ROME AND ROMANIA 27 BC-1453 AD (DIALEKCIS ιθ)


(continued from 18/04/10)

 

 


5. PALAEOLOGI

Michael VIII Palaeologus
1259-1282

Prince of Achaea captured, 1259; Restoration of Greek rule in Constantinople, 1261; Laconia & Monembasia (soon Despotate of Morea) ceded as ransom for the Prince of Achaea, 1261; Genoesegranted Galata, 1267; Anjeviansdefeated, 1281; the Sicilian Vespers, 30 March 1282 — Sicily revolts against & massacres the French; end of Anjevian threat

Andronicus II
1282-1328

reduction of army & navy; Venetians mint Ducats after Roman debasement, 1284; defeat by Amir‘Osmân at Magnesia & Bapheus (near Nicomedia), Ottoman conquest begins, 1302; Catalan Company hired, 1303, revolts, 1305; Ephesus lost to Beg of Aydïn, 1304; Knights of the Hospital of St. John of Jerusalem, the Hospitalers, on Rhodes, 1308-1523; Prusa [Bursa] lost, 1326

Michael IX
heir of Andronicus, 1295-1320

Andronicus III
1321-1341

defeat by Orkhân, 1329; Nicaea [I.znik] lost, 1331; Nicomedia [I.zmid] lost, 1337; Epirus annexed, 1337, 1340

John V
1341-1376, 1379-1391

Umur I, Beg of Aydïn & ally of John Cantacuzenus, defeated by Venice & Romania, looses harbor of Smyrna, 1344; Grand Duke of Moscowcontributes money to repair St. Sophia, 1346; Black Death arrives at Constantinople, 1347

John VI Cantacuzenus
regent, 1341

1341-1354, abdicated

Civil War, 1341-1347; Crown Jewels pawned to Venice, 1343; Bubonic Plague, 1347; revenue of Galata seven times that of Constantinople, 1348; Genoese from Galata burn Roman shipyard, 1348; War betweenVenice & Genoa, 1350-1355; Kallipolis [Gelibolu] lost, 1354, Ottoman foothold in Europe; John V visits Hungary, first Emperor to visit a foreign court, 1365; Adrianople [Edirne] lost, 1369; John goes to Rome & Venice, 1369-1371; Empire Vassal of Murâd I

Andronicus IV
1376-1379; heir, 1381-1385

Thessalonica lost, 1387

Manuel Cantacuzenus, Despot of Morea
1348-1380

Matthew Cantacuzenus, Despot of Morea
1354-1383

1380-1383

Demetrius Cantacuzenus, Despot of Morea
1383

John VII
1390, flees toBâyezîd I; regent, 1399-1403

Philadelphia lost, 1390

Theodore I Palaeologus, Despot of Morea
1383-1407

Manuel II
1391-1425

Russian Church stops mention of Emperor, 1392; Ottoman vassalage repudiated, 1394; siege of Constantinople, 1394-1402; Battle of Nicopolis, Sigismund of Hungary defeated by Bâyezîd I, 1396; Emperor travels to Italy, France, England, 1400-1403; Thessalonica returned, 1403, ceded to Venice, 1423; Siege of Constantinople by Murad II, 1422

Theodore II Palaeologus, Despot of Morea
1407-1443

John VIII
1425-1448

attends the Church Council at Ferrara & Florence, 1439-1440; Crusade of Varna, victory at Nish, Skanderbeg & Albanians defect from Turks, 1443, defeated at Varna, Vadislav of Hungary & Poland killed, 1444

Constantine XI Dragases
Despot of Morea1428-1449

1449-1453

Constantinople [I.stanbul] falls toMeh.med II, 1453

Thomas, Despot of Morea
1428-1460,
d.1465

Principality of Achaea inherited, 1432; Mistra, Morea, falls toMeh.med II, 1460; last piece of Romania, the fortress of Monembasia, ceded to the Pope, 1461; daughter Zoë marries Ivan IIIof Russia, 1472; Thomas dies at Rome, 1465


Michael Palaeologus restores the Greeks to Constantinople, and for a time Romania acted as a Great Power again, fending off Charles of Anjou, with Genoa now replacing Venice as commercial agents and Italians-of-choice in Constantinople. But it was a precarious position. Michael himself sowed the seeds of disaster by confiscating land from the tax exempt akritai (sing. akritês), the landed frontier (ákros) fighters of Bithynia. This weakened defenses that Andronicus II weakened further with military economies, failing to follow the maxim of Machiavelli that the first duty of a prince is war. Once the Ottomans broke the Roman army in Bithynia (1302), they, and other Turks, quickly reduced Roman possessions in Asia to fragments, never to be recovered. Bithynia (Prusa, Nicaea, and Nicomedia) became the base of Ottoman power, with Prusa, as Bursa, the Ottoman capital.


