13 October 2014

The Lion

Another chapter from the Villehardouin novel I mostly wrote 25+ years ago and never completely finished. This chapter is about Boniface of Montferrat. Remember, this is fiction, unimpeded by the amazing historical research of the last two decades.

* * * * * * * * * *


Boniface de Montferrat was riding south.

Nowhere in his path was there anyone who had not heard of bloody Constantinople. Nor was there anyone who had not heard of Montferrat, heard of that Thursday in Constantinople when blood stood in the depressions of the cobblestones, when Montferrat on his massive destrier rode from the harbor gate to the great palace of Boukoleon: the streets were piled with bodies and the air was full of black smoke, and all the way his hands never touched the reins and his horse's hoofs never touched the ground.

Nor was there anyone who had yet to learn of the flight of the Emperor, of greedy, lazy Alexios III who eloped from the City with the crown jewels. Who stole from the City's defense whatever was left of the treasury of the Empire, and divided it among his doxies and his flute girls for easy carrying. Who left his Empress and his daughters and his City to the whims of the Frankish warlords.

And Montferrat, Frankish King of Salonika, reaped the benefit of this knowledge and the despair it brought. And wherever Montferrat held out his hand, another city fell into it as easily as a late-summer plum.

So it was that at word of his approach, town after town poured out its inhabitants and wealth to greet him. He rode at the forefront of his army: a towering man, broad-shouldered and with a mane of white hair, on a great red warhorse, the banner with the golden lion fluttering overhead. The road was lined with weeping women and excited children who scattered branches of laurel in his path and wreathed his horse with flowers and cried, "Na zeisete! Chronia polla!" May you live long and prosper!

And at each town, the elders came out to meet him -- the gerontes and the archons in their furs, the ephors and phylaxes and logothetes and protonotaries with their seals of office and their books and keys, the bishops with jewelled crowns and golden dragons on their staffs, the priests in tall black hats and brocaded robes. Holding their gold and crimson icons above their heads, bearing before them the silvered coffers of holy relics of their saints, and the revenues of their towns in wooden boxes, they greeted him and fell to their knees and cried, "Na zeisete, na vasilisete!" May you live and reign!"

Montferrat acknowledged their greetings with a wave of his white-gloved hand, and accepted their homage and their gifts, and then it was seen that his authority over his men was as absolute as over his horse: nowhere was anything touched, or any woman offended, or any church defiled. Greeks asked to ride with him, to join his army, for under Montferrat's lion rode Prince Manuel of Constantinople, the son of his bride and boy-heir to the throne of the Greeks.

Behind Montferrat, the cloud of dust stretched for two miles, stirred by five hundred knights and a thousand foot, their destriers and war horses and palfreys, squires and servants, pack mules and laundresses and wagons. They straggled along cheerfully, barelegged in the heat, their stockings hanging from their belts, their shirts tied around their heads to keep the sweat from their eyes. They sang:
We be soldiers three!
Pardonnez-moi, je vous en prie.
Lately come forth from Con-sti-no-ply,
With nary a lepta of money!

The long summer days were hot and cloudless, the wheat had been harvested, the markets were mounded with fruit. The knights and sergeants and arbalestriers and foot soldiers paid whatever price was asked of them, for they and their horses and wagons were piled with plunder from Constantinople. For three days, these knights and soldiers had been set loose on the City to work their wildest imaginings, and after those three days of untrammeled violence and unparalleled destruction, the money and gold and plate and jewels, the furs and silks and ivory, had been piled together; a dozen churches and convents had been filled, room after room mounded from floor to ceiling, and the Venetian bankers had spent more than a week counting and measuring and estimating and weighing. After the lords and barons and Bishops and Doge claimed the gold and jewels, the rest was divided into shares: one for each foot soldier; for a sergeant, two, and for a knight, four.

