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of the Despotate, the Peloponnesian magnates did not cease from their
struggle for the actual possession of the areas they had been assigned to
administer. Sphrantzes writes of several archontes who in 1459 seized the
fortresses they had been governing in the name of the Despot Demetrios,
treating them henceforth “as supreme lords rather than as governors.”56
Nonetheless, circumstances in the Morea remained relatively stable dur-
ing the years of respite from Ottoman invasions between 1402 and 1423,
and there may have been even some improvement in economic conditions.
Contemporary documents occasionally refer to abundant food supplies in
both the Greek and the Venetian territories of the peninsula. In 1418, for
instance, surplus wheat was grown in the Despotate.57 The year before that
Venetian authorities in Coron reported the existence of surplus meat.58
Similarly, at Venetian Patras oversupplies of wheat and barley are attested
in 1411.59 The extra security and protection provided by the rebuilding
of the Hexamilion in 1415, despite the internal dissensions it gave rise to,
seems also to have helped the agrarian economy of the Despotate. The
following passage from one of Manuel II™s letters describes, though per-
haps with some degree of exaggeration, the positive consequences of the
reconstruction work:
53 Sphrantzes“Grecu, XXVII.1“6, pp. 68“70. This is a slightly modi¬ed version of the translation
by M. Philippides, The Fall of the Byzantine Empire: A Chronicle by George Sphrantzes, 1401“1477
(Amherst, 1980), pp. 55“6.
54 See PLP, no. 10974. 55 See PLP, no. 29753.
56 Sphrantzes“Grecu, XXXIX.2, p. 112: “Þv aÉq”ntai aÉt¤n, oÉc Þv kefal†dev.” See below,
pp. 277“8 and 282f.
57 Sathas, Documents, vol. iii, p. 178. 58 Ibid., p. 163. 59 Ibid., vol. ii, p. 263.
272 The Despotate of the Morea
For they could now till the ¬elds without fear, reclaim woodlands and sow where
trees had once stood, and look with pleasure upon the billowing crops and with
still greater pleasure reap them, attend to plants that had been neglected, replant
the vineyard that had been left dry and plant new crops besides . . . What is more
they were able to sell their surplus at a high price if they wished. Even better, or by
no means worse, they were able to fatten herds of cattle and ¬‚ocks of sheep and
their other livestock. For since they no longer lived in fear of barbarian incursions,
nothing hindered them from making use even of the outlying borders, cultivating
them as they wanted, be it in the plains or in formerly inaccessible places.60
But the years of external peace came to an abrupt end in 1423, and, during
the period that followed, successive attacks by the Ottomans, combined
with the civil discords that permeated the upper echelons of Moreote soci-
ety, had disastrous effects on the rest of the population, generating in their
midst a widespread unwillingness to ¬ght against the Ottomans.61 In May
1423, before the above-mentioned negotiations between Theodore II and
Venice yielded any concrete results, an Ottoman army under the command
of Turahan Beg marched to the Morea and destroyed the Hexamilion.
According to Chalkokondyles, this disaster took place because the wall was
completely deserted.62 A letter written by a Venetian of¬cial in the Morea
explains further that the Turks found the Hexamilion unguarded because
the people in charge of its defense had abandoned their posts as soon as they
saw the approaching enemy.63 Manuel II™s experiences in the Morea had
already made it clear that without people to defend the forti¬cations the
restoration of the Hexamilion could not by itself ensure the protection of
the peninsula. Therefore, in 1418 the Emperor and Theodore II had asked
Pope Martin V to grant indulgences to westerners who would participate
in its defense even though at that time there was no immediate danger from
the Ottomans other than perhaps some small-scale skirmishing activity.64
About two decades later, the destroyed forti¬cations which were repaired
again by the efforts of the Despot Constantine suffered the same fate.
Gennadios Scholarios informs us that Constantine, who had constrained
the Peloponnesians to rebuild the Hexamilion, had not been so successful
in obliging them to stand in its defense. Hence, in Scholarios™ opinion, the
60 Dennis, Letters of Manuel II, no. 68, pp. 208“9.
61 For a discussion of the political crisis that gave rise to the cessation of peaceful relations with the
Ottomans in 1423, see above, ch. 2, pp. 34f.
62 Chalkok.“Dark´ , vol. ii, p. 58.
o
63 Iorga, Notes, vol. i, p. 335. Cf. Zakythinos, Despotat, vol. i, pp. 196“8; Barker, Manuel II, p. 371,
n. 127.
64 Syropoulos, “M´moires,” II.6, pp. 106“9; Annales ecclesiastici, ed. Raynaldus and Baronius, vol. xxvii,
e
p. 475 (1418, no. 17). Cf. Barker, Manuel II, pp. 316, 325“6, n. 49. The Pope accepted the request in
1418, but the indulgences apparently did not create much interest among westerners.
