Dedicated to the military history and civilization of the Eastern Roman Empire (330 to 1453)

"Time in its irresistible and ceaseless flow carries along on its flood all created things and drowns them in the depths of obscurity."

- - - - Princess Anna Comnena (1083–1153) - Byzantine historian

Thursday, December 1, 2011

Byzantine–Genoese War

Genoese Dromone 11th Century

Byzantine–Genoese War (1348–1349)


The Byzantines were desperately trying to rebuild the Empire after having been gang raped by their fellow Christians in the Fourth Crusade.  They were still being pressed on all sides by Bulgaria, Serbia, Venice, Genoa and the Muslim Ottoman Turks.

The devastation of the Byzantine 1341–1347 civil war so greatly weakened the Empire that its financial reserves were irrevocably depleted.

To regain control over their finances and their fate the Byzantine's only recourse was to break their dependence for food and maritime commerce on the Genoese merchants of Galata.  The Byzantines made an attempt to take control of the custom duties and tariffs of the trade route through the Bosphorus and rebuild their naval power.

Galata Tower in the Genoese colony.

Constantinople was the Imperial seat of power and was the cultural and military center of the state. But only thirteen percent of custom dues passing through the strait were going to the Empire. The remaining 87 percent was collected by the Genoese from their colony of Galata.  Genoa collected 200,000 hyperpyra from annual custom revenues from Galata, while Constantinople collected a mere 30,000.

The 1348-49 war was the last attempt for the Byzantines to retake control single-handedly.

The Battle

The Emperor John VI Kantakouzenos lowered Constantinople's duties and most tariffs to undercut the Genoese in Galata.  With the treasury empty, the Emperor had raised 50,000 hyperpyra from private sources for a shipbuilding program. When the tariffs and custom duties were finally lowered, merchant shipping coming through the strait bypassed Genoese Galata and diverted their ships across the Golden Horn to Byzantine Constantinople.

This was a direct attack on the income of the Genoese merchant colony of Galata and war was declared in 1348.  The Genoese sailed their navy to Constantinople in 1349 and destroyed the Byzantine fleet.  The Byzantines retaliated by burning wharfs and warehouses along the shore and catapulted stones and burning bales of hay into Galata, setting major parts of the city on fire.

Peace Treaty

After weeks of fighting the representatives of Genoa negotiated a peace agreement.

The Genoese agreed to pay a war indemnity of 100,000 hyperpyra and evacuated the land behind Galata which they illegally occupied; finally they promised never to attack Constantinople. In return the Byzantine surrendered nothing, however the Genoese custom duties remain in effect.

The war was a total loss for the Byzantines.  A one-time peace payment to the Emperor by Genoa was meaningless.  The permanent yearly income from tariffs and custom duties remained in the hands of Genoa.

With almost no financial resources available to them to support a military, Byzantium began its' death spiral ending with the fall of Constantinople in 1453.

No comments: