29 January 2014

The Dynatoi

The dynatoi at dinner.
Outer narthex of the Katholikon,
Vatopedi Monastery, Mt. Athos.

In Emperor or Manager: Power and Political Ideology in Byzantium before 1453, Antonia Kiousopoulou has collected a list of 80 court officials and 44 ambassadors for Constantinople in that period. Twenty-five, or 17%, of these have the name either of Palaiologos or Kantakuzenos or of both, and fifteen more, or 28%, have other imperial names. Twenty-four, 16.6%, have the names of archons on the list of Moreotes giving allegiance to Mehmed. Some of the names on Kiousopoulou's lists overlap, but that reinforces her point:  the administration of the Eastern Empire depended on comparatively few people, used over and over .

I have made attempts at a similar list for the 15th-century Morea up through 1460, though not classified by position, and have compiled a preliminary, experimental list of 172 individuals who could be considered the dynatoi of the Morea in the fifteenth century -- archons, court officials, church officials, landholders, and wives. The 39 individuals with names from the archon list (twelve individuals, thirteen names) count for 22% of the total (another indication of the representative status of the group which made an arrangement with Mehmed), while 35 individuals named Palaiologos and 20 with other imperial names (Angelos, Asan, Doukas, Kantakuzenos, Laskaris) count for 31% (Kiousopoulou has 28%). 

The largest number of non-imperial names is the 10 Rallades (some were first cousins of the Palaiologos brothers). These groups overlap, and some individuals have names from more than one category or imperial families , while one extraordinary name has five imperial and four archon components (Ioannis Doukas Angelos Palaiologos Rallis Laskaris Tornikes Philanthropenos Asan who died young, commemorated in a burial icon at Megaspilion, now destroyed). There are two imperial names out of the thirteen on the archon list. Again, this is by no means intended to be a definitive list of names, but it gives a broad indication of how power clotted within a self-reinforcing group of individuals.

I doubt that I could put together a list of even 50 names of non-dynatoi Greeks from the same period.

Writer after writer in the last 80 years of the Morea mentioned the rapaciousness and brutality of the dynatoiGemistos gave them the responsibility for the pathetic condition of the Morea. Bessarion thought there were a few good men among the dynatoi, but that their efforts were far outweighed by what the rest had done.  Michael Choniates was writing on the same topic 250 years earlier.  I will not continue on that theme now: I have written about their actions in a draft chapter for my book.

I have found a single effort toward change.  When Constantine made Sphrantzes governor of Mistra, he said:
You are to stay here and govern your command well. You are to put an end to the many instances of injustice and reduce the power of the numerous local lords. Make it clear to everybody here that you are in charge and that I am sole lord (ὡς ἐμὲ μόνον αὐθεντην).

We know nothing about what Sphrantzes did.

22 January 2014

The better classes and the common people

Dedicatory inscription, Archangel Michael, Polemitas, Mani. 1278.

I've recently come across some fascinating articles (see below) by Sophia Kalopissi-Verti which have given me another glimpse of the Morea villages and people I have written about several times here (see, for example, "Mapping the Territory," Part 1 & Part 2) These articles concern the evidence to be found in church inscriptions, specifically inscriptions of church foundations and donations by entire villages. Most of them are from the 13th century with a few from the 14th, and very very few from the 15th -- following the pattern of inscriptions and records of donations to churches from individuals.  The two illustrated here are from churches in Mani, single-aisled, barrel-vaulted little churches like those we see off to the side of the road or up on the hillside. Nearly all the village inscriptions are found in similar churches.

In a few cases, all of the villagers are named, as they are in the Polemitas inscription (above), which gives the names of thirty individuals and their families, and lists their donations: a threshing floor, vegetable gardens, fields, olive trees.  We get a clear picture of the modest economic situation of the villagers when we see the small size of the patches of land offered, most often 1/4 to 1/2 of a modios (or stremma) 1000 square meters. Or when we see that one gift was 1/2 of an olive tree. At the same time, as Kalopissi-Verti points out, the gifts give an idea of the cost of constructing and maintaining a church that is 6.7m x 3.25m.  We know the name of the church's painter: Georgios Konstantinionas.

The inscription at Kepoula (below), is more specific about costs, detailing the coins given by twelve villagers and their families. The village lector and notary together donated 8 nomismata, while the rest of the villagers gave from 1/4 to 1 nomisma, for a total of 14 1/2 nomismata which seems to have been the cost of constructing a similar church that is 3.95m x 2.43. The painters were Nikolaos and Theodoros.