In this period flags in the modern sense were just beginning to come into use; and there were 14th century banners that would have evolved into a proper flag for Romania, given the chance. We find a field with a Cross, like many Crusader banners and flags, with the addition of curious devices, which look like images and mirror-images of something between the letter B, the letter E, and broken links of a chain. These are sometimes said to have already been used by Constantine I and have been variously interpreted. One possibility is that they are stylized forms ofCrescent Moons, originally symbolic of the divine patroness of Byzantium, the goddess Artemis. The stylized forms have been inherited in the arms of Serbia, and crescents are used as a Serb national symbol, seen at left — something that has probably become a sign of terror to non-Serbs in Croatia, Bosnia, and Kosovo. If it was the Crescent that was originally used in Constantinople, this may have been directly inherited by Turkey. A Crescent is now commonly taken as symbolic of Islâm, but this may not antedate the Turkish flag. The star on the Turkish flag is sometimes said to be Romanian also, symbolizing the Virgin Mary, but it does not occur on the earliest Turkish flags. However, Whitney Smith [Flags Through the Ages and Across the World, McGraw-Hill, 1975] shows a flag identified only as "medieval Russian" that shows a cross with four crescents and four stars also [p.174]. The crescents are oriented differently, but this design seems too elaborate not to have Roman antecedents.

The banner that Whitney Smith shows for Romania itself [p.45] has the flag with the distinctive devices quartered with a simple red cross on white. One does not find this banner, or other Roman symbols, shown or discussed in the standard Byzantine histories. This seems peculiar, and Smith gives no reference for his banner. Wikipedia does cite a Spanish atlas circa 1350, the Conoscimento de todos los Reinos. If we do not know of it from Greek sources, that is probably why it does not figure in the Byzantine histories.

I would like to know more about the history and meaning of such a banner. The red cross on white came to be identified as the Cross of St. George, which is how we see it as the flag of England — something that is coming into increasing use today, when England often has sports teams separate from Scotland (which uses the Cross of St. Andrew). But St. George has been widely popular and is the patron of many places, including Barcelona, Portugal, Beirut, Georgia in the Caucasus, and various other states and cities. While the red on white Cross was used by Genoa and some other Italian cities, there is the complication that St. George is not the Patron Saint of Genoa (although this is sometimes said to be the case, as I have been doing previously) — that is John the Baptist. The Genoese cross is thus perhaps not originally the Cross of St. George at all — although there is a story about the red cross and St. George being brought back from the First Crusade (1099), which is possible. Wikipedia says that ships from London began using the red Cross on white in the Mediterranian in 1190 precisely to benefit from the protection of Genoa — the Doge was paid an annual tribute for the privilege of this use. Since Genoa became the ally of Constantinople under the Palaeologi, I wonder if the banner actually reflects that alliance. In modern custom, the upper corner by the staff, the canton, is the key quarter, so the quartering we see could be something used in the first place by the Genoese.

There is the issue of just how and when the red cross on white becomes associated with St. George. The Saint, as a native of Lydda in Palestine, was popular in the Orthodox Churches (a cave near Beirut is still pointed out as the site of his slaying the dragon, although other places also claim that distinction), and the earliest known depiction of him slaying the dragon is from 11th century Cappadocia, but I am not otherwise aware of him being particularly iconic for the identity of Romania or Constantinople — as I have noted, Byzantine histories have little discussion of such symbols. The crosses in general are artifacts of the Crusades, and the particular popularity of St. George in the West was itself the result of Crusaders bringing his cult and legend back with them. In a 1188 meeting betweenRichard the Lionheart and the King Philip II Augustus of France, red on white was chosen for the Crusaders of France and white on red for those of England, but this was apparently a random assignment and did not involve any preexisting attachment of France, or of these colors, for St. George. And these assignments persisted for some time. In the St. Louis Cathedral in New Orleans, the body of St. Louis, who died in 1270, is still shown draped in the red on white. Since St. George was not the patron of Genoa, the association of the red cross with the Saint is more likely to originate at the source with the Crusaders. It is noteworthy that the church of the English Varangians in Constantinople was dedicated to St. Nicholas and St. Augustine of Canterbury. One would have expected a church of English warriors to involve St. George, if St. George was already associated with England. He wasn’t.

