Byzantine–Genoese War (1348–49)

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Byzantine–Genoese War
Part of the Byzantine–Latin Wars
Byzantine empire 1355.jpg
Byzantine Empire and surrounding territory in 1355, shortly after the Byzantine–Genoese War of 1348–1349.
Date 1348–1349
Location Aegean Sea, Bosphorus, Galata and Constantinople
Result Byzantine military failure, but favorable diplomatic outcome.[1]
Belligerents
 Byzantine Empire  Republic of Genoa
Commanders and leaders
Byzantine Empire John VI Kantakouzenos Republic of Genoa Giovanni I di Murta

The Byzantine–Genoese War of 1348–1349, also known as the Galata War, was fought over control over custom dues through the Bosphorus. The Byzantines attempted to break their dependence for food and maritime commerce on the Genoese merchants of Galata, a suburb across the Golden Horn from Constantinople, by rebuilding their own naval power. Their newly-constructed navy was captured by the Genoese, but they were able to conclude a favorable peace agreement.

Background

The Genoese were granted Galata after the recovery of Constantinople in 1261, following the Treaty of Nymphaeum. The terms of this agreement allowed the Genoese to collect tariffs on goods passing through their trade colony. They undercut the customs rates at Constantinople, diverting a large portion of revenues from the empire: by 1348, only thirteen percent of custom dues passing through the Bosphorus were going to the empire.[2]

After the civil war of 1341–1347, the Byzantine Empire was nearly bankrupt. Thrace, the only remaining territory of any size, was completely ravaged, and the Black Death, which struck in 1347, reduced economic activity. Import duties were one of the few remaining sources of revenue.[3] Emperor John VI Kantakouzenos, in desperate need of funds, therefore lowered tariffs in order to compete with Genoese traffic.

The conflict

Map of Byzantine Constantinople, with Galata at the center-top.

Anticipating that this would anger the Genoese, who had meanwhile been extending Galata's fortifications, Kantakouzenos began building a fleet. The Byzantine navy had been a notable force in the Aegean during the reign of Andronikos III Palaiologos, but was completely destroyed during the civil war. The emperor - with great difficulty, raised 50,000 hyperpyra from private sources for a shipbuilding program for the expected war.

The Genoese, financially hard-hit from this policy, preemptively declared war on the empire. In August 1348, a flotilla of ships sailed across the Horn and burned the Byzantine fleet in harbor[4] and attacked the walls of Constantinople. This roused the citizens to defend their city, and the Genoese assault was repulsed. The emperor was forced to raise funds to equip a new fleet, which was ready by early 1349. The Byzantines prepared an attack on Galata by land and sea: an army was to besiege the settlement while the fleet would attack the ships and wharves. As the fleet sailed across the Horn, a gale descended; the inexperienced Greek sailors panicked and jumped overboard, leaving their ships adrift. Watching this with horror, the besieging army itself panicked and took flight.

Soon thereafter, plenipotentiaries arrived from Genoa to negotiate a peace agreement. Despite the catastrophic loss of the Byzantine fleet, the Genoese realized that Galata would be at risk if they embittered the Byzantines, and did not want to provoke them into an alliance with Venice. They therefore agreed to pay a war indemnity of 100,000 hyperpyra and evacuate the land behind Galata which they illegally occupied; last, they promised never to attack Constantinople. In return, Byzantium surrendered nothing.[4]

Aftermath

The 1348-49 war saw a slight improvement in Byzantine finances, allowing them to rebuild their naval forces yet again. There soon followed another agreement with the Genoese, whereby they promised to return Chios, which they had seized during the recent civil war, in ten years time. Its custodians would in the meantime pay rent to Constantinople.[5]

The alliance with Genoa was not to last: in 1350, Venice and Genoa were at war, and the former were able to induce the Byzantines into an alliance. Following the disastrous Battle of the Straits in February 1352, the Byzantines were forced to make new, less favorable terms with Genoa.[6]

Notes

  1. Ostrogorsky states the Byzantines lost this conflict, while Norwich believes they won.
  2. Ostrogorsky, p.528.
  3. Ostrogorsky, p.526
  4. 4.0 4.1 Norwich, p.346
  5. Nicol, p.100
  6. Nicol, p.113-15

Sources

  • Nicol, Donald. The Reluctant Emperor: A Biography of John Cantacuzene, Byzantine Emperor and Monk, C. 1295–1383, Cambridge University Press, 1996
  • Norwich, John. A Short History of Byzantium, Alfred A. Knopf Press, New York, 1997
  • Ostrogorsky, George. History of the Byzantine State, Rutgers University Press, 1969