Posted by Powee Celdran
Places that succeeded Byzantium physically, politically, and culturally: Latin Empire, Empire of Nicaea, Empire of Trebizond, Despotate of Epirus, Despotate of Morea, March of Montferrat, Vassals of Lesbos and Ainos, Grand Duchy of Moscow (includes the history of Byzantium, Renaissance Italy, and Russia)
“It’s sad to see what became of the Byzantines from powerful empire to divided states. No more strong armies, no more Cataphracts, no more Varangian Guards.” -Georgios Doukas, Summer of 1261 movie (2019)
Welcome back to the Byzantium Blogger, and now here’s part2 of the previous extremely long article! In part1 of the 2-part series of “15 Byzantine Related States”, I have only mentioned 7 of them which were the Western Roman Empire, Exarchates of Italy and Africa, Republic of Venice, Kingdom of Cilician Armenia, Serbian Empire, Bosnian Kingdom, and the 2 Bulgarian Empires which were located in lands that were once part of the Byzantine Empire but have grown out of it and were culturally influenced by Byzantium. The next of the 15 Byzantine related states in this article (8-15) will not only be separate kingdoms formed from the Byzantine Empire or crossed each other’s paths being influenced by Byzantium, the mother culture but on Byzantium as the mother culture itself and the states that Byzantium itself broke into during the declining years of the Byzantine Empire. The Byzantine Empire itself lasted for 1,100 years (330-1453) but in its final centuries, beginning with the 4th Crusade and capture of Constantinople in 1204 by the Crusaders, the Byzantine Empire temporarily fell apart with Greece and all remaining areas once under the Byzantine Empire divided among the western occupiers and surviving Byzantine Greeks. The Byzantines after their capital fell in 1204 did not ever think they would take it back again, so they did their best to restart everything their empire did in the small states they held on to until chance came in 1261 when one of the remnant states took back the capital. The next 8 of the 15 states in this 2-part series on Byzantine related and successor states will be the Latin Empire, Empire of Nicaea, Empire of Trebizond, Despotate of Epirus, Despotate of Morea, the vassal state of Lesbos, the March of Montferrat, and lastly the Grand Duchy of Moscow, predecessor of the Russian Empire. The Latin Empire was an empire of a different people but formed by the Crusaders on Byzantine soil after conquering the Byzantine Empire in 1204 although the power of the Latins in Constantinople was weak as the real Latin power lied with the other powers the Latins formed in Greece while the Empire of Nicaea and Despotate of Epirus were the fragments of the Byzantine Empire in the aftermath of the 1204 4th Crusade, though Nicaea would be the actual Byzantium itself in exile and would later restore the empire while Epirus did not have the status of being an empire on its own. The Empire of Trebizond on the other hand is a stranger story as it was an offshoot of the actual Byzantine Empire and existed as a second Byzantine Empire while the main empire resumed to power in 1261; the Despotate of Morea meanwhile was a province of the main empire but like Trebizond it outlived the main empire for a few years while Lesbos was a state ruled by a foreign power but given to them by the Byzantines and Montferrat is an even stranger story as it was not a Byzantine state itself but a western feudal state ruled by a branch of the Byzantine imperial Palaiologos family. The Byzantine Empire however even after being restored did not last long as Constantinople fell to the Ottomans in 1453 but it wasn’t really the end of it as its fragment states still survived it and its culture outlived in, although where the Byzantine culture and identity went to after 1453 is debatable, but the most possible place to be Byzantium’s successor was the Russian principality of Moscow because Moscow itself started Russia to be an empire that subconsciously continued a lot of the imperial traditions the Byzantines had. Of course, this article will not include the Ottoman Empire even if it succeeded the Byzantine Empire after capturing Constantinople and adopting Byzantine culture and architecture, but because they did not grow out of Byzantine soil but by conquering its lands, the Ottomans will not be included here. The last part of this article however will be something more different from what I usually write about as it will have a focus on the history of Russia and the origins of its empire, but really more about how Byzantium’s traditions went all the way to Russia, thus enabling them to call themselves Byzantium’s successor. Anyway, the main point of this article is not to discuss places once under Byzantium that have been influenced by its culture or how the Byzantines saw foreign lands and its people but basically “where did Byzantium go?” after both times the empire was destroyed- 1204 and 1453- and how these fragment states kept the Byzantine identity even after the main empire itself fell but also about some lands ad modern day countries that made these states and notable Byzantine era personalities that came from there. After all, the Byzantine Empire was more or less the Roman Empire continued in the Middle Ages without being based in Rome and speaking Greek instead of Latin; 1453 happens to be the real end of the Roman Empire but just as Byzantium continued the Roman legacy, the fragment states of Byzantium as well as the Russian Empire which lived for even more centuries continuing Byzantium’s legacy, thus the Roman legacy itself. Of course, this will be another VERY LONG ARTICLE, and possibly the longest I have written so far that it could take days to read! This article happens to be very long because it both focuses on the topics of history and geography, but also I did not want to leave any information out. Before beginning the article, please don’t forget to watch the movie “Summer of 1261” from my channel on the link below on the story of how Byzantium was restored in 1261.
Note: This article is based on intensive research of the histories of various countries, some portions of these histories may be opinionated.
Warning: THIS IS A VERY LONG ARTICLE!!
Other Articles from the Byzantium Blogger:
VIII. Latin Empire and the Frankokratia (1204-1261)
The 4th Crusade of 1204 was one of the major turning points in Byzantine history leaving the empire in ruin for 57 years. After the 4th Crusade launched in 1204 faced financial problems, the crusaders while outside Constantinople after previously placing Alexios IV Angelos with his father, the ex-emperor Isaac II in the Byzantine throne, turned against them and carried out a bloody and unexpected sacking of the city in April of 1204. The major armies that attacked and sacked Constantinople were the French and Venetian Crusaders and in May of 1204, with the Crusaders victorious, they established a new empire, the Latin Empire with Constantinople as its capital and Baldwin IX, Count of Flanders was crowned the first Latin emperor Baldwin I. The Byzantines became scattered, the main empire itself fled to the city of Nicaea where they built their empire there while 2 other break-away Byzantine states formed in Trebizond and Epirus. This empire based in Constantinople’s actual name was Imperium Romaniae or “Empire of Romania”, also meaning “Roman Empire” as this was also a successor of the Roman Empire despite having 2 others empire in their time calling themselves that, the Byzantine Empire (now exiled to Nicaea) and the Holy Roman Empire in Germany. This empire is best known as the Latin Empire because to the Byzantine Greeks, Latin was the language of their Church, the Western Catholic Church, and that the “Latins” were what the westerners were known to the Byzantines, although the name of the entire domain and the period of the occupation of these Latins was called the Frankokratia in Greek, meaning “Rule of the Franks”. The Latin Empire itself was barely an empire as it only contained Constantinople and its surrounding region known as Thrace which was big enough as it includes today’s European Turkey as well as parts of Greece and Bulgaria including the part of Asian Turkey across the Sea of Marmara when it was established in 1204, although they would quickly lose hold of these territories. In October of 1204, the Latin Empire divided the rest of Byzantine territory they conquered creating their vassal kingdoms; these kingdoms and states included the Kingdom of Thessalonica in Northern Greece based in Thessalonike ruled by the Marquess of Montferrat, the Principality of Achaea founded in 1205 consisting of the Peloponnese or Southern Greece based in Mystras ruled by the French Count of Villehardouin, the Duchy of Athens first ruled by a Burgundian knight from the La Roche family in 1205, and the Duchy of Philippopolis based in today’s Plovdiv in Bulgaria which only lasted until 1230 after falling to the 2nd Bulgarian Empire. Venice on the other hand gained 3/8 of the territory the Latins conquered and ruled them independently as colonies of Venice’s empire rather than vassal states of the Latin Empire; the territories taken by Venice included the islands Crete, Euboea (Negroponte), Lemnos, as well as the Ionian islands of Cephalonia, Corfu, and the port of Dyrrhachion in today’s Albania, all of which solidified Venice as a maritime empire. The entire Frankokratia ruled by the Latins included smaller duchies and principalities such as the Duchy of the Naxos Archipelago, County of Salona, and the Marquisate of Bodonitsa ruled by powerful families of Italy which they would hold on to even until the 15th century and beyond until losing them to the Ottomans long after the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453. The Latin Empire in Constantinople however would not be the Latin superpower in the old Byzantine world as the happening was more on the powerful ones were the states the Latins formed in Greece part of the Frankokratia but the empire in Constantinople was initially successful especially when facing their enemy, the Byzantines Empire of Nicaea in Asia Minor defeating them easily in battle but the challenge for the Latins was the 2nd Bulgarian Empire ruled by Tsar Kaloyan to the north of them. In the Battle of Adrianopolis in 1205, the Latin army was crushed by the Bulgarian forces of Kaloyan and their Cuman allies, Louis I Count of Blois who was the general of the Latin army was killed here, and the emperor Baldwin I was captured, imprisoned, executed, and his skull turned to a drinking cup, which was a Bulgarian tradition. From then on, the Latin Empire would constantly face defeats both by the powerful Bulgarian army and by the remnant Byzantines of Epirus and Nicaea like in 1224, when the Kingdom of Thessalonica was lost to the Byzantines of Epirus and in 1235, to the emperor at Nicaea John III Doukas Vatatzes (r. 1222-1254) who formed an alliance with Bulgaria overpowering the Latins to the point of laying siege to Constantinople, which however failed. It was only in 1247 when the Byzantines of Nicaea had fully encircled Constantinople for the Latins while the rule of the Latins over most of Greece was put to an end after the Battle of Pelagonia in 1259. The Latins in Constantinople meanwhile were not as progressive as the Byzantines were that the “Queen of Cities” (Constantinople) was left in despair becoming a dump; damage in