273
The ¬nal years of the Byzantine Morea (1407“1460)
wall was destroyed one more time in December 1446 “by the treachery and
folly of its defenders.”65 Scholarios™ words are echoed in a short chronicle
notice which makes an explicit reference to the betrayal of the Hexamilion
to Sultan Murad II and Turahan Beg during the attack of 1446, while other
sources are in agreement about the ¬‚ight of its defenders.66 Following this
last disaster, the inhabitants of Sikyon surrendered to Murad II, while those
of Patras ¬‚ed to Venetian territories.67 All this evidence is indicative of the
defeatist attitude that had taken over the population of the Morea and
manifested itself in the form of a declining spirit of opposition against the
Ottomans.
In a letter to Constantine Palaiologos, written sometime between 1444
and 1446, Cardinal Bessarion has left us perhaps the most perceptive analysis
of the problems af¬‚icting the Despotate at that time which help to explain
why the defense of the newly repaired forti¬cations collapsed before the
Ottomans so easily shortly thereafter:
I know that the presentday Peloponnesians have noble and prudent souls and
strong bodies, but they are stripped of weapons and lack military training, on
the one hand because of the cruelty of their oppressive overlords and the harsh
exactions, and on the other hand out of the softness and laziness which has
prevailed over the race.68
These words re¬‚ect the military de¬ciency and apathy of the population
of the Morea which was weighed down under the double burden of gov-
ernment taxes and the excesses of the archontes, the “oppressive overlords.”
In Bessarion™s opinion, the sumptuous and decadent lifestyle of the upper
classes played a major role in the readiness of the population to surrender
to the Ottomans without putting up a ¬ght. He, therefore, counselled the
Despot Constantine to restrain the wasteful luxuries of the rich, which
included jewelry in gold and silver, expensive clothing made of silk or
interwoven with gold, fancy military equipment, costly houses ¬lled with
abundant servants, and extravagant feasts, wedding receptions, burials or
65 Scholarios, “ ¬ Epit†fiov –pª t¤ makar©th‚ kaª ˆoid©mwƒ desp»th‚ k“r QeodÛrwƒ Palaiol»gwƒ
t¤ porfurogennžtwƒ,” in PP, vol. ii, p. 7. Cf. Zakythinos, Despotat, vol. i, pp. 234“5.
66 Schreiner, Kleinchroniken, vol. i, Chr. 33/50, 47/9; vol. ii, pp. 467“9; Chalkok.“Dark´ , vol. ii, p. 116.
o
See also Doukas (XXXII.7), who accuses the Albanians of having betrayed the Despots Constantine
and Thomas on this occasion. By contrast, in 1423 the Albanians, unlike the rest of the population,
had resisted the Ottoman army and lost their lives in the course of their opposition: see Barker,
Manuel II, p. 371, n. 127.
67 Chalkok.“Dark´ , vol. ii, pp. 118“19.
o
68 Bessarion, in PP, vol. iv, pp. 34“5. Cf. Zakythinos, Despotat, vol. ii, p. 143; A. E. Vacalopoulos,
Origins of the Greek Nation. The Byzantine Period, 1204“1461, trans. I. Moles, revised by the author
(New Brunswick, NJ, 1970), pp. 169“78, esp. 174; L. Mavromatis, “ « O kardhn†liov Bhssar©wn
kaª ¾ –ksugcronism¼v t¦v Peloponnžsou,” S…mmeikta 9/2 (1994), 41“50.
274 The Despotate of the Morea
funerals.69 For the improvement of the Despotate™s military organization,
Bessarion also suggested the division of the population into two distinct
groups, one of which was to be strictly occupied with military matters
(t¼ stratiwtik»n), while the other was to engage only in agricultural
production (t¼ gewrgik»n).70
Bessarion was not the ¬rst person to propose a social reorganization
of this sort as a remedy for the military problems of the Morea. His
teacher George Gemistos Plethon, observing the poor defense system of
the Despotate and its underlying social and economic causes, had already
expressed similar opinions in his works addressed to Emperor Manuel II
and to Despot Theodore II between about 1415 and about 1418.71 Plethon
noted that the use of mercenary troops and the imposition of extra taxes
during military emergencies had proven to be an inef¬cient and inadequate
method of protecting the province. He, therefore, emphasized the necessity
for a regular army composed of native soldiers who, he suggested, ought
to be exempt from taxes and whose livelihood and military needs should
be met with the revenues the government was to collect from its taxpaying
subjects. This, in Plethon™s opinion, would guarantee the proper defense of
the Morea as soldiers would not have to worry about their material needs.
