Constantinople and the Echo Chamber: The Vlachs in the French Crusade Chronicles

in Medieval Encounters
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The chroniclers of the Fourth Crusade (Geoffroi de Villehardouin, Henri de Valenciennes, and Robert de Clari) have much to say about the Vlachs. Much of that information results from direct contact with the Vlachs, particularly in the case of Villehardouin and Henri de Valenciennes. However, several issues characterizing the Vlachs, especially in Robert de Clari’s chronicle, are remarkably similar to stories that may be found in Niketas Choniates. The paper analyzes the role attributed to the Vlachs in the French chronicles, and attempts to explain the similarity to the coverage of things Vlach in Niketas Choniates. As such, the paper offers an examination of all Byzantine sources mentioning the Vlachs before Choniates and of non-Byzantine sources such as Benjamin of Tudela. The conclusion is that the image of the Vlachs in the French chronicles derives from stories about them circulating in twelfth-century Constantinople.

Constantinople and the Echo Chamber: The Vlachs in the French Crusade Chronicles

in Medieval Encounters




Theresa Shawcross“Re-Inventing the Homeland in the Historiography of Frankish Greece: the Fourth Crusade and the legend of the Trojan War,” Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies 27 (2003): 120–152 (135–136); Alberto Varvaro “Esperienza e racconto in Robert de Clari” in Miscellanea di studi in onore di Aurelio Roncaglia a cinquant’anni dalla sua laurea (Modena: Mucchi 1989) 1413–1427 (1425). See also Jeanette Beer In Their Own Words. Practices of Quotation in Early Medieval History-Writing (Toronto on: University of Toronto Press 2014) 61. Nikolai Markov Balkanite prez pogleda na edin frenski ricar na nachaloto na XIII vek. Belezhki vărkhu khronikata na Robert de Clari (Veliko Tărnovo: Faber 2008) 35 believes that this episode is in fact an interpolation by a later author writing after 1216.


Joseph LinskillThe Poems of the Troubadour Raimbaut de Vaqueiras (The Hague: Mouton1964) 226 and 244. See also Vladimir Agrigoroaiei “The Vlachs and the Troubadour. Brief Analysis of Three Poems by Raimbaut de Vaqueiras” Revue des Etudes Sud-Est-Européennes 47 (2009): 55–74 (57–58); Sergio Vatteroni “Blacs e Dragoiz. Valaques et Sklavènes dans un poème de Raimbaut de Vaqueiras” Romania 131 (2013): 467–472.


BeerIn Their Own Words57. The only extent manuscript of Clari’s chronicle is gks 487 2 from the Royal Library in Copenhagen (available online at accessed 25 March 2015) which is dated to the late thirteenth or early fourteenth century. See Markov Balkanite (see above n. 3) 14; Ulrich Mölk “Robert de Clari. Bemerkungen zu einer neuen Ausgabe der Conquête de Constantinople und zur Kopenhagener Handschrift” Zeitschrift für romanische Philologie 124.1 (2009): 97–108; Mölk “Robert de Clari über den Vierten Kreuzzug” (see above n. 2) 214.


Fedor I. UspenskiiObrazovanie Vtorago Bolgarskago carstva (Odessa: Pechatano v tipografii G. Ul’rikha1879) 210–211.


Günter PrinzingDie Bedeutung Bulgariens und Serbiens in den Jahren 1204–1219 im Zusammenhang mit der Erstehung und Entwicklung der byzantinischen Teilstaaten nach der Einnahme Konstantinopels infolge des 4. Kreuzzuges (Munich: Institut für Byzantinistik und neugriechische Philologie1972) 29–31 argues that the information came either from Serbia or from Hungary but attributes the whole issue to Johannitsa’s attempt to imitate the presumed claims to Roman ancestry of the Byzantine aristocratic families. Stergios Latsios “Die Konstruktion der Vlachen von 1640 bis 1720” in Vergangenheit und Vergegenwärtigung. Frühes Mittelalter und europäische Erinnerungskultur ed. H. Reimitz and B. Zeller (Vienna: Verlag der Österreichischer Akademie der Wissenschaften 2009) 205–227 (207) believes that while the idea that the Vlachs are of Roman origin originated in Byzantium it was Johannitsa (and not Pope Innocent iii) who got it from there namely during the two years or so that he spent in Constantinople as a hostage. Needless to say there is no evidence either for this information originating in Serbia or Hungary or for Johannitsa aping the Byzantine aristocracy or boasting about his Roman origin (before being “reminded” about that by Pope Innocent iii).