Dedicatory inscription, Holy Anargyroi, Kepoula, Mani. 1265.

Archaeologists have reported finding medieval Moreote villages that do not appear to have had a church at all, but Kalopissi-Verti has a 1372-3 inscription from Crete which commemorates "the contribution, labour and expenses of the Christians of the turma of Kityros," for constructing and painting the church of Ag. Paraskevi, and lists the seven villages belonging to the turma.  This could well account-for the missing Moreote churches.

Social distinctions are maintained.  Ag. Ioannis Prodromos in Magali Kastania Mani was built and painted by the "prokritoi and the common people." An inscription in Epiros refers to the "donors small and greater."  Another social distinction can be identified: the paintings in these collectively-financed villages churches are more conservative and their painters not usually as good as those in churches financed by government officials. The church in Platsa sponsored in 1337-8 by Konstantinos Spanos, tzaousios of the area, apparently was painted by an artist from Mistra.

I have just begun with this material, and am waiting for the library to obtain for me some of the articles with the full inscriptions, but I have been remembering a trip to Greece with my youngest daughter in 1994.  After two or three days sitting patiently while I kept jerking the rental car off on another unpaved road to chase down another little church surrounded by thorns, she snatched the keys out of my hand and said, "I'm driving from now on.  Enough churches."

15 January 2014

George Gemistos Plethon at Mistra

Holograph manuscript of George Gemistos Plethon, Marciana, Venice.

A great deal of twaddle has been written about Mistra and Plethon (a name he never used) by people who ought to have known better:

. . . the imagination offers a splendid choice, whether it be of warriors or artists, of gracious ladies or learned philosophers, of the Villehardouin lords revelling in the loveliness of the countryside, of the dark-bearded Despots in their ceremonial robes discussing with their architects and artists how to add to the city's glories, or of the great philosopher Plethon himself talking to his pupils, while the Lady Cleope leaned from her litter to greet him as she passed . . .

Here strolled Plethon, the famous philosopher, surrounded by students who had journeyed from the four corners of the Byzantine world to listen to his teachings.

In fact, most of the scholars, theologians, philosophers, artists, and architects melt away with the snows of Taygetos if you attempt to find out who they were, or how many.  Consider Plethon's "students from the four corners of the world." We have, in fact, evidence for only two individuals as his students -- Bessarion and Mark Eugenikos, and possibly Scholarios. Some claim Laionikos Chalcokondyles was a student, but the source used to prove that comes from Cyriaco of Ancona who merely used both names in the same paragraph. Undoubtedly most of those who encountered Gemistos took away ideas and learning, but this is something that happens in serious conversation, and serious conversations in themselves are not normally considered school. 

We have no evidence that Gemistos was Theodoros' tutor and we have no evidence that he led any kind of pagan cell: given the intense religiosity of Theodoros II and his closest associates, it is difficult to imagine how such a deviant organization could have been maintained. That was invented by Scholarios who seems to have come to despise Gemistos, despite both being anti-Union.  Scholarios, ever the opportunist, likely resented Gemistos for being so honored in Mistra. He had wanted a position at Mistra himself, feeling inadequately valued in Constantinople, and had written a whining letter to Theodoros begging for an invitation.  Even Demetrios honored Gemistos, despite his political alignment with Scholarios, and Scholarios' correspondence with his wife.

When Gemistos arrived in the Morea is unknown. His introduction to Manuel’s funeral oration is an indication of a close relationship to Manuel, not of residence in the Morea. Gemistos may well have traveled with Manuel in 1407-8 and 1415, at which time he is identified as one of the four καθολικοὶ κριταί, the members of the highest court of Constantinople. His letters to Theodoros, between 1416 and 1418, and Manuel in 1418, about the reorganization of the Morea, do suggest that he had been in the Morea, at least for a while, but they are no proof of residence: he could well have studied the situation on trips and from documents. That Doukas identifies him as a member of the Senate in Constantinople in 1438 means little beyond the survival of the title: there was no Senate, and no action recorded for it since 1204, and in 1438 Gemistos was in Florence at the Council of Union.

