22 October 2009

When the Turks came to Davia

Aerial view of Tavia, now Davia, west of Tripolis, in the foothills of Mainalon

Among the resources for the 15th century Morea are the little chronicles called the Vracheachronika, or Kleinchroniken, depending on which edition you use. These are lists, mostly of one-sentence paragraphs recounting events as recorded by monks in various monasteries. Sometimes these are lists are taken from single events noted on the margins of a manuscript about something else. Sometimes they cover two or three pages in a codex.Some of them are fragmented collections of a few dates of Biblical history, a bit of Constantine, two incidents from the 1100s, a death of an abbot, and something about a despot. Often a chronicle is simply copied from another chronicle.

So we get staggeringly limited records such as:

1499, Naufpaktos.
1500, Methoni
referring to Ottoman conquests of Venetian-occupied Greek cities, and the copyist certainly wrote these down years after the events.

Page after page, the chronicles are, for the most part, frustratingly limited and reflect the dreary mindset where those who could be considered literate thought this was an adequate record of events:

1402. When they took Prusa.
1430. When they took Thessakoniki.
1430. When they took Ioannina.
1439. When the Emperor John went to Florence and there was the Eighth Synod.
1187. When they took Jerusalem.
1446. When they took the Hexamilion.
1451. When they took Karamania.
1453. When He took Constantinople.
1456. When they took Athens.
1458. When they took Serbia.
1458. When they took Corinth.
1460. When He took the Morea.

There are more in this series, but it suggests the copyist did realize the taking of Constantinople and the Morea were of possible significance to him. But what is Jerusalem doing in there? Did he see a notation of it elsewhere and think it belonged in the conquest list?

There are rare bits of useful information, particularly in two chronicles from the Nauplion area that report the collapse of the apse of a church as the result of a thunderstorm, and the miracle that happened when a Venetian bishop opened the tomb of Ag. Petros of Argos. Not enough is reported. None of them mentions the war in the Morea that lasted from 1463-1478. None of them mentions the Kladas revolt of 1480, which is what I was given an NEH grant to spend last year in Athens doing research for a book about.

But I was intrigued by this event at Davia (picture) in 1423, tracking it through the chronicles. Here are the various ways it was recorded:

They came to Tavia and killed the Albanians there on 5 July
They destroyed the Albanians at Tavia.
He slaughtered the Albanians at Tavia.
They cut down the Albanians at Tavia on 22 May.
He slaughtered the Albanians.
They killed the Albanians on 5 June.
The Ninth Death, when the Albanians came to Tavia.

They came to Lakedaimonia, also Leondari, also Gardiki, also Tavia where there they cut down the Albanians.
One copyist who was not paying attention wrote: "The Albanians killed them at Tavia." What was this about Albanians at Tavia?

In 1423, Turahan Bey, head of one of the Ottoman families that was allowed to remain independent for a promise of not contesting the sultan's authority, made a raid into the Morea. This allowed Turahan's soldiers practice and loot, and the sultan acquired half of the loot without the nuisance of war. Further, it contributed to weakening Greek resistance and discouraged any aid from being sent to Constantinople to oppose the sultan's attack there.

In May, Turahan broke through the Hexamilion which Manuel II had rebuilt eight years before with such fanfare, and then made a drive down through the Nemea valley, and into the passes of Mt. Lyrkeo, past Mantinea, and down past Tripolis, as far as Mistra. This raid was timed to take advantage of the barley harvest, and then the wheat. After raiding the Mistra area, Turahan started back north through the miserable passes of the Taygetos range and back up into the plain south-west of Tripolis where he assaulted two of the more important Greek cities in the Morea, Gardiki and Leondari. The choice of the Taygetos passes indicates that he knew there would be no opposition. One wants to know how Turahan knew about these various routes.

There was no opposition. The Despot, Theodoros II, who might have been expected to direct some sort of resistance, went into a panic and dithered about going into a monastery. Ioannis Frangopoulos, protostrator or general, of the Morea, but did nothing (though the next year he built the lovely Pantanassa at Mistra).

What happened is somewhat explained in the history of Laonikos Chalcocondyles. Or -candyles, depending on your edition. Chalcocondyles was from an important Athenian family, his father was a member of the court at Mistra, and he grew up knowing everyone who was anyone in the Morea, and with access to any written records he wanted.* He wrote two massive volumes covering Greek history from 1298 through 1463, and gave a paragraph to what happened at Tavia. This is his account -- there were at least 6000 Albanians in the Morea potentially available to bear arms.

The Albanians assembled around the center of the region, and they planned to break away from the Greeks in order to destroy the army of the Turks. Turahan, however, when he discovered that the Albanians were uniting against him in the one place, so that he could not escape them, arranged himself for battle, and the Albanians being assembled, came against him. When they came into confrontation, they could not withstand the Turks, and turned to flight. At that point, Turahan, coming out of formation and pursuing them, destroyed many, and those he captured alive, about 800, he executed, and made a tower of their heads.**
Well, it would happen, wouldn't it? The Turks were well-armed, trained, disciplined. The Albanians had little armor and were accustomed to independent, guerrilla-style tactics. But they tried. Possibly they had the thought they could also relieve the Turks of the loot they had acquired in the Morea.

Davia, twelve miles west of Tripolis, is now is a scattering of houses on a foothill of Mainalon (upper right) that slopes into a broad plain with a river (far left). In ancient times Davia was a substantial city with a fortress. It was sacked five years before this event, in 1418, by Centurione Zaccaria, Prince of the Morea. It is farming and herding country, though the fields tend to damp, as do all those upland Moreote plains. We drove through, to pay homage to the warriors of 1423, but it was snowing, mixed with rain, impossible to take photographs, and we did not stop.

It is an event of no significance in the overall history of the Morea, but it was as significant in the chronicles as almost anything else besides the Fall of Constantinople. It has shown up in a couple of modern Greek historians as an example of the Albanian penchant for revolt, rather than as an example of courage. The major Moreote historian gives one sentence, "A large number of Albanians met death at Tavia when they were attacked by the troops of Turahan."

George Seferis wrote:

No one remembers them. Justice.

* And of course, Chalcocondyles met Cyriaco when he was visiting there, twenty years after Tavia. Cyriaco wrote: "Also, I saw rushing to meet me in the palace, the gifted young Athenian, Laonikos." The next day, Laonikos took Cyriaco to look at the ruins of ancient Sparta.

** Thanks to Pierre MacKay for help with translation.

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