The Franks in the Peloponnese

Nicolas Cheetham describes how the Fourth Crusaders captured Byzantium in 1204 and French noblemen created feudal principalities in Southern Greece.

It was in the Peloponnese that the Franks for the first time encountered real opposition to their invasion of the Byzantine Empire. Their initial attempts to break into a triangle of fortresses failed signally, and the stalemate that ensued was only dissolved by a diversion from the south. In the winter of 1204 a young nobleman from Champagne, Geoffroy de Villehardouin, had been driven by a storm into the harbour of Modon in the southern Peloponnese.

He was in fact trying to sail from Palestine, where he had been on pilgrimage, to Constantinople, in the hope of joining the crusading army. He had heard of the capture of the city, and his eagerness to share in the prizes of the conquest was enhanced by the knowledge that his own uncle and namesake was one of the outstanding leaders in that venture.

The elder Geoffroy, who held the title of Marshal of Champagne, had distinguished himself both as a warrior and in the political intrigues which preceded the assault on the Byzantine capital: what was more important for posterity, he related his experiences in the most valuable chronicle we possess of the Fourth Crusade.

While weather-bound at Modon, Villehardouin and his followers passed the time in helping a local Greek archon to extend his lands to the detriment of his neighbours, an occupation he no doubt found profitable, but it also opened his eyes to the possibilities of carving out a domain of his own in a peninsula, known also as the Morea and as Achaia, from which all orderly central authority had vanished. But after a while his Greek patron died, leaving a son who distrusted westerners and would have no more to do with him.

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