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Battle of the Olive Grove of Kountouras

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Battle of the Olive Grove of Kountouras
Part of the Fourth Crusade
Olivenhain.jpg
Date summer 1205
Location Messenia, Peloponnese
Result Decisive Frankish victory
Belligerents
Frankish Crusaders local Greeks and Melingoi
Commanders and leaders
William of Champlitte,
Geoffrey I Villehardouin
Michael
Strength
500 or 700 knights 4,000 or 5,000 foot and horse
Casualties and losses
Light Heavy

The Battle of the Olive Grove of Kountouras took place in the summer of 1205, in Messenia, Peloponnese, between the Frankish Crusaders and the Greeks, resulting in a victory of the Frankish knights and the collapse of the local resistance.

In 1204, Constantinople, the capital city of the Byzantine Empire was taken by the Crusaders of the Fourth Crusade and the Republic of Venice. This led to the collapse of the Byzantine Empire and the establishment of the Latin Empire.

Meanwhile, a Crusader force of between 500 and 700 knights under the command of William of Champlitte and Geoffrey I of Villehardouin advanced into the Peloponnese to deal with Byzantine resistance. In the Olive Grove of Kountouras in Messenia, they confronted an army of around 5,000 Peloponnesian Greeks under the command of a certain Michael. In the ensuing battle, the Crusaders emerged victorious, forcing the Byzantines to retreat and crushing resistance in the Peloponnese. This battle paved the way for the foundation of the Principality of Achaea.

Background[edit]

The army of the Fourth Crusade conquered Constantinople on 12 April 1204. One of the main leaders of the crusade, Boniface of Montferrat, having lost the opportunity to become Emperor, went on to found the Kingdom of Thessalonica. That autumn, William of Champlitte followed him to Thessalonica but then continued south until he reached the Morea (Peloponnese). There he was joined by Geoffrey I of Villehardouin, who had sailed to Modon (Methoni) on his way back from Palestine.

There Geoffrey of Villehardouin had entered the service of a local Greek magnate against his rivals, and had gained the impression that the country was easy to take. When the magnate died, his son broke off the alliance with him, but Villehardouin, learning that the Crusaders under Boniface were besieging the Greek magnate Leo Sgouros in Nauplia and the Acrocorinth in the northwest, set out to seek his aid.[1] Boniface sought to retain him in his own service, but Villehardouin teamed up with his fellow Champenois, Champlitte, whom he enticed with tales of the richness of the land and with a pledge to recognize him as his lord. Boniface finally sanctioned their undertaking, and in charge of around a hundred knights and several soldiers, Champlitte and Villehardouin set out together to conquer the Morea.[2] The towns of Patras and Andravida fell without struggle, and at the latter Champlitte received the homage of the local magnates and people of the Skorta and Mesarea.[3][4] From there the Franks moved south along the coast, accompanied by a fleet, easily taking the fortress of Pontikon, which they repaired and garrisoned. They bypassed the strong fortress of Arkadia (Kyparissia), and passing through Navarino, arrived at Modon. They repaired the fortress walls, long ago torn down by the Venetians to stop its use as a pirate base, and assaulted the nearby fort of Coron, which fell after a single day, and the town of Kalamata, which surrendered.[5][6]

Map of the Peloponnese in the Middle Ages

At this point, the Greeks of Laconia and Arcadia, under the leadership of a certain Michael, tried to stop the Franks at the olive grove of Kountouras in northeastern Messenia.[7] Modern scholars have traditionally identified this Michael with Michael I Komnenos Doukas, founder of the Despotate of Epirus,[5][8] but this identification has been questioned more recently by Raymond-Joseph Loenertz, as the fragile nature of his control over Epirus would have made a departure to aid the Moreote Greeks a major and unlikely gamble.[9][10]

