With the news from last week about the purchase of six of the Echidnades by the Emir of Qatar, I thought it would be interesting to read about the battle of the Echidnades of early spring 1428, a battle that is usually called the last triumph of the Byzantine fleet. The single documentary source for the battle is an anonymous encomium to Manuel II and John VIII Palaiologos and it is printed in volume 2 of Spyridon Lampros' Παλαιολόγεια καὶ Πελοπονησιακά (I can send this to anyone who needs it). The text is, I think, not quite in the right order, and I have indicated where there appears to be a gap in the copyist's work. Pierre MacKay made the translation.
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(194) There is a certain Carlo, an Italian by race, a keen and audacious man, who was very well treated by the emperors and honored in no small way, even to the point that he rose to the rank of despot He began by claiming an ancestral command over the islands of Ithaka, Zakynthos, Leucas and Cephallonia, to which he added, little by little, territory ranging from Aetolia to Thesprotia and Molossia, which amounts to a part, but not all, of Epirus, together with the part of Achaia between the Achelous and the Evenus rivers. Greeks occupied all the settlements along the sea there, but inland it was barbarians, then and now. These he threw out, some by deceit and persuasion, some by trickery, and some even by force, until he ruled it all, lands that in ancient times had held many races: Aetolians, Acarnanians, Amphilochians, Cassopeans, Dolopes, Ambraciots, Athamanians, Thesprotians, Molossians and the part of the Chaonians that is associated with the Acroceraunian mountain. These many ancient populations had in the past been strong and numerous, but are now left in extreme poverty and even the names of some have vanished. “Long ages bring long forgetfulness.” The entire land is now inhabited sparsely and in small settlements by Albanians, an Illyrian race living entirely in villages. They are a nomadic race, leading a wretched life without cities, fortifications, towns, fields or vineyards, who love only the mountains and the plains. Cities, two of which are important, still preserve the Greek race. Ambracia [Arta] situated close to the gulf or that name and lying above the innermost recess. It was settled by Golgos, son of Cypselus, located well up from the sea and the Aracthus river flows by it. Later it was moved a little inland (195) and changed its name. The other is something more recent, but still not all that recent, by the lake of Acherousia, which was established by a certain Johannes and bears his name [Ioannina]. It might be Ephyra of the Thesprotians, since that was close by this location in antiquity.
Having once gained possession of these, he purchased a town in Peloponnesus named Kyllene, from a certain Oliveri [taken by Oliveri in Spring, 1418, sold to Carlo in summer 1421]. I think it is said to be the port of Elis, and after it was captured by the Italians, it was enlarged to make a great city and was named Clarentza. I shall omit other details, since they are matters for a historian. Once in control of Kyllene, as has been told, he incorporated into his holdings the territory between the mouth of the Alpheios river and the Achelous river, near which is Dyme, an ancient Achaean city and he collected under his rule everything belonging to Hollow Elis and whatever extended from there to Mount Pholoe [1422–27], in some cases persuading Prince Centurione [by this time incapacitated by severe gout], who had earlier, from what the story tells, taken the cities of Messenia, and in some cases taking possession by force.
Having all this, and not wishing to stop there, but rather showing total ingratitude to his benefactors, in the middle of the winter season, when three years [1424–27] had passed, he seized all the livestock of the Albanians, a great many horses, cattle, sheep and pigs, and since there was a truce, this was a complete violation, but still he took them. Elis was a place most suitable for them, especially because of its depopulation, for it had in recent years gone through periods of great scarcity. So he got the animals through the winter easily, and had abundant fodder. He went down into a warmer area near the shore of Hollow - - - [Here there seems to be a gap in the copy] - - the place is visible. Gathering their forces against him they [the Byzantine forces] settled in and dug a trench around the place, and laid siege to the Eleian town, (196) bringing together foot troops on the landward side and, on the seaward side, encircling it with galleys. Carlo, learning about the investment of Clarentza and fearing it, brought together a fleet from the islands, and another from Epirus---he called also on some ships from Marseilles---and sent the combined force out under the command of one of this sons, named Turnus. The emperor sent out his own galleys with the good Leontarios as commander and general, putting everything regarding general safety and the maintenance of the men under his supervision along with the planning for a victorious engagement.
They set sail toward the Echinades until they came to the first islands opposite them, at which point they raised a banner, sang paeans, sounded trumpets and beat a sort of deep [- - -]-shaped kettledrum. Emboldened by this encouragement and artifice, they charged in and smashed their opponents, crushing the outriggers of some of them. They killed a great many of their opponents, first with archery and missiles and then with javelins and catapult bolts as they closed in as if they were fighting a land battle. They took some ships with their crews and reduced others to such ruinous states that they turned and fled. The flagship was nearly taken, together with its commander, since most of the troops on deck had fallen. Of the remainder, many threw their javelins aside and shouted to the glory of the emperor as they called out, naming themselves as his servants and begging for mercy. The rowers in the belly of the galley melted away. The flagship was almost captured, and this would have happened if there had not been an intervention of fate. Since they thought that it could not escape, the imperial warships turned to other matters.
The Tocco flagship had fallen away from its mooring and from the back-curved fluke of the iron anchor by which it had been held in place, for that had broken off. It tried make a turn (197) but could only swing about and alter its heading slowly owing to the weight it was dragging. Then it suddenly veered toward its enemy. The sails slackened, and then a strong sea breeze blew up, bellied out the canvas, and granted it the freedom of flight. It was pursued, and ran ashore on Lefcas, thus stealing its safety by running away.
Fifty percent of the Tocco forces were captured and among these many of good family, including one of Carlo's nephews. Most of those who took flight were wounded or killed. Our side gained an almost tearless victory. This triumph shook Carlo's soul; it destroyed the spirit of the opposition and it dragged down and lowered all Carlo's expectations. It gained for us all the cities of Elis, made us friends instead of enemies, relatives instead of strangers, and it gave us an alliance rather than conflict. Carlo, abandoning arms and war, exchanged them for cheer and festivity, for he gained a son-in-law in the despot, the good and noble brother of the most holy emperor, whose superior qualities would require many encomia.