Battle of Pelagonia

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Battle of Pelagonia
Part of the Byzantine-Latin wars
Date September 1259
Location Pelagonia
Result Decisive Nicaean victory
Principality of Achaea
Despotate of Epirus
Kingdom of Sicily
Empire of Nicaea
Commanders and leaders
William II of Achaea (POW)
Michael II of Epirus
John of Thessaly (defected)
John Palaiologos
Alexios Strategopoulos
John of Thessaly
Unknown, but more than the Nicaeans 6,000 men[1]
Casualties and losses
Heavy Unknown

The Battle of Pelagonia took place in September 1259, between the Empire of Nicaea and the Despotate of Epirus, Sicily and the Principality of Achaea. It was a decisive event in the history of the Eastern Mediterranean, ensuring the Byzantine reconquest of Constantinople and the end of the Latin Empire in 1261, and marks the beginning of the Byzantine recovery of Greece.[2] This battle is also notable for being the last appearance of the famous Varangian Guard.[3]

The exact location of the battle remains unclear. It has been called the Battle of Kastoria,[4] because three Byzantine sources (i.e. Pachymeres, George Akropolites and Nikephoros Gregoras) inform us that the Epirote camp was first attacked there in a location called Boril's Wood (Βορίλλα λόγγος).[2][5] However, since the conflict also includes a siege of Prilep, it is justifiably called the Battle of Pelagonia.

The Nicaean emperor, Theodore II Laskaris, died in 1258 and was succeeded by the young John IV Laskaris, under the regency of Michael VIII Palaiologos, who was determined to restore the Byzantine Empire and recapture all of the territory it held before the Fourth Crusade. In 1259, William II Villehardouin married Anna Komnena Doukaina (also known as Agnes), daughter of Michael II of Epirus, cementing an alliance between the Despotate of Epirus and Achaea against Nicaea. They also allied with Manfred of Sicily who sent them 400 knights.[6]

In March 1259, the Nicaean army, led by sebastos John Palaiologos, attacked the Epirote camp in Kastoria, which resulted in Michael II retreating to Berat.[2] In September of the same year, the Achaean and Epirote army marched north to meet the Nicaean forces. The Nicaeans were led by the sebastocrator Theodore Doukas, the brother of Michael II of Epirus. According to the French Chronicle of Morea, the Nicaean force consisted of the main Byzantine army, with Turkish mercenaries, 2,000 Cumans, 300 Germans, 13,000 Hungarians, and 4,000 Serbs, and some Vlachs. There were supposedly 27 cavalry divisions, although all of these numbers are probably exaggerated. Theodore also gathered all the local peasants and their flocks and placed them on the hilltops, so that from far away they might appear to be part of the army.

Theodore then sent a false deserter to Michael II and William, exaggerating the number of Nicaean troops and chastizing Michael for attempting to attack a family member. The baron of Karytaina, Geoffrey of Briel, one of the Frankish leaders, did not believe the deserter, and convinced the Achaeans to stay when they decided to flee. Still, Michael and his troops deserted during the night and fled; according to George Pachymeres this is because Michael's illegitimate son John quarrelled with William.

On the next day, the Frankish knights attacked the German mercenaries under the duke of Carinthia on the Nicaean side. The duke was killed in the fight. The Hungarian archers then killed all the Achaean horses, leaving the knights effectively defenceless. The Achaean foot-soldiers fled and the knights surrendered; Prince William fled as well and hid under a nearby haystack where he was soon captured. Theodore brought him to John Palaiologos, brother of Michael VIII, who was in command of the expedition, and William was forced to give up strategic fortresses in Achaea (including Mystras) before he was set free.

John Palaiologos went on to capture Thebes. The Principality of Achaea, which had become the strongest French state in Greece in the aftermath of the Fourth Crusade, was now reduced to Nicaean vassalage; the Duchy of Athens soon became the dominant French state. Michael VIII took advantage of the defeat to recapture Constantinople in 1261.

In the Chronicle of Morea, there is a problem with the document's claim that the "Duke of Carinthia" was present at the battle. The duke at the time was Ulrich III of Carinthia, but he ruled for many years after 1259, and was probably not at the battle; the writer of the Chronicle may have invented a fictitious duke as a counterbalance to William.


  1. ^ Treadgold 1997, p. 819.
  2. ^ a b c Jeffreys & Haarer 2006, Robert Mihajlovski, "The Battle of Pelagonia 1259: A New Look through the March Routes and Topography", p. 370.
  3. ^ Geanakoplos 1959, p. 43 (including note).
  4. ^ Geanakoplos 1953, p. 136; Wolff 1954, pp. 45–84.
  5. ^ Macrides 2007, p. 363.
  6. ^ Ostrogorsky 1969, pp. 447–448.