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8-08-2015, 00:17

The rise of nicaea

Theodore I Laskaris died in 1221. His death was followed by civil strife, out of which his son-in-law John III Vatatzes (1221–54) emerged as victor. Later generations remembered Theodore with gratitude, but although he had re-created Byzantium in exile, his success was limited. This contrasted with the fortunes of Theodore Angelos (1215–30, styling himself as Komnenos Doukas) who had taken over the leadership of resistance to the Latins in Epiros. Theodore was a younger cousin of the emperor Alexios III Angelos. In 1217 he was able to waylay a Latin army advancing down the Egnatian Way from the Adriatic coast. It was commanded by Peter of Courtenay, the new Latin emperor. The Latins were defeated and Peter of Courtenay disappeared for ever. This Latin defeat bears comparison with that suffered at Adrianople at the hands of the Bulgarians (see above, p. 731 and below, p. 784), and it prepared the way for Theodore Angelos’ occupation of Thessaloniki in the autumn of 1224, setting the seal on his military achievements. Angelos had made himself the most powerful ruler in the southern Balkans. He pushed eastwards and by 1228 was within striking distance of Constantinople. To enhance his claims he had himself proclaimed and crowned emperor. Although the existence of rival emperors was nothing new, there were now two Byzantine emperors in exile with claims on Constantinople. In the background there remained the formidable strength of the Bulgarian tsar Ivan II Asen (1218–41) (see also pp. 788–92). Although he had nominally submitted to papal authority, he too had designs on Latin Constantinople and there were plans afoot for the betrothal of his daughter to the young Latin emperor, Baldwin II; had they been implemented, he would have become regent (see below, pp. 788, 790). These competing ambitions helped ensure the survival for another thirty years or more of the Latin empire of Constantinople, which was reduced to little more than the City and its immediate hinterland. In the end, it was the so-called Nicaean empire that would emerge as victor. This outcome was far from obvious in 1228, when the forces of Theodore Angelos drove those of the Nicaean emperor John III Vatatzes out of the key Thracian city of Adrianople. It became less unlikely two years later when Angelos invaded Bulgaria. After his defeat and capture by Ivan Asen at the battle of Klokotnitsa (see also p. 790), Angelos was blinded and spent the next seven years in a Bulgarian prison. His Balkan territories as far west as the Adriatic fell into the hands of his captor, with only Thessaloniki, Thessaly and Epiros eluding Bulgarian conquest: thesewere divided among members of the Angelos dynasty. Once Ivan Asen had consolidated his new territories, he entered into an alliance with his potential rival, the Nicaean emperor John III Vatatzes, against the Latins of Constantinople. The initiative came from theNicaean emperor.He was by far the weaker party, but he deployed one tempting bargaining counter: he could offer patriarchal status to the church of Bulgaria. The alliance was sealed by the betrothal of the heir apparent to the Nicaean throne to a daughter of the Bulgarian tsar. There was an ineffective siege of Constantinople in 1235 before the allies broke up acrimoniously. The only positive result was that the Nicaeans gained a permanent foothold in Thrace, providing their emperor John Vatatzes with a base for intervention in the Balkans. After the death of Ivan Asen he took advantage of the ensuing uncertainty to annex much of the southern Balkans. His campaign culminated in December 1246 with his triumphant entry into the city of Thessaloniki. The recovery of Constantinople now seemed a distinct possibility. Contemporaries conceded that John Vatatzes’ great virtue was patience. This, in its turn, was a reflection of the underlying strengths of the Nicaean empire, which Vatatzes knew how to enhance and exploit. He could afford to be patient. He could also afford to keep armies in the field and to maintain an impressive fleet, something that had proved too costly for Byzantine emperors before 1204. This was an indication of the soundness of his fiscal administration. Paradoxically, the loss of Constantinople made for more efficient government. In the years before 1204 it had become bloated and inefficient. In exile, administration had to be simplified. There was no place for the old departments of state (logothesia). Central government was reduced to little more than a household administration. The financial side was concentrated in the imperial wardrobe (vestiarion). The whole administration was run for much of Vatatzes’ reign by one minister, Demetrios