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Crusader Athens II

Crusader Athens II

Catalan Athens (1311 - 1388)

The Catalan Company

Athens lay open to the mercenaries, who occupied it without opposition. Afraid of provoking universal wrath for upsetting the natural order of things by ruling without the sanction of royal or aristocratic blood, the Catalans decided to invite noble patronage as an insurance. They prudently asked Frederick II of Sicily to send one of his sons to be their ruler. He appointed Manfred, his five-year-old second son. For the next sixty years, as part of the duchy of Athens and Neopatras, Athens was theoretically governed from Sicily by a succession of dukes, not a single one of whom ever actually saw the Acropolis. They each governed through vicars-general.

The first two of these officers were very competent. Despite the enmity of both the Papacy and the Venetians, under Berenguer Espanol, and Don Alfonso Fadrique the Catalans consolidated their hold over the region. At first Catalan corsairs did considerable damage to Venetian trade in the region, then in 1319, after long negotiations, Don Alfonso Fadrique agreed to disarm their vessels and attack no other ships in the Saronic Gulf, or in the vicinity of Negroponte. Such ships as they had were to be drawn on shore, a plank taken from each vessel, and its tackle to be stored on the Acropolis. They could only maintain ships in the Corinthian Gulf, where they posed no problem to the Serene Republic.

Despite the presence of a governor, the several municipalities of the Catalans were virtually self-governing corporations; according to a contemporary 'true Catalan municipalities transferred to the very heart of classic Greece.' Documents for internal use were written in Catalan, and for external use in Latin. It seems likely that over time, the poorer Catalans sank to the social level of the Greeks. Continuous opposition by the Church alienated many Catalans, and in 1322 Pope John ××II ordered the Latin Patriarch of Constantinople to take stern measures against apostates, suggesting that some of them had turned to Orthodoxy.

The Arrival of the Arvanites

The Aegean was a very disordered region at this time. In 1329-30, the Turks ravaged Attica on no less than four occasions. In 1332 Turkish corsairs raided the coast, and in 1367 tried to take the Acropolis. Another danger lay in the mercenary company of Navarre, which had found a base in Boeotia. With the support of the Knights of St. John, these adventurers, so like the Catalans in their early days, also marched on Athens. They were resisted by the vicar-general, Romeo de Bellarbe and the Greek notary Demetrios Rendi. Two years later, they withdrew into the Peloponnese.

The Athenians then petitioned King Pedro IV for favours in recognition for their loyalty in this struggle. Demetrios Rendi received lands and serfs. Á village church near Athens and the area lying around it, now part of the conurbation, and still bears his name.

In order to supplement the population of Attica, diminished by attacks from corsairs the king invited Christian Albanians to settle in Attica. In the early 1420s a group settled at Elefsina (ancient Eleusis).

The Coming of the Florentines

At this time, Nerio Acciajuoli, a Florentine adventurer who had become lord of Corinth and Megara, decided to add Athens to his dominions. He had alliances with the despot of Mistra, and the Imperial Viceroy in Thessaloniki. His forces ready, he required only a pretext. In the county of Salona, a fief of the Catalan Duchy, lived the widowed countess Helene and her daughter, Maria. Nero made her an offer of marriage to his brother-in-law, Pietro Saraceno. The dowager countess, a descendant of a Byzantine emperor, scornfully refused to give her daughter to a 'Florentine merchant." Predictably, in 1388 Athens, together with Thebes and Levadeia, was captured by Nerio. The king of Naples cīnferred upon him the title of duke.

The Catalans disappeared from Athens almost without trace. The memory of the Greeks in respect of the Catalans is uniformly negative. As late as the nineteenth century people would use the reproach 'What a Catalan!'

Š John L. Tomkinson


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