Battle of the Olive Grove of Koundouros

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Battle of the Olive Grove of Koundouros
Part of the Fourth Crusade
Olivenhain.jpg
Date 1205 AD
Location Messenia, Peloponnese
Result Decisive Frankish victory
Belligerents
Franks of the Fourth Crusade Byzantines
Commanders and leaders
William of Champlitte,
Geoffrey I Villehardouin
Michael I Ducas
Strength
500-700 knights 4000 or 5000
Casualties and losses
Light Heavy

The Battle of the Olive Grove of Koundouros or Koundouras took place in the spring of 1205, in Messinia, Peloponnese, between the Franks and the Greeks, resulting in a victory of the Frankish knights and the collapse of the local resistance.[1]

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 Koundouros in Messenia, they confronted an army of around 5,000 Peloponnesian Greeks under the command of Michael I Ducas. 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. There he was joined by Geoffrey I Villehardouin, who sailed to Modon (Methoni) on his way back from Palestine.

In charge of around a hundred knights and several soldiers, Champlitte and Villehardouin campaigned together to conquer Morea. They initially captured Methoni with the support of John Kantakouzenos. They occupied the main cities of the western Peloponnese while meeting little resistance. The Greeks of Lakonia, Arkadia and Argolis, under Michael I Komnenos Doukas, who at the time was the Byzantine governor of the theme of the Peloponnese,[2] and Michael Kantakouzenos, the son of the then-deceased John Kantakouzenos, tried to stop the Franks at the Olive Grove of Koundouros, near Koroni.[3]

Primary sources[edit]

The battle is described in two original texts, The Chronicle of the Conquest of Constantinople, by Geoffrey of Villehardouin, written around 1207–1212 AD, and The Chronicle of Morea, written around 1300.

Both texts are written from the point of view of the conquerors. The first was written by the uncle of one of the two commanders who won the battle. The second was probably written by a person born from a mixed French-Greek marriage, since his attitude throughout the text is that of admiration for the Franks and contempt of the locals.

Description of the battle[edit]

Map of the Peloponnese in the Middle Ages

According to the Chronicle of the Morea, the Franks had 700 men, while the "Romans" (Byzantine Greeks) had 4000 men, mounted and unmounted. Geoffrey of Villehardouin, uncle of Geoffrey I, in his Chronicle, states that the army of Michael I numbered 5000 men and that of the Franks 500. In any case, despite being outnumbered, the Franks won the battle.[4] The resistance of the Greeks was paralyzed and all the castles and cities of the Peloponnese fell one after the other. Michael I fled to Epirus to establish the Despotate of Epirus.

The exact location of the olive grove of Koundouros in Messenia is unknown; Geoffrey of Villehardouin mentions that it was one day's distance from the castle of "Modon" (Methoni), locating it somewhere in the Messenian plain, which is full of olive groves even today. In the Chronicle of the Morea, apart from the owner's name (Kountouras), a location name is also indicated: Kepeskianous (Κηπησκιάνους), for which there is no information nor any contemporary name.

In Geoffrey's own account:[5]

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 Chronicle of the Morea, the battle is described in verses 1720–1738:[6]

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 Kepescianous
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.
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[7] 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 Kountoura was decisive for the conquest of the Peloponnese by the Franks. After their victory, there was no serious threat against them in the Morea. In Andravida, they were received by the people and Church. The only resistance met later was defensive, by Leo Sgouros, guarding the castles of Nafplion and Acrocorinth. William of Champlitte was able to build upon his victories by forming the Principality of Achaia, a Frankish state comprising most of the Peloponnese except for the Venetian cities on the coast.

References[edit]

  1. ^ Curta, Florin (2006). Southeastern Europe in the Middle Ages, 500–1250. Cambridge University Press. xxv. ISBN 0-521-81539-8. 
  2. ^ Fine, John V (1994). The Late Medieval Balkans: A Critical Survey from the Late Twelfth Century to the Ottoman Conquest. University of Michigan Press. p. 66. ISBN 0-472-08260-4. 
  3. ^ Setton, Kenneth Meyer (1976). The Papacy and the Levant, 1204–1571. The American Philosophical Society. Diane Publishing Co. p. 25. ISBN 0-87169-114-0. 
  4. ^ Adolph Koeppen, Sketches of a traveler from Greece, Constantinople, Asia Minor, Syria and Palestine. VII. My travels in Peloponnesus. C. History of Sparta and the Morea During the Sclavonian invasions and the Crusades. Mercersburg Review, By Reformed Church in the United States Publications Board, German Reformed Church in the United States, 1857
  5. ^ 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. 
  6. ^ The original Greek text is from Το Χρονικόν του Μορέως (The Chronicle of the Morea), edition by P. Kalonaros, Athens 1940 (in Greek)
  7. ^ The Romans (Rhomaioi) was the name that the Byzantine Greeks were using to describe themselves, see also: The Names of the Greeks