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Corfu Middle Ages and Byzantine Period

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Last updated on January 13th, 2022 at 12:06 am

East Roman empire (Byzantine empire)

At the time of emperor Theodosius (339CE), the Roman empire was re-divided into east and west.

Corfu then belonged to the east and this lasted for about three centuries.

During this period the whole island was exposed to frequent barbarian raids and pirate invasions.

In 562CE during one of these raids, the Goths destroyed the ancient city of Corfu, leaving the ruins that today are called Paleopolis.

This was the end of the ancient city and the beginning of the medieval age for the island, the old city’s remaining inhabitants abandoned the location.

They fled further north to the natural promontory of land which later became the old fortress, and from there the city expanded until it covered the area where it is today.

The period from 562CE until 1267CE, when Corfu was occupied by the Angevins, is known as the Byzantine period.

It was a very difficult period for Corfu which as the westernmost corner of the empire was very vulnerable to the constant pirate attacks and the various appetites of their neighbors.

The multicultural Byzantine Empire was trying to protect it in any way moving here several mercenary guards of various races and peoples.

Guards consisted of Greeks from Syria, Bulgarians, Byzantines soldiers (stradioti) scattered in outposts began from the northeast of the island and reached up to the southwest, the border guards were slowly merged with the local population.

This was the era when most fortresses scattered throughout the island built, the redesigning and strengthening of the old Corfu fortress in the city happened then, Angelokastro fortress in northwestern Corfu, the fortress at Kassiopi, the fortress in Gardiki at the southwest, and other smaller ones were constructed.

Τhe turbulent years after the Fourth Crusade (1204CE – 1214CE)

At 1204CE Corfu was captured by the Normands of the 4rth crusade and they were followed by the Venetians for a short period until 1214CE.

The Despotate of Epirus (1214CE – 1267CE)

From 1214 -1259CE, Corfu became part of the Byzantine domain of Epirus (called Despotate of Epirus) and at this time the fortress of Angelokastro was built at the northwest part of the island north of Paleokastritsa by the Despot Duke Michael-Angelos Komnenos the second.

Period of Sicilian rulers

Another turbulent period followed from 1259 to 1267 with various Sicilian rulers attempting to claim Corfu, some kings and admirals, first Manfred of Sicily followed by his Francocypriot admiral Philip Cinardo, then Garnerio brothers, and finally Thomas Alamano.(Alamanos today is a very common surname in Corfu)

The House of Anjou (1267CE – 1386CE)

At 1267CE the Angevin King of Sicily Charles of the house of Anjou conquered the island.

The island was divided into four departments-regions, called Gyrou, Orous, Mesis, and Lefkimi respectively – names still heard today.

That was the era when large numbers of Jewish people, mainly from Spain, settled in Corfu and created the Corfiot Jewish community.

Charles of Anjou attempted to erase the Orthodox Christian faith by changing all Orthodox churches into Roman Catholic and persecuting all the Orthodox, this attempt failed and stopped later when the Venetians returned to the island.
Venetian rule