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8-08-2015, 00:29

The struggle for mastery in epiros, albania and macedonia

The Bulgarians had drawn Nicaea’s rulers and churchmen into Thrace and both Epiros and Arbanon gained some freedom of manoeuvre from this, especially after the death of Ivan Asen.Under the despotMichael II Angelos Doukas (1230–67), who gained control of all Thessaly,71 Epiros acquired Dyrrachium once more,72 although in 1250Michael II had to sootheNicaea by allowing John Vatatzes’ ambassadors free passage to Italy. Dyrrachium had not lost its traditional role as a key transit point between the Balkans and western Europe.73 Albania enjoyed an economic upswing during this period. The number of Italian visitors increased, and these included manyVenetians, with whom Epiros’ rulers were not on good terms. The inhabitants of Dubrovnik were active traders in grain, wood and animal products, making the inhabitants of the Albanian coast less economically dependent on the hinterland, and weakening their traditional ties. A local Slav-dominated merchant class was also developing,74 assisted by the privileges granted by Michael I Angelos and Dhimit¨er of Arbanon, and renewed under Michael II in 1237 and 1251.75 Around 1230, Demetrios Chomatenos noted a degree of acculturation between Italians and Dalmatians, not merely in language and law, but also in the easy co-existence of the Latin and orthodox faithful.76 In northern Albania, however, relations were less cordial. Around 1250 Giovanni da Pian Carpini, the celebrated archbishop of Antivari, succeeded in profiting from the failure of the Slavs and Epirots to halt the Nicaean conquests; these had resulted in Michael II Angelos ceding Prilep, Veles and even Kruja, the capital of Arbanon, to Vatatzes. With the support of the friars, Carpini sought to secure the loyalty of the people of Arbanon, but this brought him up against the formidable orthodox archbishop of Ohrid. Carpini was therefore unable to gain influence over the border bishoprics of Chounavia and Polatum (Shkod¨er) and (in admittedly obscure circumstances) these joined the orthodox camp.77 Even so, the catholic church’s activities in the region were proceeding apace, prompting Prince Gulam of Arbanon to abandon Michael II Angelos and join the Nicaean side. PresumablyNicaea looked to him a more effective bulwark against the catholic church.78 At the same time, Nicaea’s ruler John Vatatzes renewed the privileges that Kruja had received fromManuel I Komnenos (1143–80), although it is uncertain who controlled the town at this point.79 The Nicaean advances threatened the interests of the Bulgarians and Serbs alike. Despite his own weakness, and thanks to the death of John III Vatatzes, the Bulgarian tsarMichael I Asen (1246–56) managed to seize control of western Macedonia all the way to Dibra in 1254, occupying Skopje among other places, although the Nicaeans recovered it two years later. A close entente was established between Michael II Angelos and the Serbian ruler StefanUroˇs I (1243–76), who was also interested in dominatingMacedonia. It was only in 1256 that Theodore II Laskaris regained control of the route to the Adriatic,80 recapturing strongholds in Macedonia, including Dyrrachium.81 Not without reason did Theodore boast of controlling Sofia, Philippopolis, Veles, Skopje and even Serbia, thanks to his latest acquisitions. 82 In the winter of 1256–7, Akropolites reportedly felt free to travel around the region, making his authority felt. He convened the notables (ekkritoi) of Arbanon at Dyrrachium, doubtless including Prince Gulam (who subsequently vanishes from sight), and he managed to take control of their polity (such as it was) without protest, installing a thoroughly Byzantine civil, military and fiscal administration.83 The ekkritoi referred to by Akropolites later came to be known as princes, and they would dominate the lands of Albania into modern times. Still loyal toMichael II Angelos of Epiros, these ekkritoi proceeded to lead their fellow Albanians in a massive revolt and Michael himself laid siege to Nicaean-occupied Dibra, Ohrid and Prilep,84 regions which would later become centres of Albanian settlement. 85 However, the revolt did not involve Albania proper or Epiros itself, and Michael’s ally, Stefan Uroˇs, turned the situation to his own advantage: he advanced into central Macedonia, seizing Skopje and pushing south as far as Kicava and Prilep.86 Manfred of Hohenstaufen also exploited the troubles in the region, following in theNormans’ footsteps. Probably around the end of 1257 he seized part of central Albania, including Dyrrachium, Berat, Avlona, Spinarizza and surrounding areas. This was the background to his marriage alliance with Helena, daughter of Michael II Angelos of Epiros. Staring defeat in the face, Michael had to recognise Manfred’s right to these lands as dowry, adding for good measure Corfu and the southern Albanian coast, including Himara, Sopot and Butrint.87 After successful campaigning by John Palaiologos in the spring of 1259, the Nicaeans regained control of western Macedonia,88 and this success was reinforced by Michael VIII Palaiologos’ (1258–82) victory at the battle of Pelagonia that summer.89 However, Skopje seems to have remained in Serbian hands until the offensive launched by the Bulgarian tsar Constantine Tich (1257–77). Somehow or other, the city ended up in the Byzantine sphere of influence90 and in 1303 the Serbian ruler, Stefan Uroˇs II Milutin (1282–1321), would write of the Serbs’ loss of the