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This dissertation discusses the politics of conquest and the strategies of legitimization pursued by Latin, Greek and Slav contenders for hegemonic rule in the northeastern Mediterranean after the collapse of the Byzantine Empire in the wake of the fourth crusade. It reevaluates the relationship between the concepts of empire and Christendom as played out in the process of political realignment, and examines the ways in which the key actors claiming to represent these concepts - emperors, popes, and patriarchs - fought or cooperated with one another in order to achieve regional predominance. The tension between the Roman/Byzantine ideal of universalism, which assumed a sole holder of imperial authority, and the concrete reality of several empires coexisting within the same geographical area is also considered. The analysis of ruling patterns, diplomatic encounters and military engagements indicates that, even if the state or Church leaders playing the game of empire used different means to reach their ends, they all acted within the same conceptual framework regarding universal rule, which eventually prevented the multipolar world produced by the fourth crusade from becoming a long-lasting phenomenon. The secular participants in the quest for hegemony established imperial centers as alternatives to Constantinople, but they made use of Byzantine regalia, titles, rhetoric of power and governing style to promote themselves as legitimate possessors of the imperium. Full control over the former Byzantine capital was still understood as a major prerequisite to universal leadership, and most wars and negotiations during this time period took place either to acquire or to protect the city. In its turn, the patriarchate of Constantinople, part of the Byzantine power structure for most of its history, had to redefine its role in the complex post-1204 political landscape, and to respond to the challenges posed by the papacy and the rising Balkan empires which sought to redraw ecclesiastical boundaries in areas previously under Byzantine jurisdiction. While much of the confrontation between the patriarchate of Constantinople and its rivals took place via diplomatic contacts and negotiations at high level, emerging local rulers played a critical role in deciding the outcome of these encounters. This study combines close readings of imperial registers, patriarchal acta, papal correspondence, and historical narratives with inquiries into local politics and social dynamics, in order to create the context for a better understanding of the dynamics of power in late medieval northeastern Mediterranean.