Article of the month: June

Duchy of Athens

Article of the month

Silver denier of Guy II with Latin inscription: Gui Dux Atenes (Guy, duke of Athens)

The city of Athens found itself in a decline long before the Fourth Crusade. But the situation was worsened by the arrival of the Franks, who destroyed and pillaged churches and monuments and did violence to the population. After the fall of Constantinople and partition of territory of Byzantine Empire in 1204, Athens was ceded to Burgundian knight Otho de la Roche (ruled 1205–1225), who founded a dynasty. The hegemony was seated in Thebes and included initially Attica, Boeotia, Megaris and later Nauplion (1210) and Argos (1212). Otho shared with his nephew Guy the rule of Thebes, which was annexed to his jurisdiction after 1210-1211. The duchy of Athens controlled four ports: Piraeus, Nauplion, Atalanti and Livadostro.

The Burgundians maintained their family fiefs for more than a century. Otho, after governing his acquisitions for twenty years approximately, returned to Burgundy leaving his nephew Guy (1225–1263) as his heir. The latter became known by his involvement in the strife for the Euboean succession (1256–1258) against William II de Villehardouin. In 1258 he was defeated with the Frankish coalition by William in Karydi, near Megara, and then went to Paris, where he received the title of the duke of Athens by the French king Louis IX.

In 1303 the Byzantine emperor Andronikos II Palaiologos hired a body of Catalan mercenaries in order to confront the Ottomans in Asia Minor. Soon, however, the Catalans were converted from simple mercenaries into dangerous enemies, who sacked the Greek lands. Gautier de Brienne, the last French duke of Athens, aspiring to stretch the boundaries, used the Catalan Company (compagnia), in order to achieve his goal, but without paying the agreed amount. It would not be long before the collision took place. After their victory in 1311 at the battle of Orchomenos in Copais, the Catalans conquered Thebes and then Athens abolishing the Frankish rule and establishing the Catalan rule.

The Greek population accepted uncomplainingly the change of rule. Unable to put up any resistance, the people observed passively the changes in the political situation, which did not differ from the previous one, since it did not improve their situation. The Greeks that remained in their lands and did not seek asylum in other Frankish and Venetian-ruled regions tried to survive under the new occupation in the hope that the new conqueror would ensure for them better living conditions.

Peace and order that had ceased to exist in the 12th century, when the coasts of Attica had been transformed into piratic hideaways, were restored during the Frankish occupation. The Franks organized the administration and the economy of the region on the basis of specific rules and placed church and trade under their strict supervision, a fact that influenced significantly the social organization and the life of the Greek subjugated population.

Crusaders who had at times settled in Attica and Boeotia – from coarse soldiers to French feudal lords – came from countries that were not familiar with the Greek classical culture. Florentines, however, were different: Florence in mid-14th century was a true centre of Greek studies. It is fair to say that it seems to have little influence on the Florentine conquerors of Greece, who were mainly interested in securing their territorial rights and consolidating their rule rather than seeking to experience local culture.

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