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In praise of the Acropolis of Athens (1380)

ACA's document that contains the praise of the Acropolis

In December 2014 the European Commission awarded the European Heritage Label to the Archives of the Crown of Aragon, along with 15 other heritage sites including the Acropolis of Athens. This new document is presented as part of the "Documents for the History of Europe" scheme which aims to strengthen the ties that have existed between the Archive and the Acropolis for the last seven centuries and of which King Peter the Ceremonious tribute is an important testimony.

The Duchy of Athens

The Duchy of Athens was founded in 1205 after the Fourth Crusade. It was under French domination until 1311, when the Almogavars of the Catalan Company took over the Duchy and associated it with the Kingdom of Sicily up until the death of Frederick III (1355-1377). The latter had given the succession rights for the Duchy of Athens to his sister Leonor, the wife of King Peter IV of Aragon (1336-1387), who was in turn the father-in-law of Frederick III by dint of Frederick’s marriage to Peter’s only daughter, Constance. This way, the Duchy was incorporated into the Crown of Aragon in 1379 until 1388 when the Florentine Rainier Acciaiuoli conquered Athens. Today, the title of Duke of Athens is held by King Philip VI of Spain.

The document

On May 20th 1380, having fought back an attack by Navarrese mercenaries who were operating in Attica, the dignitaries of Athens met to discuss matters of state and to recognize the sovereignty of King Peter IV of Aragon, under whose rule they now found themselves. The proceedings were penned as the Chapters of Athens, and sent for approval to the King by a mission made up of Guerau de Rodonella and Juan Boyl, the Bishop of Megara (Greece). Juan Boyl, a highly educated and cultured man, spent the summer with Peter IV and took the opportunity to give him a vivid description of the beauty of the Acropolis. This must have made a deep impression on the King, who was also a very cultured man with a passion for history, architecture and sculpture. In September 11th 1380, Peter IV, on the request of the Bishop of Megara, commanded his treasurer to pay the salaries of twelve crossbowmen who were to be sent to the Acropolis in Athens to protect it because it was “the most precious jewel in the world, such that all the kings in Christendom could not build one like it”. Salto de línea

Plaque erected on the Acropolis in 2011 by the Spanish Embassy and the Cervantes Institute of Athens

The Elegy

Antoni Rubió i Lluch, a Catalan historian who first published this document in 1887, said that the gift of crossbowmen was not only based on strategic reasons but on the “desire to save and conserve the artistic treasures of the monumental fortress”. And he added: “the text in praise of the Acropolis, while it seems to have been written quickly and casually, but with such intense and at the same time candid aesthetic enthusiasm (…) constitutes an unexpected prelude, a veritable prediction, albeit partial, of the Renaissance”.

Medieval travellers like Niccolo da Martoni (1395) also bore witness in their travelogues to the deep impression that the great Acropolis made on them, but it was Ciriaco d’Ancona (1436 and 1444) who produced an artistic description of the architecture and sculpture of the Parthenon which belies an aesthetic feeling as intense as the one that we can glimpse in Peter IV’s text in praise of the Acropolis, even though the King wrote his tribute forty years earlier and from a mindset that was still very rooted in the Middle Ages.

ACA, Real Cancillería, Registros, 1268, fol. 126r

11th September 1380.

Bibliography PDFSalto de líneaTranscription and partial translation PDFSalto de líneaAccess to PARES Link externoSalto de línea

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