03 July 2015


In the Venetian “house of the bailo,” Halkis, during restoration. 
 If it was the house of the bailo, justice might have happened here.

I have been looking for information about justice in the Morea. I have a number of examples where people, like Bartolomeo Minio, acted justly, but I have been trying to get an idea of the process. As usual, there is little information, and what there is is almost entirely about the Venetian system.

In the Venetian città in the Morea, justice was to a large extent determined by custom, with decisions made by the governor and his councillors. The governor was to hold a court every Sunday, Monday, Tuesday and Friday, with fines over a certain amount and imprisonments (other than for soldiers) dependent on the majority vote of his councillors. However, the one surviving personal account of Venetian judicial action is a narrative of -- from the anonymous Greek narrator's point of view -- prejudicial and arbitrary actions.

The anonymous Greek narration concludes with his waiting for the sindici.  Venetian justice provided for two sindici to visit each città every two years to hear complaints that locals might have against the governor and his officials.  This worked a little better than you might think: Michele Salomon served a time in prison and paid a stiff fine for overcharging two stratioti on a horse sale, for engaging in trade with a Turk from Athens in wartime, and for cheating a Naupliot woman in a business deal. Another governor spent six months in jail for adultery with the wife of a Greek citizen of Nauplion.  I can identify no other decisions by sindici for the Morea.

A peasant, hired to murder Giovanni Catello by his brothers, only managed to wound him five time. The governor sentenced the peasant in absentia to be hanged at "the forks", after his hand was amputated. We don't know if the sentence was ever carried out, but this is the only judgment I have found for Nauplion.  I wrote about this in more detail here at "The Forks."

We have a few actual records from the court at Patras, possibly a continuation of the court structure there when Patras surrendered to Constantine. Zakythinos points out that in the surviving records of the court, four of the seven members have Italian names: he sees this as an example of decentralization of judicial authority. This is much more likely to be a factor of wealth and status and in fact, the decentralization of judicial authority is better seen in the judicial control of the archons over their people. There are three surviving records of Patras court actions for the fifteenth century. One shows Thomas Palaiologos as Despot giving a decision about land in 1436 against the Jew Salomon on behalf of Nikolas de Leonessa. A second decision in 1438, again involving Nikolas de Leonessa, was signed jointly by Ioannis Kantakuzenos Palaiologos and Theodoros Erastopulos on behalf of Thomas when he went to John VIII in Florence on behalf of Constantine in Constantinople. In 1440, Nicholaos Neapolites who was also notary of Patras, had the position of judge.

Sphrantzes' instructions as governor of Mistra were "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." But Sphrantzes says nothing about what he did. Governors held their own courts and we have no information as to whether there was a distinction between a despot's court and that of a governor when a city had both. When Constantine gave Sphrantzes those instructions, he was leaving to tend to the Hexamilion and then the rest of his territories, exploring options. Constantine had created several large administrative divisions in the Morea: Corinth under Kantakouzenos, Patras under Alexios Laskaris, and Mistra under Sphrantzes. Monemvasia must have accounted for another division, although it is not named. Constantine also left a Ioannis Eudaimonoioannes as intermediary, mesazon. Perhaps Sphrantzes and Eudaimonoioannes conducted the Mistra court in Constantine's absence, as Palaiologos and Erastopoulos did for Thomas. But there is no specific information. Theodoros sat in the court at Mistra and was complimented by Scholarios:
[Theodoros was] naturally inclined to treat others well, a generous giver, very eager to praise virtue in those who pursue it, and to crown them, but very severe in dismissing those who tended the other way, and astute in exacting penalties against those caught in any sort of evil-doing, decreeing them rather in a sense of reason than of anger, looking more to aid than to deal out to a wrong-doer extremes of punishment for extreme crimes . . .

  "Looking more to aid than to deal out to a wrong-doer extremes of punishment for extreme crimes" was a concept dear to Gemistos and is a point where we can probably identify a very specific influence. In the section of his Laws on sexual misconduct, he calls for a court, συνέδριον, to vote on such matters, and though he writes with approval of burning for those found guilty of pederasty, bestiality, and rape, he wants the court to consider the circumstances of the accused, his education, and whether a period in prison might instead bring about a desired correction. Gemistos is said to have been a judge at Mistra, but we have no evidence for it. Nor do we have any evidence for any action of Theodoros as judge.
It may be a subtle comment on Byzantine justice in the Morea that Mazaris has this to say about the judges in Hades:

Don't be afraid of the judges because they are pagan. For they are genuinely devoted to justice. It is precisely for that reason that they were elevated to the supreme court.

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