Constantinople’s buildings broken down by the Crusaders’ attack in 1204 were not repaired, garbage was left in the once elegant streets, ruined churches were turned to horse stables, and the Hagia Sophia itself became a dump. Meanwhile, about half of Constantinople’s population was reduced when the Crusaders sacked the city in 1204 and during the years of Latin occupation, population in Constantinople and the empire drooped and so did the economy as many Byzantines fled to Nicaea, Epirus, or Trebizond to escape Latin occupation. With the arrival of the Latin occupiers, society in the former Byzantine Empire had also changed with the western feudal system being introduced as lands were ruled over by feudal lords under the Latin emperor just like how things were in the west instead of the Byzantine Empire’s system of the Themes run by generals and as for the Church, the Byzantine Orthodox Church in the Latin Empire was replaced by the Roman Catholic Church, Catholic bishops replaced the Orthodox ones, the religious orders of the Cistercians, Franciscans, and Dominicans were brought into the empire, and many Orthodox churches were transformed into Catholic ones with Western style architecture incorporated in them, but the Orthodox Church of the Greeks still survived, though their bishops were lesser in power to the Catholic ones. As for language and culture, Greek culture and language still flourished in other parts of Latin controlled places but the Latins on the other hand made French the official language of their territories in Greece; it was in Greece however and not in Constantinople where the Latins made more progress and integrated with the local Greek people. The Latin emperors after Baldwin I were mostly incompetent and didn’t know how handle economic problems or enemies attacking on all sides compared to the visionary, strategic, and intellectual emperors of the Byzantines and during their reigns, the empire’s economy plunged as the empire’s only main source of wealth was selling the relics of the Byzantine Empire to Western Europe, that which in fact the last Latin emperor, Baldwin II (r. 1228-1261) had to sell the Crown of Thorns to the King of France, the saint Louis IX (r. 1226-1270). Constantinople though had tons of relics before the 4th Crusade but after the sack of the city in 1204, many of these relics including important treasures such as the 4 Horses of the Hippodrome were taken as loot to Western Europe, though many important relics were sold later on to continue financing the empire. In only 57 years after its foundation, the Latin Empire had grown so weak and was gone in 1261, as the army of the Byzantines in Nicaea took advantage of the situation when the already weak army of the Latins left Constantinople to raid an island of Nicaea in the Black Sea managed to sneak into the capital and over 1 night was able to send the Latins away in fear, the emperor Baldwin II too fled the city leaving behind his crown and sword. In August of 1261, the Byzantines regained Constantinople with Michael VIII crowned as the restored Byzantine emperor, although the successors of Baldwin II beginning with his son Philip I until James of Beaux in the 14th century would hold the title of Latin emperor even though in exile and not in power. Even though losing Constantinople, the Latins still controlled small parts of Greece; the Principality of Achaea though defeated in 1261 still lasted until 1432 holding on to very few parts of Southern Greece, Athens was still ruled by the Burgundians until falling to the Catalan Company in 1308 until Ottoman occupation in 1458, while Venice on the other hand being independent ruled its colonies in Greece until the last of them fell to the Ottomans as late as the 17th century. The 4th Crusade of 1204 was indeed a turning point as it was from then when western powers began their hold on former Byzantine territories and even with the Byzantine Empire gone, thy would still make their mark in these parts of Greece and the Balkans. The Latin Empire’s story shows how Western Europe had reached their point of rising to global power leading the Byzantines to their gradual collapse, although the Latins themselves could not hold on to Constantinople being weakened on all sides in such a short period of time. The 4th Crusade was then the beginning of the end for Byzantium as even though the Byzantines regained their capital in 1204, the damage of the Latins was so severe that Byzantium would never recover again.
IX. Empire of Nicaea (1204-1261)- “Where Byzantium went to Temporarily”
1204 could have been the end of the Byzantine Empire, but even though the Latins had taken over Constantinople and established the Latin Empire, the Byzantine people survived, the imperial family was big, and remnant Byzantine states were established. When the Crusaders attacked Constantinople in April 1204, the last Byzantine emperor for the time being, Alexios V Doukas (r. 1204) who had overthrown the Angelos imperial family fled the city only to return to be executed by the Latin leaders by having him thrown off a column. However, as the Frankish and Venetian Crusaders were attacking the city, the Byzantine army defending it unofficially proclaimed Constantine Laskaris as their new emperor. The Laskaris family was a Byzantine noble family and Constantine’s brother Theodore was the son-in-law of the former Byzantine emperor Alexios III Angelos (r. 1195-1203), although the Laskaris family though it wouldn’t be safe to stay in Constantinople so they chose to fled to nearby Nicaea where they would settle in and rebuild what was lost. The Empire of Nicaea then was the legitimate Byzantine Empire itself while in exile as its first emperor was elected in Constantinople and it was the aim of the Nicaean Empire to regain its strength and one day recapture Constantinople and in my opinion they were the legitimate Byzantine Empire in exile as its first emperor was elected in Constantinople but chose to leave it and 57 years later recaptured the capital and thus restoring Byzantium. The Laskaris family chose Nicaea in Northwest Asia Minor to be their base while Constantinople was taken by the Latins as it was not too far away from the old capital that in fact it would take a short boat ride and less than a day to travel between both cities. The Empire of Nicaea as it turns out was the largest and most powerful of the 3 Byzantine remnant states- next to Epirus and Trebizond- as it would later on control the most territory out of the 3 having most of western Asia Minor (Turkey), was able to build up a strong army, and its capital which was Nicaea having been the same city where 2 important Church councils were held (one in 325 and the other in 787) grew to become an important intellectual and cultural center for the Byzantine Greeks becoming like a “New Constantinople” especially since Constantinople’s patriarch had also moved there. Even though the Nicaeans had long aimed to regain Constantinople, they still did their best to make their city and empire grow rich and powerful and unlike the Latin Empire that did not do any progress to Constantinople, Nicaea had competent and wise emperors that made the empire rich through agriculture as Nicaea was beside a lake and surrounded by fertile land. The first of the Byzantine Nicaean emperors to be crowned was Theodore I Laskaris who as a fun fact was the 2nd Byzantine emperor after Anastasius I (r. 491-518) to have eyes different in color from one another, the brother of Constantine Laskaris who assumed the title of emperor in 1205 after his brother’s death but was only officially crowned in 1208. The Empire of Nicaea under Theodore I was in a lot of pressure first from attacks by the Latin Empire in which they at first lost to and then from the Seljuk Turks in Asia Minor to the east but with the Byzantine forces away in the east when Constantinople was attacked in 1204 were recalled to Nicaea, the empire was able to rebuild what was lost while Theodore I had also salvaged all he could of the old imperial system of Constantinople. It was during the time when the Byzantines were at exile in Nicaea that they had realized their cultural identity as Greeks and not Romans as they built-up Nicaea to be a new homeland for the Greek people. Theodore I was succeeded at his death in 1222 by his son-in-law John III Doukas Vatatzes who would rule for 32 years, the longest reigning Nicaean ruler and during his reign, the Empire of Nicaea had quickly expanded even crossing over into Europe and surrounding the Latin Empire’s territory only to Constantinople. Only after the heavy defeat of the Latins to the Bulgarians at the Battle of Adrianopolis in 1205 was there hope for the Byzanties at Nicaea to survive and expand and luckily with the Mongols who had worried John III defeating the Seljuk armies in 1242, Nicaea was free from Seljuk threats in Asia Minor, and the Mongols would disappear from the scene. John III was a capable ruler despite coming from another noble family (Vatatzes) as he was a skilled general and as emperor, he married his son Theodore to Elena Asenina, the daughter of the Bulgarian tsar Ivan Asen II (r. 1218-1241) to conclude an alliance with the 2nd Bulgarian Empire in which Nicaea was able to surround Constantinople but failed to take it back. John III also made an alliance with the Holy Roman Empire by marrying a daughter of the Holy Roman emperor Frederick II Hohenstaufen (r. 1220-1245) as his second wife despite her being a Latin but aside from this, Nicaea grew rich and powerful under John III and was able to recapture most of Northern Greece from both the Latins and their Byzantine rival, Epirus. John III would have lived to see Constantinople regained in 1261 but he died in 1254 passing the empire to his son Theodore II who was also a capable ruler but also met a sudden death in 1258 passing the empire to his 7-year-old son John IV Laskaris; John III although would later be made a saint. During Theodore II’s reign, Nicaea had grown to be strong and stable compared to the weak and dying Latin Empire and the Empire of Trebizond which was too small and not strong enough to be called an empire itself, though Epirus remained a stronger rival for Nicaea. John IV Laskaris was still too young, so he ruled beginning 1259 under the regency of his scheming co-emperor, Michael Palaiologos who was a descendant of the previous imperial families and John IV’s relative. At this time, more than 50 years had passed since the Byzantines lost Constantinople and only the old people were alive to see the old capital as 2 generations born at this time haven’t seen it, although in terms of the army, Nicaea had the strongest of the 3 Byzantine states and had at the most 20,000 soldiers in the army, which was still small compared to the old Byzantine army. Nicaea was practically strong enough to recapture Constantinople after defeating the Latin Principality of Achaea at the Battle of Pelagonia in 1258 but all they needed was the right moment to strike and the city was theirs again. Luckily in July of 1261, Michael Palaiologos’ general Alexios Strategopoulos found the right opportunity when finding out from spies that the main Latin army left Constantinople to raid an island belonging to Nicaea in the Black Sea and using this moment, Alexios with a relatively small army of less than 1,000 including Cuman and Armenian mercenaries infiltrated the city and recaptured it overnight