Latin Empire

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Latin Empire


(Romania) a state created in 1204 as a result of the conquest of part of Byzantium by French and Italian crusaders participating in the Fourth Crusade. The Latin Empire included a considerable portion of the Balkan Peninsula, northwest Asia Minor, and islands in the Aegean and Ionian seas. These territories were divided among the leaders of the crusaders, rank-and-file knights, the Republic of Venice, and the Venetian nobles. The emperor received a fourth of the territory of the Latin Empire, including a fourth of Constantinople. The first emperor of the Latin Empire was Count Baldwin IX of Flanders.

The most important feudal possessions in the Latin Empire were the Kingdom of Thessalonika, the Principality of Achaea, and the Duchy of Athens. Although it inherited certain features of Byzantium’s state organization, the Latin Empire was basically a feudal monarchy similar to the French monarchy. The emperors imitated the luxury of the Byzantine court, but their authority was limited by a council of the most prominent lords and the Venetian podestà, which consisted of six councillors. Most of the higher positions were similar to Western European ones, even though some of them had Greek titles. The Byzantine system of taxes was retained. The empire’s political structure was set forth in the assizes of Romania. Its small ruling class was organized according to feudal hierarchical principles. The Greek (Byzantine) feudal aristocracy, some of whose members merged with the Latin Empire’s ruling class, enjoyed a special legal position and practiced special forms of ownership. The Greek peasantry, as a rule, was bound to the land and burdened with new obligations (banalities). Because the leading positions in trade and industry were seized by the Venetians, the Greek handicrafts declined. The upper church hierarchy (primarily Catholic bishops) was headed by a Catholic patriarch, but most of the rank-and-file clergy were Orthodox and continued to perform the Orthodox rites.

The Greek and Latin cultures did not merge organically in the Latin Empire. The empire was weakened by the hostility of the local population toward the crusaders, which was aroused by economic, political, and religious discrimination against the Greeks, the retention of the burdensome Byzantine tax system, and internal contradictions among the Latin feudal lords. On Apr. 14, 1205, Latin knights were defeated by Bulgarian troops outside Adrianople. In Asia Minor the empire at first reinforced its sovereignty over its possessions by the Treaty of Nymphaeum, which was signed in 1214 with the Empire of Nicaea. However, almost all of these possessions were lost in 1225, after the defeat of the Latin Empire by the Nicaean emperor at Pymanion. The Latin Empire retained only the shore of the Bosporus and the area around Nicomedia. In 1224 the despot of Epirus conquered Thessaloniki, and the Kingdom of Thessalonika fell. In 1235–36 troops of the Nicaean and Bulgarian rulers, who had united for the struggle against the Latin Empire, conquered most of Thrace. Only the subsequent break between the two allies gave the Latin Empire a brief reprieve. In the battle of Pelagonia (1259), Nicaean troops routed the forces of Epirus and the Principality of Achaea, and the prince of Achaea was captured. On July 25, 1261, Nicaean troops took Constantinople, meeting almost no resistance. As a result, the Latin Empire was liquidated. However, certain feudal possessions in central and southern Greece, which had once been part of the Latin Empire, were held by Romanian feudal lords until the 15th century.


Istoriia Vizantii, vol. 3. Moscow, 1967.
Longnon, J. L’Empire latin de Constantinople…. Paris, 1949.
Miller, W. The Latins in the Levant: A History of Frankish Greece (1204–1566). Cambridge [1964].


References in classic literature ?
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In the eighth century, when the emperor of Constantinople outlawed icons and initiated a 55-year wave of destruction of sacred images in the East, many iconographers fled to Italy for safety and continued their work under the pope's protection.
Otto may not have lent the report much credence, but by about 1160 an anonymous monk in the Latin West had produced a letter purported to be written by a Prester John to the emperor of Constantinople. Among other things it described the power of John and the riches of his land as those of the Cathay that has become associated with the travels of Marco Polo.
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