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The Gasmouloi ( ) or Vasmouloi ( ) were the descendants of mixed Byzantine Greek and "Latin" (West European, most often Italian) unions during the last centuries of the Byzantine Empire. As the Gasmouloi were enrolled as marines in the Byzantine navy by the Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos, the term eventually lost its ethnic connotations and came to be applied generally to those owing a military service from the early 14th century on.

History

With the establishment of the Latin Empire and the other Western principalities on the soil of the Byzantine Empire following the Fourth Crusade, mixed unions between Greeks and Latins became common. The term gasmoulos itself is of unknown etymology and first appeared in the second half of the 13th century. It is however not unlikely that it has some relation with the Latin word mulus, "mule". Although it was generally used to the children of mixed unions, it more specifically designated the children of a Byzantine woman and a Latin (often Venetianmarker) father. After the recovery of Constantinoplemarker by the forces of Michael VIII in 1261, the Gasmouloi were hired by the Emperor as mercenaries. Together with men from Laconiamarker, they served lightly-armed marine infantry in his efforts to re-establish a strong "national" Byzantine navy. The Gasmouloi were socially ostracized and distrusted by both the Byzantines, who did not consider them properly Byzantine, and the Latins. In the words of a French treatise of ca. 1330, "They present themselves as Greeks to Greeks and Latins to Latins, being all things to everyone...". In a treaty signed in 1277 between Michael VIII and the Venetians, the Gasmouloi of Venetian heritage were considered as Venetian citizens, but in subsequent decades, many reverted to a Byzantine allegiance. As some of their descendants in turn wished to reclaim their Venetian citizenship, the issue of the Gasmouloi plagued Byzantine-Venetian relations until the 1320s.

Nevertheless, the Gasmoulikon corps played a prominent role in the Byzantine campaigns to recover the islands of the Aegean Seamarker in the 1260s and 1270s, but after Michael VIII's death, his successor, Andronikos II Palaiologos, largely disbanded the navy in 1285. Denied of any remuneration by the Emperor and out of work, some Gasmouloi remained in imperial service, but many others sought employ in the Latin and Turkish fleets, as hired bodyguards for magnates, or turned to piracy. By the early 14th century, the notion of gasmoulikē douleia ("service as a gasmoulos") had lost its specific ethnic connotations, and gradually came to refer to any service as a lightly-armed soldier, both on sea and land. In this capacity, Gasmouloi served the Byzantines and Ottomans in the 14th century, and the Latin principalities of the Aegean (where the servitio et tenimento vasmulia was hereditary) in the 15th and 16th centuries.

References

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