27 August 2011

The Negroponte Hoard, Part One

Malatesta coat-of-arm, Negroponte Hoard, BM

There is a remarkable and nearly unknown collection of jewelry in the British Museum, known as the Negroponte hoard.  It consists of 395 items (28 items are one model of silver filigree buttons, 65 another model of exquisite gold buttons), some of them important.  The collection was acquired in the late 19th-century from an Athens dealer who claimed these were all found in one hoard in Negroponte, and who made requests for secrecy.  I will write later about my opinions of that.

What has fascinated me this week is this 2.5 cm shield with alternating bands, certainly the Malatesta shield, and the same one that Pandolfo Malatesta put up in two locations in Patras. 

The Patras shields disappeared during the Italian occupation in WW2 and there has been no report of them since.  This image was taken from a photocopy of an etching of a squeeze of the shield found in the Lambros history of medieval Greece, and you may have to trust me on this.

A second shield turns up which somewhat explains the first, which is the same size as the shield in the center with reverse bands and may have been similarly used as the center of an ornament.  I do not find a photograph of it on the BM site and this one, a detail from a large mass of ornaments, is extremely difficult to make clear. The three heads are interesting: the Malatesti added three profile heads to their shields around 1385, and possibly these heads refer to those.

[Note: I have identified a third shield in a subsequent post on the collection.]

The main question I have about these two Malatesta shields is: what were they doing in Negroponte?  Cleofe Malatesta was in Mistra from the fall of 1420 to the spring of 1433.  Her brother Pandolfo was archbishop of Patras from 1424 until mid-1429.  I can think of a number of ways in which the shields might have traveled east: the explanation that convinces me will have to wait for another blog.

Below, I am supplying a series of Malatesta shields.  They vary according to the owner, but the basis for each is a pattern of  bends, sometimes checked, sometimes with suggestions of weaving.  The first three are from manuscripts reproduced in large expensive books on the Malatesti, but unidentified; the last two are from Wikipedia.

Manuscript portrait of Malatesta "dei Sonetti" Malatesti  

Tempio Malatesiano, Rimini  

Palazzo, Roberto Malatesta, Rimini

 One of Pandolfo Malatesta's emblems

Malatesta Novello, Cesena Library


I would much appreciate further information, and suggestions for specific identifications.

22 August 2011

Misunderstanding Mistra, Part Two

Wedding crowns, Athens  
Last night when I was not sleeping, I found myself thinking about the marriages of the sons of Manuel II Palaiologos.  A fairly dismal subject, on the whole, with a great deal of waste and grief on all sides.  It is an article of faith that Manuel received a letter from Pope Martin V giving permission for his sons to marry Western rite brides, and this is demonstrated by showing that in August 1420, Sophia of Montferrat and Cleofe Malatesta of Pesaro were shipped out as the first lucky candidates. (By the way, none of these women married to the Palaiologos sons was a princess: enough of the "Latin princesses" theme.) There is a vast wasteland of articles on the marriages of the sons of Manuel II, and having recently written on this topic myself (with more to come), I think it needs re-evaluating.  

The marriages of John VIII are no proof of this Western rite theme.  When he was 21, in 1414, he was presented with a child bride in the person of Anna of Moscow.  She died of plague three years later.  He had been so detached from her that he did not learn of the event for another year.  Then there was Sophia of Montferrat.  John left her a bride unwedded, and she left him after nearly six years.  This cannot be considered a Western rite marriage. When he remarried in 1427, this time blissfully, his bride Maria was from Trebizond and of the Eastern rite.

Theodoros II of Mistra married Cleofe Malatesta in January 1426 and he, too, left her a bride unwedded.  After six years, he decided to be married after all and pressured her -- despite a written promise to the Pope -- to convert to the Eastern rite.  She assured her family that this was an outward conversion -- "I have not become a nun just because I have been anointed with a little oil." -- and spent the next six years doing penance for her act.  This, too, cannot be considered a Western rite marriage.

Constantine's two marriages were both to Latin rite women, and both of them died during pregnancy.  Both women, Theodora Tocco and Caterina Gattilusi, were from families that had lived in Greek-speaking lands for generations, and both were certainly bilingual.  From what we know of these Latin-Greek families, their choice of rite was fluid, and they were at home in both.  Neither of these marriages was arranged under the papal dispensation and there is no information as to any observation of any rite.  Theodora was part of the territorial settlement concluding the Palaiologos conquest of the Tocco territories in the Morea. Caterina's family was related to the Palaiologoi and she was chosen for her suitability.