Most spent their wealth soon enough, got rid of the brocades and silks, the silvered basins and ewers, for a soldier on the march can do nothing with brocade but hire a woman to travel along and provide the cooking and washing and such that a man might need. And Montferrat held out to them hope of more wealth, for he gave away to his followers the lands through which they passed. And every day or two, the line of knights riding along the dusty Greek roads grew shorter, as the newest landholder took possession of his fief, and gave out farms and lands to the knights and soldiers in his companies, and sold off others to the hangers-on.

For Montferrat had need of loyal followers. Ambition controlled him as surely as he controlled his horse. At fifty, he craved to be far greater than Marquis, for though in the courts of France and Italy he had precedence in the first rank of the nobility, in his family he was the least. Only four months earlier, he was confident of triumph: the throne of the Empire of Byzantium was in his grasp, a prize far beyond anything his brothers had won -- though one was Regent of Jerusalem and King of Jerusalem, and the other had been King of Salonika, and even his sister was Queen of Cyprus. So when Constantinople fell, Montferrat rode on the Imperial Palace of Boukoleon -- so called because of its great prophetic sculpture of a bull locked in mortal combat with a lion -- assured the throne was his.

So sure that, on that same blood-drenched, smoke-blinded day, he married the young Queen Mother: Margaret of Hungary, twice Empress, sister and daughter to kings of Hungary, grand-daughter to Louis VII of France, and mother of the heir to the throne of Byzantium. That the Lady Margaret was beautiful, that she had both French wit and Hungarian cheekbones, was delightful, but Montferrat desired the throne far more than he had ever desired a woman and his desire for the throne blinded him to any other consideration. And so he did not consider the power of the blind Doge to control his fate. Now Doge Dandolo feared the Marquis whose lands in Italy adjoined those of Venice, and who as Emperor would rule alone, and so he gave the election to the man he could dominate, to dour Baudouin, the pious and anxious Count of Flanders.

Baudouin was crowned in Agia Sophia under clouds of incense, and gold mosaics glittering in the light of a thousand silver lamps. His robe was cloth-of-gold sewn with jewels, his mantle was of purple and furs, and Montferrat held out to him the gold crown of the Emperors of Byzantium. Six bishops together placed the crown on Baudouin's head and his thin face was shadowed by the heavy pendants of pearls which hung down to his shoulders. For all the previous day and night, Baldwin had fasted and kept vigil: he swayed with the weight and the heat, and the crown which was too large slipped.

Montferrat was first of the great lords to swear homage: the green lion of Montferrat dipped before the black and gold lion of Flanders. In white leather and silk, and emerald brocade mantle, he knelt before the new Emperor in the ancient ritual of fealty. He touched the uncertain crown with his right hand, and then, his broad shoulders blocking Baudouin from view, he placed his hands between Baudouin's hands, and swore the great oath:
"I, Boniface, Marquis de Montferrat, do hereby swear myself your liege man of life and limb, and of earthly worship and faith and truth I will bear unto the honor of my lord and his heirs against all manner of folks, so long as I shall live."
And they sealed the oath by kissing on the mouth, and Montferrat hissed, "Now keep your throne," and the spittle from his mouth spattered Baudouin's cheek and those who stood nearest saw stains on the purple.

Then was the Emperor Baudouin truly afraid, and he did refuse to invest the Marquis with his rightful lands, and the Marquis de Montferrat rebelled and took his lords and followers from the city. Already regretting the choice of Emperor, fearing civil war, and fearing for the safety of the city against Kalojan of the Bulgarians, the great overlords of the Crusade persuaded both men to agree to give the decision to Council. Then did the Council give to Montferrat the lands in northern Greece which he desired, for as the old Doge said: "Give him what he wants. He is too tall to hang." And many who had formerly supported Baudouin left him for service with Montferrat.