forcing the last Latin emperor, Baldwin II to flee the city as the Byzantines gained their victory. In August of 1261, Michael was crowned the restored Byzantine emperor Michael VIII Palaiolgos but to consolidate his claim to the throne, Michael VIII overthrew the boy emperor John IV in Nicaea by blinding him and sending him away to live the rest of his life in a monastery. With Michael VIII as emperor, Constantinople once again became the Byzantine capital and it was repopulated, renovated from the 4th Crusade’s damage, and a Renaissance in Byzantine Greek culture was brought in during this period known as the Palaiologan Renaissance, although Nicaea lost its old prestige as its wealth together with other cities’ wealth were taken to rebuild Constantinople, but all lands retaken by Nicaea ceded to the restored Byzantium. Michael VIII ruled until his death in 1282 and Byzantium would once again be significant but not as powerful as it once was anymore and the Byzantines of Epirus and Trebizond however chose not to unite with the restored empire. Nicaea would fall to Ottomans in the 14th century long before Constantinople did but still remained a city renamed “Iznik” which is known for its colourful ceramic tiles and there you can still see remains of the Byzantine era, although sadly there are barely an images these days depicting life in Byzantine Nicaea. The Empire of Nicaea then shows the story of how Byzantium survived after the 4th Crusade as the most powerful of the rump states and it shows that the Byzantines still had hope to one day return and rule the Greek world as they once did. True enough Nicaea did take back Constantinople after only 57 with a stable dynasty of only 4 emperors; here then, they are the actual legitimate Byzantine Empire in exile as they have also kept the numbering system of the Byzantine for the emperors for the emperors in exile there (as historians label it).
X. Empire of Trebizond (1204-1461)- “The Alternate Byzantium”
In the declining years of the Byzantine Empire, there happened not only to be one sole Byzantine Empire but a second although unofficial Byzantine Empire, which was the Empire of Trebizond, also known as the Trapezuntine Empire. This empire was basically a rump state of the Byzantine Empire after its temporary collapse in 1204 but lived for more than 200 years even living side-by-side with the main Byzantine Empire as the 2nd Byzantine Empire of the same people, language, and traditions but survived the main one by 8 years, although unlike the main Byzantine Empire Trebizond was not really interested in growing its power by conquering lands and was in fact too small to call itself an empire. The Empire of Trebizond only consisted of small amounts of land including the northeast corner of Asia Minor along the Black Sea where its capital, Trebizond (today’s Trabzon, Turkey) is located, a part of the northwest Black Sea coast of Asia Minor and Cherson in the Crimea (in today’s Ukraine), north of the Black Sea which had for a long time been under Byzantine control. The city of Trebizond itself in the northeast corner of Anatolia was an important trading city for the Greeks, Romans, and Byzantines and was even the capital of the Byzantine theme of Chaldia but it had its own separatist identity wanting to be independent from the Byzantine Empire, though still keeping Byzantine traditions, the Greek language, and Orthodoxy. Trebizond may have been a far frontier city for the Byzantines being located miles away from the capital but it was an important trading port with people around the Black Sea including Russians, Armenians, Georgians known as the Laz, and Pontic Greeks who then made up the population of Trebizond. It had also been a trading route with the east while the Pontic Mountains behind the city produced silver that made the city rich, at the same time these mountains provided protection for the city against invaders. The empire itself was founded in 1204, the same year the Crusaders of the 4th Crusade sacked and took over Constantinople, although the Empire of Trebizond was founded weeks before the Crusaders’ infamous sack. The brothers Alexios and David Komnenos, grandsons of the deposed Byzantine emperor Andronikos I Komnenos (r. 1183-1185) when finding out that the Crusaders would attack Constantinople using the right moment declared Trebizond and surrounding areas to be free from Byzantine rule in order to not be annexed to the Crusader states. However, despite being free from Byzantine rule, Trebizond’s new empire itself was ruled by Byzantine people who were also members of the former Byzantine imperial Komnenos Dynasty, but for the brothers, establishing their empire needed the support of Queen Tamar of Georgia (r. 1184-1213) their maternal aunt and her armies, and with their empire formed, Georgia became a close ally of theirs. Separating from the Byzantines and making their own empire was probably a way for the Komnenos brothers to get back at the Angelos Dynasty of Byzantium for dethroning and executing their grandfather and blinding their father, though these brothers would rule together though David, the younger brother who ruled the territory at Paphlagonia would die earlier in 1212 as Alexios ruled as Emperor Alexios I using the title Megas Komnenos meaning “Grand Komnenos” in Greek as a way to prove he is emperor, though he died quite young in 1222 only to have his sons and successors fight over imperial succession. The 13th century however was a golden age for Trebizond as it grew extremely wealthy despite the empire being small in size since after the destruction of Baghdad by the Mongols in 1258, the Silk Route which once passed there was diverted north passing through Trebizond and with the silk trade among the others, the city grew rich and in fact Marco Polo even passed through Byzantine Trebizond in 1295 on his way back from China. Under the empire, the city of Trebizond was an artistic and intellectual center where many cultural heritage sites were built including the Church of the Hagia Sophia known for its impressive frescos while the Sumela Monastery in the mountains built all the way back in 386 during the reign of Theodosius I was rebuilt and expanded during the reign of Alexios III Megas Komnenos (1349-1390), who was best known as Trebizond’s most recorded ruler and one of the greatest for his projects in developing the empire culturally. Trade is what really made Trebizond grow and like in Constantinople, the Genoese and Venetians used the city’s harbor and so did Russian and Georgian traders from neighboring lands; meanwhile with its government system, these emperors patterned it almost exactly as it was in Constantinople. Succession of the imperial family on the other hand in Trebizond was in fact more confusing than it was in the main Byzantine Empire as here, many emperors ruled quick and fighting among family members was so common that an empire this small even underwent several civil wars but its ruling dynasty remained unchanged in its more than 200 years of existence, which was the same Komnenos Dynasty that ruled Byzantium on and off first from 1057-1059 with Isaac I and again in 1081 with Alexios I who’s dynasty would rule the empire unchanged until 1185 when Andronikos I was deposed but still, after some years the same dynasty continued in this new empire. When Constantinople was taken back by the Byzantines from the Latins in 1261 Trebizond chose not to unite with them as it was already comfortable running its own empire that was like Byzantium but it still made alliances with the main empire itself, mostly through marriages; the restored Byzantine emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos’ daughter Eudokia was married to the Trebizond emperor John II (r. 1280-1297), later on Byzantine emperor Andronikos III’s daughter Irene was married to the Trebizond emperor Basil (r. 1332-1340), and much later Maria Komnene, the daughter of Trebizond emperor Alexios IV (r. 1417-1429) was married to Byzantine emperor John VIII. In the later part of the 14th century, despite Trebizond growing in trade, the empire had faced serious external threats including the Ottomans who have grown to be a power in Asia Minor and were already surrounding them as well as other Muslim and Mongol states around them but the emperors married off their daughters to them to secure alliances, meanwhile the empire’s hold on their northern region, which was the Crimea including the city of Cherson above the Black Sea was not strong that administration of it was ended up done by the noble Gabras family instead of the emperors. Also, Genoa would end up taking some parts of Byzantine Crimea making it their colonies and a new principality was even formed there some time in the 14th century, the Principality of Theodoro, which was an offshoot of Trebizond that had already been an offshoot of Byzantium. Although this empire had been declining and Trebizond having been once no less than a trading city, the intellectual culture of it continued to grow and here chivalrous poems were made about the deeds of their emperors. It was the alliances however through marriages with neighboring Muslim states and the Kingdom of Georgia that kept the Empire of Trebizond alive despite being so small that it even outlived the main Byzantine Empire itself which had fallen to the Ottomans in 1453. The Empire of Trebizond however would not last as the armies of the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II the Conqueror (r. 1451-1481) were too powerful and like the Byzantine Empire, Trebizond’s territory had shrunk so much in size that it only contained the city and its outskirts. In 1461, its last emperor David Megas Komnenos (r. 1459-1461) surrendered to Mehmed II thus marking the real end of Byzantine rule and Trebizond became the capital of the Ottoman Eyalet of Trebizond, although the last Byzantine linked state to fall to the Ottomans was the Principality of Theodoro in the Crimea in 1475. The Empire of Trebizond overall shows the story that even some Byzantines too wanted to be independent from Constantinople and rule an empire of their own in a different location and true enough this empire was successful. Trebizond meanwhile acted independent that its emperors did not use their numbers in accordance with that of the Byzantines but starting from scratch, although they were full Byzantines themselves too with the same language and traditions but unlike the Empire of Nicaea which realized their Greek identity, the Byzantines of Trebizond still kept Byzantium’s Roman identity even though its population was mixed having Byzantine and Pontic Greeks, Armenians, Russians, Georgians or the Laz, Alans, and more; and with the rule of the Komnenos Dynasty here, it can be said that the Komnenid Dynasty was Byzantium’s longest ruling one as it even survived the fall of Constantinople in 1453. Despite centuries of Ottoman rule since 1461, you can still the Trebizond’s shadowed Byzantine heritage in the Hagia Sophia and the Sumela Monastery, but other than this, this empire chose a perfect location having the mountains on one side and the sea on the other while outside it, a beautiful countryside. Trebizond, now called Trabzon is still an impressive city by the Black Sea and its surrounding area produces tea and hazelnuts as it did during Byzantine times and as a fun fact these hazelnuts are exported to England to be used in the Cadbury chocolate bars.
