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Constantinople (1403“1453)
value of the imported goods they bought in comparison with the total
value of the domestic goods they sold.41
Such factors explain why indeed in contemporary sources, along with
signs of the prospering economic activities of particular individuals, it is not
uncommon to come across references to widespread poverty and general
economic decline. For example, the Spanish traveler Pero Tafur, who visited
Constantinople twice during 1437“8, observed that “the inhabitants are not
well clad, but sad and poor, showing the hardships of their lot.”42 He noted
on two occasions that the city was sparsely populated, once adding that
there was a shortage of good soldiers.43 Making several allusions to the
city™s bygone days of prosperity, he described the imperial palace which
“must have been very magni¬cent, but now it is in such state that both it
and the city show well the evils which the people have suffered and still
endure.”44 By contrast, he described Pera as a ¬‚ourishing and prosperous
city: “It is a place of much traf¬c in goods brought from the Black Sea,
as well as from the West, and from Syria and Egypt, so that everyone is
wealthy.”45 After seeing the thriving commercial market of the Genoese
colony, Pero Tafur appears not to have been impressed by what he saw
of the trade of Constantinople, so he had not a single word to say about
the latter. The things he rather found impressive in Constantinople were
historic monuments, which merely bore testimony to the former splendor
of a city that was in a veritable state of decline in his day. Having observed
all this, he ¬nally could not help likening the Byzantine Emperor to “a
Bishop without a See.”46
It is conceivable that the desolation Pero Tafur witnessed in Constantino-
ple was partly due to an outbreak of plague in the city in 1435.47 Indeed,
Tafur himself, though without suggesting any links, wrote about contin-
uing precautions in Constantinople and Pera for protection against the
spread of the disease by ships arriving from the Black Sea region early
in 1438.48 Yet even before the plague of 1435, travelers to Constantino-
ple had observed conditions not unlike those reported by Pero Tafur, so
it would be a mistake to ascribe in full to the plague the adversity and

41 The goods Byzantines bought from Badoer in Constantinople represent in value 24.7 percent of all
his sales, while the goods they sold to him represent in value only 9.5 percent of all his purchases:
ˇ
Sitikov, “Konstantinopolj,” Table 1, p. 53.
42 Pero Tafur, Travels and Adventures, p. 146. On Pero Tafur™s visits to Constantinople, see Vasiliev,
“Pero Tafur,” 91“7, 102“17; Angold, “Decline of Byzantium,” pp. 223“5.
43 Pero Tafur, Travels and Adventures, pp. 123, 146. 44 Ibid., pp. 139, 145“6.
45 Quoted from the revised translation of Letts™s text (p. 149) in Vasiliev, “Pero Tafur,” 116“17.
46 Pero Tafur, Travels and Adventures, p. 145. 47 Thiriet, R´gestes, vol. iii, no. 2402 (Dec. 27, 1435).
e
48 Pero Tafur, Travels and Adventures, p. 138.
196 Constantinople
distress registered in his pages. Cristoforo Buondelmonti, who visited the
Byzantine capital in 1422, called it the “ill-starred city” and wrote about
ruined and deserted structures, part of which had found some use in the
hands of the local people who planted with vines the lands upon which
they were situated.49 Bertrandon de la Broqui`re, who spent time in Con-
e
stantinople during 1432“3, also described the devastated state of the city
and its environs.50 It is clear, then, that despite the breathing space allowed
by the relatively peaceful relations with the Ottomans, little overall progress
had been experienced in Constantinople since the time of Clavijo™s visit in
1403 mentioned at the beginning of the present chapter.
Moreover, some signs of social disturbances are detected in the city dur-
ing the ¬rst half of the ¬fteenth century, which may possibly be linked
to the detrimental gap separating public and private interests. In a letter
written between 1404 and 1416, John Chortasmenos depicts an atmosphere
ridden by internal strife and civil unrest. The letter, after praising the
archon and senator Melissenos as a model politician embodying the four
Platonic cardinal virtues (swfros…nh, dikaios…nh, ˆndre©a, fr»nhsiv),
congratulates the competence with which he appeased the capital™s discon-
tented populace who were threatening the ruling classes. Chortasmenos,
who portrays Melissenos as a uniquely virtuous and capable statesman
whose conduct should set an example to all others in the Senate of Con-
stantinople, unfortunately does not mention his ¬rst name.51 But he may
perhaps be identi¬ed with Andronikos Apokaukos Melissenos, likewise a
member of the Senate, whose name appears in a number of documents
dating between 1397 and 1409.52 These documents reveal that Andronikos
Apokaukos Melissenos was an oikeios of Manuel II and an in¬‚uential states-
man with many responsibilities. He participated in a survey of the treasures
of the church of Saint Sophia (October 1397); he acted as a witness to the
Byzantine“Venetian treaty of May 22, 1406; he was present at a synod that
excommunicated the bishops Makarios of Ankara and Matthew of Medeia
(August 1409). He possibly made a trip to Bursa in 1401 as John VII™s
envoy to negotiate peace terms with the Ottomans. The mention of a
“Melisino” in the account book of Badoer indicates, furthermore, that