After humiliation and bloodless conquest, Montferrat's hunger ran thus: I am King of Salonika, but even so was my brother at seventeen. I can do more. They come to my side every day. By this time next year, all Greece can be mine. Baudouin will well have to tolerate whatever I do here because he has great need of me: without me, he is helpless against Kalojan, and he needs me against the Saracens. I can defeat Kalojan when I am ready. The Pope's lands adjoin mine: he will not risk those, and his fear for the safety of Cristendom in the East will take care of the rest. Dandolo will be difficult, but I will control the near ports, and Venice will come on her knees to me if Kalojan pushes west. With Greece behind me, I can cut through to Hungary, and when I ally with Margaret's brother, Kalojan will be surrounded. And then nothing can keep me from Constantinople . . .
* * * *
Leon Sgouros was riding north.

Late that summer, he had sent a summons throughout his lands for all men with horses or bows or swords, for anyone who wanted the rewards of victory, to join him at the Isthmus. From there, his company rode on high-walled Thebes. Expecting formidable opposition, Sgouros was taken aback when the Theban archons met him at the city gates, the gates wide open, and suspicious, when, before he could demand their surrender, they handed him a soft leather bag of gold coins and a prepared address requesting him to lead their defense against the Franks. And gave him the information that the Emperor Alexios with the Empresses, was at Larissa, a hard week's march away.

Sgouros never dismounted. He wiped his dusty face, ordered the Thebans to bring him food and water, and water and oats for the horses. Cramming the prepared address into a pouch without reading it, he began a series of brusque instructions, speaking rapidly to one assistant and then another, and never to the Thebans themselves. He demanded that the private brigades employed by the Theban merchants present themselves within half an hour, ready for service with their horses and a three-day supply of food. He assigned soldiers to accompany Chamateros to see the Theban treasurer about tribute and taxes. He assigned another aide to watch Chamateros.

When the hastily-equipped Theban guards came out, Sgouros jerked his horse's head around and started off at a gallop, followed by a small party of horsemen. He planned as he rode: How much time do I have? We have nothing to fight them with. Nothing. The Franks will come all the way down. They are unstoppable. I am the strongest man in Greece, and I won't be able stop them but I will have to fight them somewhere. We can hold them at the Isthmus for a while, do business there. The Emperor will be of little help against the Franks, he doesn't have any soldiers. As a hostage? Maybe. At the very least, I can hold him and his family for ransom. The Franks will want the Emperor, and if I have him, they will have to deal with me. The Emperor is a fool, but he has daughters. I can marry one. Then at the Emperor's death, I will be Emperor. One son-in-law already was. That other one, that Laskaris who claims to be Emperor now -- he will be the main problem. But if I have an heir who is also the heir to the Emperor. The Emperor will be no problem. He drinks. He's fat.

Sgouros arrived at Larissa after two days of hard riding, sleeping barely four hours in a night, and taking new horses in each town. He swung down from the saddle and demanded to see the Emperor. One of the servants told him that the Emperor was in bed, sick -- unable to receive guests. Sick with fear, Sgouros thought, and stalked into the Emperor's room in mid-sentence, ignoring the protests of the servants, laying out his plans. His hands made short, chopping motions. He did not bow. He ignored the presence of the girl in the bed with Alexios.

Alexios jerked his embroidered covers up around his neck. Kataramene Criste, he thought, this man is uncouth! And dangerous. And he's is all I've got. He's threatening me. He has to be controlled. He can marry Eudocia. I have no idea how a daughter of mine can have so little of what attracts a man. Takes after her mother. Thank God the others aren't like that. Too bad one of them isn't here. Eudocia is wealthy, though. Fortunate now, she's a widow. Good thing I brought her jewels along. It's going to be a bitch getting them back from the girls, but I may have to do it.

Alexios offered Eudocia, mentioning in an off-hand way what Sgouros already knew: that her private land-holdings covered much of the northern Peloponnesos; added to his, this would give him control of all the country between Thebes and Arkadia, Patras and Nauplion. Sgouros demanded the Empress Euphrosyne's lands south of Larissa for himself. Alexios agreed. He was glad to let Sgouros argue with her. Thus, in ten minutes of talking, Sgouros acquired for himself ten times the land gained by all his previous conquests: he was now ruler of a third of the lands of Greece.