Moving on to Demetrios, both of his marriages -- to Zoe Paraspondylos and to Theodora Asan -- were in the Eastern rite.

Which leaves Thomas.  His marriage to Catarina Zaccaria in January 1430 was, again, outside the papal dispensation and part of the territorial settlement in the peace treaty by which the Palaiologoi acquired the Principality of Achaia and added 50% more territory to the Despotate. She might have been considered a princess, as her father was known as the Prince of Achaia, but no contemporary document calls her that.  Sphrantzes calls her "kyra." The marriage was celebrated at Mistra.  It is highly unlikely that the ceremony was in the Western rite.

All of this means that, instead of forcing the marriages to fit that letter from the Pope, one should look at what actually happened.  Or didn't happen.

18 August 2011

Stratioti Pay

Stratiote (detail from 15thC icon, Byzantine Museum of Thessalonike)
wearing the red fabric that appears so often in Venetian documents on stratioti pay.

Stratioti, in the ideal Venetian system, pretty much paid for themselves.  They worked their own land -- land otherwise unused, provided their own food, and earned the rest from wartime loot.  The ideal Venetian system never actually worked.  Stratioti who are farming cannot fight.  A man ordinarily can only carry about three days worth of food with him for him and his horse.  Stratioti who are not fighting do not get loot.  And so on and so forth.  So it became a delicate balance to keep stratioti fed and reasonably accepting of authority until their services were needed for the next time.  You can read all about it in detail in Bartolomeo Minio's letters here. (And bear in mind that he tends to call them "stratioti" when his nerves are good, and "Albanians" when they are not, though the majority were Albanian.)

Stratioti come in several categories.  One is those for whom there was a short-term contract: they appeared, served their time, and left.  Another category is for those who had land allotments and were considered residents of the territory.  A third category is the provisionati, usually the kapetanioi, who received larger amounts of money, payments of red and black cloth, and sometimes large land allotments, maybe with fortifications.  They were guaranteed payment for a certain number of stratioti, and their servants were usually provided with extra gifts.  This is  a very interesting system because, while ostensibly imported from Italy, it actually represents the monetization of the pronoia system.  It is claimed that there is no evidence for the pronoia system in the Morea but we have former landholders becoming provisionati, and I have now found documents that specify land grants by the despots for men we later see as kapetanioi.  It takes a lot of reading back and forth.

Taking into consideration the vicissitudes of weather and the lack of loot in peacetime, Venice provided a certain number paghe, payments, in cash and grain in a year.  That is, they provided them on paper, and some years it was 3 and some years it was 6, and sometimes it was four of cash and three of grain.  Minio's letters say otherwise: "In 19 months they have had only two pays of cash and two of grain." "For a year they have had no payments of cash or grain." "You promised the stratioti 3 pays of grain a year, and the soldiers 5 of cash."

This is where it gets dicey.  Stratioti had to appear at the regularly-scheduled mostra with arms and horses in order to get those payments, if the payments had actually arrived.  No governor could have been sanguine in the face of 500 armed stratioti when telling them they would, again, not be paid, and during the war a commander was decapitated when he gave that news once too often.  If payments had actually arrived, a stratiote without a horse or weapons would not be paid.  But if the period of hunger had been going on long enough -- and most of the stratioti had families to feed -- they might have to sell the horse, or the weapons for the metal in them, to get food.  During the war Barbarigo reported men selling off their bollete (promises of pay) for a quarter of the value in order to buy food now.  Minio reported his Cretan ballestrieri, bowmen, selling their bollette for half the value.

There was never a budget item "food for soldiers."  Fanti were paid on one schedule, stratioti on another, and the ballestrieri were to be paid from the administration Candia which rarely happened. When Minio was captain in Candia twenty years later, the payments to the Nauplion ballestrieri were absolutely conscientiously made on schedule. So through Minio's letters you see one group or another hungry.  More than once in Nauplion, Minio took loans from the better-off corporali (fanti commanders) so he could buy food for the ballestrieri and stratioti.