The taxpayers, on the other hand, comprised the agricultural workers whose
occupation and tax liability would discharge them from military service
according to Plethon™s scheme.72 Moreover, the tax collection system itself
would have to undergo changes, its main drawbacks being that there were
numerous taxes, each one small in amount, but collected frequently, by a
large number of agents, and mostly in money. Plethon proposed instead
that there should be a single lump-sum tax, payable to a single collector,
in kind, and of an amount that ought to be just and easy to bear.73 Finally,
Plethon criticized the luxurious lifestyle of the Moreote aristocracy, arguing
69 Bessarion, in PP, vol. iv, p. 38. 70 Ibid., p. 35.
71 For these texts, see PP, vol. iii, pp. 246“65 (Address to Manuel II on Affairs in the Peloponnese),
309“12 (Letter to the Emperor [Manuel II, wrongly identi¬ed by Lampros as John VIII]); PP,
vol. iv, pp. 113“35 (Address to Despot Theodore II on the Peloponnese). Detailed summaries of
all three texts are given in C. M. Woodhouse, George Gemistos Plethon; The Last of the Hellenes
(Oxford, 1986), pp. 92“109. On Plethon and the measures he proposed, see also F. Masai, Pl´thon e
¨
et le platonisme de Mistra (Paris, 1956); Ch. P. Baloglou, Georgios Gemistos-Plethon: Okonomisches
Denken in der sp¨ tbyzantinischen Geisteswelt (Athens, 1998); A. E. Laiou, “Economic thought and
a
ideology,” in EHB, vol. iii, pp. 1139“44.
72 Plethon, in PP, vol. iii, pp. 251“7, 310“12; Plethon, in PP, vol. iv, pp. 121“2. Cf. Zakythinos,
Despotat, vol. i, pp. 175“80, 226“8; vol. ii, pp. 138“9, 349“58 (= Zakythinos, Crise mon´taire et crise
e
´conomique, pp. 131ff.); Woodhouse, George Gemistos Plethon, pp. 92, 94, 97, 100“1, 103“5; Bartusis,
e
Late Byzantine Army, pp. 217“21; Baloglou, Georgios Gemistos-Plethon, pp. 60“2, 94“101.
73 Plethon, in PP, vol. iii, pp. 251, 254. Cf. Woodhouse, George Gemistos Plethon, pp. 103, 104; Baloglou,
Georgios Gemistos-Plethon, pp. 83“7.
275
The ¬nal years of the Byzantine Morea (1407“1460)
that the ruling elite should devote its funds to military expenditures rather
than to luxuries.74 He also noted with disdain the self-interested behavior
of the of¬cials serving under Despot Theodore II, most of whom “refuse
to give advice except for their own ¬nancial advantage.”75
Besides the similarity between these ideas and Bessarion™s, attention must
be drawn to a striking resemblance with contemporary Ottoman practices
insofar as the separation of the population into soldiers and taxpayers is
concerned, without, however, overlooking the fact that Plethon™s source of
inspiration lay in the writings of Plato.76 Following a dual social system,
the Ottomans divided their population into a military class which did
±
not engage in production and paid no taxes (“askerˆ ”), and a class of
producers who were also the taxpayers (“reaya”). While it was possible
on rare occasions for a person of “reaya” status to enter into the military
class by a special decree from the Sultan, normally everyone was expected to
remain in his own class for the harmonious functioning of the state and the
society.77 Whatever impact Islamic/Ottoman principles and institutions
may have had on Plethon, though, this Byzantine intellectual formulated
his ideas with the conviction that the salvation of the Morea could be
achieved only through internal reform. He argued on one occasion, in an
entirely different context, that so long as the Byzantines remained as they
were, neither the help of the Latins nor any other human help could save
their land from destruction.78
As an additional point concerning agrarian issues, Plethon held that all
lands of the Despotate ought to be communal. Although he may have partly
foreseen this as a means for the government of the Morea to re-establish
its authority over the landlords of the peninsula, he defended his idea on
the grounds that it would lead to increased agricultural production and
eliminate the existence of uncultivated ¬elds.79 By referring to the low level
74 Plethon, in PP, vol. iv, p. 124. Cf. Woodhouse, George Gemistos Plethon, p. 95.
75 Plethon, in PP, vol. iii, p. 312. Cf. Woodhouse, George Gemistos Plethon, p. 101.
76 For two occasions in which Plethon speci¬cally pointed to the successful internal organization of
the Ottomans as an example, see PP, vol. iii, p. 310 and PP, vol. iv, p. 118. Among contemporaries,
Gennadios Scholarios observed the similarity between Plethon™s ideas and Ottoman practices:
Scholarios, ’uvres, vol. iv, pp. 170“1.