The Empress was not consulted. Nor was Eudocia, in mourning, recently and brutally deprived of her husband, the towering Alexios Doukas Mourtzophlous she had adored from girlhood. In a final desperate attempt to save Constantinople, he led a rebellion to overthrow the puppet rulers of the Franks. Then the Franks attacked the Queen of Cities with fire and axe. Mourtzophlous brought Eudocia and her mother out of the flaming City by main force, butting his way through the mob, bellowing and swinging his staff to clear the panicked crowd out of his way. And when she was too tired to walk, Mourtzophlous carried her in his arms like a child.

They went to Adrianople where Mourtzophlous had land and influence. There was a month or two of quiet, and sometimes pleasure, while he brought together an army of refugees from the City and armed bands from the towns and estates of eastern Thrace. But their short javelins and unarmored Arabians could not compete with the long spears and armored destriers of the Franks, and once again, Mourtzophlous saved Eudocia and her mother, although he had to abandon the Imperial scarlet pavilion.

Mourtzophlous brought Eudocia and the Empress to their lord and father Alexios, to his small court in a villa beside a lake. They arrived in the heat of the day, exhausted, to find no one at the gate to greet them, no one at the door to guard the villa. Curtains blew in the breeze, and they heard a flute. They followed its melody through the dusty, disorderly villa to a terrace overlooking the water where Alexios reclined on pillows. The flute-player was a sparsely-dressed girl, and another not dressed at all massaged his feet. He was not best pleased at his family's arrival.

He shook his head at the Empress: "To think of what you must have gone through, my dear," he said dryly. And to Eudocia, "When will you learn how to dress?"

Thinking quickly, Alexios invited his exhausted and unwashed son-in-law into a steam bath to clean off the marks of the journey. The luxurious heat, the perfume of the bath oils, made Mourtzophlous drowsy. He stretched out for an attendant to pummel his back. Under the firm, steady hands, he drifted in and out of sleep to jerk awake shouting when rough hands seized his arms and legs. It took six men to hold him. Alexios stood by, belly hanging over the towel which he clutched with one hand, waving the steam from his face with the other and laughing loudly. He summoned Eudocia and the Empress Euphrosyne, and before their eyes the eyes of their rescuer were blinded. Which rescuer, the Emperor Mourtzophlous, was then dressed and taken to the roadway north of town where a stick was put into his hand, and he was told to start walking.

And he had started walking, and for the price of a few lepta, the beggars had pelted him with dung and stones, shouting, "Embezzler!" and "Usurper!" and sometimes, "Coward!" Mourtzophlous walked for days, asking to be directed to the next town, begging for bread, for water, sleeping against walls. Until the day when he was taken prisoner by Frankish soldiers who recognized him from Constantinople and brought him to Montferrat. "My tent is your tent," he said wryly, holding up the scarlet flap as he guided the blind Emperor to enter.

He ordered his servants to help Mourtzophlous eat and wash. Then Montferrat tried to question the blind man, but Mourtzophlous was defiant. Montferrat shrugged, "You should have treated with me long ago," and sent him on his way with a little money and food and a clean mantle. The blind giant made his way across Thrace, to the shore of the Sea of Marmara where a fisherman remembered him and helped him to cross to Asia Minor, and for a brief time, the dispossessed and those who still wanted to fight gathered around him. Such loyalty came to the attention of Thierry de Loos who held that land in fief of the Emperor Baudouin, and he ordered Mourtzouphlous arrested and taken to Constantinople.

Baudouin, tense and pious, refused to see his predecessor. He discussed heresy. He threw out problems of precedence and etiquette and entitlement to High Justice, talked about the laws of God and unrighteous kings. Talked about a man's betrayal of his Emperor and the violation of covenants. Hemmed and hawed about the possibilities of a trial for treason, about the legal definitions being unclear. Hemmed and hawed long enough for some of his captains to detect his secret wish.