One of the things you see in the Minio letters is that you can predict when the peacetime food is simply going to be inadequate.  In the winters of 1479-80 and 1480-81, Minio reports that the rains and the early grain look good for the year, and they are.  In the winter of 1481-82, he predicts a poor crop, and that summer the stratioti, and Nauplion, are on the edge of famine.  Each year, from March on until early June, Minio is desperate for grain to feed the stratioti.  It is no coincidence that the Lenten fast coincides with the depletion of food stores and before the new growth.

There was a problem in the summer of 1480.  Fearing an Ottoman attack -- and there were massive assaults on Rhodes and Otranto -- Minio called up everyone from the farms, Greek landworkers and stratioti, and provided them with spears from the Nauplion armory.  Shipping for food and cash from Venice was blocked.  While there was a fine harvest, within another month the Italian fanti were hungry, and because of their weakened physical condition, many of them were dying from the summer malaria.  Fanti did not have land (although Antonio Marinato and his troop may have been pirates on the side, and interestingly, none of them died) and were dependent on what was provided from Venice.  Minio had been asking for money for grain for 6 months, and finally was sent old grain from Venice, half of what he could have bought locally for the same price.  Would you believe that Venice had financial interests whose pacification was regarded as more important than hungry soldiers?

Now, when the pay actually arrived, there were still roadblocks.  A stratiote received 28 soldi or 112 torneselli in a payment. Of this, he had to pay 4 soldi to the Paymaster-General, and 2 to the paymaster at Nauplion. A fante, an Italian soldier, should his pay have arrived, would receive 300 torneselli, and he was not likely to have a legal family. 

So right there you can see a problem and why stratioti needed land, and loot -- and why many of the unpaid stratioti who joined the Kladas revolt took the opportunity to continue as professional looters. One way around on occasion this was for stratioti companies to be written up with allowance for a certain number of paghe morte, dead pays, and at mostre, the number of live pays were reported.

Here are some numbers to suggest what was involved with pay and food that show how fragile the system was. (Much of the Venetian financial calculations for the stato da mar involved hyperpera which did not actually exist as coins.)

28 soldi = 1 2/5 hpp. [one payment]

1 stero wheat = 1 3/4 hpp.  [weight varies from 70-100 kg. Ideally, an individual would have 200   k. of wheat.  This assumes access to fruit, beans, olives, fish, oil, cheese, etc.]
1 kg. wheat = 1.52 liters, as bread, has 2500 calories.  Cooked as porridge, it produces about 6 servings.  In other words, 1 kg. of wheat is basic nutrition for a man for 2 days, though without other sources of food, malnutrition will soon set in.

Cloth was always nice, though not edible. During the 1484-1478 war, Yanni Volassi and Piero Boziki were given robes, and one of Micheli Rallis' aides was given a scarlet robe.  Giorgio Pagomeno and Giorio Paniperi were given, respectively, robes of black velvet and cloth-of-gold. (This was probably an indication of knighthood: Kladas and two men with him whowere knighted by the Doge were given cloth-of-gold robes.)  Early in the war, provveditor Andrea Dandolo was sent 63 lengths of cloth to distribute to the kapetanioi according to status and loyalty.  Nicolo Gritzas, Petro Bua, Nicolo and Micheli Rallis, and Count Comnino were given fine scarlet.  Like service ribbons of the last century, cuts and colors were calibrated to honor and status.

But what comes clear, over and over, reading between the lines in the Venetian documents, is that after mid-century Venice was always too stressed to be able to organize the necessary funds for the necessary shipments at the right time: this assumes the will, good shipping weather, and seas safe from piracy -- none of which could be taken for granted.  

Other related posts:

12 August 2011

The Duke of Athens makes his will

A recent post by Kostis Kourelis mentioned the fifth Duke of Athens' will. I couldn't find the fifth duke's will but I did find the that of the sixth duke and it is fascinating.  He was Gautier (or Gauthier, or Walter) de Brienne who was got out of Athens at the age of 9, in 1311, just after his father committed suicide-by-Catalans at the Kephissos debacle.  He spent the rest of his life at war.

He was made  leader of an Angevin army to retake Athens.  They took Epiros for Robert of Anjou for a while, and made several efforts to obtain financing to retake Athens.  In 1342 Gautier was called in to manage the city of Florence, but was so harsh a ruler that the Florentines chased him out after two months.  His first wife was the niece of the King of Naples, his second -- Jeanne, 1344 -- was the daughter of the Constable of France.  In 1346 he was part of the disastrous defeat in the mud at Crecy (the French had learned precious little since the mud at Kephissos, and still hadn't learned it for the mud at Agincourt in 1415).  He was made Grand Constable of France in 1356 and was killed at the battle of Poitiers fighting the Black Prince.  You can buy a Gautier VI de Brienne toy.

