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A.A. Vasiliev
History of the Byzantine empire

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8. The Empire of Nicaea (1204-61)



New states formed on Byzantine terrirory.

        The Fourth Crusade, which had ended in the taking and sacking of Constantinople, brought about the disintegration of the Byzantine Empire and the formation, on its territory, of a great number of states, partly Frankish, partly Greek, of which the former received western European feudal organization. The Franks formed the following states: the Latin or Constantinopolitan Empire, the Kingdom of Thessalonica (Salonica), the principality of Achaia in the Peloponnesus (Morea) and the Duchy of Athens and Thebes in middle Greece. The sway of Venice extended over the Byzantine islands of the Aegean and Ionian Seas, the island of Crete, and a number of littoral and inland places. Along with the Latin feudal possessions on the territory of the disintegrated Eastern Empire, three independent Greek centers were formed; the Empire of Nicaea and the Empire of Trebizond in Asia Minor, and the Despotat of Epirus in northern Greece. Baldwin, count of Flanders, became Emperor of Constantinople and master of the greater part of Thrace; Boniface, marquess of Montferrat, became king of Thessalonica (Salonica), with power extending over Macedonia and Thessaly; William of Champlitte and after him Geoffrey de Villehardouin were princes in the Peloponnesus (Morea), and Othon de la Roche took the title of duke (sire), or, as he was called by his Greek subjects, Megaskyr or “Great Lord” of both Athens and Thebes. In the three Greek states the following princes reigned: at Nicaea (in Bithynia), Theodore I Lascaris; at Trebizond, Alexius I Comnenus; and in the Despotat of Epirus, Michael I Angelus Ducas Comnenus. Moreover, the two foreign states — the Second Bulgarian Empire through the activity of its kings Kalojan and John Asen II, and the Sultanate of Rum or Iconium in Asia Minor — took an active part in the complicated international life which after 1204 was established on the ruins of the Byzantine Empire. This was especially true of Bulgaria.

        The whole thirteenth century was full of continuous clashes and strife between these states in the most various combinations: the Greeks struggled against the Frankish newcomers, the Turks and Bulgars; the Greeks strove against the Greeks, introducing in the form of national discord, new elements of dissolution into the life of a country which was already disorganized enough; the Franks fought against the Bulgars; and so forth. All these military conflicts were followed by the making of various and, to a large extent, transient international alliances and understandings, which were easily concluded and equally easily broken.

        After the disaster of 1204 the problem of where the political, economic, national, religious, and cultural center should exist, and where the idea of unification and order might be created and strengthened, was extremely important. The feudal states founded in the East on the western models, and commercial factories, where everyone pursued his personal interests, led, under the conditions of general anarchy, to further dissolution; they could neither create a new order nor adequately manage the inheritance which they had received after the Fourth Crusade. “All these Western enclaves in the East reacted not creatively, but destructively,” said one historian, “and therefore they were themselves destroyed; but the Orient remained master over the Orient.”[1]


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