On an avenue of the City stood a series of triumphal columns, one of them carved on the outside and hollow inside. Inside the column, a narrow, slippery stair curled to the top where there was a platform with a statue of an Emperor. They climbed the stairs, dragging and bumping the bound and cursing Mourtzophlous between them. At the top, they unbound him, bloody and bruised, and tried to force him to stand. He slipped and fell against the statue. They laughed, kept laughing, and one of them blew blasts on a hunting horn and shouted down to the crowd. Then they hurled the last Emperor of Byzantium off the column. And the Doge shrugged and punned, "High justice for such a tall man." He said it in Greek because it was the same word, psilos, for both high and tall, and they left the body to the dogs and pigs.

* * * * *

The Franks were less than a day away from Larissa. Sgouros in armor and Eudocia in black, on horseback and ready to leave, were hurriedly married by an old priest too senile to understand who was before him. They left Larissa within the hour, Sgouros and the Emperor first, Eudocia riding beside her mother's litter. It was sunny and dry, the imperial robes were wretchedly hot. An hour out of Larissa, Sgouros, impatient, insisted they abandon the litters which were slowing them fatally: the women could ride the sumpter mules. This meant some of the men would have to walk and carry bundles. They tried to buy more animals from the peasants who came out to look, but any animals the peasants possessed seemed inordinately expensive and unaccountably difficult to round up.

The Imperial party rode as best they could from Larissa to Farsala, and then to Domokos. Sgouros looked with little satisfaction at these rich plains and gentle hills, now his, for the officials who should have received the party, fed them, supplied armed men, and rendered homage and taxes, were inexplicably unavailable. Just after Domokos, they encountered the rest of Sgouros's army marching up from Thebes. It was a reluctant, rag-tag group, irregularly armed with the produce of random armories and piracies, contrasting poorly with the Thebans who were uniformed in scarlet tunics and scaled breastplates and marched separately. When Frankish outriders appeared on a hill, Sgouros stationed a rear guard, those men without horses, to create a delay.

The guard were quickly routed by a group of foot soldiers. The Franks bothered neither to collect prisoners nor to kill them. They resheathed their swords, picked up those of the Greeks, and set off after Sgouros and the Emperor.

Whatever his worth as Emperor, Alexios was worthless to his own party. The Brother of the Sun and Moon was left to pull himself up onto his horse, dip his own water, spread out his own sunshade. Everyone deferred to Sgouros who wore authority like a skin and ignored his bride. Eudocia was too shaken to speak, Euphrosyne too furious to keep silent. She kept up a steady diatribe against the upstart Sgouros, the incompetence and stupidity of the Emperor, the existence of the doxies, the total lack of planning for travel, and the weather. "Years ago," she whispered tight-lipped to Alexios, "years ago my brother-in-law warned you about that man. And you never listened to him, or to me, either." Alexios found himself glancing toward Sgouros for succor; Sgouros finally ordered some of the soldiers to take her to the rear of the train and keep her there.

The only chance Sgouros might have even to slow the Franks would be at the single mountain pass leading south. They halted just before the entrance to the pass, near a cluster of summer villas built on the hillside above hot sulphur springs, and the army prepared to fight. Most had short, broad-bladed swords or javelins. Some wore armor, some had chestpieces of boiled, hammered leather, or breastplates with metal scales, or even short-sleeved coats of mail. The men from Corinth carried bows and arrows, and wicker shields. The rest tried to make-do by using buckets or pots for helmets, tying quilts or rugs or even saddles around themselves for protection. Sgouros, whip in hand, wheeled his horse back and forth, demonstrating a confidence he did not possess:

"Thebans to my left. Javelins into the pass, up the hillside! Swords below. You in the pass, collect stones. Move it! Bryennios, see to them! They throw together on your command. Go for the horses! Get the horses down."