77 ™
Inalc±k, Ottoman Empire: The Classical Age, pp. 68“9; ™Inalc±k, “Ottoman methods of conquest,” 112“
13. For two different views regarding Islamic/Ottoman in¬‚uences on Plethon™s ideas, see F. Taeschner,
¨
“Georgios Gemistos Plethon. Ein Beitrag zur Frage der Ubertragung von islamischem Geistesgut
nach dem Abendlande,” Der Islam 18 (1929), 236“43; F. Taeschner, “Plethon. Ein Vermittler zwischen
Morgenland und Abendland,” Byzantinisch-neugriechische Jahrb¨ cher 8 (1929“30), 110“13; M. V.
u
Anastos, “Pletho™s calendar and liturgy,” Part II: “Pletho and Islam,” DOP 4 (1948), 270“305.
78 Plethon, in PG 160, col. 980.
79 Plethon, in PP, vol. iii, pp. 260“1. Cf. Zakythinos, Despotat, vol. ii, p. 354; Woodhouse, George
Gemistos Plethon, p. 105; Baloglou, Georgios Gemistos-Plethon, pp. 75“9.
276 The Despotate of the Morea
of production and untilled lands, Plethon thus drew attention to one of
the most serious problems of the Despotate during this period, namely the
depopulation of the countryside, which resulted in a shortage of agricultural
workers. In his aforementioned letter to the Despot Constantine, Bessar-
ion, also concerned with the same problem, offered suggestions aimed at
increasing the rural labor force.80 Some scattered references to the ¬‚ight of
the Despotate™s inhabitants to Venetian territories have already been made
in the preceding pages. In addition to massive deportations to Ottoman
lands carried out by Turkish conquerors,81 the loss of Greeks to neighbor-
ing regions under Venetian rule, frequently attested in the fourteenth and
¬fteenth centuries, must have contributed largely to the depopulation of
the Despotate.82 While some of these fugitives were directly running away
from Ottoman attacks, others were trying to escape the taxes demanded by
the government at Mistra, as will be recalled from the examples of sailors
and peasants who took ¬‚ight during and after Manuel II™s reconstruction
of the Hexamilion.83 Contrary to their expectations, however, these people
did not always ¬nd more favorable conditions under Venetian domina-
tion. In 1437 the castellanus of Modon and Coron reported to the Senate
of Venice that many Greek families from the Morea who had settled inside
Coron and Modon, as well as peasants inhabiting the countryside, were
taking leave because of an annual payment of 27 soldi and some other
charges imposed on them.84 Similarly, in 1449 Greeks who had moved to
Lepanto were aggrieved about the amount of taxes they were asked to pay
there.85 On the other hand, Greek soldiers who entered Venetian service
were treated with extreme distrust; they were frequently discharged and
received lower salaries than Latin soldiers.86 There may have been other
reasons besides economic ones for the disgruntlement of the Greeks who
went over to Venetian-dominated areas, as suggested by some additional
signs of tensions. In 1436, for instance, the Greek bishop of Coron was

80 Bessarion, in PP, vol. iv, p. 34.
81 E.g. fourteen thousand or thirty thousand people from Argos deported to Anatolia in 1397: see
above, ch. 9, p. 241 and note 25.
82 Thiriet, R´gestes, vol. ii, nos. 1592 (1415), 1697 (1418); vol. iii, nos. 2446 (1437), 2791 (1449); Marino
e
Sanuto, Vite dei duchi di Venezia, ed. Muratori, cols. 970, 978; Chalkok.“Dark´ , vol. ii, p. 119;
o
Kritob.“Reinsch, III.5,2, p. 123; Sphrantzes“Grecu, XL.8, p. 120; etc.
83 See above, pp. 262“3.
84 Sathas, Documents, vol. iii, no. 1031 (June 12, 1437), p. 437; Thiriet, R´gestes, vol. iii, no. 2446.
e
85 Thiriet, R´gestes, vol. iii, no. 2791 (Jan. 23, 1449).
e
86 Ibid., vol. i, no. 945 (1398); vol. ii, nos. 1034 (1401), 1578 (1415), 2182 (1430); vol. iii, nos. 2641 (1444),
2642 (1444), etc. In 1430 Greek soldiers in Modon were paid 8 libri per month, whereas Latins
received 12 libri: Sathas, Documents, vol. iii, no. 958 (March 2, 1430), pp. 370“1; Thiriet, R´gestes, e
vol. ii, no. 2182.
277
The ¬nal years of the Byzantine Morea (1407“1460)
asked by the Senate of Venice to leave the city and to take up residence at
a certain distance outside it. This was an old regulation, going back to at
least 1318, which had fallen into disuse. The Venetians decided to reinstate
it in 1436, fearing that the numerous gatherings of the Greek community
around their religious leader at this time might lead to an insurrection inside
the city of Coron.87 Several years later, a similar regulation was put into

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