The events of the conquest are narrated by two sources, the various versions of the Chronicle of the Morea, and On the Conquest of Constantinople, by the Crusader Geoffrey of Villehardouin (uncle of Geoffrey I). According to the Chronicle, the Franks had between 700 men, while the Greeks had 4,000, mounted and on foot, drawn from the garrisons of Nikli, Veligosti, Lacedaemon, as well as infantry provided by the Slavic Melingoi tribe of Taygetus. The elder Villehardouin states that the army of Michael (who is not mentioned by the Chronicle) numbered 5000 men and that of the Franks 500. The two sources also differ in the exact chronology of events, with the Chronicle placing the battle after the Frankish capture of Kalamata, and the elder Villehardouin after the seizure of Modon. In any case, despite being outnumbered, the Franks, after a march of a single day, confronted the Greeks and won the battle, no details for which are given.[11]

The exact location of the olive grove of Kountouras in Messenia is unknown; the Greek version of the Chronicle records, apart from the owner's name (Kountouras or the variant form Koundouron), a location name Kepeskianous (Κηπησκιάνους), while a variant form is recorded as Kapsikia (Καψικία). Efforts have been made to identify the locality, with some linking it with the modern village of Kapsia west of Mantinea in Arcadia, but this is too far from the reported area of the battle based on the sources, and furthermore olive trees do not grow in the region.[12]

In Geoffrey's own account, the battle is described thus:[13]

So William of Champlitte and Geoffry of Villehardouin [the nephew] departed from the host, and took with them about a hundred knights, and a great number of mounted sergeants, and entered into the land of Morea, and rode onwards till they came to the city of Modon. Michael heard that they were in the land with so few people, and he collected together a great number of people, a number that was marvellous, and he rode after them as one thinking they were all no better than prisoners, and in his hand. And when they heard tell that he was coming, they refortified Modon, where the defences had long since been pulled down, and there left their baggage, and the lesser folk. Then they rode out a day's march, and ordered their array with as many people as they had. But the odds seemed too great, for they had no more than five hundred men mounted, whereas on the other part there were well over five thousand. But events happen as God pleases; for our people fought with the Greeks and discomfited and conquered them. And the Greeks lost very heavily, while those on our side gained horses and arms enough, and other goods in very great plenty, and so returned very happy, and very joyously, to the city of Modon.

In the Greek version of the Chronicle of the Morea, the battle is described in verses 1720–1738:[14]

ἀκούσασιν κ’ ἐμάθασιν τὸ πῶς ἦλθαν οἱ Φράγκοι / they heard and they learned that the Franks had come,
καὶ περπατοῦν ἐκ τὰ χωρία κ’ ἐπαίρνουσιν τὰ κούρση, / and that they walked through the villages and took the gains of war
καὶ εἶπαν κ’ ἐλογίσαντο νὰ τοὺς ἔχουν ζημιώσει. / and they said and they thought they had been harmed
Ἐκεῖσε ἐπαρεσύρθηκαν, τὸ λέγουν Κηπησκιάνους, / Over there they were drawn, they call it Kepeskianous
ὅπου τὸ κράζουν ὄνομα στὸν Κούντουραν ἐλαιῶνα. / where they name it the olive grove of Kountouras
Ἦσαν χιλιάδες τέσσαρες, πεζοὶ καὶ καβαλλάροι. / They were four thousand, on foot and mounted
Οἱ Φράγκοι γὰρ ὡς τὸ ἐμάθασιν πάλε ἀπὸ τοὺς Ρωμαίους, / The Franks, though, when they learned it from the Romans
ὅπου ἤσασιν γὰρ μετ’ αὐτοὺς κ’ ἐξεύρασιν τοὺς τόπους, / since they were together with them and they knew the place
ἐκεῖ τοὺς ἐπαρέσυραν, ἦλθαν καὶ ηὕρανέ τους / there they drew them, they came and they found them
καὶ πόλεμον ἐδώκασιν οἱ Φράγκοι κ’ οἱ Ρωμαῖοι. / and war they gave the Franks and the Romans.[15]
Κ’ οἱ Φράγκοι γὰρ οὐκ ἤσασιν, πεζοὶ καὶ καβαλλάροι, / And the Franks were not, on foot and mounted,
μόνοι ἑφτακόσιοι μοναχοί, τόσους τοὺς ἐγνωμιάσαν. / but just seven hundred, that many they thought.
Με προθυμίαν ἀρχάσασιν τὸν πόλεμο οἱ Ρωμαῖοι, / Eagerly did the Romans start the war,
διατὶ ὀλίγους τοὺς ἔβλεπαν, ὕστερα ἐμετενοῆσαν. / because they saw them few, but later they were sorry.
Τι νὰ σὲ λέγω τὰ πολλὰ καὶ τὶ τὸ διάφορόν μου; / Why shall I tell you a lot and what do we care?
τὸν πόλεμον ἐκέρδισαν ἐτότε ἐκεῖν’ οἱ Φράγκοι˙ / The war, they won, then, those Franks
ὅλους ἐκατασφάξασιν, ὀλίγοι τοὺς ἐφύγαν. / they slaughtered them all, a few did escape
Αὐτὸν καὶ μόνον πόλεμον ἐποῖκαν οἱ Ρωμαῖοι / That was the only war the Romans made
εἰς τὸν καιρὸν ποῦ ἐκέρδισαν οἱ Φράγκοι τὸν Μορέαν. / during the time that the Franks won the Morea.

