Nerio I Acciajuoli
Nerio recognised Greek as the official language of his domains. Greek elders or demogerontes had some say in the government of the city. He asked the Patriarch of Constantinople to appoint a metropolitan to Athens, for the first time for nearly two centuries. He took up office in the church of Panayia Soteria (Our Lady of Salvation). Even though the man appointed, Dorotheus, had to be expelled in 1392 for plotting against the Acciajuoli, Nerio nevertheless accepted a replacement, Makarios. Nerio also kept a Greek mistress, no less than Maria Rendi, the daughter of Demetrios Rendi.
Nerio was later held hostage by the Navarrese Company after their leader had treacherously agreed to safe passage for him to meet to discuss matters of common interest and was ransomed on the pleas of the Florentines and Genovese. In order to raise the money needed, however, the silver plates were stripped from the doors of the Parthenon, and most of its treasures, accumulated over centuries, sold to secure his release.
Between 1386 and 1394 more of the Albanians who had originally been invited by King Pedro to settle in Attica turned up, and were allowed to stay. These settlers, who generally occupied lands in Northern Attica, were usually small 'clans' of related families, under the command of a leader whose name was perpetuated in the name of the district in which they settled. These names, such as Malakassa, Liossia, etc., are still in use today as the names of the villages they built.
When he died, Nerio left a will which seems calculated to generate maximum mischief. He left the revenues of the city to the Catholic Cathedral. The income from his famous stud farm was to be used to maintain twenty canons to pray for his soul. He also ordered that the doors of the Parthenon should be replated with silver. He left to Antonio, a natural son by Maria Rendi, who was therefore as Greek as he was Italian, property in Thebes and Livadeia. Otherwise, he appointed his youngest daughter Francesca as his heir, and committed her to the care of Venice.
The Greek archbishop Makarios, insulted by the terms of Nerio's will, which he considered effectively gave the city into the hands of the Roman Catholic archbishop, Ludovico de Prato, invited the Turks to occupy the city. ┴ Turkish force arrived, but the Acropolis resisted, its governor, Matteo Montana, arranging to hand over the city to the Venetians on condition they respected the rights of the citizens. The nearest Venetian official, the baillie of Negroponte (Chalkia), sent a force which drove off the Turks, and in 1395 raised the l▀´n of Saint Mark over the Acropolis.
The Venetians were not inspired by the ancient associations of the city; nothing seemed to move them but commerce. The Acropolis was a strong fortress, and they simply wanted it to keep it out of the hands of the Turks. They actually had a lot of trouble finding someone prepared to take on the responsibility of governor, or podesta, before appointing the nobleman Albano Contar▀ni.
At this point, in February 1395, ═▀cc´lŘ da Martoni, an notary from Capua, visited Athens on his way back from a pilgrimage to Jerusalem. He kept a full diary and spent two days in the city, providing the earliest description of Athens during the Frankish period. He wrote that the city had been reduced to the size of a small town under the shadow of the Acropolis, and estimated that it had something like one thousand hearths.
He described 'the great hall' of the castle, the Propylaea, as having 'thirteen great columns, over which were beams thirty feet long, and over these beams slabs of marble. Churchwardens conducted him over 'the Church of Saint Mary', (the Parthenon) which had sixty columns outside and eighty inside. There were four other columns which surrounded the high altar, which were of jasper and supported a dome. Rain fell through the open roof there into a beautiful cistern. He was then taken to see the relics of the cathedral, which included the figure of the Virg▀n painted by Saint Luke, covered in gems, the head of Saint Makarios, arms of Saint Dionysios, Saint Cyprian and Saint Just▀n, the elbow of Saint Maccabeus, and a copy of the Gospels written in gold letters on parchment by Saint Elena, mother of Saint Constant▀ne, with her own hand. On one of the interior columns, he was shown the cross made by Dionysios the Areopagite at the moment of the earthquake which took place when Jesus died on the cross. He saw in a cleft of the wall, 'the light which never fails'.
Outside, beyond the castle ramparts, he was taken to see the two pillars of the choragic monument of Thrasyllos, between which, he was told, there used to be an idol gifted with the power of sinking hostile ships as soon as they appeared on the horizon. In the lower city he noticed numbers of fallen columns and fragments of marble. He saw the Stadium, and visited the 'House of Hadrian' (the temple of Olympian Zeus), the 'study of Aristotle, and the remains of the ancient aqueduct at the foot of Lycabettos.
Fear of the prowling Turks and the feud between Nerio's two sons-in-law, made travelling in Attica difficult and dangerous. Nicc´lŘ rode along the Sacred Way in fear of his life, and was relieved to reach the safety of Acrocorinth.
