22 May 2014

The bureaucracy deals with the Young Emperor and the Despot

An extraordinary diplomatic memorandum from 1418 gives a list of twenty complaints made by an ambassador of the Despotate, and twenty responses by the Venetian Signoria referring to events which involved the Palaiologos brothers, John and Theodoros. The memorandum was written on behalf of the Despot in awkward Italian: the Venetian clerk carefully reproduced the spelling and grammar of each item, and then gave the formal Latin response from the Signoria. The events had happened in 1416 when co-emperor John (Venetian sources call him “the young emperor”) was giving his brother Theodoros hands-on practice at war in the Morea. The Despotate was at war with the Prince of Achaia, and a thin strip of Achaian territory separated the Venetian territories of Methoni and Koroni.  Territorial boundaries were disrespected.  Venice had to request information from the Morea after receiving the complaint, information had to gathered and sent back, and the time lapse alone suggests the near-impossibility of handling these crises. Simultaneously, Venice was making complaints about raids into Venetian territory by the Despotate.  This memorandum is five large folio pages long, too long to quote completely, but a partial and prejudicial paraphrase will convey the general situation.

* * * * * *

[1] Despotate: What really happened in that riot is that our men were taking some of the men of the Prince (of Achaia). They insulted them, and the Despots came, and told them that . . .
Signoria: With all due respects to your ambassador, what happened is not like that. Your Despots were coming down this way to fight the Prince, and your men attacked our subjects and devastated our casale of Spanacori. They had given us warning of their coming and promised there would be no damage.

[2] Despotate: About the Albanians, the truth is that they were going to Koroni to sell a heifer, and someone told the castellan that they had stolen his goods and killed his pigs, so the castellan hanged them. Word got back. We have 6,000 armed Albanians up here -- the Despots were ready to take them to fight at Clarenza and then the news about Koroni came -- the Albanians wanted to go attack Koroni and it was all the Despots could do to prevent them!
Signoria: Our castellan didn't hang your Albanians for a cow. He hanged them for the wheat, barley, millet, cotton, clothing, wine, and other things they had been taking at knife-point from our subjects in our territory. And your Despots were not going to Clarenza: John was on the other side of the Morea at Mouchli.

[3] Despotate. About the Methoni incident, the Albanians conscientiously did not go down there to cause trouble, but to rob in the Principality. They ran into 300 soldiers who attacked, wounded several horses, and killed one of them. So they got a little excited and misbehaved.
Signoria: That's not what we heard. They came into our territory, insulted some of our people at Chinego who tried to defend themselves, then they attacked and robbed Chinego. The leader is a Greek named Koracha.

[4] Despotate. A man who lives in Methoni, a Piero Catalan, is a great friend of the Prince. He is responsible for the deaths of a number of our men because he has sold blades and crossbows to the [Principality of Achaia]. He has also provided bread and wine and supplies to the Genoese at Belvedere. He also went to Clarentza, took a number of Greeks, took them in irons to Methoni and locked them up. And then sold them to a Catalan ship.
Signoria: We have no information on this. The export of weapons from our territories is not permitted. Had we known about the sale of the Greeks, our officials would have stopped it.

[5] Despotate. One of our rebels, Lamburcho, escaped from prison and went to Nauplion where he was given refuge, then to Koroni. This violates the peace you made with the old Despot (Theodoros I).
Signoria: We have no information on this. We will look into it.

[6] Despotate. Some of your people have amazed us by trying to build fortifications on our territory. We are certain you didn't know about this.
Signoria: We have no information on this. Nor do we believe it.

[7] Despotate. We built the Hexamillion with great expense, and called our people -- top ones and little people -- to work on it, but our villani complained and decamped into your territory, and that's not right.
Signoria: Our territories are open and free to all comers who wish to live well, but if your serfs come our officials will send them back.

* * * * * *

The memorandum noted that on a previous occasion, the despotate had sent down a diplomat, Manuel Sophianos, and a certain David who inspected the damages in detail (“minute examinando”) and agreed with the Venetian estimate of loss. It also said that on this occasion the new damages did not need viewing and examination: it was just needed for the despots make restitution. The present memorandum continues for thirteen more items, providing a remarkable amount of information on aspects of life in the Morea, and dealings between the powers, and claiming attacks from Venetian territory against the Despot's people. It also makes clear that the Despotate had little effective control over its own people, whether merchant or criminal, even when it presumably had some interest in maintaining control.  


  1. I would hazard to suggest that the Venetians did not have much more control over their subjects (and some officials) in their fragmented territories.

  2. At this date, I think there was some control, although imperfect. Venice had a strong financial interest in peace & quiet. Certainly with the war of 63-78, any real control was lost & documents through the end of the century make that embarrassingly clear since it all had to be discussed with the Sultan.

    Over and over we get indications that the real problem (among other real problems) with soldiers is that they were paid and fed by their raiding. So a certain amount of territory for raiding would be needed in any week for a certain number of soldiers.


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