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hyperpyra in 1398. Two years later, after Jacob complained that the estate was
worth about three times more than the price he had received for it, experts
reappraised it at 440 hyperpyra. Jacob was accordingly granted an indemnity
of 95 hyperpyra and 8 keratia, a sum re¬‚ecting the adjustment made for
the devaluation of the Byzantine currency during the two years that had
elapsed. In this case, however, it was not an individual who had taken
advantage of the situation by purchasing extremely cheap, underpriced
property, but the Constantinopolitan monastery of Myrelaion.75 It should
also be underlined that contrary to the decline attested in house prices
during the advancing years of the siege, the price of well-protected ¬elds
and vineyards within the city walls increased simultaneously, in large part
because of the precariousness of the food situation which, as already noted,
made property with a productive capacity more precious, and in part
because of the devaluation mentioned above.
Two other court cases among the patriarchal acts shed further light on
the economic problems of the capital™s upper classes during the latter years
of the siege. In the face of her husband™s ¬nancial hardships, in 1399 the
wife of Constantine Perdikares renounced her rights over her dowry in
order to help her husband with the settlement of a debt. Byzantine law

74 MM, vol. ii, no. 613.
75 Ibid., no. 553 (Feb. 1400). The patriarchal court calculated the above-mentioned indemnity on the
basis of its ruling that Jacob was entitled to an amount equivalent to one-third plus one-third of the
third “ i.e. 4/9 “ of the corrected price (= 195 hyperpyra and 8 keratia). The ¬nal ¬gure was obtained
by subtracting from this sum the 100 hyperpyra Jacob had received initially. For the monastery of
Myrelaion, see C. L. Striker, The Myrelaion (Bodrum Camii) in Istanbul (Princeton, 1981).
166 Constantinople
protected a woman™s dowry against claims of her husband™s creditors, but
Perdikares™ wife volunteered to give up this protection. Before the ecclesi-
astical authorities she promised that if her husband fell into arrears, or if
he died without having paid off the entire sum, she would on his behalf
provide the money from her dowry. The sum in question was 500 hyper-
pyra, and Perdikares owed it to kyr Thomas Kallokyres, the same man who,
as seen above, purchased an underpriced house from an impoverished and
famine-stricken aristocratic couple.76 In a parallel case, though involving a
much smaller amount, a certain Batatzina offered to give up the legal pro-
tection her dowry had over the 20 hyperpyra which her husband borrowed
from George Goudeles.77
One can discern in each one of the cases presented above a common
pattern whereby members of the aristocracy, having used up their monetary
assets from their savings during the ¬rst half of Bayezid™s siege, were com-
pelled thereafter to seek new sources of money. Although most aristocrats
owned houses, shops, gardens, vineyards, or ¬elds in Constantinople, they
did not wish to dispense with their immovables, preferring instead to take
loans from individuals who were better off. But with limited investment
opportunities in the besieged city, and borrowing most of the time for
their daily expenditure rather than for reinvesting, many found themselves
contracting ever larger debts. Thus, unable to pay off their debts as the
siege progressed, these people were often obliged to give up the properties
they had mortgaged at the time of borrowing. If henceforth they still had
some remaining properties, they tried to sell these too; otherwise, as a last
resort they tended to turn to their wives™ dowry. In the majority of the
cases we have examined, the aristocrats who were compelled either to sell
their immovables or to exchange the dowry property of their wives had
accumulated large debts that were long overdue.
Under these circumstances interest rates climbed, which is not surprising
given the shortage of cash and the overwhelming demand for it. Whereas in
fourteenth-century legal codes annual interest rates normally varied from
6 percent for loans between private individuals, to 8 percent for business
loans, to 12 percent for maritime loans,78 and later in 1437 a rate of 10
percent on a business loan is attested in Constantinople,79 in the course

76 MM, vol. ii, nos. 536 (Dec. 1399) and 562 (March 1400). For Byzantine law acccording protection
to the dowry against debts incurred by the husband, see Peira, VI.2, XXII.4, in Jus graecoromanum,
vol. iv, ed. Zepos and Zepos; cf. Laiou, “Role of women,” 238“9.
