Capital of Greece and of ATTICA, it also gave its name to the Crusader Duchy of Athens, 1205-1460, though the actual capital of the Duchy was Thebes, which was then bigger than Athens.
After the Crusaders had captured Constantinople in 1204, the leader of the Crusade, Boniface of Montferrat, disappointed at not being made the Latin Emperor, advanced into Greece. In the autumn of 1204 much of Attica and Boeotia, including Athens and Thebes, were in Crusader hands, and by early in 1205 much of the northeastern Peloponnese, though the towns of Corinth, Argos and Nauplia were not to fall for several years. Boniface gave the Lordship of Athens, which included Attica and part of Boeotia, to Othon de la Roche, a knight from Burgundy. In 1209 the Latin Emperor Henry confirmed the grant. Othon assisted in the campaigns of 1210-2 which brought about the fall of the three Greek-held strongholds in the northeastern Peloponnese and was granted the regions of Corinth and Argolis as a fief by the Prince of Achaea.
Othon was succeed by his nephew, Guy I, in 1225. In 1260, on a visit to France Guy was recognised as Duke. By the time of his death in 1263 the Latin Empire was a wandering ghost, the Byzantine Empire having been restored, while the Principality of Achaea, which had inflicted defeat on Guy in 1258, had been badly damaged in 1259 through the defeat and capture of its Prince by Michael VIII, who was soon to restore Greek rule to Constantinople. These events made the Duchy of Athens the leading Crusader state. Its position was further enhanced by the decline of Epirus, the Greek-ruled state to the northwest, which allowed Athens to play a role in the politics of Thessaly. The last de la Roche Duke, Guy II, whose mother was the daughter of John of Neopatras, the long-time ruler of much of Thessaly, acted as guardian for his cousin, John II of Thessaly, with the result that he added southern Thessaly to the Duchy.
With Guy II’s death in 1308 the de la Roche died out in the male line. Walter de Brienne, grandson of Guy I through his mother, inherited the Duchy. It was his misfortune to tangle with the Catalan Grand Company, originally a band of soldiers from the Iberian peninsula, who were on the march seeking their fortune. They had recently been dismissed by the Byzantine Emperor, who had employed them as mercenaries. Walter made use of them to harrass Thessaly, where John II had thrown off the Athens yoke. He then tried to keep some in his employ and dismiss the rest. In 1311 the whole Company turned on him, defeated and killed him and his knights. They seized Attica and Boeotia, though Argolis in the Peloponnese stayed loyal to Walter’s young son.
Walter II long dreamed of recovering Athens but he usually lacked men, money and allies. Only in 1331-2 did he make a real attempt. The Catalans played cat-and-mouse, avoiding battle, till Walter’s money ran out. Walter eventually died fighting, but far away, against the English at Poitiers in 1356. His nephew, Louis d’Enghien, made a second attempt to recover Attica in 1370-1, but that too petered out.
In 1312, to give themselves legitimacy, the Company had submitted to Frederick II, King of Sicily, the Aragonese prince who had ensured that the island of Sicily would not return to the rule of the Angevin Kings of Naples. He made his son Manfred Duke of Athens. Altogether five cadet princes of Aragonese Sicily were Dukes of Athens, followed by King Frederick III, the last surviving male of his family, followed by King Peter IV of Aragon itself. None of the seven visited Athens.
The government was partly in the hands of the leaders of the bands that made up the Catalan Company, and partly in the hands of the officials appointed by the King of Sicily, headed by the Vicar-General. From 1317 to 1330 that royal office was held by Alfonso Fadrigue, the bastard son of King Frederick. Between 1318, when John II of Thessaly died, and 1325 the Catalan Duchy gained territory in southern Thessaly. It also got embroiled in the 1320s with the island of Euboea, Alfonso Fadrigue having married the heiress of one of the rulers there.
When Venice became involved in Euboea the Catalan Duchy had to retreat. Although the Duchy became less formidable militarily as its old soldiers of fortune grew old and their heirs were used to a more comfortable life, there was sufficient life in the Duchy and its institutions for Catalan rule to last for three quarters of a century.
In 1379 a band of Navarrese adventurers seized Thebes, and in 1385 a member of a Florentine banking family, Nerio Acciajuoli, who had become established in Corinth, occupied most of Attica, though Athens itself did not fall until 1388. When Nerio died in 1394 Athens passed to Venice, which had already bought Argolis, the part of the original Duchy that the Brienne family had managed to hold on to. In 1402 Antonio, the bastard son of Nerio, who had already seized Thebes, acquired Athens, and the Acciajuoli family continued to rule in Athens until the Ottoman Turks displaced them in 1456.