his dominions as far as the Strymon and the Chalkidike peninsula. Upon capturing the key town of Serres in September 1345, Stefan was proclaimed emperor and, by the time the newly proclaimed Patriarch Joanikij (formerly archbishop of Pec) crowned him emperor at Skopje on 16 April 1346, he was signalling his territorial acquisitions at Byzantium's expense: in an Athonite charter of January 1346 Stefan styled himself'emperor and autocrat of Serbia and Romania', thereby alluding to the 'Greek lands' now under his control.37 In stark contrast to the regimes in Constantinople, Stefan could offer effective protection and order. According to Nikephoros Gregoras, Stefan 'exchanged the barbarian way for the manners of the Romans', wore a crown and robes befitting a Roman emperor, and reserved newly conquered regions 'for himself to rule according to the Romans' custom'.38

In keeping with this, Stefan had himself portrayed as receiving, together with his wife and son, crowns directly from Christ. The same wall painting, at Lesnovo, declares his enlightenment by virtue of divine wisdom. In general, Stefan outshone his predecessors in the sophistication with which he harnessed Byzantine iconographical programmes and ideology to his regime's needs. Even so, he appears to have baulked at assailing Constantinople's walls. In so far as Stefan aspired to power in the City, it was through dynastic links: in 1343 he betrothed his infant son-and-heir to the daughter of the late Emperor Andronikos III. He also forbore from styling himself 'emperor of the Romans' in his chrysobulls for Athonite houses, even though their prefaces emphasise that the church and monasteries featured among imperial concerns - in accordance with the basileus's own conventions.

There were several reasons for Stefan's forbearance. He had spent some of his formative years in Constantinople. The emphatic regard he showed for Christian law and church order owed something to his observation of their benefits in a Byzantine setting. Besides, repulse from Constantinople's formidable walls would only confirm that the City was still 'God-protected' against 'the nations', the Serbs included. There was another constraint: the primacy accorded to the 'emperor of the Romans' by the monasteries of Athos. Stefan showed personal devotion to the ways of the monks and belief in the mountain's protective force. Partly to escape the Black Death, he stayed there for eight months in 1347-48 together with his wife and son, visiting several monasteries and venerating their shrines. He restored to many houses properties on the mainland lost during the Byzantine civil wars and made

37 Actes d'Iviron, iv, De 1328 au début du XVIe siècle, ed. J. Lefort et al. [AA 19] (Paris: P. Lethielleux, 1995), 114; 116 (text).

38 Nikephoros Gregoras, ii, xv.i: 11,747.

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