10 December 2014

Nauplion's fiefs

15th-century remains of fief boundary wall and tower at Myloi.

It is easier to think about fief churches than fiefs, because with churches you have a definite building in a specific place. For the fiefs of the Frankish and first Venetian occupations, you have in a very few cases the name of a general area. When the Franks divided up the Argolid as of 1212 or so, it is probable that they used the general divisions already used by the Byzantines. The Aragonese version of the Chronicle of the Morea says that two Greeks who knew the whole country helped the Franks with the division of the territory. 

All we find for the Argolid is that the Foucherolle family was given three fiefs or cavallerias in Argos and Corinth, and many others were given one and two cavallarias. It is not clear how much land was involved in a cavalleria but many Greeks received them, as well as Franks. To suggest possible numbers in the Argolid, Passava and Helos each had 12 fiefs, Patras 24, Escorta 22, Arcadia 8, Damala (considered part of Corinth) 6.  A report on fiefs from 1391 gives Clarentza and Kalamata 300 fiefs each, Vostitza 200, and says the despot has 40 in Mani.

For a completely different area, in 1500, Crete was divided into 391 cavallarias. Each fief or cavallaria in Crete had 50 boine or fields. A boina was the amount of land that could be plowed in a day, and each could support two families of villani or paroikoi. There is nothing to let us know whether the Cretan system was applicable in the Morea.

The Frankish system of privatized justice and privatized military fit well with the Byzantine rule in the Morea. We have no idea what shifts might have occurred as the culture of the Franks from north-western France became the culture of Franks from southern Italy during the next 180 years or so. Venice took over the Frankish Argolid in 1394 in a treaty with Theodoros I of Mistra, guaranteeing to protect the traditional rights of the inhabitants. What those traditional rights might have been in relation to the fiefs after 180 years of foreign rule, we have no idea. The significant change Venetian rule brought was that justice and the military came under the control of the governors of Argos and Nauplion, and the fief was a means of collecting taxes which apparently became more stringent.

In the Venetian land system, all the land belonged to the state. There seem to have been several categories of land-holdings. The fiefs which were comparatively large, and were heritable. Then there were large land-holdings that were rented out for 5, 10, or 29 years. My “fief” churches may have belonged to these landholdings as much as to fiefs. There is good evidence for substantial Greek ownership of these. Another division of land came in 40-stremmata plots, plus another 5 of vineyards, which were given to the immigrants Argos needed to repopulate its empty countryside. The 40 stremmata plus 5, allowed a family to make a basic living and pay the taxes required in cash and farm produce.  

Venice tended to make land divisions relate to the productivity of the land: we don't know if the Franks followed this system  in the 13th century.  Another division of land was the territory given to stratioti who were responsible for raising their own food and horses, and we know nothing about amounts of land there. It is unclear whether an appropriate unit of territory was assigned to a particular band of stratioti, or whether land was assigned individually. Argos seems to have assigned plots of land to individual stratioti, but that may have been a special case.

Essentially, we have minimal information about the Venetian land system, but Bartolomeo Minio's letters suggest that he considered the landworkers – villani or paroikoi – hard-pressed. He does give us a little information about fiefs, and what he does say suggests fairly large divisions of land. Given the locations of the fiefs he mentions, I would wonder if the areas farthest from Nauplion were made into fiefs, and lesser divisions of land were closer.

Minio only identifies the fiefs of Kiveri, Thermissi, and Kastri. After two difficult conferences that divided the Ottoman-held territory from the Venetian, Minio writes of “the feudatories who have recovered the lands of their fiefs.” The cumulative information about fiefs gives erratic information about productivity, owners, and local morals. 

The bishop of Nauplion (who never visited his see) held the fief of Thermissi which was administered through a local agent. The bishop had half the profit from the Thermissi salt pans, Venice the other half, from which 900 kilograms of salt was exported annually. There was a fief with a castle at Kiveri (the former name for Myloi) whose primary income was from water mills. The fief's boundary line is shown above. A fief of Kastri, held by Sier Francesco Alberto, had a fortification into which people could come when under threat. Sier Francesco seems to have lived primarily in Nauplion. In Crete, landholders had to have houses in one of the main cities – Candia, Chania, Rethymnon, or Sitia. There is no information as to whether this was the case with the Venetian Morea, though the case of Giovanni Cavaza (below), combined with Sier Francesco, suggests it might have been. 

Giovanni Catello had a half-fief of vineyards. Giovanni Cunia had a fief of 200 stremmata which he was required to plant half in vines and half in grain. He apparently grew linen and was also required to have a beating yard and a machine for smashing linen stalks, for which he had permission to obtain wood and materials from Venice. Damian Agrimi seems to have had a fief (or perhaps a land allotment) near Kastri from which he shipped cheese, as did Zorzi da Londa.

Giovanni Cavaza, who seems to have been doing a little embezzling in his job as castellan of Nauplion, came into possession of one of the Foucherolle fiefs which had been in that family for six generations. At least half the fief was in vines: he also had a solid business in linen and wool. He had a house on Akro-Nauplion, and one outside the walls which he willed to his wife and then his sister. He seems to have died about 1405.

 In 1412 the governor of Nauplion gave half the fief to Manoli Murmuri, from the leading Greek family of Nauplion. After three years of suits and counter-suits, the half-fief was transferred to Giovanni Catello, from the leading Venetian family of Nauplion. This half-fief was apparently worth killing for, and this is where the story gets complicated. 

In 1416, Giovanni's brother Michali, Nicolò Murmuri, and someone's brother named Gregorio tried to kill Giovanni, who was so badly injured that he lost his right hand. Eight years later, in 1424, these conspirators bribed a villano to kill Giovanni when he was out in the vineyards . Again he survived the assault, although he received five wounds. The villano disappeared, but his brother testified against him and Michali, Gregorio, and Nicolò. Giovanni made a complaint to the Venetian Signoria against the three: we have no further information, even though the story has gone on for at least nine years.

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