Aftermath[edit]

The Battle of the Olive Grove of Kountouras was decisive for the conquest of the Peloponnese by the Franks, as it represented the last general effort of the local Greeks to resist.[16] The eminent historian of Frankish Greece, William Miller, likened the battle to a "Hastings of the Morea",[2] writing that the "fate of the Morea, like that of Saxon England, was decided by a single pitched battle".[5]

After their victory, the Crusaders rested for a while in the rich plain of Messenia. Champlitte called a council of war to determine their future strategy, and sent the fleet, which until then had accompanied them, home. In late 1205 or 1206, the Crusaders went on to capture Arkadia, whose siege lasted for some time, as well as the fortress of Araklovon, whose resistance was led by the celebrated warrior Doxapatres Voutsaras.[17] By this time, the entire northern and western of the peninsula was under the rule of Champlitte. The northwest belonged to the Duchy of Athens under the suzerainty of Boniface of Montferrat, although Leo Sgouros and his men still held out in their two fortresses; and Laconia and the mountains of the Taygetus and Tsakonia remained still unsubdued. Nevertheless, the first stage of the Frankish conquest was complete, and in a letter to Pope Innocent III on 19 November 1205, Champlitte claimed for himself the title princeps totius Achaiae provincie, establishing a new state, the Principality of Achaea.[18][16]

References[edit]

  1. ^ Miller 1908, pp. 36–37.
  2. ^ a b Miller 1908, p. 37.
  3. ^ Miller 1908, pp. 37–38.
  4. ^ Bon 1969, p. 60.
  5. ^ a b c Miller 1908, p. 38.
  6. ^ Bon 1969, pp. 60–61.
  7. ^ Fine 1994, pp. 69–70.
  8. ^ Longnon 1969, p. 237.
  9. ^ Fine 1994, pp. 66–67, 70.
  10. ^ Loenertz 1973, pp. 377–381, 388–391.
  11. ^ Bon 1969, pp. 61–62.
  12. ^ Bon 1969, pp. 241–242.
  13. ^ Geoffrey de Villehardouin (1829). Translated by T. Smith, ed. The chronicle of Geoffry de Villehardouin, Marshal of Champagne and Romania concerning the conquest of Constantinople, by the French and Venetians, anno M.CCIV. London: William Pickering. 
  14. ^ The original Greek text is from Το Χρονικόν του Μορέως, edition by P. Kalonaros, Athens 1940
  15. ^ "Romans" (Rhomaioi) was the name that the Byzantine Greeks were using to describe themselves (cf. Names of the Greeks)
  16. ^ a b Bon 1969, p. 63.
  17. ^ Bon 1969, pp. 61, 63.
  18. ^ Miller 1908, pp. 38–39.

Sources[edit]