ENGLISH VERSION | When crimea was part of the Republic of Genova

The Genoese domain in Crimea. Though usually ignored, this piece of history deserves to remembered, given the recent conflict in Ukraine, as it makes us think about how a country that is perceived to be far from us is actually part of our history.   

 

From Genoa to Crimea

Constantinople fell in 1204 after the 4th Crusade. The world trembled but then held its breath: the dream of Byzantium survived at Nicaea, held by the house of the Palaiologoi, where the empire survived and was reborn. Then, in 1261, the Treaty of Ninfeo was signed: the Genoese would have helped Michael VIII Palaiologos to retake Constantinople from the Latins; in return, Genoa would have replaced Venice in the maritime trades in the Black Sea, up into Crimea. In reality, this happened because Michael had already tried to retake the capital, but the venetian fleet managed to prevent the capitulation through starvation. Ironically, the decisive Genoese fleet was completely useless: Constantinople fell in the hands of the byzantine army’s vanguard without a fight. Thus, in a motion of perplexity, joy and awe, the Genoese started their own colonial empire without a single loss.

Genoese Colonial Empire

 

The Gazaria and the Principality of Theodore

When Genoa joined the political and commercial games of the Black Sea, Crimea boasted centuries of coexistence between populations. Notably, the Khazars questioned the byzantine presence in the peninsula during the 7th century, conquering the fortress of Sudak, which is now UNESCO heritage. However, the coastal territories were reconquered, and the empire kept them until 4th Crusade, in 1204, when the Principality of Theodore was born in Crimea. It goes without saying that, with the birth of the Gazaria, which is the Genoese dominion over Crimea, the relationships strained: the Silk Road passed through, and it was a more than valid excuse to fuel feuds and conflicts. From the city of Kaffa, the Genoese attempted, over time, to isolate their neighbors, cutting them out of the sea trades. Therefore, a conflictual situation emerges, where an important piece is missing: the Mongolic interference in the peninsula.

Territories belonging to the Genoese and to the Principality

 

Struggle over the control of Crimea

The arrival of the mongols changed the balance of power between the Principality and Genoa. In 1308, the city of Kaffa was besieged and conquered but, afterwards, the Genoese managed to retake control, laying the foundations for a heyday period. Even the Principality of Theodore, during 1395, experienced the Mongolian ferocity, but it was able to rise again, standing up to the Genoese. Consequently, two sides were formed: Genoa, supported by the Eastern Roman Empire, and the Principality of Theodore, supported by the Khanate. Anyways, the Genoese power grew so much that the consuls of Kaffa assumed the title of Consuls of the whole Black Sea. Nevertheless, luck did not last: with the fall of Constantinople, in 1453, the Gazaria went into crisis and the Genoese power finally capitulated in 1475, with the fall of Kaffa.

Mohamed II enters in Constantinople, Benjamin Constant (1876)

 

Sudak: from the Alans to the Genoese

One of the most promiment archeological sites in Crimea is the fortress of Sudak. It is considered to be an Alan foundation of 212 B.C., which, not without reason, was historically kept aside until it became more and more important during the Middle Ages, in relation to the Silk Road. Hence, Sudak became a thriving port, and this attracted the powers that surrounded it. During the 13th century, Venice and Genoa fought over its control, and the latter, after its victory in 1365, realized the most promiment fortifications, which can still be admired today. A unique site: the best example of a genoese fort that is still standing and is perfectly preserved. The symbol of a past, of a contact between populations, of which the existence is ignored, but it’s still there, majestic, guarding the coast of the Black Sea.

The Genoese fortress of Sudak, Crimea.

 

Kaffa: the Genoa of Crimea

The city of Kaffa (current Feodosiya), rose above the ashes of the Greek settlement of Theodosia, a city that followed the dynamics of the Bosporian Kingdom, and then it vanished during the roman empire. During the 13th century A.D., Kaffa went down in history as a Genoese outpost in the commercial trades of the Black Sea, an originally small settlement which became, over time, a fully-fledged stronghold of the peninsula. It was, indeed, a thorn in its neighbors’ side, which attempted repeatedly to destroy it: the Venetians in 1296, followed by the Mongolians in 1308. In every case, Genoa always manage to reconquer and improve it, so much that in 1472 the Turks will be forced to conquer a city inhabited by 70000 people and defended by two sets of walls. Unfortunately, nowadays, we only have a few remains, a sad evidence of its past splendor.

Feodosia, Carlo Bossoli (1856)

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