77 MM, vol. ii, no. 581 (June 15, 1400).
78 Harmenopoulos, Hexabiblos, ed. Heimbach, III, 7.23; cf. Oikonomid`s, Hommes d™affaires, pp. 54“5.
e
79 Badoer, p. 360, lines 21“2.
167
Bayezid I™s siege of Constantinople (1394“1402)
of Bayezid™s siege we ¬nd annual rates on non-maritime loans ranging
from 15 percent to as high as 26.67 percent.80 By charging such high
interest rates, moneylenders could amass great fortunes despite the large
number of defaulters. In fact, a handful of people in Constantinople reg-
ularly engaged in moneylending at the time of Bayezid™s blockade. These
included, besides familiar ¬gures such as Thomas Kallokyres and George
Goudeles,81 a certain Sophianos, who belongs to one of the capital™s leading
families noted for its involvement in banking,82 and Jacob Sgouropoulos,
who harassed a widow in order to make her pay the arrears of her deceased
husband.83 In their quest to derive pro¬ts from the adverse circumstances,
these moneylenders added to the burdens and misfortunes of the popula-
tion, in the same way as did certain merchants who in¬‚ated grain prices
or the individuals who offered very low prices for houses on sale. Further-
more, the names listed above indicate that the people who engaged in all
three kinds of economic activity came from identical social backgrounds
(i.e. they belonged invariably to the aristocracy), including sometimes
members of the same family, and sometimes the very same individuals
themselves. It must have been this group of people, and others like them,
that the Patriarch Matthew had in mind when he reproached the citizens
of Constantinople in 1401 as “unblushing practitioners of every kind of
wickedness, attackers of our brothers in their misfortunes, exasperating
their troubles, quick to set upon their portion and to trample down and to
devour the poor.”84
Although the patriarchal court allowed the transfer or mortgage of dowry
goods in all the aforementioned cases related to such goods, ecclesiastical
authorities were not always lenient about the ¬‚exible usage of women™s
dowries. Side by side with cases in which changes in the ownership of dowry
property were tolerated because of the exceptional circumstances induced
by the siege, there were many instances when the laws concerning dowries
were applied very strictly. This seems to have been the case particularly

80 MM, vol. ii, no. 568, p. 380: annual interest of 45 hyperpyra for a sum of 300 hyperpyra lent c. 1396“7;
no. 530, p. 313: short-term loan in 1399; the interest of 3 hyperpyra per 5 months on a principal of 27
hyperpyra yields an annual rate of 26.67 percent. Compare these ¬gures with interest rates charged
for sea loans in Thessalonike in the early ¬fteenth century: see above, ch. 4, p. 65 and note 41.
81 For Thomas Kallokyres™ moneylending activities, see MM, vol. ii, nos. 536 (Dec. 1399), 562 (March
1400), 568 (April 1400); for George Goudeles, see ibid., no. 581 (June 1400).
82 Ibid., no. 566 (April 1400), p. 378. See below, Appendix III and ch. 8, p. 202 for a banker John Sophi-
anos, whose name is attested during the third decade of the ¬fteenth century in the account book
of Badoer. For the banking and business activities of the Sophianos family, see also Oikonomid`s, e
Hommes d™affaires, pp. 66“8, 121 and n. 264.