XI. Despotate of Epirus (1205-1479)
The late 12th and early 13th century was the period wherein many states broke away and became independent from the Byzantine Empire starting with Bulgaria forming its 2nd empire in 1185 after separating from Byzantium and after the 4th Crusade of 1204, Nicaea and Trebizond were established as new Byzantine Empires. The third offshoot Byzantine state to be established was Epirus in 1205 by the Byzantine noble Michael I Komnenos Doukas, who’s real name was Michael Angelos, the cousin of the Angelos emperors Isaac II (r. 1185-1195/ 1203-1204) and Alexios III (r. 1195-1203), only using his titles Komnenos and Doukas as it was inherited from his father who was descended from both ruling families of the empire before. The rulers of the new state of Epirus since Michael would however not be able to have the title of empire and Epirus itself had never become an empire. The new Byzantine state of Epirus was located in the west coast of Greece from present day Albania down to Naupaktos at the mouth of the Gulf of Corinth to the Ionian Sea while the capital was at the coastal city of Arta in Western Greece protected by the Pindus Mountains. Before forming this state, Michael I served briefly in the forces of the 4th Crusade leader and vassal king of Thessalonica Boniface of Montferrat but after suddenly escaping from the Latin forces, he fled to Epirus, became its Byzantine governor and rebelled against Boniface gaining independence with the help of local Albanian tribes (Illyrians) from this area. Like Nicaea and Trebizond, many Byzantine refugees from Constantinople fled to Arta and the rest of Epirus in Western Greece, although Michael I was not considered a legitimate successor to the Byzantine Empire by the patriarch exiled in Nicaea making Michael cut ties with the patriarch, thus Epirus would not be considered a legitimate Byzantine successor state and not an empire like Trebizond or Nicaea. Michael on the other hand, with Epirus in a dangerous position surrounded by Latin states including Venetian possessions had to make alliances with them for protection against other enemy Latin states or the 2nd Bulgarian Empire in the north, although for Michael the mountains were already a perfect form of defense. Michael I was however brutal to his enemies that he even crucified Latin priests, he was though assassinated in 1215 and succeeded by his half-brother Theodore Komnenos Doukas who was successful enough to capture Ohrid while also capturing and executing the Latin emperor Peter II of Courtenay (r. 1216-1217) and by 1224, Epirus was able to take Thessalonike its Latin occupiers and from there, Theodore was able to capture Adrianopolis in Thrace which was already close to Constantinople, Theodore was then crowned emperor of Thessalonike in 1227 to legitimize his claim as Byzantine emperor, which still happened to be unsuccessful. Epirus meanwhile like Nicaea was focused on retaking Constantinople and restoring the Byzantine Empire while Trebizond was too far away to care about it, although Theodore who was already emperor in Thessalonike failed to capture Constantinople and was defeated and captured by the Bulgarians in 1230, making Michael I’s son Michael II come to power in Epirus. Epirus however would lose Thessalonike to the Empire of Nicaea when their emperor John III Doukas Vatatzes captured it from them in 1246, though Michael II in 1249 was given the title Despot which is Greek for “lord” rather than emperor. The despots of Epirus then began to build up Arta, the despotate’s capital as an intellectual and cultural center with the construction of various monasteries and churches filled with impressive Byzantine art such as the churches of Kato Panagia and Panagia Paregoritissa with 5 domes; meanwhile the famous monasteries of Meteora above high rock formations found in northwest Greece were built in the territory of the Despotate of Epirus in the early 14th century by monks of the area that have originally came from Mt. Athos in the northeast of Greece. The succeeding despots of Epirus after Michael II including his son and successor Nikephoros I (r. 1266-1297) continued to make Arta and Epirus a new Byzantium and intellectual and artistic center for scholars and monks as they knew they had no more chance to recapture Constantinople as their armies were not as strong as that of Nicaea which already recaptured Constantinople in 1261, making Epirus have no more chance to gain back the old capital unless they went to war with Nicaea, which they did a couple of times. In the late 13th and early 14th centuries, Epirus was in a dangerous state as it was facing invasions from the ambitious French kingdom of Naples and Sicily, the powerful Italian families of Tocco and Acciajuoli, the Republic of Venice, and the Catalan mercenaries and despite Byzantium having been restored, Epirus was not successful enough to hold out against its enemies as they had previously broken alliances many times and did not have much diplomatic skill as the Empire of Trebizond had. The Despotate of Epirus however in the 14th century did not fall to any of their Italian or Latin enemies but instead ironically first to the main Byzantine Empire being annexed by their emperor Andronikos III Palaiologos from 1338-1347 then to the growing Serbian Empire of Stefan IV Dušan in 1347. Dušan, the emperor of Serbia of the Nemanjić Dynasty saw this moment as the Byzantine Empire was in a civil war between the young emperor John V Palaiologos and his father-in-law John VI Kantakouzenos and with this opportunity, the Serbians succeeded in taking Epirus in order to take most of Greece from the Byzantines as Byzantium was weak; Dušan then appointed his brother to be governor of Epirus. However, after Dušan’s death in 1355, the former despot of Epirus, Nikephoros II Orsini- who was in blood both Italian and Byzantine- came back to power in 1356 but in 1359 was killed in battle by the rebel Albanian tribes who would gain independence from Epirus and begin their small states in the mountainous region of Albania, one of these would become the state ruled by the Albanian hero Gjergj Kastrioti “Skanderbeg” from 1443-1468. After 1359, the Serbian Nemanjić Dynasty would return to power but instead of ruining the state, they helped Epirus grow again, then in 1385, power from the Serbians shifted to the Italian Buondelmonti family when the widow of the Serbian ruler Thomas II (died. 1384) married the Italian nobleman Esau de’ Buondelmonti took over Epirus but his dynasty lasted only until 1411 after the death of his son when power shifted to the Italian Tocco Dynasty, beginning with Carlo I (r. 1411-1429), who was not directly from Italy but from the Italian controlled island of Cephalonia and a relative of the previous Orsini Dynasty. The last ruler of Epirus, Leonardo III (r. 1448-1479) was also of the Tocco Dynasty and when the Ottoman Turks invaded Epirus in 1479 overpowering the weak Epirote army, Arta fell to them and the last despot Leonardo III fled to Italy, thus ending the Byzantine rump state of Epirus. The end of Epirus in 1479, though happening long after Constantinople, Morea, and Trebizond fell does not really mark the real end of the Byzantine Empire because Epirus themselves were not legitimately acknowledged as a successor Byzantine Empire but instead as a separate state that still kept Byzantine traditions but due to its western position was heavily influenced by western ideas and customs in its later years being ruled by Italians rather than Byzantine Greeks. Overall, Epirus began off still being very Byzantine in traditions but over the years because of invasions and western influences, they had to adapt which led to the identity of this state being a big mix of cultures as the Serbians even ruled at one point; but true enough, the Epirote state was one of mixed ethnicities including Byzantine Greeks, Albanians (Illyrians), Vlachs, Serbs, Latins (Franks), Italians, and more. Today however, this part of the Balkans is something underrated as it is full of Byzantine heritage sites that remain as well especially impressive art in churches and monasteries in Greece and scenic coastal cities and towns in the Western Greek and Albanian coasts like Nafpaktos, Actium, Cephalonia, Parga, Sarande, and Vlore with structures from the time of the despotate.
