The Prince of Achaia, Louis of Burgundy (1313-1316).
Manuel Kantakouzenos. Despot of the Morea (1347-1380).
A Frankish principality in southern Greece established after the overthrow of the Byzantine Empire by the Fourth Crusade (1202-1204). The French nobles William of Champlitte and Geoffrey I of Villehardouin undertook the conquest of the Peloponnese peninsula (known in the medieval period as the Morea) in 1205; the principality founded by them reached its greatest territorial extent and influence in 1258. However, following the capture of Prince William II of Villehardouin at the battle of Pelagonia (1259) and the subsequent cession of Mistra, Monemvasia, and Maina in order to secure his release (1262), Achaia continued to lose territory to the Byzantine despotate of Mistra. With the loss of Patras in 1429, it disappeared completely from the political map of medieval Greece.
Late in 1204 Geoffrey I of Villehardouin, nephew and namesake of the chronicler of the Fourth Crusade, was forced to winter in Modon as he traveled from the Holy Land to rejoin the forces of the Fourth Crusade at Constantinople. There he learned of the ease with which the Peloponnese might be conquered. Early in 1205 he sought out his friend and neighbor William of Champlitte, who was with the army of Boniface of Montferrat, then besieging Nauplia. With Boniface’s agreement, and accompanied by 100 knights and 400 sergeants, William and Geoffrey set out to conquer the Peloponnese.
There are two principal sources for this campaign: the chronicle of Geoffrey of Villehardouin (the Marshal), uncle of Geoffrey I, and the French, Greek, and Aragonese versions of the Chronicle of the Morea; they give slightly differing accounts of the thrust and objectives of the conquerors and of the fighting involved. It is generally accepted that the Frankish army left Corinth and moved through Achaia and Elis to Messenia, securing what ports it could on the way. There were sieges at Patras, Kyparissia, Coron, and Kalamata, but only one pitched battle: this was against a force of Epirote Greeks at Koundoura and resulted in a decisive Frankish victory.
The sources agree that the conquest was swift and all emphasize the conciliatory approach of the conquerors toward the majority Greek population. The Greek archontes (magnates) in the region were assured of their status, property, inheritance customs, and the free practice of the Greek Orthodox faith. On this basis they seemed to have been prepared to accept Frankish overlordship and even to cooperate with their conquerors. William of Champlitte distributed lordships to his principal followers and was addressed by Pope Innocent III in a letter of 19 November 1205 as princeps totius Achaie provinciae (prince of the entire province of Achaia). In 1206/1207 a Latin bishop was installed in Modon and a new diocese at Andravida was created at the instigation of Champlitte. Yet in all this it is easy to overlook the fact that the conquest was still partial. The Greek garrisons at Corinth and Argos held out against the Franks until 1210 and 1212, respectively, and the Skorta region in the southeast of the peninsula was not reduced until the 1250s.
In 1208 William of Champlitte returned to France, where he died by early 1209. His partner in the conquest, Geoffrey I of Villehardouin, was acknowledged as prince of Achaia by Henry, the Latin emperor of Constantinople, at the parliament of Ravennika in May 1209. The following month he was also recognized by the Venetians in the Treaty of Sapienza, which confirmed their rights to the towns of Modon and Coron in the southwest of the Peloponnese. In 1210 Geoffrey I brought his wife and family from Champagne and subsequently captured Corinth (1210), Nauplia (1211), and Argos (1212) and extended his rule over Arcadia and Laconia. Castles played an important role in the holding of his conquests, which might indicate that not all was such plain sailing as might be implied by the Chronicle of the Morea. To defray the cost of the construction of one of these castles, Chlemoutsi (Clermont), Geoffrey seized ecclesiastical property; he was excommunicated by Pope Honorius III, a situation that was settled in 1223. This gives us the one secure date for the construction of any of these castles of the conquest period.
Geoffrey died sometime between 1228 and 1230 at the age of about sixty. He was buried in the Church of St James in Andravida, leaving the succession in Achaia to his two sons Geoffrey II (1228-1246) and William II (1246-1278). During these years, Achaia emerged as the dominant power in Frankish Greece. Its rulers provided military, naval, and financial support for the Latin emperors in Constantinople. They married into the ruling family of the Latin Empire and the higher Frankish and Greek families of the Morea. The culture and chivalry of their court were widely known in Western Christendom, and William joined the Crusade of Louis IX to the East in 1249-1250. Soon afterward he completed the conquest of the Peloponnese with the capture of Monemvasia and the Skorta region and the erection of castles at Mistra, Maina, and other sites in the Taygetos Mountains. The year 1258 and his victory over the lords of Athens and Thebes represented the high point of the fortunes and aspirations of the principality.
In 1259 William allied himself with Michael, ruler of Epiros, against the Empire of Nicaea. His defeat and capture at the battle of Pelagonia led to the destabilizing of the principality. In 1261, in return for his liberty, he was forced to concede Mistra, Monemvasia, and Maina to Michael VIII Palaiologos, ruler of the restored Byzantine Empire. Thereafter, the principality was subject to continual wars and raids as it sought to reassert control of the Peloponnese; during this period, the princes appealed to outside interests in the hope of stopping the Greek reconquest.