Charlotte Roueché“Defining the Foreign in Kekaumenos,” in Strangers to Themselves. The Byzantine Outsider. Papers from the Thirty-Second Spring Symposium of Byzantine Studies. University of Sussex Brighton March 1998ed. D. C. Smythe (Aldershot: Ashgate2000) 203–14 (204). The work survives in only one manuscript copied in or near Trebizond in the fourteenth century. It contains edifying maxims tips on household management and social relations as well as counsel about serving as judge in the provinces. The author appears to have been a senior commander in the Byzantine army and to have been educated in grammar and rhetoric albeit not at the highest level.


Mátyás Gyóni“La transhumance des Vlaques balkaniques au Moyen Age,” Byzanti-noslavica 12 (1952): 29–42 (35–36) who believed that the information about those who live a nomadic life otherwise called Vlachs in the vernacular must have come from the decree issued by Alexius i in 1091. That the Vlachs were not truly nomads at least not in Anna’s eyes results from her mention of “Ezeban a Vlach village lying quite close to Andronia” between Larissa and Trikala (Anna Comnena Alexiadv 5.3 p. 154; English version from Sewter 168). For Ezeban see Mátyás Gyóni “Egy vlach falu neve Anna Komnene Alexiasában” Egyetemes Philologiai Közlöny 71 (1948): 22–30.


Margaret Alexiou“The Poverty of Écriture and the Craft of Writing: Towards a Reappraisal of the Prodromic Poems,” Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies 10.1 (1986): 1–40 (25); Hans Eideneier Ptochoprodromos. Einführung kritische Ausgabe deutsche Übersetzung Glossar (Cologne: Romiosini 1991) 38. The mention of a Vlach mantle in the third poem (Ptochoprodromos iii 273 in Eideneier Ptochoprodromos 135) is attested in two late manuscripts of the Prodromic poems dated to in or after the mid-fifteenth century. This is therefore a later addition and cannot be used to draw any conclusions about the image of the Vlachs in twelfth-century Constantinople. See Eideneier Ptochoprodromos 230; Markéta Kulhánková “Ich bin auch eines schicken Mantels wert. Zum Manteltopos in der griechischen Literatur” in Epea pteroenta. Růženě Dostálové k narozeninám ed. M. Kulhánková and K. Loudová (Brno: Host 2009) 191–200 (195–196); Gyóni “La transhumance” 30; Petre Şt. Năsturel “Les Valaques de l’espace byzantin et bulgare jusqu’à la conquête ottomane” in Les Aroumains (Paris: Langue d’O 1989) 45–78 (67).


Paul MagdalinoThe Empire of Manuel I Komnenos 1143–1180 (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press1993) 18–20. See also Iakov N. Liubarskii “John Kinnamos As a Writer” in Polypleuros nous. Miscellanea für Peter Schreiner zu seinem 60. Geburtstag ed. C. Scholz and G. Makris (Munich /Leipzig: K. G. Saur 2000) 164–173.




Alicia SimpsonNiketas Choniates. A Historiographical Study (Oxford: Oxford University Press2013) 13 and 23.