XII. Despotate of Morea (1349-1460)
Like Epirus, the Morea in Southern Greece became a Byzantine Despotate and not an empire itself but Morea unlike Epirus was a province of the late empire, although I am putting it in this article as a Byzantine remnant state because it both survived the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453 by 7 years and did its best to preserve Byzantine culture in Greece. When Byzantium temporarily fell in 1204 to the Latins, the 3 Byzantine successor states of Nicaea, Epirus, and Trebizond were created and each of them did the best they could to bring back the glory of Byzantium in their empires as neither of the 3 knew when they would ever retake Constantinople. However, out of luck in 1261, Nicaea took back Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire was restored with the Palaiologos Dynasty ruling it but before taking back the city, the armies of Nicaea led by the generals John Palaiologos and Alexios Strategopoulos crushed the Latin army heavily at the Battle of Pelagonia in September of 1259, thus capturing William Villehardouin who surrendered the southern Greek region of Laconia to the Byzantines. When the Latins ruled the south of Greece (the Peloponnese since 1205), the city of Mystras was already built before by the Latins who occupied it as part of the Frankokratia, which meant that the Byzantines made it their base in the Peloponnese, now that William had built his castle there. The Peloponnese was then known in the late Middle Ages to the Latins, Byzantines, and Ottomans as the Morea as it produced mulberries (called murus or morea) which was an essential ingredient in making silk and during the time of the Latins, the Morea unlike Latin Constantinople progressed in the construction of landmarks while having a mixed population of Greeks and Latins (Franks) and later people of Greek and Frankish blood known as Gasmoules. One of the best known sources on the Morea under the Latins and Byzantines is the Chronicle of the Morea written probably by a Gasmoule about the Frankish occupation of the area and how their systems were introduced to the Greeks and the entire book was written in 4 languages which are Greek, French, Italian, and Aragonese, 1 for each part which shows that Greek and Western culture can merge together despite both having been enemies. Fast-forward to the 1260’s, when the Byzantines had already taken Southern Greece from the Frankish Principality of Achaea, they formed the imperial province of the Morea with Mystras as its capital under Constantinople and dedicated to St. Demetrios; the Latins were then pushed out from the region around Mystras known as Laconia to the northern parts of the Peloponnese which were Arcadia, Achaea, Elis, and Corinth. Mystras which would become an important Byzantine stronghold and cultural center was built on the slopes of Mount Taygetos near the site of the ancient city of Sparta, the bishop from Sparta had then moved to Mystras and up to 1349, the Morea was in full control of the emperors, although from 1316-1322, Andronikos Asen, a nephew of the emperor Andronikos II Palaiologos (r. 1282-1328) was put in charge of the province of the Morea as its overseer. The title of Despot or “lord” of the Morea was only created in 1349 by the emperor John VI Kantakouzenos (r. 1347-1354) for his son Manuel as an appendage; Manuel Kantakouzenos then became the first Despot of the Morea from 1349 to his death in 1380 where he was succeeded by his brother Matthew who after his death in 1383 was succeeded by his son Demetrios I though he was overthrown the same year by the ruling Palaiologos family. In 1383, the power in the Morea shifted from the Kantakouzenos to the imperial Palaiologos family as the emperor then, John V appointed his son Theodore I as despot of the Morea, and as its ruler he was a capable one strengthening the province by building up the army, making alliances including the Ottomans, and inviting Albanian mercenaries into his army. At this time, the Morea and Mystras did not only become a base for the stronger part of the late Byzantine army but like what Byzantine Trebizond, Nicaea, and Epirus had become, an important intellectual and cultural center of this era known as the “Palaiologan Renaissance” with many churches and monasteries constructed and Mystras had also been the place where the philosopher George Gemistos Plethon (1360-1454) lived most of his life inspired by Ancient Greek philosophy which he would use to help start the Renaissance in Italy sometime in the 1430s. It was also because of Morea’s mixed heritage of Greek and Frankish and many languages including Greek, Italian, and French being spoken that the place became a cultural center in Greece. After the death of the despot Theodore I in 1407, he was succeeded by his nephew Theodore II Palaiologos who was the son of the emperor Manuel II (r. 1391-1425), an older brother of Theodore I; although Theodore II ruled long, he surrendered his title and domain to his younger brother Constantine in 1443 in exchange for ruling Selymbria closer to Constantinople. Constantine Palaiologos was the despot of the Morea from 1443 until he was crowned the last Byzantine emperor Constantine XI in 1448 after the death of the emperor, his older brother John VIII. As the ruler of the Morea while his brother was emperor and the Ottomans already surrounding Constantinople, Constantine successfully defended Mystras against Ottoman raids such as in 1446, most likely because Mystras was in a strategic position on the mountain slopes, although Constantine was still forced to pay tribute to the Ottoman Sultan Murad II. With Constantine XI becoming emperor, the Latins of Achaea had already been driven out from Greece back in 1432 making the Byzantines already control the rest of the Peloponnese except for a small peninsula in the region of Messenia in the southwest Peloponnese which would still be under Venice and Argos which was under the Latin Duchy of Athens; although in 1450, the Byzantines divided the Peloponnese making a joint rule of Constantine’s younger brothers Demetrios and Thomas as despots of the Morea. Demetrios II would rule the eastern half of the Peloponnese with Mystras as his capital and the younger brother Thomas would rule the western half with Glarentza in the northwest corner of the Peloponnese as his capital. Both brothers however were not that capable as rulers as they failed to pay tribute to the Ottoman sultan who had attacked their lands, which weakened the army of the Morea causing them to not send any aid to defend Constantinople against the Ottomans in 1453. Constantinople fell to the Ottomans in 1453 and the last emperor where the last emperor Constantine XI was killed, although even with the capital gone, Byzantine power still survived in other places including the Morea but there was no more emperor in charge. In the next few years, the Morea as well could hold out against the Ottomans’ military power and in 1460, the Ottoman conqueror of Constantinople, Sultan Mehmed II himself came to the Morea and capturing it from the Byzantines making Demetrios II a prisoner of the Ottomans while Thomas fled to Italy using the title of Byzantine ruler in exile. With the Ottomans taking over Mystras and the Morea, the Byzantines still held on to a few holdouts for a short period of time such as the rocky peninsula fortress of Monemvasia, the Mani Peninsula in the south of Laconia, and the Salmeniko Castle in Achaea. Most Byzantine holdouts would however fall to the Ottomans or to Venice by 1461, the same year Trebizond fell to the Ottomans marking the real end of the rule of the Byzantines. In the Morea today, despite centuries of Ottoman rule and being abandoned in 1832, many Byzantine cultural heritage sites are still preserved, most especially Mystras which is a UNESCO world heritage site where you can see the ruins of the Byzantine palace, the fortress built by the Latins during their occupation, and late-Byzantine era churches and monasteries with impressive frescos, some showing images of the Palaiologos and Kantakouzenos family members that ruled the Morea. The Despotate of Morea overall shows how despite Constantinople was already weak and surrounded by its enemy, the Ottomans, the Byzantines still held a large amount of land in the south of Greece, which was the Morea where the Byzantine culture still lived on and yet Morea still managed to outlive the empire itself by a few years.