"Corinthians to the mound! Archers, past the javelins, into the rocks at the curve. Pile `em up! Block them with their own horses! Swords, below! Their foot will have to come in to get the horses out of the way. Then you swords go for them. Move! Now!"

They could hear the shouts and trumpet calls from the Frankish army, then the neighing of excited horses. The Greek horses, untrained to trumpets and sudden noise, nickered and snorted in fear, jerking against each other and entangling gear.

"Every man into the fight!" Sgouros shouted after the baggage handlers who dropped their baggage and ran after the Imperial party which was retreating into a protected stand of trees. Alexios, remembering the imperial dignity, ordered them to prepare the tents and carpets, but Sgouros galloped onto the carpets, lashing out with his whip, livid: "I said every man into the fight! Your Emperor won't need his carpets if you don't get out of this!"

He dashed back to the pass. "Archers here and here, Doukas! Now! If you can't take a man, take his horse! An arrow in the throat! Makarios, I want the javelins in the ground -- a curve from here across to here. Space them out, space them out!

"Thebans, to the left! Move to their flank, use your javelins where they're unprotected. Stay together, don't get cut off. Move it! Move it! Horsemen, watch out for the marsh on the right! Don't get forced into the pass; there's no room to maneuver, but if you can lure the Franks in, the swords can rush them."

Waving to a party to accompany him, he nudged his horse to the top of the mound among the archers. "I know what you have heard about these people," he screamed, "but they are helpless without their horses. Go for the horses! Hit the ground rolling! Go in under the lances and attack the horses. Slash the muscles in the leg or the belly. Get your man when he's coming down. Their swords are too long to fight close -- you have the advantage there. Go for the horses!"

The Frankish line was moving from the right, a long row of flashing spears pointing toward the sky. They came slowly at first, hoofs pounding in unison, and then as they picked up speed, the horses moved apart, the line lengthened and curved, the lances flashed down. They were closing fast, shouting, "A Montferrat!" The Greek horses whinnied and reared, flung their riders against each other.

At the right end of his line, near the sea, Sgouros saw his riders bolt. The first ran headlong into the marsh where they stuck, screaming; those following stumbled and turned, desperate for solid ground or a path through. The archers near Sgouros dropped their bows and started to run. He ordered retreat, wheeled his horse around, and they fled into the pass. All but the Thebans who rode toward the enemy, threw down their weapons and dismounted, hands high.

The first knights in the charge reined in their horses before the pass, suspecting an ambush. Nothing happened. It was several moments before they realized that Sgouros had disappeared and the Thebans were surrendering. The Imperial party was instantly recognized and surrounded. They were brought to where Boniface de Montferrat leaned on his high-pommelled saddle, grinning.

"Find Pallavicini!" he called as a group of men in armor rode up, pulling off their helms. One saluted.

"Montferrat!" he shouted, brandishing a fist.

"A nice ride, Guido!" Montferrat nudged his horse closer to Pallavicini.

"All dressed up and no place to go!" A loud laugh went up around them.

Montferrat pulled off one of his white leather gloves and held it out. "Your fief. This." He gestured up toward the mountains, back in the direction from which they had come. Pallavicini came closer, took the glove and brandished it. A shout went up from his company and they beat on their shields with their swords. Montferrat and Pallavicini leaned out from their saddles and clasped arms and as they released their grasp, Montferrat gave him a blow to the jaw. "Remember!"

Pallavicini nodded and made a gesture of salute and spat out blood. Then they turned their attention to the Imperial party. The Emperor, in sweat-stained vermillion silks, shook himself loose and came forward importantly.

He began, "Worthy lords, we have all met before," but the Empress Euphrosyne cut him off, demanding the courtesies due her rank. Even with the fatigue and filth of their escape, even without her hairdresser and wardrobe attendants, she showed some of the beauty and all of the arrogance for which she had been famous. She claimed friendship with Montferrat's wife, the Lady Margaret. Montferrat looked at her obliquely and sent his squire to find the young Prince Manuel.

