14.03.02, Tsougarakis, The Latin Religious Orders in Medieval Greece

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Christopher H. MacEvitt

The Medieval Review 14.03.02

Tsougarakis, Nickiphoros I.. The Latin Religious Orders in Medieval Greece, 1204-1500 . Medieval Church Studies, 18. Turnhout: Brepols, 2012. Pp. xxiii, 391. ISBN: 978-2-503-53229-5.

Reviewed by:
Christopher H. MacEvitt
Dartmouth College

In the wake of the Fourth Crusade, assorted Latin principalities and colonial powers came to rule Greece, with some areas remaining under Latin rule until the seventeenth century (and the Ionian Islands remained under Venetian control until the end of the eighteenth). The religious Orders of Latin Christianity--Cistercians, Franciscans, Dominicans, and others--followed close behind the crusaders (indeed, some Cistercians participated in the crusade), establishing convents and dependencies throughout Greece and its islands. Their presence lingered sometimes longer than Latin political power: the Dominicans, for example, maintained a community on Chios until the eighteenth century, hundreds of years after Genoese rule on the island had collapsed. Tsougarakis's book offers a detailed survey of these communities and their activities during the three centuries of Latin rule.

Tsougarakis's book is clearly organized. Following an introductory chapter on Latin Greece--defined to encompass Constantinople and its immediate environs, as well as mainland Greece, the Aegean, and the Ionian islands--subsequent chapters examine the Cistercians and Benedictines, the Franciscans, the Dominicans, the Crociferi, and the Augustinian friars respectively, as well as a short chapter on assorted smaller orders, and a final chapter usefully summarizing the conclusions of the whole book. To the great benefit of the reader, each chapter begins with a map showing the locations of each group's churches, convents, and dependencies. Tsougarakis methodically discusses each convent and church, outlining the finances, leadership, and role in the local community. The second part of each chapter covers broader themes and questions particular to each group: for example, the role of the Dominicans in negotiations for the union of the Latin and Greek churches.

The first chapter gives general background to Latin Greece, distinguishing between the territories of the Franks (or the French) and the Venetians. Tsougarakis does not discuss the Genoese, although they play a significant role in his book--they perhaps are not included in the first chapter because they did not play a significant role in the crusade. Tsougarakis places Latin Greece in the context of other frontier areas, such as Spain, the Baltic, and the Latin East, also the products of crusading efforts. He also discusses "Greco-Latin Relations," attending to the differences between the Frankish and the Venetian lands, as well as the different approaches of Greek scholars on the one hand and western European and American ones on the other. Greek scholarship, Tsougarakis asserts, has tended to emphasize the division between Greek and Latin, while western European and American scholars have paid greater attention to evidence of integration. Tsougarakis offers criticism of the arguments of some scholars, but stakes out no particular position on the larger question, preferring to pay attention to interaction on a smaller and more regional scale, though he is curiously apologetic about discussing the subject at all. The chapter is a fine overview of the subject, but this reader, at least, hoped to read how Tsougarakis's own study might contribute to the discussion. While it is clear his work certainly does, he is notably reticent to make any claims, and his contribution is too often implicit rather than explicit.

The second chapter discusses the Cistercians and the Benedictines, who were the earliest to establish communities in the new territories. Heavily involved in the planning and execution of the Fourth Crusade, the Cistercians nevertheless did not flourish in Latin Greece, despite enthusiasm for their mission from both the papacy and the Frankish aristocracy. Following the work of Brenda Bolton and Elizabeth Brown, Tsougarakis argues that this was because the Cistercians were not able to follow their normal practice of establishing their convents in isolated rural areas, due to security concerns. Nor does there seem to be any evidence of conversi in Greece, suggesting that the Cistercians were not working their lands themselves. The Cistercians could not fulfill the role they had so usefully occupied in other frontier zones, bringing unused land into cultivation and settling sparsely-populated areas--in large part due to the limited land resources of Latin Greece, where the aristocracy, the secular church and monasteries all competed for land, a significant portion of which remained vested in Greek archontic families. One Cistercian house did particularly flourish--the nunnery of Percheio in Constantinople. The house was probably founded by the imperial family, and was the wealthiest monastery in Latin Greece. While this is not an explicit theme, Tsougarakis discusses in various places the role female monasteries played in Latin communities, another rich theme that deserves greater emphasis. Within sixty years of the conquest of Greece, however, the Cistercian presence had been reduced to three, or perhaps only one.