XIII. March of Montferrat (961-1574)- “Byzantium’s Possible Successor”
Unlike Epirus, Trebizond, Nicaea, and the Morea which were extensions of the Byzantine Empire both politically and culturally, the more obscure March of Montferrat (Marchesato del Monferrato in Italian) all the way in Northern Italy is a more unusual case, as it was purely a western state culturally and politically but at one point in history was ruled by a branch of the Byzantine imperial family. Cases like this when a branch of a ruling family rules another kingdom out of inheritance but ruling separately happened a couple of times in the history of Europe like with a branch of the Habsburg family of the Holy Roman Empire came to rule Spain in the 16th century while the main one ruled the Holy Roman Empire in Germany; and this same case happened again in Spain at the beginning of the 18th century when the Habsburg Dynasty died and was replaced by the Bourbon Dynasty that ruled France while a branch of it came to rule Spain. Now the big question is that how did a small-time feudal state deep in the foothills of the Alps in Northern Italy become one of the possible successor Byzantine states and the “Third Rome”? This was because from 1306-1533, a branch of the Palaiologos Dynasty that ruled Byzantium came to Montferrat and established its rule there, although nothing would really change as Montferrat remained culturally and politically western, Italian remained spoken instead of Greek, and no Byzantine landmarks were made, therefore you can hardly find any Byzantine traces in this small state in Northern Italy except for the Byzantine emblems on their coat of arms. Montferrat, a small area in the north of Italy (in today’s region of Piedmont) known for its rolling hills and vineyards would be a very unlikely place for the Byzantine Empire all the way in the east to be interested in for its position is the map is too insignificant for conquerors. However, despite Montferrat being quite an obscure small part of Italy to many of us, it had actually played an important role in medieval history as an active power despite being a small state under the Holy Roman Empire. Italy had been under Byzantine rule from Constantinople in the 6th century under Emperor Justinian I (r. 527-565) and up to 1071, Byzantine controlled the south of Italy, but the northwest part of Italy known as Piedmont was mostly obscure in the early Middle Ages until the Frankish knight William I established the March of Montferrat sometime before 933 after crossing the Alps from France to Italy. In 961, the German Otto I- who became Holy Roman emperor in 962- invaded Italy thus making Montferrat a Margraviate of the Holy Roman Empire; Aleramo, the son of William I already in power was still kept in power as the first marquess (margrave) of Montferrat, and for siding with Otto I, he was given a much larger territory extending all the way south to the Ligurian Sea. The descendants of Aleramo would form the Aleramici Dynasty that would rule Montferrat for almost 4 centuries, although most of the early rulers of Montferrat were relatively obscure and so was Montferrat itself where nothing really happened until the 12th century when its rulers took part in the Crusades and later in the faction of the Ghibellines in the power struggle for Italy against the Guelphs. In 1204, Montferrat would make contact with Byzantium when its Marquess Boniface I (r. 1192-1207) led a division in the 4th Crusade that sacked Constantinople and in the aftermath of it, Boniface I was made the first king of the Latin vassal kingdom of Thessalonica and after his death in 1207, his older son William IV succeeded him as marquess of Montferrat while his younger son Demetrios succeeded him as king of Thessalonica but this kingdom would eventually be taken back by the Byzantines. The rule of the Aleramici Dynasty over Montferrat came to an end in 1305 when its last ruler John I (r. 1292-1305) died without any heir as he had no children, although his sister Yolande (renamed Irene) was the 2nd wife of the 2nd restored Byzantine emperor Andronikos II Palaiologos and together they had children. Theodore, the second son of Andronikos II and Irene of Montferrat was half-Greek, half-Italian and being a nephew of the last Aleramici marquess of Montferrat, he was appointed to claim the March of Montferrat, so in 1306, he left Constantinople and sailed to Genoa, Byzantium’s ally state where married Argentina Spinola, a magnate’s daughter to back his claim on Montferrat in the north; at this point, Casale Monferrato would become the march’s capital. For Andronikos II, succession for Byzantine emperor was not a problem as he already had a son, Michael IX from his first wife who was already his co-emperor while Theodore I began the rule of a branch of the imperial family all the way in Montferrat even being acknowledged by the Holy Roman emperor as its ruler. Despite Theodore having a Byzantine background and in fact the son of the reigning emperor, he did not leave any Byzantine traces behind in Montferrat except for adding his family’s seal to the state’s coat of arms, but left behind no Byzantine style churches or monasteries with dark and colorful frescos in his march the way many Byzantine rulers would do ruling other parts in the east. In his rule in Montferrat from 1306 to his death in 1338, the only piece of legacy Theodore I left behind that was Byzantine related was a military manual he wrote in Greek; most likely, when he settled in Montferrat, he converted to Catholicism forgetting his Byzantine heritage and the Orthodox faith and restarting his life as a western feudal lord. Theodore I would not be heard of that much anymore after he settled in Montferrat, at his death he was succeeded by his son, John II and at his death, no Byzantine traces were left behind leaving things in Montferrat to be as they always were, being a feudal state and speaking Italian. The Palaiologos family would rule Montferrat until 1533, long after Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire itself fell but the Palaiologi there would barely make any contact with their relatives ruling the already weakening Byzantine Empire except in 1421, Theodore I’s great-granddaughter Sophia was married to the future emperor John VIII (r. 1425-1448) who was her relative, though both were not content with their marriage and in 1426, Sophia fled Constantinople back to Montferrat and would never marry again. The succeeding Palaiologos rulers of would only be Greek in their family name since over the years, intermarriages with other Italian states and with the French nobility made the heritage of the Palaiologi mixed and ever since Theodore I came to power in 1306, they no longer dressed up the way Byzantines did, instead wearing western medieval clothes. When Constantinople was under siege by the Ottomans, it was not ever said if the emperor’s relatives in Montferrat came to his aid as their march had grown smaller in size and importance and in fact, the March of Montferrat and its Palaiologos rulers were never even considered legitimate successors to the Byzantine Empire after Byzantium’s collapse in 1453. With all the Byzantine powers disappearing in the late 15th century as well as the imperial family, the last remnants of the imperial at Montferrat did not seem to care about the issue anymore as they have become more Italian in identity letting go of their Greek heritage. The year that really marked the end of the Palaiologos family in power was 1533 when John George, the last ruler of the dynasty once again died without an heir and at his death, Montferrat was taken over by the Spanish under the Holy Roman emperor Charles V of Habsburg until he restored its independence in 1536 giving the territory to the Federico II, Duke of Mantua from the House of Gonzaga- the husband of Margaret Palaiologina of Montferrat- which would bring Montferrat to a prosperous time by joint rule with Mantua, enough to elevate it from a march to a duchy in 1574. In Montferrat however at this day, you would hardly see any trace of its Byzantine heritage but instead medieval and Renaissance Italian landmarks and vast vineyards; this is possibly because when the Byzantine Palaiolgos family came to rule it, they quickly adapted becoming more Italian in identity changing their clothes and hairstyles to that of the west and later on adapting to the Italian Renaissance leaving their Byzantine heritage as a thing of the past as they have gradually become too small of a power to care about the world. Montferrat shows the very unlikely story of how a small state without much importance in Northern Italy could be called a successor state of the Byzantine Empire and the “Third Rome” all because a member of the Byzantine imperial family came to rule even if not incorporating this state with his family’s empire, though sadly there is not much record of Montferrat under the Palaiologos Dynasty and images depicting life under them, so it is hard to tell if they actually brought in Greek culture or not, but just by seeing what it is, it it’s still hard to see Byzantium’s trace there.
XIV. Vassals of Lesbos and Ainos (1355-1462)- “Territory of Genoese Pirates”
In the 14th century, Byzantium had gradually been diminished in power and territory but it still did not stop them from giving land to their closest western ally, the Republic of Genoa in Italy making their small territory of Lesbos and Ainos their vassal states to strengthen their relations with Genoa as their trade and naval partners. While the rest of Europe was advancing in the 14th century, Byzantium was left behind in the sense that their army and navy grew smaller in size and have not been updating militarily by still continuing to wear their old fashioned plated armor while the rest of Europe had knights in steel-plated armor. For the navy on the other hand, when the Byzantines regained Constantinople in 1261, they were only left with 80 ships in the reign of Michael VIII Palaiologos (1261-1282) which were later reduced to 10 during the disastrous reign of his son Andronikos II (1282-1328), though during the reign of Andronikos III (1328-1341) the grandson of Andronikos II, he was able to strengthen Byzantium’s hold on Greece but with Andronikos III’s sudden death in 1341, he was succeeded by his 9-year-old son John V who at the beginning of his reign was in a power struggle with his father’s general, John Kantakouzenos who had the claim to the throne as well starting a civil war between the 2 of them. In 1347, the destructive civil war is won by John Kantakouzenos defeating the young emperor’s regents making him be crowned the senior emperor John VI while John V was brought down to co-emperor. However in 1354, while John V as co-emperor was living in the island of Tenedos in the Aegean Sea, the Genoese pirate Francesco Gattilusio arrived there promising to help John V regain the throne and on December of that year, they headed to Constantinople pretending they needed assistance as they were shipwrecked but when being allowed to enter, the 500 armed men from Francesco’s crew stormed the city and started a riot, and with the help of Genoa, Venice, and Serbia, John VI resigned from power retiring to a monastery in Greece. John V, now 22 at this time came back as the senior emperor of Byzantium and for