83 MM, vol. ii, no. 547 (Feb. 1400).
84 Ibid., no. 626, p. 464; trans. by Barker, Manuel II, p. 208.
168 Constantinople
when husbands tried to take advantage of the patriarchal court™s noted
¬‚exibility and encroached upon their wives™ dowries while they still
had property of their own. Indeed, the patriarchal court frequently inter-
vened in favor of women for the protection of their dowries when it was
suspected that their husbands were misusing them. Thus, when the archon-
topoulos Michael Palaiologos was not able to release from mortgage a vine-
yard, part of which had been reserved as guarantee for his wife™s dowry, the
patriarchal court stepped in, objecting to the sale of the part that served as
security for the dowry.85 Women, too, opened cases against their husbands
who did not administer their dowry goods properly, as did Eirene Synadene,
who brought her husband to court for having used up her entire dowry. The
court accepted Eirene™s request that a house in the quarter of Psatharia, her
husband™s sole remaining property, be passed on to her as compensation.86
In another case, Maria Hagiopetretissa Gabraina, the wife of John Gabras,
insisted on the legal protection accorded to the dowry against the demands
of a husband™s creditors in an attempt to recover her dowry of 702 hyper-
pyra from moneylenders. The court admitted that Maria™s claim was valid
as long as she had not, in full knowledge of the law, given up her rights
over her dowry. In addition, she secured, quite shrewdly, her husband™s
release from prison, where he was detained because of his debts, by argu-
ing that he would be able to compensate her for any portion of the
dowry that remained unrestored and also look after her if he were free.87
In 1400 a widow called Eirene Gabraina ¬led suit against her father-
in-law, Michael Monembasiotes, who had withheld her dowry of 300
hyperpyra from her since the death of her husband seven years ago. At
court Monembasiotes™ defender argued that Eirene should have requested
her dowry at the time of her husband™s death, and that she no longer had
any claim to it. Although this was what the law stipulated, the patriarch
decided in Eirene™s favor. First, he excused her delayed petition on the
grounds that women were often ignorant of their legal rights. In addition,
he took into consideration the fact that she had four children to look
after. Consequently, Monembasiotes was ordered to pay his daughter-
in-law altogether 407 hyperpyra, which included, besides her dowry, the
standard charges payable at the death of a husband. On the basis of contrary
evidence, however, the patriarch rejected Eirene™s additional demand for
a sum of 1,000 hyperpyra, which she claimed to be her late husband™s
maternal inheritance also appropriated by her father-in-law.88 Given the
85 MM, vol. ii, no. 569 (April 1400). 86 Ibid., no. 577 (June 1400). 87 Ibid., no. 523 (Dec. 1399).
88 Ibid., no. 608 (Oct. 1400). The money Monembasiotes had to pay over and above the 300 hyperpyra
comprised a charge of 7 hyperpyra for the nuptial gift (theoretron) and a payment of 100 hyperpyra
169
Bayezid I™s siege of Constantinople (1394“1402)
argument about the unfamiliarity of women with laws which the court
used to justify the delay in Eirene™s petition, one cannot help wondering
why and under what circumstances she came to familiarize herself with
her legal rights on the seventh year following her husband™s death, which
coincides with the sixth year of Bayezid™s siege. It may well be that Eirene
Gabraina, suffering like most members of the capital™s aristocracy from
a deterioration in her ¬nancial situation as the siege progressed, decided
to inquire about her remaining resources in 1400 and discovered that her
father-in-law had kept her dowry from her. As to her other allegation
concerning the misappropriation of her husband™s maternal inheritance,
unless Monembasiotes lied to the court about having turned it over to
his son before his death, or unless he told the truth but Eirene had been
uninformed about her husband™s retrieval of the inheritance, it reveals her
desperation for funds to support herself and her children during these
dif¬cult times.
If Michael Monembasiotes exploited his daughter-in-law™s limited
knowledge pertaining to her legal rights on her dowry, in 1400 a wid-
ower called Nicholas Branas tried to take advantage of his son™s minority
to seize the revenues from a vineyard which the boy inherited from his
mother. Branas™ intentions were brought to light owing to the intervention
of the boy™s maternal grandmother, Theodora Palaiologina Dermoka¨tissa,±
who had been looking after the child since the mother™s death. A short
time earlier Branas had asked to take charge of his son, but according
to Dermoka¨tissa this was merely a pretext so that he could have access
±
to the boy™s maternal inheritance. After demonstrating that Branas had
used up all his own wealth, she convinced the patriarchal court that the
accused had now turned his eyes on his son™s property and risked its loss
too. The guardianship of the child and his vineyard was consequently con-
ferred upon the grandmother, but the court stipulated that if the child
died, Branas was to inherit all his property.89 It may not be far-fetched to
presume that the Ottoman siege lay behind the economic problems which
so overwhelmed this father as to make him focus solely on his present
situation, to the neglect of his son™s future. Another widower by the name
of Theodore Barzanes, who refrained from handing over to his mother-in-
law property worth 750 hyperpyra which his wife left to her by testament,
blamed his act on the misery and confusion of the times.90

equivalent to one-third of the dowry, which must be the hypobolon. On the hypobolon and theoretron,
see ODB, vol. ii, p. 965; vol. iii, pp. 2068“9.
