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Morea: The Land and Its People in the Aftermath of the Fourth Crusade

Byzantine Symposium, May 1-3, 2009, Symposiarch: Sharon Gerstel

I'm going to tell you a great tale, and if you will listen to me, I hope it will please you. The opening line of the Chronicle of the Morea sets the stage for this symposium, which examines the late medieval Peloponnese following its conquest by the Crusader knights in 1205. Far from ancestral homelands in France, the Crusaders found a land that "was fertile, spacious and delightful with its fields and waters and multitude of pastures." The Chronicle, written sources, and the buildings and artifacts that are left to us or recovered archaeologically reveal a bold attempt to establish a new kingdom in this distant land, adding yet another layer to the many levels of habitation on the island of Pelops. Omitted from this myth of Crusader foundation are the large numbers of Orthodox villagers and town dwellers who also shared the region and created their own myths of an eternal and sacred empire generated by the pains of loss and the hopes of refoundation. Their remains, though less studied, are also left in the written and material records of the period. Layered upon the historical and physical topography of this region, as well are the traces of the Venetians, whose right eye, Modon, was sited at the southwestern tip of the peninsula. The Turkish layers, revealed in standing fortresses, toponyms, vernacular poetry, and pottery, also left deep traces on the ground and remain in collective memory. How these groups and others who shared the land interacted and how they established corporate identity is at the center of this symposium. At the core of our investigation, too, is the understanding of place and memory – the recollection of the ancient history of the Peloponnese, the architectural and cartographic marking of its mountains and valleys, and the re-creation of distant capitals on its land. The speakers in this symposium look at the Morea and its people in the broadest possible manner and with careful attention to written and material evidence, historiography, and the making – or re-telling – of myths.

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