Niketas ChoniatesHistoria371; English version from O City of Byzantium 205. For the chronology of those events see Günter Prinzing “Demetrios-Kirche und Aseniden-Aufstand. Zur chronologischen Präzisierung der Frühphase des Aseniden-Aufstandes” Zbornik radova Vizantološkog Instituta 38 (1999–2000): 257–265. Choniates’s rhetorical skills and the precision of his supposedly ethnographic description have encouraged scholars to interpret the scene of the “possessed” as an ancient parallel to nestinarstvo a fire ritual performed in many villages in southeastern Bulgaria Strandzha and Macedonia which involves demonstrations of mediumship in trance (Malingoudis “Die Nachrichten” 110). That Choniates’s readers may have not interpreted the scene of the “possessed” ethnographically results from the fact that a fourteenth-century paraphrase of this passage refers to the soothsayers as participants in the Eleusinian mysteries. See Alexandru Elian and Nicolae-Şerban Tanaşoca Izvoarele istoriei României III. Scriitori bizantini (sec. XI–XIV)(Bucharest: Editura Academiei rsr 1975) 257 with n. 43.


Niketas ChoniatesHistoria504.


Niketas ChoniatesHistoria372–373; English version from O City of Byzantium 206. The reference here is to the episode of the Gergesene (or Gadarene) demoniac(s) healed by Jesus who transferred the unclean spirits into a herd of swine that ran off the cliff into the Sea of Galilee and drowned (Matthew 8:32; Mark 5:13; Luke 8:33).


SimpsonNiketas Choniates328. Choniates also calls the Cumans “legions of spirits” in reference to the same episode of the Gadarene demoniac (Niketas Choniates Historia 374; English version from O City of Byzantium 206; Luke 8:30).


Niketas ChoniatesHistoria369; English version from O City of Byzantium 204. For Peter and Asen asking for a pronoia see Bartusis Land 98–101.


Niketas ChoniatesHistoria369; English version from O City of Byzantium 204.


Niketas ChoniatesHistoria374; English version from O City of Byzantium 206. One is vaguely reminded here of what Kekaumenos has to say about Vlach bravado based on cowardice.


Niketas ChoniatesHistoria619; English version from O City of Byzantium 339: he is both an enemy and an avenger of the Romans.


Niketas ChoniatesHistoria613; English version from O City of Byzantium 336.


Niketas ChoniatesHistoria372; English version from O City of Byzantium 206.


Niketas ChoniatesHistoria372.


Stefan SchreinerJüdische Reisen im Mittelalter (Leipzig: Sammlung Dieterich1991) 175; David Jacoby “Benjamin of Tudela in Byzantium” Palaeoslavica 10.1 (2002): 180–185 (182); François-Xavier Fauvelle-Aymar “Desperately Seeking the Jewish kingdom of Ethiopia: Benjamin of Tudela and the Horn of Africa (Twelfth Century)” Speculum 88.2 (2013): 383–404 (385). For the possibility that “Benjamin of Tudela” is simply the invention of a later compilator (the author of the prologue) who may have recycled scattered travel notes attributed to one Binyamin see Giancarlo Lacerenza “Appunti sulla letteratura di viaggio nel Medioevo ebraico” in Medioevo romanzo e orientale. Il viaggio nella letterature romanze e orientali. V Colloquio Internazionale VII Convegno della Società Italiana di Filologia Romanza. Catania-Ragusa 24–27 settembre 2003 ed. G. Carbonaro M. Casarino E. Creazzo and G. Lalomia (Soveria Manneli: Rubbettino 2006) 427–452 (441).


David Jacoby“Benjamin of Tudela and his ‘Book of Travels,’” in Venezia incrocio di culture. Percezioni di viaggiatori europei e non-europei a confronto. Atti del Convegno Venezia 26–27 gennaio 2006ed. K. Herbers and F. Schmieder (Rome: Edizioni di storia e letteratura2008) 135–164 (140). According to Giancarlo Lacerenza “Struttura letteraria e dinamiche compositive nel Sefer Massa’ot di Binyamin da Tudela” Materia giudaica 12.1–2 (2007): 89–98 (97) the author of the prologue may have worked in Castile under King Alfonso x el Sabio (reg. 1252–1284). The latest revision which was probably done in France appears in the earliest extant manuscript which long believed to be of a thirteenth-century date is in fact from the fourteenth century (Jacoby “Benjamin of Tudela and his ‘Book of Travels’ ” 140). For a brief description of all manuscripts see Libro de viajes de Benjamín de Tudela transl. J. R. Magdalena Nom de Deú (Barcelona: Riopedras Ediciones 1989) 16–17.


