Between 1430-1444, virtually the entire Peloponnese was under the control of the Despot. The new rulers were brothers, Constantine, Demetrios and Thomas Paleologos.
Constantine had been the most active. He is credited with capturing Patras and building the Hexamillion (6 mile) Wall along the Isthmus at Corinth. This infuriated Sultan Murad. He watched as Constantine moved into central Greece fighting with whoever was an enemy of Byzantium. He quickly recaptured Athens and Thebes by 1444.
Frustrated, Sultan Murad attacked the Hexamilion and destroyed it in December 1446. Constantine was lucky to get away. Sixty thousand people were taken prisoner and sold to slavery in Asia Minor. In another epoch, Constantine would have been one of the best military leaders; alas his resources were stretched despite his fighting abilities. In 1451 Constantine was crowned Byzantine emperor in Mystra upon the death of his brother Manuel in Constantinople. He then made his way to the great city, not on a Byzantine ship, for the empire was close to being bankrupt. A sad indication of what remained of this once great empire.
His brothers succeeded him in the Morea. Demetrios Paleologos effectively oversaw the west and Thomas Paleologos, controlled the other side. In 1453, the Byzantine Empire came to an effective end when Sultan Mehmet took Constantinople after an incredibly heroic defence by Constantine who refused to surrender.
The Morea was now an independent Greek region. The Despotate may have survived for decades more, save for one key fact. The brothers were no Constantine. Their inability to rule properly led to a joint Albanian and Greek revolt. Ironically, the brothers allowed the Ottomans to come to their assistance in 1456. Rather than learn a valuable lesson, they once again misruled, conveniently forgot to pay the Sultan the annual tribute and found ways to insult the Ottomans.
In 1460, an annoyed Mehmet mustered his troops and invaded the Morea. Demetrios was captured whilst Thomas fled to Venice. By September almost the entire Morea was in Ottoman possession. Another independent Greek territory had come to an end.
Had better rulers been in place, the Morea would have lasted long into the next century. The Sultan was more interested in conquering the Black Sea and the Balkans than pesky Greeks.
With the end of the Despotate of the Morea, thereby remained some Greek strongholds reminiscent of the village of Asterix and Obelix in Gaul who fictitiously held out the Romans. Though rather than a magic potion to give them strength, I think local wine was used.
As an aside, the independent Greek strongholds were Trebizond and the Pontus, taken in 1461 after a six-month siege against King David Comnenus, and the Principality of Theodoro, taken in December 1475.
Now let me tell you about the brave town which held out against the Sultan… Located in the north-west of the Morea, the castle of Salmeniko.
The castle was built around 1280, perhaps later, by Latins. A town was formed around the castle and was served by the Foinikas river, sitting by the Panachaiko mountain in Achaea.
The Salmeniko castle in the mountain is perhaps the final Byzantine Morea outpost to remain outside of Ottoman control. Commanded by Graitzas Paleologos, the garrison and many residents held the Turkish speakers at bay. The cannons were useless against the strong walls. When Ottomans had managed to end their supply of water and kept them surrounded, the residents then started lowering sponges off ropes to soak up water, until the Janissaries starting destroying the ropes. The end eventually came in July 1461, when the Sultan agreed to allow the fighters free passage. He respected their fighting qualities. Unfortunately, after he departed, his representative, a Greek, chose to ignore the directive. The first men attempting to make good on the Sultan’s promise were harassed and likely arrested. Graitzas then continued to hold the fort. Knowing that the siege would not end well, and being a fearless Paleologos like Constantine, he fought his way out. His superior fighting skills against far Ottoman forces enabled his fighters to escape to the Venetian fortress of Lepanto; Venice also held Nafplion, Methoni and Koroni.
Paleologos was soon made a commander in the Venetian military where he continued his fight against the Ottomans over the next few years. Sadly, 6000 Salmeniko residents were sold into slavery and 900 boys sent to the despicable Janissary corps.
Salmeniko may have been the last real Greek area, though the peninsula of the Mani; one of the fingers of the Peloponnese bordering Laconia, enjoyed some level of independence. In those days many would-be conquerors had difficulty reaching the area due to its high mountain ranges and inaccessible villages. The Mani had nature and geography on their side, similar to the castle of Salmeniko. The name itself means dry or treeless.
The Mani are an interesting lot. They were only converted from paganism around the ninth and tenth centuries, again owing to their isolation they were virtually forgotten by Christendom. The Mani “held out” against the Ottomans, though in truth, Ottomans didn’t want to stir the Mani. Perhaps like Asterix and Obelix of Gaul!
Theoretically they paid the Sultan a tribute, in return for being allowed their freedom. However, it may have only occurred just once. You try telling a Turkish speaking tax collector to enter the wild of Mani to collect his due. It would be akin to sending you or me to a basketball court to take on Michael Jordan in his prime. The tough and proud Mani were therefore a semi-autonomous region who more or less kept their customs and traditions alive despite the fall of the Morea. Technically they had a local Greek speaking Bey to oversee the Mani Peninsular who was in effect the military chief and judicial head.
In the 1700s, the Mani became the base for the Greek bandits, known as the Klephts. The bandits fought against the Ottomans and other foreigners. In the 1800s, it was the Mani who could feel that the end was nigh for the Ottomans and under the last Bey of Mani, the energetic Petros
Mavromichalis, he declared the Greek revolution at Areopoli on March 17. The Mani were quick to take up the fight through the Klephts and other fighters who had been ready for decades.
One of the greatest known Mani people was Theodoros Kolokotronis who was born in the village of Ramavouni in 1770. He was from a family of Klephts. In 1822 he defeated the Ottomans under Mahmud Dramali Pasha at the Battle of Dervenakia. In 1825, he was appointed commander
of the Greek military. The last general of the Morea, Graitzas Paleologos would have been pleased with the outcome. The Greek war of independence was now being led by fighters and leaders from the old Morea. The name Morea was forgotten by the time of the uprising and subsequent creation of Greece, and possibly along with it, names such as Salmeniko and the Paleologoi. Their fighting spirit, though, was never forgotten and lives on in the region. I sense it every time I visit.
Billy Cotsis is the author of 1453: Constantinople & the Immortal Rulers, out now