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Imperium Romaniae
Empire of Romania
Latin Empire of Constantinople

1204–1261

Arms of the Latin Empire of Constantinople

The Latin Empire with its vassals (in yellow) and the Greek successor states of the Byzantine Empire (in red) after the Treaty of Nymphaeum in 1214. The borders are very uncertain.
Capital Constantinople
Language(s) Latin, Old French (official)
Greek (popular)
Religion Roman Catholic (official)
Greek Orthodox (popular)
Government Monarchy
Emperor
 - 1204–1205 Baldwin I
 - 1206–1216 Henry
 - 1217–1219 Yolanda (regent)
 - 1219–1228 Robert I
 - 1228–1237 John of Brienne (regent)
 - 1237–1261 Baldwin II
Historical era High Middle Ages
 - Established 1204
 - Disestablished 1261
Area
 - 1204 est. 350,000 km2 (135,136 sq mi)

The Latin Empire or Latin Empire of Constantinople (original Latin name: Imperium Romaniae, "Empire of Romania"[1]) is the name given by historians to the feudal Crusader state founded by the leaders of the Fourth Crusade on lands captured from the Byzantine Empire. It was established after the capture of Constantinople in 1204 and lasted until 1261. The Latin Empire was intended to supplant the Byzantine Empire as titular successor to the Roman Empire in the east, with a Western Catholic emperor enthroned in place of the Orthodox Byzantine emperors. Baldwin IX, Count of Flanders, was crowned the first Latin emperor as Baldwin I on 16 May 1204. The Latin Empire failed to attain political or economic dominance over the other Latin powers that had been established in former Byzantine territories in the wake of the Fourth Crusade, especially Venice, and after a short initial period of military successes it went into a steady decline. Weakened by constant warfare with the Bulgarians and the Greek successor states, it eventually fell to the Empire of Nicaea under Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos in 1261. The last Latin emperor, Baldwin II, went into exile, and the imperial title survived, with several claimants to it, until the 14th century.

Contents

History

Creation of the Latin Empire

By arrangement among the crusaders, Byzantine territory was divided: in the Partitio terrarum imperii Romanie, signed on 1 October 1204, three eighths - including Crete and other islands - went to the Republic of Venice. The Latin Empire claimed the remainder, and did exert control over areas of Greece, divided into vassal fiefs: the Kingdom of Thessalonica, the Principality of Achaea, the Duchy of Athens, the Duchy of the Archipelago and the short-lived duchies of Nicaea, Philippopolis, and Philadelphia. The Doge of Venice did not rank as a vassal to the Empire, but his position in control of 3/8 of its territory and of parts of Constantinople itself, ensured Venice's influence in the Empire's affairs. However, much of the former Byzantine territory remained in the hands of rival successor states led by Byzantine Greek aristocrats, such as the Despotate of Epirus, the Empire of Nicaea, and the Empire of Trebizond, which were bent on reconquest from the Latins.

The crowning of Baldwin and the creation of the Latin Empire had the curious effect of creating three so-called Roman Empires in Europe at the same time, the others being the Holy Roman Empire and the remnants of the Byzantine Empire (the direct successor of the ancient Roman Empire), none of which actually controlled the city of Rome, which was under the temporal authority of the Pope.

The Empire in Asia Minor

Capture of Constantinople during the Fourth Crusade in 1204.

The initial campaigns of the crusaders in Asia Minor resulted in the capture of most of Bithynia by 1205, with the defeat of the forces of Theodore I Lascaris at Poemanenum and Prusa. Latin successes continued, and in 1207 a truce was signed with Theodore, newly proclaimed Emperor of Nicaea. The Latins inflicted a further defeat on Nicaean forces at the Ryndakos river in October 1211, and three years later the Treaty of Nymphaeum (1214) recognized their control of most of Bithynia and Mysia.

The peace was maintained until 1222, at which point the resurgent power of Nicaea felt sufficiently strong enough to challenge the Latin Empire, by that time weakened by constant warfare in its European provinces. At the battle of Poemanenum in 1224, the Latin army was defeated, and by the next year Emperor Robert of Courtenay was forced to cede all his Asian possessions to Nicaea, save Nicomedia and the territories directly across Constantinople. Nicaea turned also to the Aegean, capturing the islands awarded to the Empire. In 1235, finally, the last Latin possessions fell to Nicaea.

The Empire in Europe

Unlike in Asia, where the Latin Empire faced only an initially weak Nicaea, in Europe it was immediately confronted with a powerful enemy: the Bulgarian tsar Kaloyan. When Baldwin campaigned against the Byzantine lords of Thrace, they called upon Kaloyan for help. At the Battle of Adrianople on 14 April 1205, the Latin heavy cavalry was lured into an ambush by Kaloyan's troops, and Emperor Baldwin was captured. He was imprisoned in the Bulgarian capital Tarnovo until his death later in 1205. Luckily for the new Latin Emperor, Henry of Flanders, Kaloyan was killed a couple of years later (1207) during a siege of Thessalonica, and the Bulgarian threat conclusively defeated with a victory the following year, which allowed Henry to reclaim most of the lost territories in Thrace until 1210, when peace was concluded with the marriage of Henry to Maria of Bulgaria, tsar Kaloyan's daughter.