A great many writers put him in Mistra by 1410, based on the theory that since he was judged dangerously influential in Constantinople, Manuel sent him to Mistra where he could contaminate the adolescent Theodoros.  This too is twaddle, if you stop to think about it.

While we have manuscripts from Gemistos, all we know that he actually did at Mistra was to speak at Cleofe's memorial service, and have a conversation with John.

The source that comes closest to indicating a date for Gemistos' arrival is Theodoros' statement in 1433, after Cleofe died, that George Gemistos had been sent by Manuel a few years earlier "to be in our service" and "our" would then have made his arrival after early 1421 when Theodoros and Cleofe were married. Manuel died in late July 1425, which would be the latest possibility for Gemistos’ arrival in the Morea. He was clearly at Mistra in 1427, as the 1433 statement confirmed and extended the gift of land Theodoros had made Gemistos in November 1427, in which he was"to serve our rule."

The problem here with this as evidence is the use of the first-person plural. Is this the royal "we" or does it have a more personal meaning? These grants to Gemistos are the only two extant Greek documents from Theodoros I have found (please let me know if there is another), and both speak of "our" service, one use of the plural in each where the singular -- τὴν βασιλείαν μου/my rule ‒ is otherwise the norm. Both John and Demetrios adjusted the land grant: neither used the plural. In the four personal grants Constantine made in the Morea, there are twenty singulars and five plurals. In the grant to Demetrios Mamonas Gregoras, which survives in a seventeenth-century copy, there are four singulars and three plurals, one of them "in our service," and all four include Theodoros in "our." The fourth grant, for Gemistos -- there are five different Palaiologos documents for the same land -- uses two plurals where it refers to Constantine and Theodoros. The evidence indicates a strong tendency towards a use of the plural to indicate more than one person and, on that basis, provides a reason for thinking Gemistos took up permanent residence at Mistra after Theodoros and Cleofe were married.

Gemistos' writings allow the idea that some of the service he provided Theodoros and Cleofe had to do with gently educating Theodoros regarding the matter of sex  (he denied Cleofe a sexual relationship for the first six years of their marriage) and it may be important that the first land grant to Gemistos was made shortly before the birth of their first child. Even if the written text comes from the Laws, considered a late work, there is no reason the ideas could not have been discussed years earlier.  Ironically, when Scholarios praised Theodoros as a ruler, speaking at his memorial in 1448, he described him as guided by ideas of justice which can also be found in the Laws.

To judge from the survivals of documents from Mistra concerning Gemistos and his family, we  assume a particular closeness to the Palaiologos family. Had other documents survived for other families, perhaps they would be seen as equally close, or closer, but there are fewer than ten survivals for other individuals in comparison with five for the Gemistos family. These five documents record gifts of land, first to Gemistos, and then to his sons. The first, from Theodoros in late 1427, two months before Cleofe gave birth, gave Gemistos a kastro and village at Phanari, making him the governor of a small territory for life, which could be passed on to his legitimate sons (γνήσιοι παῖδες) Demetrios and Andronikos.

A year later, John VIII confirmed this gift and added to it a property at Bryse, possibly considering that Gemistos had two sons who should each have his own inheritance, and probably as a gift of appreciation for the practical advice John had received from Gemistos on the annoying question of Church Union while he was at Mistra.
  (In Florence
 Gemistos recalled that when he discussed the council with John during his trip to the Morea in 1428, he warned that "your visit will accomplish nothing and get nothing for us.")

The Gemistos family, like the Sphrantzes family, was intertwined with the Palaiologos family over at least two generations: Theodoros, John, and Constantine use οἰκεῖος (member of the household) for George Gemistos, and Demetrios uses οἰκεῖοι for his sons.  There may be a slight hint that Demetrios and Andronikos Gemistos were young at the time of the first gift of land in 1427, and that they were both of age by 1433, as that year, after Cleofe’s death, Theodoros issued another document in which he made Demetrios governor of Phanari, and Andronikos governor of Bryse and a place called Kastri.  In early 1449, just before leaving Mistra for Constantinople, Constantine issued an argyrobull confirming Theodoros’ gift of lands, quoting heavily from the 1433 text. Finally, in July 1450, Demetrios Palaiologos -- conventionally assumed to have been antagonistic to Gemistos -- issued an argyrobull to Demetrios and Andronikos again confirming that of Theodoros.  Gemistos was over 90 at this point: does this document indirectly suggest that he was failing severely?

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.