The first such power was the Angevin dynasty of Naples, which had broader interests in attacking the Byzantine Empire. By the Treaty of Viterbo (24 May 1267), Prince William II ceded the principality to Charles I of Anjou, king of Naples, while retaining a life interest in his realm. The treaty was accompanied by a marriage agreement whereby William’s daughter Isabella would marry Charles’s son Philip of Taranto, who would succeed William and thus create rulers of the Morea with Villehardouin blood and powerful backing in the west. In June 1270 Charles sent a delegation to the Morea to receive oaths of loyalty from the principal baronage, and on 28 May 1271 the marriage took place in Trani. Philip died in 1277 leaving no heirs, and when William himself died on 1 May 1278 the title to the principality passed to Charles of Anjou. The Angevins ruled the Morea through a series of baillis (regents) with limited success until 1289, when the marriage of Philip’s widow Isabella to Florent of Hainaut provided a resident prince of Achaia. Florent was popular in the Morea and successfully resisted the Byzantines and reasserted Villehardouin claims to suzerainty in Greece. He died unexpectedly in January 1297, leaving a widow and a three-year-old daughter, Mahaut, who was betrothed to Guy II, duke of Athens.
During the late 1290s, Angevin interests were turning to Epiros, and the principality was increasingly involved in Epirote affairs rather than its own defense. In 1301 Isabella married Philip of Savoy, and the couple were invested with the principality despite severe misgivings on the part of the Angevins as to the support Philip would provide in their wider interests. Charles II of Anjou deposed Philip after he lost the confidence of the Moreote barons and invested his own favorite son, Philip of Taranto, with the principality. In June 1306 Philip of Taranto made his only visit to Greece to campaign against the Greeks of Mistra. Before his return to southern Italy, he appointed Guy II of Athens (d. 1308) as his bailli in the Morea. Isabella maintained the claim that she and her husband had to the principality from Hainaut, where she died in 1311.
On 29 July 1313, a series of marriages took place that were orchestrated by the Angevins of Naples and designed to settle and reinforce Angevin ambitions in the Aegean. One of these marriages was that of Mahaut, daughter of Isabella of Villehardouin and widow of Guy II of Athens, to Louis of Burgundy, who now became prince of Achaia. In 1314 Ferrando of Mallorca married Isabella of Sabran, first cousin to Mahaut and the daughter of Isabella’s sister Margaret. In the summer of 1315, he landed at Glarenza to claim the principality in right of his wife. By August 1316 two battles had been fought between the claimants in the Morea, and both were dead. The territory of the principality had shrunk to the western coastal strip; Messenia was in Venetian hands, and the Byzantines held the rest.
In January 1322 King Robert of Naples granted the principality to his younger brother John of Gravina. This sixth Angevin proposal for the government of the Morea was the first that did not involve a Villehardouin descendant. Mahaut was imprisoned in Italy, where she died in 1331, bringing to an end the line of the Villehardouins of Achaia. In December 1332 John exchanged Achaia for Durazzo (Dyrrachion) and the title to the kingdom of Albania. The other party in this exchange was John’s sister-in-law Catherine of Valois, the titular Latin empress of Constantinople and widow of Philip of Taranto, the former prince of Achaia. Between November 1338 and June 1341, Catherine was in Achaia with her two sons and her close adviser Niccolo Acciaiuoli. Despite their best efforts, the situation in the Morea continued to deteriorate, and the principality became effectively reduced to a small area in the northwest of the Peloponnese. As princes of Achaia, Catherine’s sons ruled through baillis and did not visit the Morea: Robert died in 1364, and Philip in 1373. The title then passed to Joanna I, queen of Naples, whose claim was disputed by James of Les Baux, the nephew of Philip of Taranto and titular Latin emperor of Constantinople. James remained in Taranto but hired Navarrese mercenaries to enforce his claims in Greece. Yet a resident prince, rather than a titular ruler, was required, as Turkish raids intensified and Byzantine military pressure was maintained.
Attempts to interest the house of Mallorca and the Hospitallers in the defense of the Morea during the 1370s proved abortive, as both found the defense and resuscitation of the principality of Achaia a task beyond their resources. Effective control passed to the Navarrese Companies, whose commander, Peter of San Superan, became captain and vicar general of the principality of Achaia (1386); he declared himself hereditary prince of Achaia (1396-1402) in the absence of any viable Angevin claimant, a title that was confirmed by King Ladislas of Naples and by Pope Boniface IX. His wife, Maria Zaccaria, took the title of regent until 1404, when she passed the claim to the principality to her nephew Centurione II Zaccaria, who became the twenty-first and last prince of Achaia, which was finally lost to the Byzantines in 1432. In 1460 the Peloponnese was conquered by the Ottoman Turks.
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