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8-08-2015, 00:33

Social tensions, civil wars

Social tensions were to come to the forefront during the civil wars, most clearly during the second civil war, which started in October 1341, and is thus broadly speaking contemporary with other civic rebellions in western Europe. At first, this was a struggle for power at the centre: a dispute for the regency for the nine-year-old heir to the throne, John V Palaiologos (1341–91), between John Kantakouzenos on the one hand, and on the other John V’s mother, Anne of Savoy, the patriarch and the megas doux Alexios Apokaukos. Before declaring himself emperor, Kantakouzenos had sent letters to the powerful and the military men of the cities, seeking their support; when his letter was read in Adrianople, on 27 October, three men, at least one of whom was almost certainly a merchant, aroused the people of the city, who attacked the aristocrats and burned their houses. Quickly, the civil war spread throughout the cities of Macedonia and Thrace. The most acute aspects of social conflict are visible in Thessaloniki where the opposition to Kantakouzenos was led by a group with radical tendencies, the Zealots (see below, p. 857). In some cities, like Serres, Kantakouzenos was opposed by members of the aristocracy, and it is certain that social alignments in this civil war were no more perfect than they were in western Europe. But the main lines of division are clear: the aristocracy, of which Kantakouzenos was the richest and most powerful representative, rallied to his side, while in Constantinople, Thessaloniki, Didymoteichon, Adrianople and elsewhere the merchants, perhaps the bankers, certainly the sailors and, to a varying degree, the mesoi generally opposed Kantakouzenos, confiscated or destroyed his supporters’ property, and imprisoned many among them. In his History, Kantakouzenos described the civil war in self-serving statements. More telling than those is his discussion of the accession to power (in 1339) and the polity of Simone Boccanegra in Genoa. The revolution of 1339 is cast in terms of the Byzantine civil war, and he sees it as an opposition of the people to the nobles ‘because they were better than they’. The story of Boccanegra is twisted, undoubtedly consciously, so that all the evils that befell Genoa can be ascribed to him, as the evils resulting from the Byzantine civil war are ascribed to Apokaukos.53 Although causal connections between the Genoese revolution and the revolution in Thessaloniki have been disproved, the similarities in the social aspects of the conflict are striking. Since the forces of Kantakouzenos and his allies controlled the countryside, the civil war soon took the form of a struggle for the cities. Cities were difficult to take by assault but, with the countryside looted and in hostile hands, including the Turkish allies of Kantakouzenos, they began to surrender in 1344–5. In 1345, with the assassination of Alexios Apokaukos, the situation changed drastically, and in February 1347 Kantakouzenos entered Constantinople as co-emperor. Thessaloniki resisted until 1350, when, under pressure from the Serbs, it reluctantly accepted both John VI Kantakouzenos and John V Palaiologos. In 1354, John V forced Kantakouzenos to abdicate. This may be considered the end of the civil war. The civil war was, among other things, an abortive effort to create a state quite different from what had existed in Byzantium, one where the interests of the commercial element would be paramount, while the resources of the landed aristocracy and the church would be used for the needs of defence.54 At exactly the same time, there was a conflict within the church, between those who adopted a mystical attitude, that posited the possibility of experiencing the Divine Light through a special form of prayer (the hesychasts), and those who believed that God may be experienced in his manifestations but not in his essence. The hesychast controversy divided not only the church but other members of society, those who were interested in theological and religious questions. While political and social attitudes and theological positions did not entirely converge,55 neither were they parallel.Hesychasm was practised onMount Athos, and its most vocal proponent was Gregory Palamas; hesychasts were also staunch supporters of Kantakouzenos. The controversy ended with the political victory of Kantakouzenos. He presided over a church council in 1351 which pronounced hesychasm orthodox and its opponents heretical. No wonder that Palamas, appointed archbishop of Thessaloniki, was twice prevented by the city government from gaining his see, and was able to enter the city only in 1350, in the wake of Kantakouzenos’ triumph. In the end, Kantakouzenos and the aristocracy won a short-term political victory, but suffered crushing long-term economic defeat. In order to win, Kantakouzenos had appealed to the Serbs in 1342 and the Turks soon afterwards. The regency also made such appeals, unsuccessfully. Kantakouzenos, however, was successful. Stefan Duˇsan (1331–55) gave him help, but in the process he conquered much ofMacedonia, Thessaly, Epiros and part of Greece, sometimes with the agreement of Kantakouzenos, but more often without it. In 1345, he took the large and important city of Serres, and thereafter he called himself emperor of the Serbs and the Romans. The state of Stefan Duˇsan was large but ephemeral, breaking down after his death in 1355. His successors retained part of it, until the Ottomans conquered it after 1371. As for the Turks, both the amir of Aydin and, more ominously, theOttomans sent large forces into Europe to help Kantakouzenos; in 1354, they settled inGallipoli, and from then onwards theOttoman advance into European territory proceeded rapidly. As a result, the Byzantine state that emerged from the civil war was much smaller and muchweaker than before.