The next two chapters are devoted to the Franciscans and Dominicans, respectively. The Franciscans, Tsougarakis shows, were closely allied with the Venetians in their territories in the Aegean, such as Crete and Negroponte. The Dominicans, on the other hand, tended to prosper in the Genoese territories, such as Chios. Both orders came into conflict with the secular church--indeed, Tsougarakis argues that the Venetians found the Franciscans convenient allies in limiting the power of the secular church and the papacy in their colonies. He does not neglect, however, the prominent role the Franciscans took as diplomats for the papacy, or the work of the Dominicans towards the union of the churches. The mendicants were seemingly far better endowed than the secular church, and as in other parts of the Latin Christian world, bishops and secular clergy bitterly resented their usurpation of burial rights, and the fees that went along with them.

Although both orders were ideologically committed to preaching to heretics and schismatics, Tsougarakis argues that there is little evidence for direct preaching to Greek communities, and even less evidence of success. The Dominicans did manage to convert some Constantinopolitan scholars, such as Demetrius Cydones, the Chrysoberges brothers, and others, but this was not achieved through the preaching that was the friars' claim to fame, but through less formal meetings and exchanges. Instead, the friars were far more effective in maintaining Latin communities, particularly those who might be in danger of assimilating into the encompassing Greek surroundings. Tsougarakis's findings fit in well with what historians have been arguing in other studies. Robin Vose (in his book Dominicans, Muslims, and Jews in the Medieval Crown of Aragon, uncited by Tsougarakis), for example, argues that in contrast to the dominant historiographic tradition, the Dominicans devoted little effort to the conversion of non-Christians. Tsougarakis and Vose both argue that the primary effect of the mendicant orders was to strengthen Latin Christian affiliation, particularly in areas with many competing religious communities. Nor were the mendicants' activities in the Inquisition any more successful. Tsougarakis devotes a section to the presence of the Fraticelli in Greece, a welcome glimpse into the presence and apparent success of less-orthodox groups. These two chapters are the richest and most stimulating in the book, and hold the broadest appeal.

A further strength of Tsougarakis's book is the attention paid to smaller orders. The fifth chapter focuses on the little-known Crociferi order, a hospital order like the better-known knights of St. John, but without the added responsibility of military defense. The Crociferi had only two convents in the Latin east, one in Crete and one in Negroponte, both Venetian territories. The sixth chapter examines the Augustinian friars, while the short seventh chapter covers groups with a limited presence in Latin Greece: regular canons, Servites, and Carmelites.

Tsougarakis's book is a substantial contribution to the study of Greece after 1204, providing a useful catalog of the many churches, convents, and dependencies of the religious orders; more than that, however, it illuminates the richness and distinctiveness of the late medieval Aegean world. Noticeably missing from the book, however, are the churches and convents of the military orders, which Tsougarakis argues were fundamentally different than other orders. While the exclusion of the Hospitaller Ordenstaat on Rhodes makes sense, the inclusion of the foundations of the Hospitallers, Templars, and the Order of St. Sampson (founded in Constantinople) in Latin Greece would have significantly deepened the book, particularly as some of the other orders he discusses were hospital orders. The book uses a variety of sources, but draws its richest material from the Archivio di Stato in Venice, such as the collection of wills from Crete and other notarial documents. As noted in his title, Tsougarakis ventures only up to 1500, by which time most of the Latin Greece had come under Ottoman rule. While this is sensible in many ways, Tsougarakis admits that the best documentation for many convents survives from the early modern period, and the reader can only hope that someone will follow up on Tsougarakis's meticulous work with research on those last fascinating centuries. It is unfortunate that the index does not list the churches by the city in which they are found; this would make the richness of the book considerably more user-friendly. I was somewhat surprised by the lack of archaeological and architectural material in the book; medieval Greece has been the focus of considerable archaeological work recently, but very little of this appears in the book. There are no plans of buildings, and very few descriptions of what might still remain. While Tsougarakis is not an art historian, an acknowledgement and discussion of the contribution of this body of evidence would have been appropriate.

Despite Tsougarakis's evident interest in the question of religious interaction between Greeks and Latins, he rarely discusses the connections between Greek and Latin monasticism specifically. Greece had of course been home to monastic communities for centuries before the Fourth Crusade, yet Tsougarakis never ties monasticism's earlier history and its instantiation under the Latin occupation. Yet his own work demonstrates that the Latins often occupied older Greek monasteries, and many churches and convents were alternately occupied by both groups successively. What was the dynamic of this relationship? How did the long history of Greek monasticism affect Latin communities and vice versa? Nor does the book discuss what presence Greek communities continued to have in Latin Greece. The absence of such concerns is in part, I suspect, a consequence of the organization of Tsougarakis's study, which is structured around specific religious communities and orders, rather than by themes or a central argument. Both approaches of course have advantages and disadvantages; The Latin Religious Orders in Medieval Greece will generally be useful to students and academics as a resource for those researching Latin Greece, but is unlikely to be read through. The book brings to the attention of scholars a valuable body of archival material and presents it in a systematic, enlightening, and accessible manner.

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Christopher H. MacEvitt

Dartmouth College