Banditry and the Clash of Powers in 14th-Century Thrace: Momcilo and his Fragmented Memory
Elena Gkartzonika/ Balkan Decks
Bulgaria Mediaevalis: 3 (2012)
In the 14th century, a time of civil wars, religious and dynastic strifes, epidemics, natural disasters and miserable living conditions for the wider strata in the cities and the countryside that increased migratory movements, banditry, an indigenous phenomenon in the Balkan mountainous regions, intermingled with the intensified political struggles. In fact, there is no more eloquent paradigm for the period’s instability, law-lessness and furious antagonisms than the bandit-chietain Momčilo, a case worthy to be revisited within these historical terms. In this paper, using Momčilo as a paradigm, we attempt to highlight the interacting factors of the gradual socioeconomic disintegration and the political fragmentation of the Balkan states (Byzantium, Bulgaria, Serbia) in relation to the Latins and the Ottomans.
Particularly, we will explore Momčilo’s emergence and fall out of the “surplus of the banditry”, an aptly-put factor worthy to be investigated as an active force on the battleields of the contenders for the central power. Momčilo’s role and position during the Byzantine “civil war” challenges us to search in depth the generalized intra-Christian and Christian-Islamic associations in the 14th-century Thrace as a gradual process of a new power’s prevalence rather than as a confrontation between two empires (Byzantine vs Ottoman). Within this context, we are aiming at a broader research and critical analysis of the available evidence on his activity, as well as his interaction with eponymus and anonymus alignments or encounters. he evidence drawn either from chronicles/memoirs or (epic) poetry, despite the temporal distance (late-medieval facts and their reconstructions) and the genre diference, will be analyzed in their synchronic frame and, thus, considered as a homogenous historical material. As such, it can illustrate the process during which a cluster of historical realities formulates, in a dramatic and didactic way, a moralistic collective memory in a time, when the outcome of the conjunction they describe is already held.