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8-08-2015, 00:35

Michel balard

By the beginning of the fourteenth century, the Byzantine reconquest of 1261 had made its mark on Latin expansion in the Aegean and the Balkans. With the treaty of Nymphaion on 13 March 1261,Michael VIII Palaiologos (1258–82) granted the Genoese access to the Black Sea. Similar access was granted to the Venetians in the years that followed, and their principal conquests since the Fourth Crusade were recognised. A chain of trading posts and ports of call thus stretched along the main sea routes and was dominated by the Italian maritime republics; Andronikos II Palaiologos (1282–1328) had abandoned the maintenance of a Byzantine fleet as too costly (see above, p. 810). At the heart of this nexus of great trade routes, leading from Italy to Constantinople and the Black Sea, Cyprus and Lesser Armenia, Syria and Alexandria, was the Aegean. Control of its coasts and islands became a vital necessity for the Italian maritime republics and the object of frantic competition; from this sprang the three ‘colonial’ wars between Genoa and Venice in the course of the fourteenth century. Their only result was a de facto carve-up of the Aegean: Venice had the western and southern coastline, with Messenia, Crete and Negroponte, Genoa the eastern coasts with Chios, Lesbos and the islands of the northern Aegean, while the Catalans would disrupt this Italian maritime and commercial hegemony through their seizure of the duchy of Athens and rapid development of piracy.1 As a result, the Aegean and the Balkans found themselves part of a mercantile economy geared to satisfying the needs of the west for foodstuffs and raw materials. They entered a colonial-style exchange system, receiving artisanal products from the west – mainly woollen cloths and linen – in exchange for supplying all that was needed for their manufacture. Local and regional trade was subordinated to the fluctuations and rhythms of longdistance trade dominated by the Italians, to whom Greek traders deferred.2 These trends were established in two successive phases over the century following the restoration of the Byzantine empire in 1261, and we need to examine these phases before going on to consider the mercantile economy’s infrastructure, trade routes and commodities.