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Three Millennia of Greek Literature

Vasilief, A History of the Byzantine Empire

The Empire of Nicaea (1204-1261)

The Despotat of Epirus and its relation to the Empire of Nicaea 


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For the further destiny of the Empire of Nicaea the history of the Despotat of Epirus was extremely important. Epirus was the second Greek center, where, under certain conditions, might have been concentrated the interests of the western Greek patriots and from which might have come the idea of the restoration of the Byzantine Empire, The two Greek states, Epirus and Nicaea, which could not come to a satisfactory compromise in their rivalry to bring about Hellenic unification, were unavoidably to struggle to restore Byzantium.

The founder of the Despotat of Epirus in 1204 was Michael I Angelus. The family of the Epirotic Angeli was related to the families of the Comneni and Ducae, and therefore the names of the rulers of Epirus are sometimes accompanied by a long dynastic title Angelus Comnenus Ducas. Originally the possessions of the Despotat of Epirus had extended from Dyrrachium (Durazzo) in the north to the Gulf of Corinth in the south; that is to say, they had occupied the territory of ancient Epirus, Acarnania, and Aetolia. The city of Arta became the capital of the new state.

The history of the Despotat of Epirus in the thirteenth century is not yet thoroughly investigated and the sources are far from complete; for this reason, many questions still remain debatable and dark. Much light has been thrown upon the history of the Despotat by the letters of John Apocaucus (Apokaukos), the metropolitan of Naupactus (Lepanto), which were published at the end of the nineteenth century by V. G. Vasilievsky.

In its internal administration the Despotat did not differ from the system in use before 1204, when its territory had formed a province of the Byzantine Empire; the name of the form of government changed, but the people continued to live on the basis of the Byzantine administration. Surrounded on all sides by the Latin and Slavonic states, on the east by the feudal Kingdom of Thessalonica, on the northeast by the Bulgarian Kingdom, and on the west by the possessions of Venice which threatened the coast of Epirus, the Despotat was obliged to develop a strong military power that might, in case of need, offer an adequate resistance to external foes. The mountainous and inaccessible nature of the country also served as a great support. The despot Michael I considered himself an absolutely independent ruler and did not recognize any superiority or leadership on the part of Theodore Lascaris of Nicaea. The church in the Despotat was also independent, and Michael I commanded the bishops to be ordained by the local metropolitans.

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