Conflict Between New Regency & Kantakouzenos
Towards the beginning of the fourteenth century, the Byzantine Empire had undergone an intense weakening with major civil war in the 1320s followed by invasions from practically every side.
With the weakening of the Empire, it became poorer and the misery of the great multitudes in the countryside as well as the cities seemed to become intolerable. The wealth was in the hands of a small aristocratic class, in the country as well as in the town and in contradiction of them was the bitterness of the deprived multitudes.
John Kantakouzenos had been the head of the powerful aristocratic class after the death of Emperor Andronikos III Palaiologos and was the effective regent for the latter’s infant son, John V. A group in Constantinople had been formed around the powerful megas doux Alexios Apolaukos which plotted against him and achieved to procure the assistance of dowager empress Anna of Savoy together with the Patriarch John Kalekas.
This conflict broke out openly in October 1341 between the new regency and Kantakouzenos. The political and dynastic quarrel rapidly changed into a class-based, social conflict when the aristocratic land-holders of Macedonia and Thrace together with the propertied classes supporting the Regency.
Zealots – An Anti-Aristocratic Governmental Group
Besides this, the existing Byzantine society had also been divided on religious disputes among the mysticist Hesychasts or Palamites together with the intellectuals or Barlaamites. They were the ones who had favoured to trail the study of philosophy and cherish the inheritance of Ancient Greece.
The Zealots had been an anti-aristocratic governmental group having social demands which had controlled the political developments in Thessalonica from 1342 till 1350.The existing sources particularly anti-Zealot in consideration had provided little details regarding the government of Zealots of Thessalonica.
The Zealots had accomplished in forming operative civic self-government for eight years and had seized property of the aristocracy, redistributing their wealth. But it is difficult to know if the Zealots really had a program for social reform. One likely justification could be that since the city had been in a continuous state of siege, to some extent, a democratic society could have taken shape.
The Zealot council had controlled Thessalonica during the period of the civil war and for some time, they insisted allegiance to Megaduke Apokaukos. However, they were hostile to the aristocracy and ultimately declared their independence after slaying his son.
The revolt had only been put down after John Kantakouzenos had become the emperor. The Serbian king Stefan Dusan had been invited by some of the Zealots to take the city though there were others who found this unpatriotic and a combat took place.
The city was overtaken with ease by Kantakouzenous and had executed the leading Zealots. The Zealots mainly clashed with the concentration of wealth in the hands of the landed oligarchs and more usually that landed wealth had been the same with power.
The new westernized state was rejected by them and hence they had demanded decentralized, medieval style of rule which became a `reactionary’ movement similar to the all peasant movement. But further than these general principles, the usual routine of the Republic of Thessalonian is not known to historians.
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