08 January 2014

What happened to the archons?

Probable representation of an archon, 
Andreas Pavias, Crucifixion, late 15th C.

Archons essentially disappear in 1460 with the Ottoman conquest. The term was used for Greek merchants and the more-privileged Greek citizens of Venetian terre, there were no archons in the Byzantine sense in the Venetian territories, before or after 1460 -- with the exception of an Andronikos Palaiologos, and though the Venetians never granted that title, records indicate that he behaved in the autocratic, anarchic tradition of the previous generations of archons.

What archons we can trace in the Morea after 1460 are the men identified by Venetians as capi, or kapetanioi. Recall that Mehmed called Kladas re'is (head, capo -- archon). It is probable that Petro Bua, the Rallades, and the other archons who moved into the Ottoman system also received that title. The letters of the Venetian, Jacopo Barbarigo, provveditor-general of the Venetian military in 1464-65, describe elements of the transformation of the archon class into a mobile and salaried professional military class which came into its full flower in late fifteenth- and early sixteenth-century Italy with Theodoros Palaiologos and Mercurius Bua.

A comparison of the list of twelve archons who gave allegiance to Mehmed, with Barbarigo's lists, makes the change clear. Twice Barbarigo lists men who he says are the leading men of the Moreahomini da conto, zentilhomini, i molti principali, le persone de i condition – for a total of 22 names half Albanian, half Greek. The small number of names is striking. Where are the rest of the archons? Doukas gives a straight-forward explanation as of 1460:
After taking all of the Peloponnesos, the tyrant installed his own administrators and governors. Returning to Adrianople, he took with him Demetrios and his entire household, the palace officials and wealthy nobles from Achaia and Lakedaimonia and the remaining provinces. 

Rallis, Bua, Kladas, and others reappear by 1462 or 64: they were neither taken away nor killed off. But this removal, combined with emigration, is a reasonable and efficient way to explain the remarkable disappearance of what appears to be very nearly a whole class of people. Meanwhile, in the Morea Mehmed installed not only Turkish administrators and governors, but men of quality he had acquired in previous conquests. The list of timar holders includes a Russian, an Albanian, two men from Ioannina, brothers from Thessaly, and individuals from Lamia and Veria. With a very few exceptions, we lose sight of those Moreotes who might have been absorbed into the Ottoman land-holding system in the Morea. 

Outside the Morea, we know of only two Moreote archons: Matthaios Asan, kefali of Corinth who surrendered Corinth and arranged for the surrender of Mistra, was given Ainos, and a military command in Mehmed's Bosnian campaign. His brother-in-law Demetrios Palaiologos, former Despot of the Morea, was given Imbros and Lemnos, and half of the income from Thasos and Samothraki -- a total of 300,000 aspers annually, plus another 100,000 aspers from Mehmed's treasury.

Barbarigo calls the men on his lists stratioti, and says that their support will guarantee Moreote support for the Venetian effort. Since he calls them both kapetanioi, and stratioti, it is not clear what he understands by stratioti. Twenty years later, stratioti had become the general term for Greek and Albanian horsemen on contract and their leaders provisionati but within the Byzantine system, stratiotai were the men who held pronias, or what the Venetians called provisioni

What we see is a certain number of large families – Kladas, Bua, Rallis – who formerly had authority over large areas of land and taxpayers and troops, continuing within the Venetian system where they primarily commanded bands of troops. This was wartime and the land they had previously held was for the most part changing back and forth between Venetian and Ottoman control. Most of the land in the small Venetian territories -- Methoni, Koroni, Nauplion, Monemvasia -- was rented out for growth of cash crops. Some was used as payment for for stratioti where they farmed and kept their horses -- they were responsible for their own food supplies and equipment. Thus a small number of the landholding class became a professional salaried military class within the Venetian system. With the Ventian conquests early in the war, a few kapetanioi had taken over control of various areas. Manuel Rallis, followed by his son Michaeli, had taken over Chlemoutsi and Clarentza which had formerly been under the control of George and John Rallis, their relatives and first-cousins of the despots. The more specific records are of landholdings in Mani.

After the Kladas revolt, with no war at hand, the Venetians had to keep the kapetanioi pacified. This is illustrated over and over in the letters of Bartolomeo Minio who reports his helplessness when kapetanioi seized extra land they were not supposed to have, and then refused to pay taxes. The kapetanioi continued the anarchic tradition of the archons but they still needed cash and a protective umbrella. That is what they kept saying – they wanted to be under the shade of Venice, but they really wanted to do what they wanted to do when they wanted to do it. Similar pacification of certain Cretan archons, such as the Kalergis family, had been necessary for two hundred years.

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