49 Buondelmonti, Description des ˆles de l™Archipel, pp. 84, 88; cf. Angold, “Decline of Byzantium,”
±
p. 228.
50 Voyage d™Outremer de B. de la Broqui`re, pp. 153, 167“9.
e
51 Chortasmenos, ed. Hunger, letter 51, pp. 207“8; cf. 117“18.
52 MM, vol. ii, no. 686, p. 566 (Apokaukos Melissenos); MM, vol. iii, p. 153 (Andronikos Apokaukos
Melissenos); Laurent, “Tris´piscopat,” 134 (Andronikos Melissenos); Iorga, Notes, vol. i, pp. 112“13
e
(“Molissinus”). Cf. PLP, no. 17809.
197
Constantinople (1403“1453)
the family incorporated individuals who engaged in trade and business in
association with Italian merchants.53
The picture of social unrest conveyed by Chortasmenos™ letter ¬nds fur-
ther con¬rmation in a nearly contemporaneous letter written by Joseph
Bryennios between 1402 and 1413. Bryennios, who informs his addressee
about the current state of affairs in Constantinople, notes with pleasure
that the city was menaced neither by upheavals on the part of the common
people nor by disturbances within the Senate, implying how untypical
this novel situation was.54 Since Bryennios and Chortasmenos provide no
details about the speci¬c nature or causes of these popular agitations other
than the fact that they threatened the rule of the upper classes, we have
to turn for clues to additional pieces of contemporary evidence concern-
ing the conduct and lifestyle of the ruling elite in Constantinople. Some
relevant information is available about Theodore (Palaiologos) Kantak-
ouzenos, “uncle” (qe±ov) of the Emperor Manuel II and a colleague of
Andronikos Apokaukos Melissenos in the Senate.55 Chortasmenos has left
us descriptions of a palatial house Theodore had built for himself in the
¬nest section of Constantinople (–n kall©stwƒ t»pwƒ), presumably during
the ¬rst decade of the ¬fteenth century. According to these descriptions,
very valuable and costly materials, including “the best quality of wood”
and “the most splendid kind of marble,” were used in the construction of
this magni¬cent pillared house.56 Like most other members of the capital™s
wealthy upper class, moreover, Theodore had established strong connec-
tions with Italy and on December 27, 1398 had received the civil rights of
Venice.57 In fact, a document dated 1409 which lists the names of some
twenty Senate members reveals the magnitude of this latter trend among
the capital™s ruling elite. At least six of the senators listed in the docu-
ment of 1409 (Theodore Palaiologos Kantakouzenos, Nicholas Notaras,
Nicholas Sophianos, George Goudeles, Demetrios Palaiologos Goudeles,