In 1397, Sultan Bezayit sent two generals with a force of 50,000 to devastate Greece. On returning from the Peloponnese, they may have sacked Athens in 1397, although such are the records that there is some doubt about the exact date, or even whether such a disaster ever actually happened.
Luckily for the hard-pressed Christians of the East, Sultan Bezayit was defeated by Tamarlane in 1402 at the battle of Ankara, and himself taken captive. This unexpected development ensured that for some time the power of the Turks would be eclipsed. This offered Antonio the chance to recover Athens for the Acciajuoli. He suddenly marched against the city. The bailey of Negroponte collected 6,000 men to go to its relief, but Antonio laid an ambush in the Pass of the Anephorites, took him prisoner, and resumed the siege of the Acropolis. After seventeen months, when the last horse had been eaten, the garrison surrendered and were allowed to leave.
Antonio paid tribute both to the Venetians and the Turks, and so preserved his (relative) independence for many years. He married a priest's daughter from Thebes, and when she died, a Byzantine aristocrat, Maria Melissini. He was able to provide Athens with an interlude of peace, when all around was in turmoil. The contemporary Athenian historian, Laonikos Chalcocondyles says that he even managed to improve the city.
Most authorities think that it was he who erected the tall 'Frankish Tower' in front of the Propylaea, opposite the Temple of Athena Nike. On a turret on top of this tall structure, beacon fires visible from Acrocorinth could be lit to give warning of corsairs in the Saronic Gulf. He built a villa by the Illissos at the spring of Kallirhoe, and took over a nearby chapel built on the site of a temple of Artemis known as Our Lady on the Rocks, for the personal use of the ducal family.
Antonio invited further Albanian settlement of areas of south-east Attica, at Spata and Liopesi, etc., where again the settlers' leaders gave their names to the districts in which they built their homes. These were unrelated to the Albanians who had already settled in the north of Attica, and even today the Arvanites of the south-east differ in dialect and customs from those of northern Attica.
There seems to have been no antagonism between the Greeks and the small Florentine community, which boasted names like Medici and Machiavelli, for Florentine rule was infinitely preferable to Burgundian, Catalan, Venetian or Turkish.
When Antonio died, the Athenians felt sufficiently self-confident to make an attempt, in the person of his widow and her relative George Chalcocondyles, to take charge of the city themselves. An Athenian archon, Michael Laskaris, journeyed to the Turkish court to gain the consent of Sultan Murad II to this coup, but he was imprisoned. Antonio's cousin Nerio took over the city and banished the Chalcocondyles family.
Nerio II Acciajuoli
Under Nerio II the city enjoyed a brief revival. Between 1418 and 1435 more Albanians were invited to settle, bringing their flocks with them. Many crossed to Salamis and Aegina. Despite occasional Turkish raids, and an outbreak of plague in ╔423, it was said that 'agriculture blossomed under the care of Albanian peasants and the wooded mountains were used for hunting and hawking.' Nicolo Machiavelli wrote to a cousin: 'You have never seen a fairer land nor yet a fairer fortress than this.'
Unfortunately, this idyllic picture is only relative. There were still pirate raids to contend with. In 1424, Turkish raiders attacked the monastery of the Annunciation, known as Daou Pendeli, on the far slopes of Mount Pendeli. They returned on the next year, and beat and tortured the sole survivor of the massacre with great savagery before finally killing him by driving a burning stake through his body.
In 1436 Cyriacus of Ancona visited Athens, wrote about his stay, and returned in February 1444. He was very interested in ancient monuments, and marvelled at the great walls which had crumbled under the weight of centuries; the marble buildings, houses, and temples, all kinds of sculptures, rendered with wonderful skill: but now a huge mass of ruins. He copied inscriptions and made sketches. On the Museion Hill, for example, Cyriacus sketched the Philopappus monument when it was still in an almost complete state of preservation. He also visited the ruins of Piraeus, and saw the great marble lion which gave to the port its medieval name.
Under The Shadow of the Turks
When ═eri´ died, his widow and Pietro Almerio, the Venetian govemor of Nauplia, her new husband, seized the dukedom, the Athenians complained to the Sultan. He replaced Almerio by Franco Acciajuoli, a nephew of Nerio. Franco banished his aunt to Megara and then had her murdered, whereupon it was the turn of Pietro to complain to the Turks. He ordered Omer, his governor of Thessaly, to march against Athens. Desperately, Franco and some of the leading citizens tried to offer their city to various western rulers if they would come to their aid. But when Omer himself offered Thebes to Franco as compensation for surrendering the city, and the Sultan confirmed it. At the same time, the last Latin archbishop of Athens made his way into exile. Ominously, a comet appeared in the sky on 29th May 1456, and remained for several days. In June, Omer Pasha entered Athens at the head of a Turkish army. [Read about the nightmare end of the Florentine rulers of Athens in Athens.]
ę John L. Tomkinson