89 MM, vol. ii, no. 592 (Aug. 1400).
90 Ibid., no. 549 (Oct. 1397), p. 347; see also no. 550 (Nov. 1397).
170 Constantinople
Finally, a court case from the year 1400 concerning another dowry
dispute that was resolved in favor of a wife serves to illustrate precisely how
the shortage of cash affected the wealthy upper classes of Constantinople
during the latter part of the siege. The dispute in question was over a
dowry of 1,000 hyperpyra which Manuel Papylas had given to his daughter
Eirene when she married Alexios Palaiologos. The latter had already spent
the cash part of the dowry, and his father-in-law feared that the remainder
would soon perish too because of the continued siege. Papylas, therefore,
demanded from his son-in-law the restoration of the entire dowry in the
form of immovable goods. The patriarch accepted Papylas™ demand and
ruled that Alexios Palaiologos should make over to his wife from his own
possessions a vineyard, a bakery, and an estate which comprised a courtyard
and a church.91 Alexios, who owned all this property, exceeding 1,000
hyperpyra in value, can by no means be considered a needy man. What
presumably prompted him to seize his wife™s dowry must have been his
distinct need for liquid assets, and not an overall lack of resources as in the
majority of cases discussed earlier.
Having observed the economic problems endured by some of the aris-
tocratic families of Constantinople, it might be inferred that the city™s less
distinguished inhabitants with more modest means had to wrestle with
even greater dif¬culties during Bayezid™s siege. Fortunately, the acts of the
patriarchal court shed light on the ¬nancial troubles of the latter group
as well. Among them was a certain Manuel Katzas, who borrowed 45
hyperpyra from his half-brother John Katzas, who in turn had borrowed
the money from a Jew. Manuel needed the money in order to release his
mother™s house from mortgage and promised to repay his brother within a
certain period. Still owing John 27 hyperpyra in 1399, Manuel was granted
an extra term of four months during which to pay this sum plus the accrued
interest. Five months later, however, because Manuel had still not made a
single payment to his brother, the patriarch decided that the house would
have to be sold. John was to receive the money due to him (30 hyperpyra),
while the remainder from the sale was to be distributed among the heirs of
Manuel™s mother.92
Another person suffering from impoverishment in 1400 was the monk
Methodios, who could no longer pay the annual rent of 3 hyperpyra for a
small plot of land he had leased for life from the church of Saint Euphemia
91 Ibid., no. 565 (April 1400). See also no. 559 (March 1400), for a related dispute between Alexios™
mother, Eirene Palaiologina, and Manuel Papylas.
92 Ibid., no. 530. This act has been dated to October“November 1399 by Darrouz`s: Reg., pp. 339“40,
e
334.
171
Bayezid I™s siege of Constantinople (1394“1402)
in Constantinople some time ago. The rent was reduced to 1 hyperpyron
owing to the intervention of the Empress (the mother of John VII) on
behalf of Methodios, who must have been a monk of some prominence
and distinction to merit this kind of imperial attention.93 A priest called
Phokas, on the other hand, spent 40 hyperpyra out of a sum of 50 that
was entrusted to his care on behalf of his brother-in-law, John Chrysaphes,
who was a minor. After hearing the priest™s defense that he used the money
because of the extreme poverty and need he had fallen into, the patriarchal
court decided that he should be entitled to the protection of the law that
granted indigent people four months for the repayment of their debts.94 It
was evidently on the basis of the same law that Manuel Katzas was given
four extra months to settle his debt in the case discussed above.
Equally hardpressed by destitution were the two sons of the late priest
Pepagomenos, both minors, who wished to mortgage their house and
church in 1400. At ¬rst they gave the house in mortgage to someone for
22 hyperpyra. But when the monks of a neighboring monastery offered 50
hyperpyra in exchange for the use of the church and the house together,
the boys canceled their former agreement by returning the 22 hyperpyra
to the said person and made a new deal with the monks. According to
the patriarchal act in which these procedures are laid out, Pepagomenos™
sons needed the money to pay their debts and to supply themselves with
necessities. Yet the terms of their new agreement with the monks that are
also registered in the act reveal another crucial factor behind the boys™ need
for money: they were planning to leave Constantinople and wanted to take
with them all they could convert into liquid assets. They hoped, however,
to return to the city someday, presumably if the siege were to end and peace
were to be restored. This explains why, rather than selling their property,

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