Rolf Schmitz“Benjamin von Tudela ‘Das Buch der Reisen.’ Realität oder Fiktion,” Henoch 16.2–3 (1994): 295–314 (299); Juliette Sibon “Benjamin de Tudèle géographe ou voyageur? Pistes de relecture du Sefer massa’ot” in Géographes et voyageurs au Moyen Âge ed. H. Bresc and E. Tixier du Mesnil (Nanterre: Presses universitaires de Paris ouest 2010) 207–223 (223). See also Immaculada Pérez Martin “Ficción y realidad en las narraciones hispanas de viajes a Bizancio” in Mare nostrum. Viajeros griegos y latinos por el Mediterráneo ed. J. L. Arcaz Pozo and M. Montero (Madrid: Delegación de Madrid de la Sociedad Española de Estudios Clásicos 2012) 175–197 (181). For “travel narrative” see Giuliano Tamani La letteratura ebraica medievale (secoli X–XIII) (Brescia: Morcelliana 2004) 147–148.


Marcus N. AdlerSefer Masaʿot shel R. Binyamin (London: Henry Frowde1907) 12–13; English version adapted from Lucian-Zeev Herscovici and Eugen Pentiuc “References to the Carpatho-Danubian Region in Hebrew Sources of the 10th–12th Centuries” Romanian Jewish Studies 1.2 (1987): 5–17 (13). Herscovici’s translation of the passage is slightly different from that in The Itinerary of Benjamin of Tudela trans. M. N. Adler (New York ny: Philipp Feldheim 1907) 11. Most importantly Herscovici takes blkyh to be an adjective modifying the noun “mountains” although the accompanying Romanian translation of the same text implies that blkyh (Vlakiah) is the name of the mountains (the Romanian translation is taken from Victor Eskenasy Izvoare şi mărturii referitoare la evreii din România (Bucharest: Hasefer 1986) 3). The reference to Vlachs being swift as deer is a citation from 2 Samuel 2:18.


For Crusader Sidon see Rudolf Hiestand“Die Herren von Sidon und die Thronfolgekrise des Jahres 1163 im Königreich Jerusalem,” in Montjoie. Studies in Crusade History in Honour of Hans Eberhard Mayered. B. Z. Kedar J. Riley-Smith and R. Hiestand (Aldershot: Ashgate1997) 77–90.


Năsturel“Les Valaques de l’espace byzantin” 53.


Herscovici and Pentiuc“References” 13.


AbeeleLa fauconnerie149. The stereotype of larks fleeing the attack of the sparrow hawk is already present in Chanson d’Antioche ca. 1180 (Chanson d’Antioche 273 l. 6704 ed. S. Duparc-Quioc (Paris: P. Geuthner 1976) 331). For hunting larks with sparrow hawks in the thirteenth century see Abeele La fauconnerie 150.


AbeeleLa fauconnerie203.


Bertrand Rouziès-Léonardi“Le roman d’Andronic, du bouc à l’agneau,” in Mimétisme violence sacré. Approche anthropologique de la littérature narrative médiévaleed. H. Heckmann and Nicolas Lenoir (Orléans: Paradigme 2012) pp. 167–186 (169).


Niketas ChoniatesHistoria613. See also Genoveva Cankova-Petkova “A propos des rapports bulgaro-francs au commencement du XIIIe siècle” Bulgarian Historical Review 4.4 (1976): 51–61 (52); Pecican Între cruciați și tătari 75–77.


Niketas ChoniatesHistoria369; Konstantin Mechev “Osvoboditel’naia bor’ba bolgarskogo narodo v konce XII-nachale XIII v. (K voprosu o soderzhanii termina vlakhi)” Sovetskoe slavianovedenie (1979): no. 2 35–47 (38–39).


