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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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The original task of the Despot of Epirus was to preserve Hellenism in the western districts of Greece from absorption by the neighboring Franks and Bulgars. Broader aims, which led the Despotat far beyond the narrow limits of its own interests, appeared and developed later.

During the reign of Theodore Lascaris Nicaea seems to have had no conflicts with the Despotat. With the ascension of John Vatatzes to the throne, circumstances changed. At that time the brother of the slain Michael, Theodore, sat on the throne of Epirus. His name is connected with the idea of the expansion of his state at the expense of the Latins and Bulgars.

In his brother's lifetime the new despot, Theodore Angelus, had stayed at the court of the Emperor of Nicaea. When the late Michael I had begged Theodore Lascaris to let his brother go back to Epirus to help the despot in ruling the state, the Emperor of Nicaea granted Michael's request, having previously exacted from Theodore of Epirus an oath of allegiance to him as emperor as well as to his successors. Theodore Lascaris apprehensions proved well grounded. When Theodore Angelus had become the Despot of Epirus, he paid no attention to the oath he had taken to the Emperor of Nicaea, and when he judged it advisable, he opened hostilities against Nicaea.

The first act that drew attention to Theodore Angelus was his capture of the Latin Emperor of Constantinople, Peter de Courtenay, count of Auxerre. After Henry's death (1216), the barons elected as emperor his brother-in-law, Peter de Courtenay, who had married Yolande, the sister of Baldwin and Henry. At the time of his election he was with his wife in France. Having received the news of the election, he set out with her for Constantinople by way of Rome, where Pope Honorius III crowned Peter with the imperial crown, not in St. Peter's, but in San Lorenzo Fuori le Mura, wishing to emphasize the fact that the Empire of Romania in the East was not the Empire of Rome in the West, a distinction which might have been obscured if the coronation of an eastern emperor had taken place in St. Peter's, where the western emperors, beginning with Charlemagne and Otto I, had been crowned. From Italy Peter sent his wife, Yolande, by sea to Constantinople; he and his troops sailed across the Adriatic and landed near Dyrrachium, hoping to reach the capital by land. But Theodore Angelus attacked him from an ambush in the mountains of Epirus, and defeated and captured the greater part of Peter's troops. The Emperor himself, according to one source, fell in battle; according to another, was seized by Theodore and died in Greek captivity. V. G. Vasilievsky said, this deed of Theodore absolutely in Greek-Byzantine taste produced a particularly strong impression on the West, where the chroniclers painted in the very darkest colors Theodore's savagery and cruelty. The fate of Peter de Courtenay, like that of the first Latin Emperor, Baldwin, is veiled in mystery; in all likelihood, Peter died in prison. Meanwhile, the widow of Peter, Yolande, who had reached Constantinople, governed the Empire for the two years before her death (1217-19). The death of Peter de Courtenay must be regarded as the first attack of the Despotat of Epirus, that is to say, of the western Hellenic center, upon the Latin newcomers to the Balkan peninsula.

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Reference address : https://www.ellopos.net/elpenor/vasilief/epirus-nicaea.asp?pg=2