Erica Jo Gilles
Bulletin du centre d’études médiévales d’Auxerre, Vol. 10 (2006)
After capturing Constantinople in 1204, the Fourth Crusaders established several states in former Byzantine territory. Starting from the captured imperial center, westerners moved into Thrace, Greece, the Aegean islands, and even Asia Minor. These campaigns of conquest had varied success, with the greatest and longest lasting in southern Greece. The Fourth Crusaders had struck out for the east as warriors, not as immigrants, and after a year, many of them returned to their homelands. Some remained, however, to establish their rule over indigenous populations and to defend their new territory. These settlers brought relatives from the west, formed marriage alliances for themselves and their children in the east, and reoriented their lives towards ruling and defending their newly conquered lands. For these immigrants, and later ones, their new commitments meant leaving family, political relationships, and lands in the west for an uncertain future in an unfamiliar land. My dissertation deals with these immigrants and, more broadly, with questions of immigration and identity in the Middle Ages.
These immigrants were exceptional. In the thirteenth century, crusading, although a major, risky and expensive enterprise, was not an unusual activity for French aristocracy. Many families had traditions of crusading going back to the first crusade and histories of involvement in the Holy Land before that. Brothers, fathers and sons, uncles and nephews, took the cross together. Of the many crusaders, however, the vast majority returned home or died on crusade. Only a few built lives in conquered lands abroad. It is these few who concern me.
Of the settlers we can identify, a number of them heralded from Champagne and Burgundy. Family names such as Courtenay, Toucy, Champlitte, Brienne, Villehardouin, Merry, La Roche, and Aulnay will be familiar to scholars of these areas. The archives of Champagne and Burgundy, including the Archives départmentales de l’Yonne, hold tantalizing hints to the lives and outlooks of thirteenth century immigrants to Greece and their descendants.