The Arrival of the 'Franks'
In 1204 a crusader expedition which was supposedly destined for Egypt to fight the Saracens and recover the Holy Land was diverted to Constantinople. The crusaders had not the money to pay the Venetians for their passage, and the Venetians, who longed to dominate the Eastern Mediterranean, diverted the expedition to Constantinople. The City was sacked, and the Venetians were paid with the booty. Instead of continuing with the Crusade, the Crusaders then decided to divide the empire among themselves as feudal fiefdoms.
Áll of Greece north of the Isthmus fell to Boniface III, Marquis of Montferrat, who held it as 'King of Thessaloniki'. In 1205 he arrived in Athens, where archbishop Michael Akominatos handed over to him the Acropolis, probably in order to be protected from the depredations of Sgouros. In accordance with Western feudal custom he parcelled out much if his lands to subordinates, in return for their support. Attica, together with Megara, Boeotia and Locris, he gave into the hands of a Burgundian knight, Othon de la Roche. When the Burgundians arrived in Athens, they promptly plundered the cathedral treasury and library. Otho assumed the title 'Grand Seigneur of Athens and Thebes," and took up residence in Thebes, installing a governor on the Acropolis.
The Franks formed a ruling aristocracy, and initially they did not mix with the conquered population, who were, in the main, probably reduced to serfdom. Under Othon's rule Athens prospered, but the citizens probably enjoyed little of this, as trading privileges were granted to Venetian and Genoese merchants.
Pope Innocent III sent a Latin archbishop, Berard, to replace Michael Akominatos, and Latin bishops to replace the other Orthodox bishops. The Latin rite of the West replaced the Greek rite in their churches. Áll the monasteries were placed under the control of the Catholic Archbishop. The abbot of Kaisariani promptly submitted to papal authority in order to ensure that his monastery should retain its tax exemption.
The Orthodox monks were expelled from Daphne. Despite their shared Christianity, the conquerors did not respect the monastery church. During restoration work on the cupola in 1895, two Crusader bolts were found embedded in the eyes of the famous representation of Christ as the Pántokrátor. In 1207, the pope invited the Cistercians to occupy the premisses. These 'white monks,' who knew the monastery as 'Dalfinet', added a western-style monastic cloister. The Cistercians were an austere, reformed order, and their churches were forbidden all superfluous decoration, so they may have covered the mosaics with plaster. The powerful dukes of Burgundy were by tradition buried in the mother house of the Cistercian order at Citeaux, and in imitation of this practice, the Burgundian rulers of Athens were each interned at Daphne.
The Latin clergy who came with the Crusaders were almost entirely either attached to cathedrals, functioned as private chaplains to great lords, or priests who held office in the cities and castles. The Latin priests were to remain a tiny and isolated minority in a hostile land. The Greeks saw the Latin priests as polluters. They rebaptized children baptized with the Latin rite, and washed clean altars used by Latin priests. No Orthodox archbishop of Athens was allowed to enter the city, and since the Latins had taken over the Parthenon, a church beside the Roman forum was adopted by the Greeks as their cathedral.
Many Orthodox monks may have retreated to the mountains to avoid persecution and to preserve their Byzantine tradition, and it is likely that the churches in the entrance of the Cave of Amomon (Davelis' cave) were erected at this time. The dome of the larger church is inscribed with the date 1234, and was decorated with a mural, now removed to the Byzantine Museum, which represented the last Greek archbishop of Athens, Michael Akominatos, suggesting the conscious championing of the disinherited rite. [Read about the Orthodox Church under latin Crusader rule in Between Heaven and Earth.]
The nature of the records which tend to be kept and preserved ensures that the political history of any feudal society concerns almost exclusively the fortunes of the great noble families and the religious houses. Athens was no exception, so our knowledge of the period is virtually limited to such matters. In 1207 the Latin emperor Henry of Flanders toured the peninsula after restoring order among his vassals and attended a Te Deum in the Parthenon. In 1225, the homesick Othon returned to France, leaving his lands in Greece to his nephew, Guy É. Two mďnasteries were founded during his reign: Saint John the Hunter at Marathon and the Enclosed Monastery at Phyle.
The Duchy of Athens
In 1246, William of Villhardouin Prince of Achaia, found himself at war with the Venetians and called upon his vassals to assist him. Guy de la Roche, who was technically his vassal, not only refused to aid him, but actually assisted his enemies. In retaliation, William crossed the Isthmus and confronted Guy's army at the pass of Mount Karydi. Guy fled the field of battle, leaving many of his warriors dead, and was forced to appear before the High Court of the barons of Achaia. But when Guy stood before the assembled lords, he asserted that William and the barons of Achaia were not his peers, and therefore not competent to judge him. He appealed over their heads to the most respected monarch of Christendom, King Saint Louis É× of France. At this, the assembled barons agreed to defer to the king's judgement. Guy duly appeared at the royal court, where the king decided that he had been guilty of a technical offence, but a minor one, and that his journey to Paris was penalty enough in itself. The king then told Guy he could not return empty-handed, and asked what favour he might desire. Guy requested the title 'duke of Athens', and his wish was granted. From that point onwards, the heads of the family of de la Roche rules as dukes. It may have been as part of this conflict that, as a French traveller records, an engagement took place in 1250 near the ruins of the Villa Kifissia, which, at that date, were said to be still substantial. [Read about the 'Duchy of Athens' in Athens.]
The Catalan Company
During the reign of Guy É Athens prospered. Venetians moved into Porto Leone (Piraeus). Duke John, who spoke Greek, succeeded him in 1263. He was in turn succeeded by his brother, William, who had married a Greek, and then by Guy II. When he died in 1308, the title passed to Walter de Brienne. Walter ambitiously sought to extend his territories at the expense of the restored Byzantine states. When they combined against him, he called on the help of the Grand Company of Catalan mercenaries.
The Catalans had been employed by Frederick II to place him on the throne of Sicily. Some 4,000 of them, finding peace unrewarding, had set out under the leadership of Roger de Flor, a falconer's son and former Templar, to make their fortunes in the Levant. They arrived at Constantinople in 1303, where they were used with success against the Turks in Anatolia. Having employed them, the Byzantines feared them, and sought to rid themselves of the danger by murdering Roger and attacking the Company where they were camped in the Dardenelles. The Catalans repelled all attacks, and until 13071ived off the land, raiding the countryside up to the walls of the City. Then in that year they moved west, ravaged Thrace and Macedonia and entered central Greece.
Walter offered to employ them for six months against his enemies. He paid them two months wages in advance, and for the next six months they fought very successfully on his behalf. Then they demanded the remaining four months' wages due to them, and refused to hand over some castles they had taken in southern Thessaly, pleading that they had nowhere else to go. Walter reluctantly paid some five hundred of them, and then ordered the rest to go away. They would not.
In 1311, Walter summoned all the French knights in Greece to his aid to rid the peninsula of the Catalan menace, and attacked them in Boeotia. The Catalans chose to confront the French in the Kopaic marshes. There the heavily armoured French knights sank in the mud and were massacred. Of seven hundred, only four are known to have escaped with their lives. Duke Walter himself was slain and beheaded.
© John L. Tomkinson