Posted by: History Of Macedonia | July 8, 2007

Epirus – The Byzantine era

There is not much information available on Epirus in the early centuries of the Byzantine empire. The region was at a distance from the main axes of barbarian raids, as well as the battlefields where these were checked.

However, in brief references, the Byzantine chronographers reveal the fact that the Visigoths, led by Alaric, and the Ostrogoths, led by Theoderic, passed through Epirus on their way to Italy. During the same period (the fifth century)

Epirus was also wracked by great earthquakes and plagues. Gaiseric’s Vandals completed these disasters by occupying Nicopolis and raiding the Epirotan coastline. Later (AD 551), the Goths led by Totila destroyed Dodona and most of the cities in Epirus.

During the 6th century various Slavic tribes began raids that lasted intermittently through the tenth century. According to the opinions of reliable historians, the Slavs were nomadic peoples, and, in time, were absorbed by the local population. As a result, scant evidence remains attesting to their passage, and this includes some place names in the mountain regions where they settled The Bulgarian raids had a greater impact on the region: circa AD 929 they completely leveled Nicopolis and other Epirotan cities. Nevertheless, the Byzantine emperor Basil “the Bulgar-slayer” finally rid Epirus and the rest of the Greek peninsula of the Bulgarian danger.

During all this period, despite the raids and destruction, Epirus didn’t lose its Greek character. In the Synecdemus of Hierocles, an administrative gazetteer of the early Byzantine Empire, the “old Epirus is mentioned as the 12th province and the “new” as the 13th, with a total of 21 cities.”

The testimony of Hierocles is confirmed by the historian Procopius, who further mentions which of the cities, that had been destroyed by the earthquakes and the barbarians, were rebuilt and fortified by Justinian.”

Later, Emperor Constantine Porphyrogennetus, who talked about the new administrative divisions of the state, the themata, repeats what Hierocles writes about the two provinces of Epirus. Οne can deduce from all the sources, that Epirus, both “old and “new,” was a flourishing Greek region that included 21 cities.

Under the Comnenian dynasty, the threat from the west reappeared. The Normans of Southern Italy, led by the notorious Robert Guiscard, landed at Kanina (near Valona), and taking advantage of the internal Byzantine strife, as well as of the Seljuk raids in Asia Minor, attempted to conquer the Byzantine Empire. Thus began, in 1082, an epic struggle in northwestern Epirus, centered around Durazzo, which with many fluctuations lasted until AD 1107. Alexius Comnenus finally managed to turn back the Norman raids in Epirus. However, later on, during the Crusades, his heirs could not withstand the pressure of the Western world. In 1204 the western armies of the Fourth Crusade conquered Constantinople and plundered it. The Byzantine Empire fell apart.

As the two-headed Byzantine eagle fled, heavily injured, to Nicaea in Asia Minor, the Byzantine provinces in Europe, one after the other, fell into the hands of the violent Crusader knights, and were transformed into numerous Frankish petty states. Epirus, however, held on to its independence.

The renowned Despotate of Epirus, which was founded during that time, constitutes the best proof, not only of the Hellenicity of the region during that period, but also of the firm spirit of resistance of the Epirotan people to foreign invaders. Michael Comnenus Ducas (1204-1216), who founded the Despotate, succeeded in stabilizing his hold over the entire area of both provinces of Epirus. His brother, Theodore Comnenus Ducas, who succeeded him, extended the boundaries of the Despotate, liberating Thessaly and Macedonia, and reaching the river Hebrus. Indeed, it appeared that he would also liberate Constantinople. In 1230, however, in the battle of Klokotnitsa, near Adrianople, he was defeated and captured by the Bulgarians.

The heirs to the throne of the Despotate clashed with the Greek Empire of Nicaea, with the result that the recapture of Constantinople from the Franks was delayed. The Despotate also lost the prestige it had gained under its first two rulers. Epirus during that period, free from attacks by the Franks and the Slavs, flourished and enjoyed great prosperity, as is attested in the towns of Epirus by the many Byzantine buildings (churches, forts, aqueducts, bridges, etc.) dating from this time of hardship for Hellenism.

The Despotate of Epirus offered inestimable services to Hellenism in the dark period of the Frankish Occupation. As Paparregopoulos epigrammatically states “[Epirus] at that time, saved the Greek nation in Europe.”

When Constantinople was retaken, Epirus was for a short period (ca. 1335) incorporated into the Byzantine Empire, which, however, never succeeded in recovering its previous glory. The Serbs formed a powerful state and began to push southward, reaching as far as the river Genusus and the gates of Thessalonica. In 1349 Stephen Dushan occupied all of western Greece, reaching as far as Acarnania, and proclaimed himself emperor of “the Serbs and the Romans.” Many Albanians, who had helped him in his conquests, came from the areas north and settled in Epirus.

The situation following his demise was chaotic. Charles Thopia, an Albanian tribal chief, who in 1368 proclaimed himself “King of Albania,” prevailed in the northern part of greater Epirus. The Serbs, who retained their hold on central Epirus, with Ioannina as its capital, ceded the territory to the Florentine Esau Buondelmonti (1385). The southern provinces of Epirus were under the control of various Albanian tribal chieftains.

By the end of this period there appeared in Europe for the first time a new wave of raiders from the East, the Ottoman Turks. On 9 October 1431, the Ottomans occupied Ioannina and within a few years they extended their dominion over all of Epirus.

1-Brittanika, Epirus
2-Konstantinos Vakalopoulos, Epiros
3-The Struggle Of North Epirus, Greek DIS
4-Epirus:4000 years of Greek history and Civilization

Written by Akritas


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