20 March 2012

The Count of Paleopoli de Menelao

+ θεόδορος ἐν Χ(ριστ)ῷ τῷ Θ(ε)ῷ εὐσεβὴς 
δεσπότης Παλαιολόγος ὁ πορφυρογέννητος +
Signature of Theodoros II Palaiologos

On 29 May 1419, Theodoros II signed an argyrobull to Pope Martin V with a signature like the one you see here. Do appreciate the artistic Ts and enthusiastic accents -- they turn up in other family signatures.  A year earlier, Martin had signed a formal dispensation for the sons of Manuel II to marry Latin rite wives, and apparently the negotiators got right to work.  Theodoros' document begins, "Desiring the most serene lady, our dearest future consort, the lady Cleope Malatesta" and goes on to say that the gentleman, Mastino of San Sepulcro, has come with the marriage arrangements.

Theodoros promises that Cleofe will keep her religion ("in consueta devotione sua circa divinum cultum"), and the ceremonies of the Roman church in which she was raised, and that she can have a chaplain.  More than that, she can keep her Italian practices and customs ("mores suos ytallicos").  If he dies, she will be free to return home with all her possessions.  It didn't quite work out that way, but you can see that he was really quite enthusiastic at the beginning.

The gentleman, Mastino de Cattanei, of San Sepulcro -- a gracious city, home to the teenage Piero della Francesca -- is identified as Cleofe's "procurator and orator": he is authorized to speak on her behalf, or on her father's -- we don't know how old she was, we don't know anything about negotiations, we don't know how much leeway he had. He was probably suggested by the Pope. We do know that Theodoros seemed quite pleased with the result.

On June 19, a month after he wrote the Pope,  Theodoros signed an argyrobull -- that is the signature above, this time to Mastino de Cattanei, making him comes Paleopoli de Menelao -- Count of the Old City of Menelaus, or Count of Sparta.  This was a title that would be understood in Italy, and it turns up later in letters of 5 September 1420 and 19 June 1423 naming him as Senator of Rome. This is a grander title than it might seem: the Senator of Rome was its governor, though the term of service was a matter of months.  Another document written in Rome on 30 October 1423, commends Mastino's service as Senator. (Cleofe's father had been  Roman Senator twice, too.)  In the Cattanei palazzo in San Sepulcro, there was in the 1960s, may still be, a portrait of Mastino painted around 1600 which identified him as "Mastinus Cataneus eques, comes palatinus et senator Romae" -- Knight, Count Palatine, and Senator of Rome. Possibly he had received a title of count from the Pope, or possibly that referred to his title from Theodoros.

"Count" was not a title used in the Morea, and Theodoros probably asked Mastino or the person who wrote the document what would be a good Italian equivalent for a top-rank archon. The title went to Mastino, and his heirs.  They were permitted to make use of the double-headed crowned gold eagle in a red field on their insignia and shield, and they were free from taxes in the Morea. No one in the Morea noticed. Mastino did not actually receive possession of Sparta, or of any land: he got a title that turned out to be worth quite a lot to him in Italy.

These argyrobulls to Martin and Mastino are extremely interesting in that they are written in  Latin, rather than Greek.  Both needed to be understood in Italy.  The one to Martin has both Greek dating ("anno a creacione mundi sex milibus nonigentis viginti septem") and western ("millesimo quadringentesimo decimo nono, indicione XII, die vigessissima nona Madij"). That to Mastino is western, with slight variations ("millesimo quadrigenteximo decimo nono indicione duodecima et die decimanona junij"). Martin's was written "in palatio residencie nostre," while Mastino's specifies that it bears his silver seal with gold around hanging on a red cord, and is signed in Greek in red ink.

Who wrote these argyrobulls?

For the article and document on which this entry is based, go to:
"Un argyrobulle inédit du despote de Morée Théodore Paléologue," in
Revue des études byzantines 21 (1963) 208-220, here.

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