28 May 2009

Better Than You Were Before

In the fall of 1454, Mehmed II sent a letter to thirteen archons of the Morea, accepting their offer of loyalty to him. They were "Kyr Manuel Rallis with all his people, and Kyr Sophianos with all his people, and Kyr Demetrios Laskaris with all his people, and the Diplovatatsoi, the Kavakioi, the Pagomenoi, the Frangopouloi, the Sgouromalaioi, and Mavropapas, the Philanthropenoi, and Petro Bua and his people, and those others who want to come."

All those plurals mean that each of the archons brought with him several dozen, maybe several hundred, more men, so this pledge of loyalty had the result of transferring several towns to Mehmed's service without effort on his part.

To them Mehmed promised: "of your possesions,
and your children, and your heads, and anything of your possessions that remain to you, I will touch nothing, but I will leave you in peace so that you are better than before."

After the Fall of Constantinople, which surprised no one even though it broke many hearts, the Morea disintegrated. The threat of disorder had always been there among the archons, and often happened, but at this point disorder was at every level of society and there was a general revolt -- "of the Albanians" -- the chronicles say, but Greeks revolted, too, and sometimes there were several sides revolting at once. Demetrios and Thomas Palaiologos, each ruler of half the Morea, fought each other, everyone changed sides and Mehmed was invited to send in troops to help pacify the country.
The Venetians saw the general disorder as their opportunity and sent in diplomats to offer gifts, and bribes to anyone where it might be considered used -- diplomats instructed not to put anything into writing. Once they saw how things were going with the Turkish troops, they focused their attention on Thomas, who liked Italians, and later on Demetrios, but neither would make a commitment.
Ever since the Fall, various archons and island rulers had been going to Mehmed, offering him homage, and welcoming him to their towns. By the fall of 1454, and given the revolts, the Morea was so totally hopeless that archons there were doing the same thing. There was a lot of it going around, but it is only these thirteen for whom we have a piece of paper.
Manuel Rallis, a brutal man and a palace official of Thomas Palaiologos, was in control of the area originally called Morea -- the territory of Chlemoutzi, Clarenza, the plain of Andravida. It formerly was controlled by George and Thomas Rallis, for Thomas Palaiologos, their first cousin, but at the Fall, they left for Italy. Just how Manuel was related, we don't know, but he now had that territory as well as his own and he had put it under Mehmed's control. He must have been quickly disillusioned: Mehmed did not tolerate the independence and rapaciousness the Palaiologoi were unable to control.

When Mehmed came into the Morea in 1460 -- and he took the surrender of Mistra from Demetrios Palaiologos on 29 May, the seventh anniversary of the Fall -- he brought people with him to whom he assigned lands. He used the same sort of leapfrogging method of land assignments my father and I used for turtles in the summer of 1950: find a turtle on the road, put it in the floor of the car. Next turtle is put in the car, and the first put out, and so on and so forth, four days from Minnesota to Texas, and four days Texas back to Minnesota.

The people Mehmed brought were the wealthy and powerful from his recent conquests. As he took up the Moreote archons into his train, he assigned their lands to Turks and Hungarians and Bosnians and Albanians, and a Russian. So the archons found their lands evaporating, and Manuel Rallis found his lands going to the sancak bey of the Morea, Sinan bin Elvan, and the Hizir-seraskier of Chlemoutsi. Petro Bua's territory went to an Ibrahim Engurus.
[Late correction: we do not know Petro Bua's territory for sure.]

This is probably why most of these archons were to be found fighting for the Venetians three years later when war broke out in the Morea in the summer of 1463. By 1465, Manuel Rallis, four of his sons, and a grandson had all been killed, some brutally. The lands he had claimed were now under his son Micheli whose people complained to the Venetians about his harshness.

In August 1466, Micheli Rallis was with the Venetian army when it was surprised outside Patras. The Venetian commander, Jacopo Barbarigo, fell off his mule when trying to escape, and Rallis, instead of making his own escape, stopped to help him. He was pointed out to the Turks by a priest. Barbarigo was cut to pieces. Rallis and the Metropolitan of Patras were impaled on the seashore.

About the others, we have little information. Petro Bua, his sons and grandsons, were fighting for Venice in the 1480s, and when he died at home in bed, the Venetian Senate heard speeches in his honor. A Sophianos served as an emissary for Mehmed to the West, but it may not have been this one. Some went to Crete, some to Italy, and more were absorbed, one way or another, into the Ottoman system. Some probably ended up administering lands in Albania or Thrace.

And for at least three generations, Venice, out of loyalty and gratitude, was providing employment and allowances and dowries for the desendants of Micheli Rallis and his brother Nicholas.

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