Book review: Nikolaos G. Chrissis and Mike Carr, eds. Contact and Conflict in Frankish Greece and the Aegean, 1204–1453: Crusade, Religion and Trade between Latins, Greeks and Turks. Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2014. xx+232 pp. $124.95. ISBN: 9781409439264.
This collected volume of papers, focusing on the theme of crusading in Greece and the Aegean after the Fourth Crusade, is a useful group of essays that displays strong scholarly focus while also remaining open to historians who may not be immediately familiar with the field. After the introduction, the book is divided into four sections, each containing two chapters centered on a particular theme. Those who are less familiar with the history of the eastern Mediterranean after 1204 will therefore effectively be able to grasp some of the contours of the field and the way it is structured by some historians who specifically study the field. The book’s overarching theme of crusading also gives it a helpful focus that allows comparisons to be drawn between its constituent papers and the broader field of post-1204 crusade studies as a whole. None of the papers in this volume are particularly provocative in terms of their conclusions; rather, they set out to take what has already been written in the field and expand it. Again, this allows the book to remain interesting and useful for those scholars already familiar with the field without providing a challenge for non-experts.
Rather than go into great detail about all eight of the papers in the volume, I will instead concentrate on the three entries that I feel are the most compelling, because of the strength of their conclusions: Teresa Shawcross’s “Golden Athens: Episcopal Wealth and Power in Greece at the Time of the Crusades,” Mike Carr’s “Trade or Crusade? The Zaccaria of Chios and Crusades against the Turks,” and Rhoads Murphey’s “Bayezid I’s Foreign Policy Plans and Priorities: Power Relations, Statecraft, Military Conditions and Diplomatic Practice in Anatolia and the Balkans.” These three essays in particular were the most coherently argued and attempted to push their respective fields in new and interesting directions to the greatest degree. I do not intend to denigrate the quality of the other essays, all of which complement one another and contribute to the strength of the volume as a whole.
Shawcross argues that the city of Athens is particularly noteworthy for its emphasis on “regionalism” in the time leading up to the Fourth Crusade, and that this is reflected in the writings of its bishops, especially the famous Michael Choniates (c.1138–c.1222), who was metropolitan of Athens from 1182 to 1204. As a result, after the conquest of Athens by the crusaders as an outcome of the Fourth Crusade, Athenians were noticeably ambivalent about the prospect of their city being retaken by the Byzantines and reincorporated into the empire. Crowned by the Parthenon, which had been rededicated as a Christian church during Late Antiquity, Athens commanded a special status in the Byzantine Empire that could even rival Constantinople to some degree. Thanks to a series of capable bishops, Athens had acquired not only great prestige but even a great degree of wealth. Choniates saw this wealth as siphoned away by the central Byzantine government at Constantinople, and as a result the Fourth Crusade seemed to provide Athens and other Byzantine cities with the chance to be free of Constantinopolitan dominance. Shawcross’s excellent essay therefore mixes well with recent studies of Byzantine Athens, such as Anthony Kaldellis’s work which establishes that both Athens and the Parthenon had quite a fascinating history during the Middle Ages.i Shawcross’s essay also contributes to studies of Byzantine regionalism, since traditionally, scholarship on the subject has focused on the local independence of wealthy families and independent magnates such as those of the pronoia system.
In his essay, Carr examines the attitudes and rhetoric about crusading and trading in the Aegean of the Genoese Zaccaria family of Chios, who ruled the Greek island from c.1305 to 1329. He presents the Zaccaria as a case study for the Genoese and Venetians in the area on the whole. Here he demonstrates how the Zaccaria found themselves in the awkward position of acting as a bulwark toward continuing Turkish expansion in the Aegean, while simultaneously needing to engage in maritime trade with the Turks. This essay is particularly interesting because it looks beyond the simple narrative of conflict between Christians and Muslims in regard to the crusades. It is especially noteworthy how the Zaccaria made use of the rhetoric of crusading ventures to curry favor with the papacy and temporarily gain enough military strength to reverse Turkish naval expansion in the Aegean.
Murphey’s essay sets out to analyze the reign of Bayezid I (1354–1403), Ottoman sultan from 1389 to 1402. The paper’s particular goal is to examine the political reality of the Ottoman sultanate during Bayezid’s time, which is quite difficult given the problematic sources of the time period. Murphey, however, argues that the Ottoman Empire of Bayezid’s time must be analyzed as quite a different entity from that which would emerge during the mid-fifteenth century under the reign of Mehmed II (1432–1481), who ruled from 1451 to 1481. By focusing on Bayezid’s reign without the “distorting lens” of anachronistic views, Murphey demonstrates how the Ottoman polity under Bayezid was reactive and did not vest much power in the central state. Murphey takes this conclusion and uses it to demonstrate why Bayezid was defeated in battle by Timur (Tamerlane) at Ankara in 1402, stating that it was the weakness of the Ottoman political system, rather than any military errors on Bayezid’s part, that led to the Turkish defeat. Murphey portrays the issues in a fascinating light that pushes scholarship on Ottoman history in an interesting direction. Although the book manages largely to succeed in its stated objectives, it is here with Murphey’s essay that it deviates somewhat from its ostensible theme. Although Murphey’s essay is quite strong overall, I feel that it has little to do with the idea of crusading except in the most incidental ways. Perhaps the editors of the volume could have expanded its overall theme to encompass more than just the theme of crusading, since Murphey’s essay certainly should not be excised from the book. Nonetheless, this is a small quibble.
As one can see then, this edited volume provides a wide range of topics in essays that go into great and fascinating scholarly depth. The book makes a solid attempt at getting historians from a variety of different historical periods to share their scholarship and work to expand their fields by making interesting cross-cultural comparisons in their studies. In this regard, Contact and Conflict in Frankish Greece and the Aegean is certainly a step in the right direction.
Kyle Shimoda is a doctoral candidate at The Ohio State University. His research and teaching interests include classical and medieval archaeology and architecture, the crusades, and Byzantine studies more broadly. He is currently writing a dissertation on crusader architecture in Greece after the Fourth Crusade.