15.11.25, Chrissis and Carr, eds., Contact and Conflict in Frankish Greece and the Aegean, 1204-1453

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Fotini Kondyli

The Medieval Review 15.11.25

Chrissis, Nikolaos G., and Mike Carr, eds. Contact and Conflict in Frankish Greece and the Aegean, 1204-1453: Crusade, Religion and Trade between Latins, Greeks and Turks. Crusades: Subsidia, 5. Farnham, Surrey: Ashgate, 2014. pp. xix, 232. ISBN: 978-1-4094-3926-4 (hardback).

Reviewed by:
Fotini Kondyli
University of Virginia

This important collection of eight essays offers new approaches to the study of interaction between Latins, Byzantines, and Ottomans in the Aegean from the thirteenth to the fifteenth centuries. It addresses a gap in the scholarship of the Crusades that has so far failed to recognize the Aegean as a key theater in Crusader activity from the thirteenth century onwards. While the Crusades are a key theme, broader discussions on interaction that cut through social and religious boundaries run throughout the volume. The editors must be commended for the high quality and originality of the volume and for bringing together specialists in Byzantine, the medieval West and Ottoman studies to examine themes of contact and conflict from different perspectives. However, the study of interaction and its impact on identity formation is explored primarily through historical accounts and other textual evidence and thus quickly turns to a narrative of rulers and elites. The lack of material culture in the volume is striking, failing to acknowledge current advances in the fields of archaeology and visual culture of Frankish Greece.

The first section of the volume explores Frankish Greece in a wider context of East-West developments. In Chapter 1, Nikolaos Chrissis discusses Frankish Greece as an important crusading frontier in the thirteenth century. This is a critical and well-written essay on crusader policies, comparing crusader activities in the Holy Land, the Baltic and Frankish Greece, and concluding that by the early thirteenth century crusading had become a customary reaction to all kinds of internal and external conflicts. It also highlights the role of religion, particularly of religious otherness, as a means to legitimize Crusader activity; in that context Byzantines were presented as heretics and enemies of the Christian faith that had to be confronted. Chrissis concludes that Frankish Greece is the missing link in the increased crusading activities of the thirteenth century.

In the same section, Bernard Hamilton's chapter on western contacts with Asia probes the development of political and economic networks in the Mediterranean and West Asia in the thirteenth and fourteenth century, facilitated by the Fourth Crusade and the expansion of the Mongol Empire. The author emphasizes the role of individuals travelling to the East as agents of change that ultimately informed the relations between Great Khans and Popes and western kings. His essay provides a concise overview of manuals and other information related to Westerners' travelling experiences in Asia but regrettably there are no maps illustrating the road networks and distances covered by those western travelers. Together with Rhoads Murphey's article in the same volume, Hamilton's contribution offers a more global perspective on interaction in the late medieval period.

The next section deals with Byzantine attitudes towards the Latins centering on the lives and writings of two prominent Byzantine personalities, Michael Choniates and Demetrius Kydones. Grounded on a rich array of textual sources, the article by Teresa Shawcross explores the role of eminent metropolitans at Athens, particularly Choniates, and their efforts to increase the power and wealth of their archdiocese and protect the resources of Athens in the Middle Byzantine period. The author then turns to the events of 1204 and discusses Choniates' countermeasures to protect his archdiocese and the local people from the Frankish threat. The article ends with a discussion on Frankish–Greek interaction at Athens arguing for the assimilation of the newcomer Franks in the local culture. The discussion on assimilation lacks further consideration of the Franks' motives and of local receptions, and does not engage with theoretical and post-colonial approaches to cross-cultural interaction and its impact on identity formation.

Kydones is well known for his political career in fourteenth century Byzantium and pro-western opinions. Judith Ryder reintroduces Kydones as a crusader theorist and rare witness to the retake of Gallipoli by Amadeus VI of Savoy and his army in 1366. Amadeus' military intervention raised a series of questions for the Byzantines. Should Amadeus be welcomed in Constantinople? Should the Byzantines trust the Latins and join them in military expeditions against the Ottomans? Ryder offers a detailed study of Kydones' speech on the pros and cons of accepting western aid. She brilliantly deconstructs Kydones' arguments and demonstrates how the experience of the Crusades could be manipulated and repackaged to function as a supportive argument for closer cooperation with the Latins. Ryder convincingly argues that Kydones' arguments were contingent on the fact that 1204 had paled into insignificance in the face of the Ottoman threat. Ryder's arguments complement Peter Lock's paper in this volume on Sanudo's changing attitudes towards the Greeks in the face of the Catalan and Turkish threat.

