Battle of Prinitza

Battle of Prinitza
Part of the Byzantine-Latin Wars

Map of the Peloponnese (Morea) in the Middle Ages.
LocationPrinitza, Elis, Greece
Result Decisive Achaean victory
Byzantine Empire Principality of Achaea
Commanders and leaders
Constantine Palaiologos John of Katavas
15–20,000 (Chronicle of the Morea)
few thousand (modern estimates)
300 or 312 men
Casualties and losses
heavy light

The Battle of Prinitza was fought in 1263 between the forces of the Byzantine Empire, marching to capture Andravida, the capital of the Latin Principality of Achaea, and a small Achaean force. The Achaeans launched a surprise attack on the greatly superior and overconfident Byzantine force, defeated and scattered it, saving the principality from conquest.


At the Battle of Pelagonia (1259), the forces of the Byzantine emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos (r. 1259–1282) had killed or captured most of the Latin nobles of the Principality of Achaea, including the Prince William II of Villehardouin (r. 1246–1278). In exchange for his freedom, William agreed to hand over a number of fortresses in the southwestern part of the Morea peninsula. He also swore an oath of allegiance to Michael, becoming his vassal and being honoured by becoming godfather to one of Michael's sons and receiving the title and post of megas domestikos. In early 1262, William was released, and the forts of Monemvasia and Mystras, with the districts of Mani and Kinsterna, were handed over to the Byzantines.[1] The agreement was bound to be of short duration, however: the establishment of a small province in the Morea was for Palaiologos but the first step towards reclaiming all of the peninsula, and William likewise was involved in the Latin efforts to counter the emperor and regain Constantinople. Consequently, soon after his return to the Morea, William settled his differences with the Venetians over Negroponte, and negotiated with them and the Pope for joint action against Palaiologos. In July, Pope Urban IV nullified William's oaths to the emperor, and appealed to the Western princes for aid against the "schismatic" Byzantines.[2]

In late 1262, William visited the region of Laconia accompanied by an armed retinue. Despite his concessions to the Byzantines, he still retained control of most of Laconia, in particular the city of Lacedaemon (Sparta) and the baronies of Passavant (Passavas) and Geraki. This display of armed strength worried the Byzantine garrisons, and the local governor, Michael Kantakouzenos, sent to Emperor Michael to ask for aid.[3] In response, the emperor quickly organized an expedition headed by his half-brother, the sebastokrator Constantine Palaiologos with the parakoimomenos John Makrenos and the megas domestikos Alexios Philes as subordinate commanders. This army, composed chiefly of Turkish mercenaries and Greek troops from Asia Minor, was transported to Monemvasia on Genoese vessels, while the small Byzantine fleet was sent to harass the Latin island holdings in Euboea and the Cyclades.[4]

The battle

After arriving at Monemvasia, the sebastokrator Constantine proceeded to cement and expand imperial authority in Laconia: he subdued the Slavic inhabitants (the Melingoi) of Mount Taygetos and erected a number of forts to keep them in check, and then laid siege to Sparta, while the imperial fleet seized the southern coasts of Laconia.[5] In the meantime, William travelled to Corinth to request the assistance of the other Latin princes of Greece. They, however, proved unwilling to come to his aid, all the while many of William's Greek subjects openly sided with the Byzantines. Constantine Palaiologos saw this as an opportunity to conquer William's principality outright. Abandoning the fruitless siege of Sparta, he marched his army up the rivers Eurotas and Alfeios towards the Achaean capital, Andravida.[6]

During William's absence, Andravida had been left in the charge of John of Katavas, a man known for his bravery but now old and suffering from gout. Although the general outline of the subsequent events is confirmed from the report of the Venetian historian Marino Sanudo, the only detailed account available is the narrative of the Chronicle of the Morea, whose accuracy has been questioned.[7] According to the Chronicle, upon learning of the approach of the imperial army, Katavas took the 300 or 312 men available and marched out to meet the Byzantines, whose numbers are variously given in the Chronicle as fifteen, eighteen, or twenty thousand. It is certain that these figures are greatly inflated, and the Byzantine army must have numbered a few thousand at most. Either way, it considerably outnumbered the Latin force.[8]

The Byzantines were confident of their own strength, and were reportedly dancing and singing. At a narrow defile at Prinitza (near Ancient Olympia), Katavas attacked the Byzantine army and inflicted a resounding defeat upon it: many Byzantine soldiers were killed, while the remainder scattered and sought refuge in the surrounding woods. The sebastokrator Constantine himself barely escaped with his life, and fled with the remainder of his troops to the safety of Mystras. Having won a major victory, Katavas prudently refused to pursue the Byzantines and returned to Andravida.[9]


Constantine Palaiologos regrouped his forces, and in the next year launched another campaign to conquer Achaea. His efforts, however, were thwarted, and the Turkish mercenaries, complaining of lack of pay, defected to the Achaeans. William II then attacked the weakened Byzantines and achieved a major victory at the Battle of Makryplagi.[10] The two battles of Prinitza and Makryplagi thus put an end to Michael Palaiologos's efforts to recover the entirety of the Morea, and secured Latin rule over the Morea for over a generation.[11]



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