53 Badoer, pp. 405, 610. See Appendix III below.
54 T‡ paraleip»mena, ed. Mandakases, letter 24, pp. 179“80 (= “ ¬Ek t¦v buzantin¦v ¬Epistolo-
graf©av,” ed. Tomadakes, 345). For the date of the letter, see note 6 above.
55 Both men attended the synod in August 1409 that excommunicated Makarios of Ankara and
Matthew of Medeia: Laurent, “Tris´piscopat,” 133“4. See Appendix IV below; cf. PLP, no. 10966.
e
56 Chortasmenos, ed. Hunger, pp. 190“2, 194“5; cf. 104“9. For a plausible identi¬cation of this house
with Mermerkule in Istanbul, see U. Peschlow, “Mermerkule “ Ein sp¨tbyzantinischer Palast in
a
Konstantinopel,” in Studien zur byzantinischen Kunstgeschichte. Festschrift f¨ r Horst Hallensleben
u
zum 65. Geburtstag, ed. B. Borkopp, B. Schellewald, and L. Theis (Amsterdam, 1995), pp. 93“7; U.
Peschlow, “Die befestigte Residenz von Mermerkule. Beobachtungen an einem sp¨tbyzantinischen
a
¨
Bau im Verteidigungssystem von Konstantinopel,” JOB 51 (2001), 385“403, esp. 394“7, 401“3.
57 V. Laurent, “Alliances et ¬liations des Cantacuz`nes au XVe si`cle. Le Vaticanus latinus 4789,” REB
e e
9 (1952), 82, n. 6.
198 Constantinople
and one of either Demetrios Laskaris Leontares or Manuel Bryennios
Leontares) are individuals whose political and economic ties with Italy are
known; in addition, at least four belong to families that are noted for their
connections with Italy (Philanthropenos, Asanes, Melissenos).58 As far as
Theodore (Palaiologos) Kantakouzenos himself is concerned, the sumptu-
ous life he led in Constantinople may be attributed in part to the ¬nancial
security and ¬‚exibility which his association with the Venetian republic
was likely to have provided. The stirrings of the common people to which
Chortasmenos and Bryennios allude may well have been directed at men
like Theodore who continued to live in a somewhat extravagant fashion
despite the exigencies of the time that required restraint from excesses. In
this context, it might be pertinent to call attention once again to the accu-
sation Joseph Bryennios leveled, circa 1415“21, against the wealthy archontes
of Constantinople who built three-story houses for themselves instead of
contributing money for the restoration of the city walls.59
The undertakings of another government of¬cial who was active in
Constantinople from 1430 onwards furnish additional clues about what
might have provoked the disorders among the common people. While this
of¬cial was neither as highly placed as members of the senatorial class nor
a native of Constantinople, he nonetheless served in the city as a judge,
frequented the imperial palace, knew Emperor John VIII personally, and
had close relations with some of the highest dignitaries in the capital.
According to a text written as an invective against him (which, therefore,
must be used with caution), this man, besides engaging in numerous legal
malpractices, habitually abused the authority of his post to obtain vict-
uals, free of charge, for his personal consumption at the marketplace of
Constantinople. Coercing some by threats and others by false promises, he
regularly pestered small craftsmen for free or underpriced artisanal prod-
ucts as well. The judge in question, who adopted the name “Katadokeinos”
in Constantinople, was none other than Katablattas, who lived in Thes-
salonike during 1403“30 and served as a scribe in that city™s tribunal.60
Assuming that the accusations made against Katablattas-Katadokeinos are
simply exaggerated rather than being altogether false, it is conceivable that
such abuses of power by well-placed civil servants played a role, too, in
triggering the disturbances among the capital™s populace.