"You know these people?" he said to the boy.

"He is my father's brother," said Manuel. Euphrosyne seized the Prince's bridle and patted his knee. She told him what a good-looking man he was growing up to be, she reminded him of how fond she had always been of him, she described what a sweet baby he had been, how advanced for his age. Montferrat looked at Manuel, amused. The boy looked steadily back at him and said, "They blinded my father and took his throne."

Said Montferrat, "Then rightly, they should be your prisoners."

Manuel was quiet. Then he took a deep breath. "With your permission, Sir?"

"No permission necessary. They are yours. What do you want to do?"

"I would like to send them as a gift to my mother."

Montferrat raised an eyebrow, grinned. "Admirable! And diplomatic!" No one looked at Alexios. Montferrat gestured and soldiers took the Imperial family away. He called to a soldier who had a woman travelling with him and told them both to look after Eudocia. His captains, meanwhile, questioned the other members of the party about Sgouros's route and intentions, but learned quickly that the cooks and bath attendants had nothing to relate. Montferrat ordered them released to follow their employers or go free, as they wished. Some enterprising Greeks in the Frankish company erected the Imperial tents, and the doxies were soon fully employed.

The party for Salonika started without waiting to spend the night. They passed a raucous group of naked soldiers splashing in the steaming sulphur water of the hot springs, gargling and spitting. More were bathing in the sea or sprawled on the sand. Some rummaged through the abandoned luggage. A leather trunk had burst open: fragments of glass glittered among the weeds. Three naked soldiers exclaimed over a great red jewel, large as an apple, hooped with gold; they tossed it back and forth among themselves. One of them saw Montferrat watching in amusement, shouted "A Montferrat!" and tossed him the jewel. He swung out from the saddle, scooped it up and in an easy continued motion tossed it to his troubadour, Raimbaut. Raimbaut pulled two apples from of his pack and began juggling them together, the jewel and the apples.

"What is the name of this place?" asked Montferrat, looking about him.

One of the Greeks volunteered, "It has always been called the 'Hot Gates'." He gestured from the hot springs to the narrow pass.

Word of the Hot Gates spread before Montferrat. There was no one who did not learn of how the army of Sgouros had fled, of how pudgy Alexios had been found hiding from the battle, his servants scattered and his women quarreling. Of how, when they came upon him, he was sitting on a rolled-up rug, trying frantically to unlace the red boots embroidered with eagles which identified him as Emperor of Byzantium.

06 October 2014

Neither at peace nor at home

Alessio Sopracasa has found a remarkable source for the Venetian-Ottoman war in the Venetian archives. A single page contains a series of 18 dated entries covering 16 months – May 1467 through August 1469 – of the war. The identity of the writer is unknown, beyond the fact that he was a non-Venetian captain with a substantive number of foot and horse serving under him.

There is also a substantive amount of information in these mostly terse entries. If compared with the Barbarigo letters, it will be seen that the Italian foot and horse engaged in open battles and sieges, while stratioti did not. Stratioti for the most part do not come off well in these accounts, but this captain was asking them to do things they did not do. The battle of 14 August 1468 refers to Greek and Albanian gentlemen who did fight: we can probably name them. This is the only source I know for paying stratioti 1 ducat a head in the Morea, and for confirming the 15thC existence of mills at Mistra. Mistra was hard-hit by the Venetians: these 18 entries recount the destruction of the fields and vines in three consecutive years.

The article from which this information was taken, and the translation made, can be found here.