At the same time, another Greek successor state, the Despotate of Epirus, under Michael I Komnenos Doukas, posed a threat to the Empire's vassals in Thessalonica and Athens. Henry demanded his submission, which Michael provided, giving off his daughter to Henry's brother Eustace in the summer of 1209. This alliance allowed Henry to launch a campaign in Macedonia, Thessaly and Central Greece against the rebellious Lombard lords of Thessalonica. However, Michael's attack on the Kingdom of Thessalonica in 1210 forced him to return north to relieve the city and to force Michael back into submission.

In 1214 however, Michael died, and was succeeded by Theodore Komnenos Doukas, who was determined to capture Thessalonica. On 11 June 1216, while supervising repairs to the walls of Thessalonica, Henry died, and was succeeded by Peter of Courtenay, who himself was captured and executed by Theodore the following year. A regency was set up in Constantinople, headed by Peter's widow, Yolanda of Flanders until 1221, when her son Robert of Courtenay was crowned Emperor. Distracted by the renewed war with Nicaea, and waiting in vain for assistance from Pope Honorius III and the King of France Philip II, the Latin Empire was unable to prevent the final fall of Thessalonica to Epirus in 1224. Epirote armies then conquered Thrace in 1225-26, appearing before Constantinople itself. The Latin Empire was saved for the time by the threat posed to Theodore by the Bulgarian tsar Ivan II Asen, and a truce was concluded in 1228.

Decline and Fall

Baldwin II (1217-1273) was the last Latin emperor of Constantinople.

After Robert of Courtenay died in 1228, a new regency under John of Brienne was set up. After the disastrous Epirote defeat by the Bulgarians at the Battle of Klokotnitsa, the Epirote threat to the Latin Empire was removed, only to be replaced by Nicaea, which started acquiring territories in Greece. Emperor John III Doukas Vatatzes of Nicaea concluded an alliance with Bulgaria, which in 1235 resulted in joint campaign against the Latin Empire, and an unsuccessful siege of Constantinople the same year. In 1237, Baldwin II attained majority and took over the reins of a much-diminished state. The Empire's precarious situation forced him to travel often to Western Europe seeking aid, but largely without success. In order to gain money, he was forced to resort to desperate means, from removing the lead roofs of the Great Palace and selling them, to handing over his only son, Philip, to Venetian merchants as a guarantee for a loan.

By 1247, the Nicaeans had effectively surrounded Constantinople, with only the city's strong walls holding them at bay, and the Battle of Pelagonia in 1258 signaled the beginning of the end of Latin predominance in Greece. Thus, on July 25, 1261, with most of the Latin troops away on campaign, the Nicaean general Alexios Strategopoulos found an unguarded entrance to the city, and entered it with his troops, restoring the Byzantine Empire for his master, Michael VIII Palaiologos.

Titular claimants

For about a century thereafter, the heirs of Baldwin II continued to use the title of Emperor of Constantinople, and were seen as the overlords of the various remaining Latin states in the Aegean. They exercised effective authority in Greece only when actually ruling as princes of Achaea, as in 1333–1383. Although they are generally regarded as titular emperors, the continued existence of Latin states in the Aegean that recognized them as their suzerains makes the term a misnomer; a more accurate description would be emperors-in-exile.

Organization and Society

Administration

The empire was formed and administrated on Western European feudal principles, incorporating some elements of the Byzantine bureaucracy. The Emperor was assisted by a council, composed of the various barons, the Venetian podestà and his six-member council. This council had a major voice in the governance of the realm, especially in the periods of regency, where the Regent (moderator imperii) was dependent on their consent to rule. The podesta, likewise, was an extremely influential member, being practically independent of the Emperor. He exercised authority over the Venetian quarters of Constantinople and Pera and the Venetian dominions within the Empire, assisted by a separate set of officials. His role was more that of an ambassador and vicegerent of Venice than a vassal to the Empire.

Society

The elite of the empire were the Frankish and Venetian lords, headed by the Emperor, the barons and the lower-ranking vassals and liege lords, including many former Byzantine aristocrats. The bulk of the people were Orthodox Greeks, still divided according to the Byzantine system in income classes based on land ownership.

Church

As with all Latin states, the Orthodox hierarchy was replaced by Catholic prelates, but not suppressed. An expansive Catholic hierarchy was established, under the dual supervision of the Latin archbishop of Constantinople and the Papal legate, until the two offices were merged in 1231. Catholic monastic orders, such as the Cistercians, the Dominicans and the Franciscans were established in the Empire. The Orthodox clergy retained its rites and customs, including its right to marriage, but was demoted to a subordinate position, subject to the local Latin bishops.

See also

Bibliography

  • Bowman, Steven. The Jews of Byzantium 1204-1453. Tuscaloosa, Alabama: University of Alabama Press, 1985.

References

  1. ^ On the long history of "Romania" as a territorial name for the Roman and (later) Byzantine empires, see R.L. Wolff, "Romania: The Latin Empire of Constantinople". In: Speculum, 23 (1948), pp. 1-34.

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