Tornikes.On his death in 1247 his duties were split between four secretaries, who in all probability had been his subordinates. The simplification of central government dramatically reduced its costs, shifting the burden of administration onto the provincial authorities. This was possible because in western AsiaMinor the organisation of themes had survived the fall of Constantinople intact and the tax-raising machinery was still in place. However, the main taxes acquired new names. Syn¯on¯e – land tax – and kapnikon – hearth tax – were replaced by sitarkia and agap¯e. The meaning of this change of names remains unclear; it may only have been a matter of adopting local terminology, and it does not seem to have entailed any radical reform of the taxation system. Taxpayers continued to be divided according to their means into the same fiscal categories as before: zeugaratoi, boidatoi, akt¯emones and aporoi. The only major fiscal innovation of the period of exile was the expedient known as epiteleia, which attached a fiscal value to property. It had three main purposes: it was a way of transferring fiscal obligations from one taxpayer to another; it could be used to safeguard fiscal privileges; and payment of epiteleia could be cited as proof of property rights. It acted as a lubricant of the fiscal system at a time when there was a significant growth of privileged property, and its importance is evident from the way it was retained until the demise of the Byzantine empire.11 The efficacy of the Byzantine fiscal system depended on maintenance of a cadastral register. John Vatatzes instituted a revision of the cadastral register for his Anatolian provinces early in his reign. This was in keeping with his careful supervision of fiscal administration. He learned on one occasion that two of his receivers were carrying out their duties improperly. He had one beaten so severely that he died. The other had the sense to flee to Trebizond.12 On another occasion, a local official made a wrong tax assessment. To teach him a lesson the emperor forced him to pay the sum wrongly assessed. The simplification of government inevitably meant some devolution of authority. The most obvious form this took was the creation of new immunities and pronoiai, which entitled the holder to some or all of the state revenues from a particular area. The period of exile saw a decisive growth of privileged property. In these circumstances stringent control over fiscal administration was essential to protect remaining imperial rights and revenues. Some decline of revenue was inevitable, but the emperors of Nicaea were able to compensate for this by building up the imperial demesne.13 They were able to exploit the confused situation following the fall of Constantinople to appropriate properties without clear title of ownership. They took over, for example, many of the estates in western Anatolia belonging to the monasteries of Constantinople. John Vatatzes insisted on careful management of the imperial demesne, which was undoubtedly a lucrative source of revenue. All the signs are that the period of exile was a time of agrarian prosperity in western Asia Minor. Grain and other foodstuffs could be exported to the Seljuqs of Rum. Later descriptions of the wealth of the Nicaean empire owed something to nostalgia, but seem essentially correct. John Vatatzes is one of the few medieval rulers credited by contemporaries with an economic policy. He is supposed to have adopted a policy of autarchy. This took the form of a sumptuary law that his subjects should wear clothes made of home-produced cloth.14 Here was an attempt to stem the tide of imported western andMuslim materials, and this measure seems to have been a response to the sudden appearance of huge quantities of western cloth on the markets of the easternMediterranean from the late twelfth century onwards. John Vatatzes’ sumptuary law was not likely to make very much difference in the long run, but in the short term he seems to have been able to protect his territories from Italian commercial penetration. Despite the respectable number of Italian, particularly Venetian, commercial documents surviving from the period, there are few indications of Italian trade with the ports of the Nicaean empire. Vatatzes’ autarchic policy was intended as an assertion of Byzantine independence. It may have been practical for a time because western Asia Minor was relatively remote from the major trade routes of the Mediterranean. Autarchy had some political value: it allowed Vatatzes to pose as an emperor who had the well-being of his subjects at heart. This was one of his strengths as emperor. Another was the presence at Nicaea of the orthodox patriarchate of Constantinople. John Vatatzes was fortunate in the