Nevertheless, I do find postive statements at Wikipedia that in England St. George had along been revered and the red cross on white had long been associated with him even before the Third Crusade, and that the white cross on red was assigned by thePope to England but then switched with France at the 1188 meeting between Richard and Philip II. This is inconsistent with my other sources (e.g. Whitney Smith), does not seem to be attested by the evidence, as noted below, and in general is not consistent with the understanding that the use of crosses originated with the Crusades (at a time when national flags or settled national colors did not exist), involved variable colors for many years, and that the veneration of St. George was brought back by the Crusaders. I worry that claims for the antiquity of the specifically English "Cross of St. George" are ahistorical and nationalistic in motivation.

Since the red on white cross, as a symbol of St. George, has become distinctive of England, I begin to wonder to what extent it actually reflects the history of English involvement with Romania. Indeed, if the Cross of St. George here originated with Crusaders in the East, its interpretation as an English symbol could well have been due to the English Varangians themselves, who would have fought under it for many years and picked up the cult of St. George just as the Crusaders did. It is attested that by 1277, the English cross had settled on the red on white coloring, and this was at the time of perhaps the heyday of English Varangians under Michael VIII — who wrote the letter mentioning them in 1272. Whitney Smith says that the red cross was not really prominent for another century [p.182], while The Penguin Dictionary of Saints [1965, 1983] says that George "may have been named the national patron when King Edward III founded the Order of the Garter under his patronage, c.1348" [p.146]. I might therefore entertain the speculation that what became the traditional coloring of the English Cross of St. George, and its identity as the Cross of St. George, might actually have been derived from a Romanian even more than from a Genoese source. This would be a monument unlike any other to the history of the English involvement in Constantinople. Since most histories of England ignore the very existence of English Varangians, the connection of the Cross of St. George to them falls into a kind of secret history.

Raffaele D’Amato [op.cit. p.12] says that one of the last references to the English Varangians was a letter written by John VII (who was Regent, 1399-1403, for his uncle Manuel II) to King Henry IV of England in 1402, speaking of them helping in the Turkish siege of Constantinople, 1394-1402. D’Amato adds that "’Axe-bearing soldiers of the British race’ are referred to by Byzantine envoys in Rome as late as 1404…" This is apparently the last reference to English Varangians. If Michael VIII was also writing to a King of England about English Varangians in 1272, which is possible but is not stated by Blöndal and Benedikz or by D’Amato, this would have been Henry III — which means that Emperors wrote to Kings Henry II, Henry III, and Henry IV about English subjects in the Varangian Guard. That would be a nice touch. Even without Michael VIII, we do see a history of the Emperors expressing concern to Kings of England about the presence and activities of Englishmen in Romania. And there certainly may have been other communications whose record has not survived.

The double headed (dicephalic) Eagle is also a Romanian device, said to have been introduced by Michael VIII, with the two heads looking towards the Anatolian and European halves of the Empire, as the Emperor did from Constantinople. Or, Donald M. Nicol [Byzantium and Venice, a Study in Diplomatic and Cultural Relations, Cambridge University Press, 1999, p. 249] says, it was adopted by Andronicus II to symbolize the division of authority with his grandson, Andronicus III — though it far outlasted that particular division. However, it looks like dicephalic eagles long antedate this and are found in Hittite, Armenian, and even Seljuk iconography, with the latter perhaps suggested by remaining Hittite images in Anatolia. The earliest use in Romania seems to have been with Isaac Comnenus. Eagles have been used by many (including the United States and modern Romania) to imply Roman antecedents; but the double headed eagle, despite the low level of power to which the Palaeologi had fallen, was adopted in particular by the Holy Roman Empire (followed by Austria) and by Russia, and subsequently by Serbia (as we see at left, with the devices discussed above), Montenegro, Armenia, Albania, and others. In direct continuity with Romania, it is also used by the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Although the eagle had disappeared from much Communist iconography, it has returned since the Fall of Communism. One Communist regime that continued to use it even on its flag, was Albania, to commemorate George Castriota (Gjergj Kastrioti), orSkanderbeg, who drove the Turks out of Albania between 1443 and 1463 (note in the genealogy below that Skanderbeg’s son John marries a Palaeologina).

 

 

(TO BE CONTINUED)

Kelley L. Ross, Ph.D. Department of Philosophy, Los Angeles Valley College

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