Chios: Obscure yet important

This is the anniversary of the naval Battle of Chios in which the Knights Hospitaller laid a serious beating on the Beylik of Aydin on July 23, 1319. Which might sound like the kind of dustup only the mothers of people who were there would care about. But it’s an interesting lineup of combatants. Not the Beylik of Aydin, one of many low-rent half-pirate border subsidiaries of the Seljuq Turks as they gradually wore down Byzantium. Rather, the Knights Hospitaller or, more properly, the Order of Knights of the Hospital of Saint John of Jerusalem, a once-mighty outfit headquartered in Jerusalem, Rhodes and later Malta (in the Maltese Falcon they are conflated with the Knights Templar who they had by then absorbed).

The Knights went into something of a decline with the Reformation though a number of groups claim descent from them including the Sovereign Military Hospitaller Order of Saint John of Jerusalem of Rhodes and of Malta which is now headquartered in Rome and is widely still considered a sovereign entity. But I digress. Sort of.

The point is that Western civilization, with its extraordinary capacity for decentralization that does not lapse into anarchy but instead generates a flexible, resilient extended order, was marked by various such groups. They were not sovereign states per se, were often nominally subordinate to sovereign states while retaining much freedom of action, frequently claimed a particular territorial base without being tied to it, and were devoted to nobler causes than mere plunder even if their conduct did not always match their aspirations. Indeed the Knights Templar were at one point a mighty financial rather than military outfit, naturally attracting the attention of secular rulers and a Pope very interested in bagging their cash.

So no, the Battle of Chios wasn’t big news in the grand scheme of things. It only involved a few dozen ships and the outcome, and several subsequent victories, only slowed the advance of the Aydinids, though they were decisively walloped by 1351. And the Ottomans obviously continued to advance, capturing Constantinople in 1453. But then they were stopped, at Lepanto and other places, by coalitions of the same decentralized yet effective sort in which the West specializes.

In that sense battles like Chios do matter despite their obscurity.