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8-08-2015, 00:27

The albanian hornets’ nest

The situation of Albania after the partitio Romaniae was quite different. Venice was assigned, in addition to Dyrrachium and its dependencies, the chartolarates ofGlavinitsa and Vagenetia, regions which theVenetians made no real effort to hold, and which by 1205 had passed into the hands of the first of the rulers of Epiros, Michael I Angelos Doukas (1205–15). The rise of Epiros and the emergence of the new Slav powers of Bulgaria and Serbia had serious repercussions for Albania. The great trans-Balkan routes across Albania to the west, the Egnatian Way and the Via de Zenta (which ran inland from the coast near Lake Shkod¨er towards Prizren and Priˇstina), were seriously disrupted by the incessant strife in the area. These routes lost their classic role as outlets for eastern goods, starting the irreversible decline of the Epirot and Albanian ports, notably Dyrrachium.37 In July to August 1205 the Venetian expedition on its way to Constantinople to instal Doge Tommaso Morosini as patriarch seized the opportunity to take over Dyrrachium. A petty duchy was set up there, and Venice sought to draw some economic benefit from it, though this proved small compensation for the resultant tensions with Epiros and Serbia.38 Albania thus came under pressure from several sides, not least the Latin archbishopric of Antivari’s attempts at catholicising the region.39 However, given the proximity of an expansionist Serbia and the Epirot principality, little land-locked Arbanon, with its main political centre at Kruja, opted for an orthodox affiliation and subjugation to Epiros, as well as alliance with Serbia.40 The arch¯on of Arbanon, Progon, had died in 1208, and the attitude of his son, Gjin, is difficult to determine; however, his successor, Dhimit¨er, clearly saw Venice as the main enemy. This was aggravated by Venice’s alliance of 3 July 1208 withGeorge, prince ofDuklja and nephew of the Serbian ruler Stefan ‘the first-crowned’. A clause in the 1208 treaty even stipulated that Duklja would support Venice if ever the Albanian prince rebelled against the republic.41 Dhimit¨er’s diplomatic skills are shown in the alliances he struck to counterbalance the effects of this treaty: Dhimit¨er married Kominia, the daughter of Stefan ‘the first-crowned’ by his first wife, Eudocia, and he also forged excellent ties with Epiros.42 Venice, too, was obliged to make an agreement with the Epirots in 1210. This involved Michael Angelos’ nominal acceptance that he was a vassal of the republic; in return, Venice recognised his control from the Shkumbi valley as far as Naupaktos.43 By 1212 Venice had resolved to give up the Albanian hornets’ nest, abandoning its useless and awkwardly situated duchy of Durazzo (Dyrrachium) to Michael Angelos, in circumstances which remain obscure.44 Even so, Arbanon retained its traditional ties: withByzantium, Serbia and orthodoxy. When Dhimit¨er died, probably in 1215, his successor, the Graeco-Albanian lord Gregory Kamonas took Kominia as his second wife. He was already married to Gjin’s daughter, and now requested canonical dispensation to dissolve his first marriage from Demetrios Chomatenos, the chartophylax of Ohrid and already a major figure in Epiros.45 Relations with Serbia had been damaged by a Slav attack on Shkod¨er after the collapse of the Venetian duchy of Durazzo and these were now repaired.46 It was against this ‘orthodox bloc’ that the new Latin emperor of Constantinople, Peter of Courtenay, launched forth in 1217. He took Dyrrachium by stealth on his way to Constantinople, only to vanish in the Albanian mountain passes,47 where Theodore Angelos was waiting for him.