Francesco’s help, John V married him to his sister, Maria Palaiologina. For marrying John V’s sister, Francesco in 1355 was promised with an even bigger gift, which was the title of “Archon of Lesbos” with the island under his control and the city of Mytilene as his stronghold. In 1376, Francesco’s brother Niccolò Gattilusio gained Ainos (modern day Enez in European Turkey) as his territory but both Lesbos and Ainos would be in joint rule by the Gattilusio family as vassals of the Byzantine Empire though at the same time as one of the states of the Frankokratia as mentioned earlier as the Genoese were westerners possessing former Byzantine lands. The Republic of Genoa where the Gattilusio family came from emerged as a maritime power as early as 1005 but not born from Byzantine soil, but still becoming a naval empire by the 12th century together with Venice and Pisa but during the reign of Manuel I Komnenos in Byzantium (1143-1180), Genoa was a more preferred ally to the Byzantines causing ties with Venice to be cut and when the Byzantines regained Constantinople in 1261, Genoa was given the district of Pera across the Golden Horn in Constantinople as a reward for helping the Byzantines; the Genoese here built the famous Galata Tower in 1348. With the Gattilusio family on the other hand, it was a different story as they were originally pirates and adventures, and yet the emperor of Byzantium gave them this territories rather than to the government of the Republic of Genoa itself, but still the empire was in desperate need of allies, and this move was necessary. At this time, the west continuously refused to help Byzantium in giving them aid against the Ottoman threat unless the Byzantines converted to Catholicism, which John V did in 1369, though despite the refusal of the west to help, Genoa still would be there for the Byzantines. Francesco I would die in 1384 still holding on to his territory, although in the earthquake of the same year, his wife, the emperor’s sister and their 2 eldest sons died which left him to be succeeded by his youngest son Francesco II- who survived after falling into the castle’s vineyard- as lord of Lesbos. The possessions of the Gattilusi eventually included the Aegean islands of Imbros, Samothrace, Lemnos, and Thassos together with Lesbos and Ainos while Byzantine territory shrunk to only Constantinople and its surroundings and the Morea in Southern Greece. The Gattilusi on the other hand grew rich from the trade of alum from their islands and for continued alliances, the Byzantine imperial family married their family members a couple of times; first John V’s sister Maria was married to Francesco I, the first lord of Lesbos, then Irene Gattilusio the daughter of Francesco II was married to the Byzantine emperor John VII (r. 1390) who was a grandson of John V, and lastly Francesco II’s granddaughter Caterina was married to the last Byzantine emperor Constantine XI, though she would die in 1442 before he became emperor. Francesco II was succeeded after his death in 1404 by his eldest son Jacopo who died in 1428 without any sons making him be succeeded by his younger brother Dorino I. It was during Dorino I’s rule in Lesbos when the Ottomans captured Constantinople in 1453 where his son-in-law, Constantine XI had vanished; Dorino I’s daughter Caterina was married to Constantine XI in Lesbos when he wasn’t yet emperor, though she died in 1442 of a sickness without ever leaving Lesbos and producing any children while Constantine XI himself was in a desperate situation to marry again to produce an heir but his attempts to marry again were unsuccessful and he died in the final siege without an heir to Byzantium. Even if Constantinople had fallen to the Ottomans in 1453, Morea in 1460, Trebizond in 1461, the Genoese still having their hold on Ainos until 1456 eventually lost Lesbos and other islands in 1462 when the fleet of Sultan Mehmed II overpowered Lesbos allowing the Ottomans to take Mytilene and then capturing and later executing its last ruler with a bowstring, Niccolò, a son of Dorino I in Constantinople the same year. The Genoese power in the Aegean then came to end and the Ottomans would quickly over the next years gain full control of Greece and the Balkans but Genoa itself as a maritime empire would still hold on to colonies in the Mediterranean for the next 3 centuries. These possessions that the Genoese Gattilusio family had in the Aegean seems to be quite a mystery, and new knowledge for me; although these lands cannot be considered Byzantine successor states as they for one not ruled by Byzantine people but by a Genoese family, however this family gained these lands as a gift from the Byzantine emperor, which can be said that it was the Byzantine Empire that laid the foundations of these island colonies in the area of the weakened Byzantium. Why I decided to put the lands of the Gattilusi in this article was because it is barely written about and remains a great mystery as there is also not much record about them, but true enough they played an important part being a great naval support for the weakened Byzantine Empire in its last years.
XV. Grand Duchy of Muscow (1283-1547)- “The Spiritual Successor of Byzantium?”
With the fall of the Byzantine Empire in 1453, the big question is where Byzantine culture went and what state could call themselves the successors of Byzantium as the Ottomans had taken over all the surviving Byzantine states around Constantinople first with Morea falling to them in 1460, the Empire of Trebizond in 1461, and the Despotate of Epirus in 1479 while on the other hand, the March of Montferrat all the way in Italy was still ruled by a branch of the Palaiologos family of Byzantium but they were too far away and have already integrated into the society of Italy to care about what was happening in Byzantium. The place that can be said to be Byzantium’s successor state, therefore the “Third Rome” is the Grand Duchy of Moscow known as Muscovy, which would later transition into the Russian Empire because after the fall of Constantinople, many Byzantines fled north to Moscow and continued to influence their culture on the people there. In fact, even long before Constantinople fell, as early as the time of Byzantium’s Macedonian Dynasty in the 10th century was Byzantine culture and the faith of Christian Orthodoxy introduced to the lands of the Rus (which includes today’s Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus) ruled by Kiev. The empire of the Kievan Rus stretched from the Baltic Sea down to the Black Sea nearing Byzantine lands; if the Roman Empire was the empire that gave birth to countries of Italy, Spain, and France in the west, the empire of Kiev was the like the Roman Empire of Eastern Europe that gave birth to today’s Russia, Ukraine, and Belarus. Byzantium bringing in Christianity to the Rus also constructed churches and monasteries there in Byzantine art and architecture while the same time they also introduced Byzantine intellectual culture, coinage, and of course the hybrid Greek and Slavic Cyrillic alphabet to the Rus; the Rus of Kiev on the other hand gave Byzantium their fierce Varangian Guards and military alliance when Kiev’s prince Vladimir married the Byzantine princess Anna, the sister of Emperor Basil II in 988, the same year the Rus were Christianized. The Rus people were both Slavs and descendants of Vikings and when Kiev ruled its empire, its presence was strong but with the rising power of the Mongols, the empire of Kiev collapsed in 1240 being broken up into many Russian states in which some were vassals of the Mongol empire established in Russia known as the Golden Horde. The more famous states that came from the Kievan Rus were the Novgorod Republic (1136-1478) and the Principality of Vladimir-Suzdal (1157-1331) in which Moscow was once part of. Moscow began out as an unimportant trading post with a timber fort in the Moskva River until it was made into a principality sometime in the late 13th century by St. Daniil, the youngest son of the Russian hero St. Alexander Nevsky, prince of Novgorod (1236-1240), prince of Kiev (1246-1263), and prince of Vladimir (1252-1263) famous for defending Russia against German and Swedish invaders. The late Middle Ages in Russia is another interesting story and at this time, while Byzantium was declining in its power, Moscow was growing in territory despite facing constant threat from the Mongols and Turkic Tatars which they paid off by taxing other princes, though Moscow would grow culturally as an ecclesiastical and artistic center in Russia; one of the best known medieval artists of Russia, Andrei Rublev was from 14th century Moscow and was best known for his Byzantine inspired icons, the 1969 movie using his name tells his story and shows life in medieval Russia. The rulers of Moscow were all from the Rurikid Dynasty, a branch of the dynasty that ruled Kiev centuries before and ruling Moscow they used the title of “Grand Prince” and over the years, they expanded Moscow not just in territory but by building up the city in order to rival with the other Russian states in terms of structures and cultural importance. By 1448, Moscow’s Church had been independent from the Patriarchate of Constantinople, thus the entire church of Russia and during the reign of Moscow’s grand prince Ivan III (1462-1505), Moscow became a regional power uniting the principalities of Novgorod and Tver, well, then forcing smaller states to unite with him as well as defeating the Golden Horde in 1480 after refusing to pay tribute to them; Ivan III was then the first to be called “ruler of all Russia”. Ivan III was also known as “the great” for laying the foundations of the Russian Empire by centralizing its power in Moscow and in 1472, he married the Byzantine princess Zoe “Sophia” Palaiologina, the daughter of the last Despot of Morea Thomas Palaiologos, the younger brother of the last emperor Constantine XI; the marriage of Zoe to Ivan III was the second time a Byzantine princess married a Russian ruler, the first being Anna of the Macedonian Dynasty to Vladimir of Kiev in 988. With the marriage of Ivan III to Zoe, not only was the Byzantine imperial eagle was adopted as the seal of Moscow and Russia but the intellectual, religious, and court life brought into Russia as Constantinople’s culture had already become very much Islamic from the Ottomans. Because of this marriage, Moscow was given the status of being called the “successor of the Byzantine Empire”, the “New Constantinople”, and the “Third Rome” as Moscow even grew to be an empire itself adopting Byzantine imperial and cultural traditions such as the power of the Orthodox Church and the emperor’s power over it that Ivan III like many Byzantine emperors built many ornate churches such as the Church of the Formation in Moscow. The son of Ivan III and Zoe, Vasily III ruled from 1505 to 1533 although he continued his father’s successes, his reign was uneventful compared to that of his father and his son, Ivan IV known as “the Terrible” who came to power too young after his father’s death in 1533 but when he came of age to be officially crowned in 1547, Ivan IV was not only crowned as Grand Prince of Moscow but as “Tsar of Russia” as he already inherited an empire, which in fact rulers of Europe acknowledged his claim as “emperor”; “tsar” being the