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8-08-2015, 00:21

Introduction: fragmented romania

The Latin conquest of Constantinople on 13 April 1204 heralded a new era in the history of the Byzantine lands, known in the Christian west as Romania. It dealt a severe blow to the military might, political organisation and prestige of the empire, furthering and hastening its disintegration – begun some twenty-five years earlier – and leading to its dismemberment. In March 1204, about a month before the fall of Constantinople, the leaders of the crusader armies and the commander of the Venetian army and fleet, Doge Enrico Dandolo, reached agreement on five major issues: electing a Latin emperor, the empire’s political regime and military organisation, partitioning the lands of Romania (the partitio Romaniae) and, finally, electing a Latin patriarch of Constantinople and other ecclesiastical matters. On 9 May 1204 Count Baldwin of Flanders was elected emperor, gaining a quarter of the empire and two imperial palaces in Constantinople. From his domain the new emperor Baldwin I (1204–5) granted many fiefs to crusader knights and mounted sergeants. He also assigned to Venice its share of three-eighths of Constantinople, land outside the City and various revenues. At this stage only Constantinople was in Latin hands. The difficulties encountered by the Latins in the conquest of the Byzantine empire, which was never completed, and the individual expeditions undertaken by various Latin knights and commoners, as well as by the Venetian state, prevented systematic implementation of the partition plan. Instead, the extensive territories occupied by the Latins in the European part of Romania and many islands in the Aegean became a mosaic of political entities, many of them small. Most of their rulers were linked to each other within complex webs of vassalage which changed over time (see below, pp. 765–8, 771). Boniface ofMontferrat, who had expected to be elected emperor, gained Thessaloniki from the Venetians, to whom he sold Crete. Although a vassal of Baldwin I, in 1204 Boniface established an independent kingdom extending from Thrace to the area of Corinth in central Greece. After conquering Euboea – called Negroponte by the Latins – in 1205 he granted it first to a French knight and, following the latter’s death the same year, to three Veronese noblemen (known as the terciers, or terzieri in Italian). Thereafter, except for the years 1208–16, the island was divided into three main feudal units until its wholesale occupation by Venice in 1390.On the Greek mainland Boniface awarded several small lordships to French and Italian knights under his suzerainty in Attica and Boeotia. These regions were soon united within the duchy of Athens under Othon of La Roche, who from 1210/11 also held Argos andNauplion in the Peloponnese fromGeoffrey I of Villehardouin, the ruler of the Frankish principality of Achaia.1 A few years earlier, in 1205, Geoffrey andWilliam of Champlitte had jointly begun the conquest of the Peloponnese and laid the foundations of the principality. In 1204 or 1205 Marco I Sanudo, nephew of the doge of Venice, established a duchy in the Aegean with its centre at Naxos, which from 1207 he held directly from the Latin emperor. In association with fellow Venetians and foreigners, and with the backing of Venice, Sanudo conquered other islands in the Cyclades in the same year, which he granted out in fief. Small lordships were also created elsewhere in the Aegean. Corfu was occupied by Venice in 1207 and awarded to ten of her citizens, yet lost around 1215 to the Greek ruler of Epiros,Michael I Angelos Doukas (1205–15). Finally, Venice extended its sway in 1207 over the two ports ofModon and Coron in southern Messenia, at the south-western tip of the Peloponnese, and between 1207 and 1211, over the island of Crete (in the face of Genoese opposition). These were the first colonies of an overseas empire, parts of which were to survive up to the time of Napoleon Bonaparte’s campaign in Italy in the last years of the eighteenth century. The extreme political and territorial fragmentation of Romania in the wake of the Latin conquests was in sharp contrast to the earlier unity of Byzantium. It accounts to a large extent for the diversity of the political and social regimes established in Latin Romania, as well as for the nature and orientation of demographic currents and economic activity in the region. While the encounter between the Latins and the overwhelmingly Greek local population generated a break at the political level, it resulted in continuity and some measure of accommodation in other spheres.2