His surviving lands in Greece -- the Argolid was under Athens but was never taken by the Catalans -- were inherited by his sister, Isabeau d'Enghien, whose son Guy eventually left them to his daughter Maria, who sold them to Venice.  

Gautier VI made his testament in 1347, before he went.  A Michael Hanon, clerk  in Therouanne, wrote it out. There are 145 clauses, 141 of them bequests.  Here are some of the bequests:

18. To the orfelins and poor of Brienne, 300 pounds.'
[There are many specific bequests to the poor, and local clergy.]
26. To the poor of Saint Marc, 40 pounds.
27. To the abbey of Mousterander, 10 pounds.
41. To my chaplain, messire Pierre de Mousterander, 100 pounds.
43. To my shieldbearer, 50 pounds in land for him and his heirs.
55. To my valet, Philippe de Mareuil, 50 pounds.
56. To our barber, Renaudin, 30 pounds.
57. To our tailor, Sabinet, 20 pounds.
59. To the butler, Jehannin Mignon, 20 pounds.
66. To the Brienne herald, 10 pounds.

Where it really becomes interesting is in his bequests to his Greek territories. Notice how he changes from French money to Greek.

128. On the commerce from the fustians [cotton cloth] of Argos, 60 hyperpers a year to the chapel of our chateau at Kiveri.

129. For books, chalices, and ornaments for the chapel at Kiveri, 50 hyperpers.
130. To the church at Argos, 100 hyperpers.
131. To the chapel at our castle of Nauplion, 20 hyperpers.
132. To the Friars Minor [Franciscans] at Patras, 12 hyperpers.
133. To The Friars Minor at Clarenza, 20 hyperpers.
134. To the constables and sergeants at our chateaus of Argos, Nauplion, Thermissi, Bondonitza, and St. Maura, a month's wages.

Now, what did this man know about the Argolid?  And why the distinction between the friars of Patras and Clarenza? Was it because Clarenza had been an essentially French port? What about Kiveri?  That fortress is the top of the most unrewarding climb I have ever made -- the view does not compensate.  And who knew that Argos had such a profitable commerce in cotton?

And did you know that Francis of Assisi once went to war, and in 1205 was en route to joining the army of another Gautier de Brienne when he had a dream that sent him back to Assisi, and ultimately into the spiritual crisis that made him St. Francis?

 Gautier III de Brienne

Gautier IV de Brienne

Gautier V de Brienne

Despite his fame, I cannot find a shield for Gautier VI 

06 August 2011

On Vacation: Peter Magpie

On my first visit to Greece, in April 1977, I watched in fascination as large raucous black-and-white birds misbehaved -- or behaved like magpies -- in a field at Mycenae. "Peter Magpie!" I shouted, and then had to explain about Peter Magpie.

Peter Magpie was a favorite book when I was very young, and I have spent the past twenty years trying to find a copy.  I wrote English bookstores, I signed up for specialized search services.  Last month, I finally found a single copy, at The Children's Bookshop at Hay on Wye, probably the only available copy in the world, and extremely cheap even with international shipping.  The cover has some raggedy edges, a testimony that someone tried to take care of it for sixty years.

Peter Magpie is not a perfectly satisfactory book in terms of ethics, but apart from Jack-the-Giant-Killer it was the only book I saw for many years that treated intelligence and fun as important, and did not harp on virtue.  Even at the age of five I appreciated how the very simple line drawings extended the text, instead of illustrating it. (The pictures here will enlarge if clicked on.)

Peter was very good at escaping danger and helping his friends.   He kept his friends the rabbits from being attacked by the fox and the owl.

And he found a way to keep the farmer from shooting him for -- um -- acting like a magpie.

He was fond of the farmer's boy, Jan, who was fond of Greta.  Greta was fond of Jan but she was very shy because she had freckles.  Peter Magpie gave Jan freckles, too.

Being a magpie, Peter Magpie liked shiny things.  He came very close to disaster.

Because this is a book for children that had to be bought by adults, it is equipped with an unconvincing moral, but it still holds to the value of intelligence.