Slavic word for “caesar” which had previously been used before by rulers of Serbia and Bulgaria. Ivan IV the Terrible, Russia’s first tsar was very much like a lot of Byzantine emperors especially like Justinian I 1,000 years before him as Ivan fought many wars and conquered lads as far as Kazan and Siberia in the east but lost heavily in the west to the Swedish and Polish in the Livonian War, added people of different ethnicities to his empire, codified laws, limited the power of the feudal lords or Boyars, introduced to Moscow the printing press and a musical conservatory, promoted academics and learning that ordinary people were taught to read and write, made alliances with other European powers, and built many churches in which his most famous one was St. Basil’s Cathedral in Moscow; if Justinian I built the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople, Ivan IV built the architectural wonder of St. Basil’s. Overall, Ivan the Terrible was all the Byzantine emperors put into one person as like the emperors of Byzantium before him, he was brutal to his enemies, tortured many who opposed him, and established a secret bodyguard spy unit known as the Oprichniki that had ended up killing about 4,500 in their purges against his political enemies, which is why his title “the Terrible” is given to him. Ivan the Terrible died in 1584 of a stroke while playing chess and was succeeded by his unfit son Fyodor I who died in 1598 without any heir putting an end to the centuries long Rurikid Dynasty putting Russia into a succession crisis similar to that in the Byzantine Empire known as the “Time of Troubles”. As the Rurikid Dynasty came to an end, the rule of Russia’s new tsar Boris Godunov (1598-1605) was challenged by many imposters and usurpers, civil wars, a famine killing millions from 1601-1603, and from 1610-1612 the Polish occupation; the crisis only ended when the young Mikhail I Romanov was elected and crowned tsar in 1613 bringing back stability. Starting with the reign of Mikhail I (1613-1645), Russia had already become a powerful empire stretching all the way east to the Pacific Ocean and the long uninterrupted Romanov Dynasty that would rule Russia until 1917 began, his grandson was Tsar Peter I the Great (r. 1682-1725) who westernized Russia and made it a global superpower. Just like Rome, Moscow was not built in a day as it started as a small settlement along the Moskva River and over centuries grew into an empire that eventually became the Russian Empire that would rule 1/6 of the entire world with 11 timezones which is why Moscow can call itself the “Third Rome” as Constantinople was the “Second Rome”. When the Byzantine Empire fell in 1453, there was no direct successor state that physically succeeded it, although the closest to actually succeed it but directly and overtime was the Grand Duchy of Moscow as it would become an empire and as it was an empire, it still kept many of its Byzantine traditions and religion that had been introduced to Russia overtime. The Russians were not overall exact copies of the Byzantines as they were different people, spoke Russian instead of Greek but used an alphabet inspired by the Greek one (Cyrillic), wore thick fur cloaks over silk rather than Byzantine silks, and had different church traditions from the Byzantines but in running the empire, many traditions the Russians kept including the bureaucracy, having co-emperors, the imperial costumes and crowns, succession crises, and absolute imperial power came from the Byzantines. Here at last, not only the marriage of a descendant of the Byzantine imperial Palaiologos family to a ruler of Moscow made Russia the spiritual successor of the Byzantines, but with all the traditions of empire introduced to them over the years that were kept all the way to the modern age that in fact 20th century political scientists say that totalitarian evils and dysfunctions of Russia’s Soviet Union were attributed to Russia’s Byzantine origins. Civilization came many centuries ago to Russia by the Kievan Rus but it was the culture of the Byzantines that made Russia into an empire. When going to Russia, you will most definitely see how they succeeded Byzantium culturally in many ways especially when entering churches like St. Basil’s and seeing its dark but colorful interiors filled with gold, frescos, and icons, something that Byzantium did before Russia was born.
Now at last we’ve come to the conclusion! After all, both 1204 and 1453 were very decisive years, not just for the Byzantines but for almost the whole world in fact. Because of the events of 1204, particularly the 4th Crusade that captured Constantinople and divided up the Byzantine Empire, the Byzantines now in exile rebuilt themselves and spread their culture to the parts they were cast away to such as in Trebizond, Asia Minor and many parts of Greece. Because of the 4th Crusade, the culture of the Latins (westerners) came to Greece with their own states being built there but the Byzantines on the other hand still held on and despite their empire weakening continued to grow their culture. The Byzantines would however regain their capital in 1261 but their empire would never recover again into the medieval military superpower it once was during the time of Justinian in the 6th century and the Macedonian Dynasty from the 9th to 11th centuries, so instead its rulers from its last ruling Palaiologos Dynasty chose to make the restored Byzantium instead a cultural power and dedicated their time to constructing churches and commissioning art. The last years of Byzantium were no longer glorious ones as their empire had been divided with in fact Trebizond being Byzantium’s lesser twin empire and the Despotates of Morea and Epirus in Greece acting on their own while Constantinople itself had been gradually surrounded by the Ottomans who were growing their new empire. 1453 however would be the real turning point as Constantinople fell and so did its last emperor, Constantine XI but the Byzantine states of Epirus, Morea, and Trebizond only survived it for a few years. Morea and Trebizond meanwhile were truly Byzantine in culture and identity but Morea was not anymore ruled by the emperor and Trebizond was a break-away empire with its own emperor from a different dynasty, the Komnenid while Epirus on the other even lasting longer after 1453 had been growing out of its Byzantine heritage under a long period of being ruled by Italians. On the other hand, Montferrat could have been a successor to Byzantium but it was only ruled by a branch of the imperial Palaiologos family that by the time Constantinople fell in 1453, they had already left their Byzantine heritage in the past after having been blended in to Italian society as their rulers had never claimed themselves as the heirs to Byzantium and back in the Aegean, the Genoese Gattilusi could also not claim the empire as they were not Byzantines themselves. The question now is “where did Byzantium go to” and who can call themselves the “Third Rome”? The state that can call themselves the “Third Rome” is debatable as no one is officially called that the way the Byzantine Empire is called “The Second Rome”. 3 great empires in early-modern history; the Ottoman, Habsburg, and Russian Empires call themselves that but if not these empires, the small obscure March of Montferrat can be called this as well. Montferrat in northwest Italy was in fact still ruled by the Palaiologos family when Constantinople fell in 1453 but it cannot be called the Third Rome as it was only a feudal state too small to care what was happening in the world and even being ruled by the Byzantine imperial family, they have chosen to be their own and not a vassal or extension of the Byzantine Empire and in fact have already become more Italian leaving their Byzantine heritage in the past. Out of the 3 great empires that claim to be the “Third Rome”, first of all the Ottoman Empire despite basing themselves in Constantinople after 1453 was of a different culture and only adapted the imperial ideas of Rome and Byzantium later on, the Habsburg Empire or Holy Roman Empire barely had any connections to Byzantium and was not born from the Roman Empire the way Byzantium was, while Russia on the other hand is an unlikely choice for Byzantium’s successor as it was too far away in the north but had many political and cultural links to the Byzantines, making them already the best choice for the claim as Byzantium’s successor and the “Third Rome”. After all, one empire cannot call itself the “Third Rome” without having passed through the Second Rome first and Moscow which grew to be the Russian Empire did pass through it as it was culturally built up by Byzantium that today you can still see traces of Byzantium in Russia by seeing the art in churches inspired by Byzantine art and back then, its imperial customs and court life were in fact based on that of the Byzantines. True enough, Russia can be called the “New Byzantium” and the “Third Rome” because like the Roman and Byzantine Empires, Russia fought many wars to extend its territory and at the end, like Rome and Byzantium had powerful, capable, and brutal rulers like Ivan the Terrible, while the Russian Empire ruled a land so big it covered almost the entire northern hemisphere, had 11 time zones, and controlled 3 continents (Europe, Asia, and North America) and Moscow itself was even called “The New Constantinople”. Now this concludes not just this article, but the previous one as well that mentioned 7 states where Byzantium lived on; however the last one was mainly states that took in Byzantine culture while this one from 8 to 15 were states that literally succeeded Byzantium. Russia however, should have been in the previous article but since it has the claim to be the “Third Rome” and Byzantium’s successor, I added it here. After all, it was because of doing the complete Byzantine genealogy that made me want to write about other Byzantine states after seeing the imperial family members in the genealogy end up in Nicaea, Epirus, Trebizond, Morea, Serbia, Bulgaria, Montferrat, and Moscow. At first, I thought this article would be a much shorter one to write compared to the previous one, but because the histories of these states, especially Russia are so interesting it ended up becoming longer! Also, I decided to make it a very long because this one would be the article where I would mention the late history of Byzantium and the Palaiologos Dynasty and also the unknown history of Montferrat and the Gattilusi family that provided a big support for the weak Byzantium. This article has in fact covered so much land beyond Byzantium and many notable Byzantine rulers like John III Doukas Vatatzes, Michael VIII Palaiologos, Theodore I of Montferrat, and the last emperor Constantine XI as well as notable foreign rulers like Tamar of Georgia, Stefan Dušan of Serbia, Mehmed II of the Ottoman Empire, as well as Ivan the Terrible and the Romanovs of Russia. Now this is the end of the article and before finishing I have to say that doing this gave me an interest in the history of Russia that later on I would articles on both the Byzantine and Russian empires. Well then, up next would be a much shorter article on a guide to the themes of the Byzantine Empire, now thank you all for reading this very long article… until next time!!