Cross-confessional captivity in the Later Medieval Eastern Roman world, c.1280-1450
Item statusRestricted Access
Embargo end date31/07/2022
Grant, Alasdair Campbell
Around the turn of the fourteenth century, a phenomenon distinct from the larger trans-regional Mediterranean slave trade emerged in the Aegean region: Turkish raiders took Greek Orthodox captive, keeping some as slaves and selling others to Venetian, Genoese, and Catalan merchants. These merchants then traded the captives in Latin-ruled ports in the Aegean, the Levant, and further afield (Barcelona, Mallorca, Venice, Genoa), sometimes also raiding for captives themselves. My thesis asks what the study of this diaspora of captives tells us about the ways in which the different confessional groups of the later medieval eastern Mediterranean (c.1280–1450) interacted. Although the bibliography on medieval Christian-Muslim relations is forever expanding, the study of captives in the context of Byzantium under the Palaiologan emperors (1261–1453) has been almost entirely neglected, with a number of key sources remaining unpublished. The subject, furthermore, prioritizes everyday, non-elite realities, rather than the experiences of more amply documented and frequently studied intellectuals and political actors. The introduction contextualizes the phenomenon described above by examining legal and historical precedents for the treatment of captives in the Byzantine tradition, emphasising the importance of clergy as ransomers. The main body of the thesis is divided into five chapters. The first (‘The Collapse of Byzantine Asia Minor and the Origins of the Crisis of Captivity in the Later Thirteenth Century’) traces geopolitical developments in Asia Minor in the thirteenth century, arguing that the destabilization of Byzantium’s Anatolian frontier and the development of Italian trading colonies along the Anatolian littoral—processes not completed until c.1300—were necessary prerequisites for the large-scale exportation of Greek captives into slavery. The second chapter (‘Cyprus: From Redemptorist Haven to Genoese Stranglehold, 1291–1373’) focuses on Cyprus under the French Lusignan kings, observing that both Greek and Latin documentary evidence suggests the island operated as the pre-eminent redemptorist centre for large numbers of Greek refugee captives who fled there from the Aegean, until the disturbance of the Genoese conquest of Famagusta (1373–4). Chapter 3 (‘Catalans: From Disruptors to Ameliorators, 1301 to the End of Empire’) relates how, having first come to the region as imperial mercenaries to counter Turkish expansion in the late thirteenth century, the Catalans soon turned to raiding for captives and trafficking slaves themselves; by the later fourteenth century this aggression had cooled (though it never ceased), and the Crown of Aragon had introduced uniquely extensive legislation to mitigate or otherwise control the enslavement of Greeks. Chapter 4 (‘The Fourteenth-Century Anatolian Beyliks between Raiding and Trading’) picks up themes from Chapter 1, tracing the development of Turkish-Italian slaving emporia in the lordships (beyliks) of Asia Minor and evaluating the hardships faced in this environment by Greek clergy, the main agents of advocacy for Greek Christian captives. Finally, Chapter 5 (‘Captives and Refugees in Venetian Crete in a Time of Cross-Confessional Strife, 1363–1453’) investigates the apparently contradictory situation found in Crete between the Greco-Latin feudatories’ Revolt of St Tito (1363) and the fall of Constantinople, when Greek captives and other refugees sought safety under the Venetian regime in spite of its repressive measures against Greek clergy, implying that this situation was nevertheless seen as a lesser evil than life under the Ottomans. All five chapters deploy a varied body of Greek-language evidence, chiefly historiography and clerical correspondence and in particular clerical letters of intercession on behalf of captives (aichmalotika); this is read alongside a critical mass of Latin notarial documents from archives in Italy, Spain, Croatia, and France, that detail the sale and manumission of Greek captives forced into slavery. The data from these notarial documents have been compiled into a chronologically ordered prosopographical (outline biographical) casebook running to c.1500 entries, appended to the thesis. The thesis concludes that captivity and dislocation were characteristic experiences of the late Byzantine world. While narrative historiography frequently alludes to captivity in the course of conquest, a prosopographical approach to a mass of individual captivities allows us to establish the on-the-ground realities of this experience. As the empire and its economy shrank precipitously and its survival became increasingly predicated on a crusade from the West against the Turks, negotiated at the expense of ecclesiastical union between Constantinople and Rome, captives became a key bargaining tool. The thesis thus charts two parallel strands: the centrality of captivity to contemporary lived experience, and its centrality to contemporary religious, historiographical, and diplomatic discourses. It is, in many senses, a study of ‘Byzantium outside Byzantium’: it finds the late Byzantine world to permeate not only beyond the borders of the shrunken Palaiologan empire, but much further afield, stretching from Alexandria to Barcelona and touching almost everywhere in between.