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Adrianople, Battle of

The Oxford Encyclopedia of Medieval Warfare and Military Technology

John W. Barker

Adrianople, Battle of (1205) 

After taking Constantinople in April 1204, the Frankish victors of the Fourth Crusade tried to occupy the outlying Byzantine territories they had divided among themselves—a difficult and prolonged process. Great regional dissidence in the provinces had been allowed to grow under recent Byzantine rule, which had also been hard pressed to deal with external aggression, mainly by the revived Bulgarian or Vlach-Bulgar state. The Byzantine collapse in 1204 emboldened this neighboring power, especially under its new and energetic king, Kaloyan (or Ioannitza). Having overcome rivals, he briefly courted recognition from the papacy in Rome. But with the fall of Constantinople, and his spurning by the haughty Frankish leaders there, Kaloyan became determined to drive out the intruders, reviving historic Bulgarian dreams of taking the Byzantine capital itself. He attempted to win the favor of the regional Byzantine nobility, so quickly disillusioned by their would-be Latin masters. With initial Greek backing, and joined by his Cuman allies, Kaloyan began ravaging Thrace, at a time when the crusader forces were rapidly diminishing. In the spring of 1205 the new Latin emperor of Constantinople, Baldwin I (Iron Arm), finally mustered what Frankish forces he had in order to recover the pivotal Thracian city of Adrianople, recently lost. Geoffroi de Villehardouin, a participant in the Fourth Crusade, and its principal contemporary historian, has left an eyewitness report of the operation. Kaloyan’s main forces consisted of Cuman mercenaries who had developed tactics combining diverse cavalry forces with horse archery. The crusaders, already encamped by 13 April 1205, were raided by the Cumans, who drew the Latins into pursuit by false flight and then mauled them badly. The crusaders vowed not to make the same mistake in the main engagement the following day, 14 April. Nevertheless, after a heavy Cuman attack on their camp, the crusaders were drawn out in pursuit and then forced into a close engagement in which they were crushed, Emperor Baldwin himself being wounded and captured. Villehardouin himself enabled survivors to escape in retreat. The defeat left the crusaders drastically depleted in manpower and repute. Baldwin was to die obscurely in captivity some months later.

Baldwin’s energetic younger brother, Henry, moved meanwhile to revive the weakened Latin Empire’s fortunes, while Kaloyan began an expanded campaign of devastation. He soon turned his attention to Thessaloníki, seat of one of the Crusade’s chief commanders, Boniface of Montferrat. The latter was killed in a battle with the forces of Kaloyan, who then besieged Thessaloníki. There, however, Kaloyan himself was killed by one of his Cuman allies’ Bulgarian momentum.

[See also Baldwin I (Iron Arm) and Cumans.]


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          John W. Barker

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