Peter Schreiner“Robert de Clari und Konstantinopel,” in Novum millennium. Studies in Byzantine History and Culture Dedicated to Paul Speck 19 December 1999ed. C. Sode and S. A. Takács (Aldershot: Ashgate2000) 237–256 (338) notes that even the description of the city is not based on an eyewitness account (i.e. Robert de Clari’s own experience of Constantinople) but on written and oral accounts.


Varvaro“Esperienza e racconto” 1425.


Nikos A. Bees“Unedierte Schriftstücke aus der Kanzlei des Johannes Apokaukos des Metropoliten von Naupaktos (in Aetolien),” Byzantinisch-neugriechische Jahrbücher 21 (1971–1974): 55–160 (60–62); Năsturel “Les Valaques balkaniques” 94–5 and 99; Winnifrith Vlachs 119; Kosmas Lampropoulos Ioannes Apokaukos. Symbole sten ereuna tou Biou kai tou syggraphikou ergou tou (Athens: S. D. Vasilopoulous 1988) 271; Vasilis Katsaros “Eideseis gia tous Blachous apo to ergo tou metropolitou Naupaktianou Ioannou Apokaukou. Zetemata symbioses romaizonton me ellenizontes ste Mikra Blachia” in Sparagmata Byzantinoslabikes kleronomias.Charisterios tomos ston Omotimo kathegete Ioanne Chr. Tarnanide ed. K. G. Nichoritis E. Evangelou and A. G. Athanasiadis (Thessaloniki: Kyriakide 2011) 279–305. According to Latsios “Konstruktion der Vlachen” (see above n. 100) 208 the name Avrilionis is a sarcastic reference to Constantine’s people possibly alluding to Emperor Aurelianus (270–275) during whose reign the province of Dacia was abandoned. Epirote Vlachs such as Avrilionis appear at the same time (1220s) in documents of the chancery of the archbishop of Ohrid Demetrios Chomatenos but without any mention of their Roman origins: Günter Prinzing “Abbot or Bishop? The Conflict about the Spiritual Obedience of the Vlach Peasants in the Region of Bothrotos ca.1220: Case no. 80 of the Legal Works of Demetrios Chomatenos Reconsidered” in Church and Society in Late Byzantium ed. D. G. Angelov (Kalamazoo mi: Medieval Institute Western Michigan University 2009) 25–42. Similarly there is no mention of such matters in the charters of Stephen Nemanja for the Hilandar Monastery (1198–1199) and of his son Stephen Prvovenčani for the Žiča Monastery (1220) the earliest non-narrative sources in Slavonic to mention the Vlachs. See Silviu Dragomir Vlahii din nordul Peninsulei Balcanice în Evul Mediu (Bucharest: Editura Academiei rpr 1959) 17–18.


Elizabeth Morrison“Linking Ancient Troy and Medieval France: Illuminations of an Early Copy of the Roman de Troie,” in Medieval Manuscripts Their Makers and Users. A Special Issue of Viator in Honor of Richard and Mary Rouseed. H. A. Kelly and C. Baswell (Turnhout: Brepols2011) 77–102. For a historical survey of the linkage between the Trojan legend and the French see Claire Boudreau “Les plus anciennes sources du mythe des origines troyennes des Français (VIIe–XIIIe siècle)” Memini 1 (1997): 73–117.


Shawcross“Re-Inventing the Homeland” 128.


Victor Spinei“An Oriental Perspective on the Ethnic Realities of the Balkans in the Eleventh–Twelfth Centuries: Michael the Syrian,” Archivum Eurasiae Medii Aevi 20 (2013): 165–238 (194) believes that the information about Vlachs (Balakayê) as enemies of the Empire which one can find in the Chronicle of Michael the Syrian (ed. J.-B. Chabot 4 vols. (Paris: E. Typographeo Reipublicae 1899–1910) 3:204) also originated in twelfth-century Constantinople.

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