The third section is devoted to Latin attitudes towards Greeks and Turks in the fourteenth century Aegean, focusing on the actions of the Zaccaria of Chios and the writings of Marino Sanudo. In a stimulating and well-written chapter, Mike Carr addresses the fluid attitudes towards cross-cultural contact and conflict in the Aegean through the lens of medieval merchant crusader families and their contrasting spiritual and commercial priorities. He examines the Zaccaria family's career and activities in the Aegean, particularly their flourishing trade in alum and mastic with Western Europe and the Mamluks and their legendary battles against the beyliks of the western Anatolian coast. Carr turns to a series of letters between the Zaccaria and the Pope to discuss how merchant activities and papal interests were intertwined and points to the concessions being made to enhance the defense of Christendom in the East. The author concludes that Zaccaria's skillful use of a crusader framework to justify their actions, allowed them to simultaneously present themselves as protectors of Christendom in the East and continue their trading activities.

Peter Lock explores cultural perceptions in the fourteenth century Aegean based on the writings of the Venetian patrician Marino Sanudo Torsello. Sanudo was intimately acquainted with the political and military affairs in the Aegean through his family's political and economic networks and his own extensive travelling in Frankish Greece. Providing examples from Sanudo's major works and personal correspondence, Lock follows his crusading plans and explores changes in his outlook towards the Greek Orthodox Christians. He argues convincingly that the dramatic changes in Sanudo's attitude towards Greeks and their relation to the West reflect the changes in the political and military conditions in the fourteenth century and correspond to the increased threat posed by the Catalans and Ottomans in the Aegean. Hence, the schismatic and devious Greeks in Sanudo's Liber Secretorum, become important allies in the fight against the Ottomans in his letters of the 1320s. Lock's arguments are well-crafted and his research provides a great insight into the conditions of the fourteenth century Aegean and their impact on the construction of the "other".

The last section of the edited volume deals with the Ottomans' outlook and their campaigns to the West. Ilker Evrim Binbas examines the life and writings of Ibn al-Jazar i a Shafi i, a scholar from Damascus, who found himself in the court of Bayezid. Ibn al-Jazar was an eye witness of the Battle of Nicopolis and records his presence in the battle in two of his works; Binbas includes a valuable English translation of the sections discussing the battle. Through a long and sometimes-loosely connected to the main themes of the volume discussion of Ibn al-Jazar's biography, Binbas attempts to contextualize the role of intellectual networks in the fourteenth century Eastern Mediterranean and West Asia and discusses how they influenced and were influenced by the main political and military events of the period.

In the final essay of the volume, Rhoads Murphey offers a masterclass on late fourteenth century Ottoman politics and the formation of the early Ottoman State. He focuses on Bayezid I's rule and the transitional character of his reign, and discusses the Western frontier within wider Ottoman political dynamics. He argues that Bayezid's military campaigns to the West were not about conquest but about stability and control of the Western frontier. His true attention laid in the fragmentary political landscape in the East where Bayezid spent considerable time and resources to secure order and full cooperation of the various groupings of Anatolia that were resisting Bayezid's efforts to centralize power. Murphey adeptly compares Bayezid's use of "soft power" in the West pertaining to vassals, tributary states and diplomacy and "hard power" in the East. He concludes that Bayezid's campaigns in the West indicate only a temporary prioritization of the western front in response to particular developments before he returned his attention to the East.

In the conclusions, Hamilton provides a concise overview of the essays in the volume and offers an outstanding commentary on connections and common threads between the individual papers, thus contributing to the coherence of the volume.

This volume offers an array of perspectives on interaction in the wider area of the Aegean centered on trade, diplomacy and crusading activities. It successfully advocates for the importance of Frankish Greece as a crusader frontier from the thirteenth century onwards and opens new avenues of exploration of Crusading activities beyond the Outremer. This volume also establishes the need for more interdisciplinary studies that are geared towards the complexities and changing variables that impact the interaction between Byzantines, Latins, Turks, Mamluks and Mongols and their outlook of the "other".

This well-written and rich volume can be recommended for those interested in medieval and crusader history, as well as in issues of interaction and identity formation in the late Middle Ages.

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