patriarch, Germanos II (1223–40), who supported him loyally in the difficulties he encountered at the beginning of his reign.15 There was a series of conspiracies against him involving leading court families. The most serious was the work of brothers of the late emperor Theodore I Laskaris. They engineered a Latin invasion of the Nicaean empire, but to no avail. John Vatatzes won a resounding victory over the Latins at Poimanenon in 1224 and followed it up by driving the Latins out of AsiaMinor. Vatatzes rewarded the patriarch for his loyalty during this critical period by acceding to his request and issuing a chrysobull protecting episcopal property during a vacancy.16 The major achievement of Patriarch Germanos II was to restore the moral standing of the orthodox patriarchate, which had been bruised by its ignominious role in the years leading up to 1204. He connected the depravity of Constantinople before its fall with its ethnically mixed population, describing its population as ‘the sordid droppings of prostitutes and adulterous connections, offspring of servant girls bought for cash, sprung willy nilly from the Rhos or the descendants of Hagar and the rest of the racial stew’.17 Exile provided the opportunity to ‘purify the dialect of the tribe’ and to create a healthier society. The patriarch reveals something of the motivation behind the growth of a Byzantine proto-nationalism, which otherwise tends to be seen in terms of a nostalgia for a Hellenic past. This growing nationalism’s greatest strength came from its identification with orthodoxy. The defence of orthodoxy was Germanos II’s main concern. He renewed the attack on the Bogomil heresy, which had recovered some of its support in the turmoil following the fall of Constantinople (see above, p. 617). But of more immediate importance to the patriarch was the condition of the orthodox communities at Constantinople and in Cyprus which were suffering under Latin rule. Germanos sought to strengthen them in their faith. By ministering to the orthodox beyond the political frontiers of the Nicaean empire he was able to underscore the fact that, although Constantinople might have fallen into Latin hands, orthodoxy still stood, albeit with its centre now at Nicaea. To some this might have seemed an idle boast. The Greeks of the Peloponnese acquiesced in the rule of their Frankish princes, who had the sense to guarantee the rights of orthodox parish priests. Bulgaria still nominally submitted to papal authority. The Serbian grand ˇzupan Stefan ‘the first-crowned’ obtained a royal crown from the papacy in 1217. To avert the possibility that Serbia would drift into the orbit of the Latin church, the patriarch at Nicaea recognised the autocephalous status of the Serbian archbishopric.18 Germanos II had to face the danger that the orthodox church would fragment along political lines, leaving it an easier prey for the Latin church. Such considerations bedevilled Germanos II’s relations with the orthodox bishops of Epiros, whose primary loyalty was to their ruler Theodore Angelos. The latter’s assumption of imperial honours in 1227–8 produced a schism between the orthodox patriarchate at Nicaea and the church in Theodore Angelos’ territories. Germanos II refused to accept the validity of Theodore Angelos’ imperial coronation. This was performed byDemetrios Chomatenos, the archbishop of Ohrid (1216/17–c. 1236), whose church enjoyed autocephalous status and who increasingly assumed a patriarchal role. Chomatenos’ tribunal became a court of appeal for cases throughout Angelos’ territories, although this stance became harder to justify after the break-up of Angelos’ empire in the wake of his capture by the Bulgarians at the battle of Klokotnitsa in 1230. Two years later this orthodox schism ended when the Epirot bishops recognised the authority of the patriarch at Nicaea. Germanos was vindicated. In 1238 he made a progress around the churches of Epiros which took him as far as Arta. Germanos’ intransigence in his dealings with the Epirot bishops contrasted with the line he took over the Bulgarian church. In 1235 he granted it patriarchal status, but always safeguarding the primacy of honour due to the orthodox patriarch. This concession was made as part of an alliance between the Bulgarian tsar Ivan II Asen and the Nicaean emperor John Vatatzes. It was largely a political move (see below, p. 792). The patriarch was doing the emperor’s bidding, though he might have found some consolation in the thought that the alternative was worse: the Bulgarian church would in all likelihood have returned to its Roman allegiance. This would have been a negation of Germanos’ endeavours over the preceding three years to bring the Bulgarian church back into the orthodox communion.