultan. He replaced Almerio by Franco Acciajuoli, a nephew of Nerio. Franco banished his aunt to Megara and then had her murdered, whereupon it was the turn of Pietro to complain to the Turks. He ordered Omer, his governor of Thessaly, to march against Athens. Desperately, Franco and some of the leading citizens tried to offer their city to various western rulers if they would come to their aid. But when Omer himself offered Thebes to Franco as compensation for surrendering the city, and the Sultan confirmed it. At the same time, the last Latin archbishop of Athens made his way into exile. Ominously, a comet appeared in the sky on 29th May 1456, and remained for several days. In June, Omer Pasha entered Athens at the head of a Turkish army.