58 Laurent, “Tris´piscopat,” 133“4. See Appendix IV below.
e
59 See pp. 187, 194 and note 10 above.
60 “Com´die de Katablattas,” ed. Canivet and Oikonomid`s, 51ff.; see above, ch. 4, pp. 73“4. For
e e
earlier examples of government of¬cials abusing their authority to make personal gains and pro¬t,
see Matschke, “Commerce, trade, markets, and money,” pp. 774“5, 800“1.
199
Constantinople (1403“1453)
The evidence presented so far has served to highlight mainly the attitudes
embraced by people from the lower classes towards the Italians or towards
upper-class Byzantines, many of whom had close associations with Italians.
An incident recounted by Bertrandon de la Broqui`re re¬‚ects, in turn, the
e
disposition of two ordinary citizens of the Byzantine capital towards the
Ottomans. In 1432 Bertrandon arrived at Constantinople on a Byzantine
¨u
boat that transported him from Scutari (Usk¨ dar), the Ottoman port on
the Asian side of the Bosphorus, to Pera. At ¬rst the two Greek boatsmen
who ferried him across the Bosphorus mistook him for a Turk and treated
him with great honor and esteem. However, upon their arrival at Pera, when
they discovered that he was a European, they abandoned their respectful
attitude, and Bertrandon suspected that they would have used force against
him had he not been armed. The Burgundian traveler interpreted the
behavior of the boatsmen on religious grounds, attributing it to the hatred
which the Byzantines nurtured in general towards “Christians who obey
the Church of Rome.”61 Yet this does not necessarily account for the
better treatment he received when he was misidenti¬ed as a Turk. It will
be instructive, therefore, to examine some sources which offer additional
insights about the attitudes of the inhabitants of Constantinople towards
the Ottomans and which shed light on certain forms of contact, other than
military encounters, that helped the Byzantines become better acquainted
with the Ottomans in the ¬rst half of the ¬fteenth century.
We have seen already that the political and military stability provided by
the Byzantine“Ottoman peace treaty of 1424 had some positive economic
consequences in Constantinople. In ideological terms, however, the con-
ditions of this treaty, which included the resumption of tribute payment
to the Ottomans in addition to important territorial concessions, were
regarded by some Byzantines as a clear demonstration of their submission.
Disillusioned by the steady decline of Byzantium before the growing power
of the Ottomans, and considering the political and military superiority as
well as the prosperity enjoyed by the latter to be signs of the truth of
their religion, certain people subsequently chose to convert to Islam, and
others were apparently inclined to follow their example, as may be inferred
from four successive discourses which Makarios Makres composed around
this time. These discourses, Christian apologies addressed to “those who
are led astray by the success of the in¬dels,” were intended to strengthen
the wavering faith of the citizens and to urge them not to be tempted by

61 Voyage d™Outremer de B. de la Broqui`re, pp. 148“9. On Bertrandon™s attitudes towards Byzantines
e
and Turks, see also Angold, “Decline of Byzantium,” pp. 222“5.
200 Constantinople
the prominence and material well-being of the Ottomans into embracing
Islam. They should instead resist the enemy, argued Makarios Makres, and,
if necessary, be ready to abandon this world as Christian martyrs rather
than abandoning their own faith.62 Thus, it is clear that in the opinion
of at least some people the Ottomans deserved respect and admiration on
account of their superior military and political power, which con¬rmed the
superiority of their religion as well. That this was the standard argument of
the Ottomans repeated in nearly all contemporary anti-Islamic polemical
texts, whether written in the form of ¬ctitious dialogues between Christians
and Muslims or recording real discussions encouraged by the Ottomans in
their own territory, is beside the point.63 Makarios Makres™ four discourses
bear testimony to the crucial fact that the same argument found accep-
tance among some of the citizens of the Byzantine capital who were driven
by the particular historical circumstances of the 1420s towards a favorable
assessment of the Ottomans and of their religion. At the end of the four-
teenth century, too, the Ottoman victory at Nikopolis had given rise to a
similar mood, at which time cases of conversion to Islam are attested on
the part of some citizens who came to look upon the Ottomans with great
esteem.64
The inhabitants of Constantinople were also likely to have been in¬‚u-
enced by their personal encounters with the Ottomans in forming their
opinions of them. We should, therefore, investigate some sources that doc-
ument the presence and activities of Ottomans, mostly merchants, in the
Byzantine capital during the ¬rst half of the ¬fteenth century. Even though
these sources do not incorporate evidence directly bearing on political or
religious attitudes, they provide nonetheless pertinent information about
contacts occurring at the personal level between Constantinopolitans and
Ottomans.

62 “Pr¼v toÆv skandalizom”nouv –pª t¦€ eÉprag©aƒ t¤n ˆseb¤n, l»goi d©,” in Macaire Makr`s, e
ed. Argyriou, pp. 239“300; see esp. 239“41, 291, 297“8, 300. On the disputed authorship and
dating of these discourses, see ibid., pp. 57“62, 65“9. Argyriou presumes the most likely date of
composition to be the fall of 1422; yet the discourses must certainly have been composed sometime
after the Byzantine“Ottoman treaty of 1424, given that Makres twice mentions the tribute paid to
the Ottomans: ibid., pp. 241, 298.
63 See, for example, “ ¬IwsŸf to“ Bruenn©ou met† tinov ¬Ismahl©tou i†lexiv,” ed. A. Argyriou,
EEBS 35 (1966“7), 141“95; A. Philippidis-Braat, “La captivit´ de Palamas chez les Turcs: dossier
e

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