city, although quite what he meant by this is unclear.91 In any case, Bulgaria no longer posed a serious threat to its neighbours after 1241. In 1262 Michael VIII succeeded in occupying the coastal towns of Anchialos and Mesembria, promising them as a dowry to his niece Maria, and with the stated intention of never giving them back to the Bulgarians. A Bulgarian counter-attack in 1272 was easily beaten off, showing up the limitations of what was now a divided kingdom. Bulgaria was riven by political instability for a hundred years, and also menaced externally by the Greeks’ formidable allies, the Cuman auxiliaries of the Mongols (see below, p. 805).92 Yet for all its troubles, Bulgaria was no cultural vacuum. In the mid-fourteenth century, the Bulgarian archbishop Iakov was still capable of writing passably good Greek poetry in hexameters, something onlyMaximos Planoudes could rival.93 As in Serbia, there were lively manuscript workshops which carried on the Slav–Hellenic tradition; the psalters of Radomir (fig. 55) and Karadimov, the chronicle of Constantine Manasses and the Tomiˇc psalter (fig. 54) are among their products, and they help us understand the fourteenth-century flowering.94 New forms emerged, such as the ‘teratological’ (monstrous) letter designs that adorn thirteenth-century manuscripts.95 However, two dangers still loomed on the fringes of the restored Byzantine empire: the alliance forged between the Angevin kingdom of Naples and Epiros, prompting Charles of Anjou’s later intervention, and the Serbs’ ambitions of conquest in Macedonia. Charles of Anjou had taken care to include in the Treaty of Viterbo in 1267 (see above, p. 768) his right to succeed Manfred in Albania.96 However, it was some time before he staked his claim: partly because of his involvement in the Tunis Crusade of his brother, Louis IX (1226–70), and partly from uncertainty as to how Michael II Angelos would react to such a bold move. It was only after Michael’s death that Charles took over Dyrrachium, which had recently been devastated by a terrible earthquake;97 he had himself proclaimed king of Albania there on 21 February 1272.98 Charles also gained Avlona, although supporters of the Hohenstaufen were only expelled from the town in 1274.99 Michael VIII Palaiologos was well aware of the danger posed by this Latin coup on his western approaches, and this made him all the more enthusiastic for union of the two churches at the council of Lyons (see also pp. 755–6, 803–4). This effectively tied Charles of Anjou’s hands; he would now be attacking a true Christian, whatever the terms of the Viterbo treaty, and Michael VIII could justify his own resistance in Albania. This became the theatre for Graeco-Latin conflict from 1272 to 1284,100 culminating in the Angevin defeat at Berat in the spring of 1281; local enthusiasm for the Byzantine initiatives probably contributed to this.101 As a result, by 1284 the Angevins had lost virtually all their conquests, Dyrrachium and Avlona among them. They retained only a fraction of the Albanian coastline far to the south, including Butrint and Sopot, which had been ceded to them in 1279 by the despot Nikephoros I Angelos Doukas of Epiros (1267–96).102 Michael VIII’s recovery of the region is symbolised by the fresco found on the outer vestibule of the church of Santa Maria of Apollonia, probably painted around this time. Michael appears with the future emperors Andronikos II (1282–1328) and Michael IX (1294/5–1320).103 The Angevins continued their vain attempts to regain control of Albania into the mid-fourteenth century, even proposing to exchange it for Aragonese-controlled Sicily: an offer which was, not surprisingly, declined. The Angevins’ conquest of Albania does, however, show the ability of the local elites to assert themselves. The archontes took on Byzantine or Slav titles, either coming to terms with their new master or staying true to the traditional Greek alliance, sometimes at the price of being deported to Apulia.104 On the coasts, the Angevins’ heavy-handed taxation smothered a lively local trade, in which Dubrovnik had shown signs of starting to rival Venice. Albania’s major ports underwent serious decline, turning into small staging-posts where the princes only traded in grain, wood, salt, skins and dried fish.105 Ethnic Albanians became the majority in the area, although important Greek and Slav minorities remained;106 Pachymeres even describes the repopulation by Albanians after the Dyrrachium earthquake. 107 The divide between coast and hinterland deepened, and trans- Balkan relations would remain disrupted until the coming of theOttomans’ new order.108 The area became socially and politically unstable. Clan ties unravelled and there was migration inland towards Macedonia and Thessaly, a precursor of the migrations to Italy at the end of the middle ages.109 Such outflows would long delay Albania’s formation as a coherent polity. hard-pressed Andronikos II had no option but to acknowledge the fait accompli. As part of the peace treaty he agreed to his small daughter Simonis’ marriage toMilutin, with the Serbian territorial acquisitions serving as her dowry.118 A chrysobull of Milutin in 1303 for the Athonite monastery of Hilandar and the newly founded house of Pyrgos boasts of his achievement. 119 Preoccupied by Serbia’s apparently unstoppable expansion, the inhabitants of the Balkans would pay all too little heed to the new threat from the Turks in the fourteenth century. And, as so often in the past, Byzantium was caught between foes on two fronts.