* * * * * *
31 May. I rode with all my foot and horse across the alpe of Mistra and went to S. Niko, or Lacedemonia1, and won a battle and we burned it and got great booty.
4 July. I again crossed the alpe of Mistra and went to Gradiko2, a hostile fortress above the river towards Karitena, where we have agents inside. It was useless because they were double agents.
7 September. I went with the blessing of Christ to make an attack on Kalamata, formerly taken from your people, which no captain nor soldier of yours before me ever [dared]. I repaired it, fortified it, and held onto it, to the humiliation of your enemies and their confusion, and to the reputation and glory of your Most Illustrious Signoria.
1 November. I again crossed the alpe and rode against the Manassi3 in the territory of Zachonia, and took from them great booty and prey. We had Amar Bay at our backs for more than 20 miles and he was with us as far as the river of Longaniko.
31 January. I rode to the plain of Lakkoi at Greveni, a hostile fortress, and gave battle. I was not successful and my contestabile, Zuan of Zara, was killed.
26 March. I went to Arkadia4 to keep the enemy occupied and confined, so that they would not go to attack the Magnificent Provveditor and our other people who were walling and fortifying Belvedere.5
6 April. I went to waste the grain and vines at Mistra, and then rode to Gardiki and made good prey.
25 ditto. I returned to Gardiki and gave battle at the borgo. It was taken by force and then I burned it.
2 May. There were 2 frambulari 6 with 500 horse camped at Goumero and Chelidoni, which they had surrounded and besieged so that the Greeks and Franks7 who were inside would lose. I rode to the area and forced/broke through the enemy. I crossed beneath Karitena, a very strong fortress of the Turks, and with great peril crossed into the valley of Liodora8, not yet touched or seen by Franks. I burned all that valley, about 40 towns, about 100 men killed, for whom I paid out of my money one ducat a head for the most part. That night I went to the top of the mountain and made an extremely large fire, so the enemy could see, and the enemy learned from their people of the burning of Liodora and of the dead, and seeing the fire would flee and abandon the siege, so that I made this attack, liberated the land, and got good booty which we took away safely.
2 July. I went to Mistra as far as the gate where a number of enemy, and also our men, were killed. We burned the mills and wasted the area.
20 July. I went to Leondari against the Potamitti9 about whom we had intelligence, and returned them to the obedience of the Most Illustrious Signoria, with their families and property.
14 August. The Turks were at Kalamata. Sinan Bey, the frambularo, came to confront me with 4000 horse. All your stratioti fled to Mantegna10 except a few leading Greek gentlemen and Albanians who remained with me. We fought hand-to-hand for five hours, and wounded and killed a great many of them, which we did through the grace of God. The Magnificent Miser Iacomo Loredan was at the port, and if the stratioti had stayed I am convinced we would routed them.
5 November. I rode to Gardiki, a hostile fortress. I took the borgo by force and burned it.
20 April. I went back to Gardiki, which had an agent inside, and it was handed over by this agent.
31 May. I went back to Mistra to lay waste the grain and fines. We raided up to the gates. A number of janissaries (Zaniceri) were killed, also of ours.
15 June. I rode to lay waste to Arkadia, and we went as far as the mills of S. Elia. I stopped there because your stratioti did not want to go on.
July. I went to take Castel Leone.11 I took it and fortified it.
1 August. We went to the attack at Vostitza (Augustiza) with the Magnificent Captain-General12 and the Magnificent Provveditor, and took it. The aforementioned signori and your Magnificent Sopracomitti13 saw my work and my men's.

Thus, I have been neither at peace nor at home.

1The convent of Ag. Nikon at Sparta.
3This is intriguing: at least 5 Manassi, or Manessi, were kapetanioi of stratioti for the Venetians. There is a fine icon in S. Giorgio dei Greci in Venice with portraits of three Manessi.
5Pondikokastro. The Provveditor of the Morea was Paoli Priuli.
6Also flamburari = Ottoman provincial governors.
7Italians. “Franks” was a generic term for westerners of the Latin rite.
8Near Isova, between the right bank of the Alphios and the left bank of the Ladon.
9Like the Manassi, a clan of Albanian origin. The name appears in the Ottoman cadaster of the early 1460s at Kalavryta and Vostitza.
10On the coast near Kardaymyli.
11Just inland from the coast, halfway between Koroni and Kalamata.
12The Captain-General was Nicolò da Canal.

13Commanders of the individual ships.