Byzantine Alternate History Chapter XI- The Serbian Empire Takes Over and Saves a Dying Byzantium in the 14th Century

Posted by Powee Celdran

DISCLAIMER: Although this is mostly a work of fiction, it is largely based on true events and characters. It seeks to alter the course of actual events that transpired in the 13th and 14th Centuries AD. This story will begin with real events that happened in real history but will become fictional as it progresses.

Previous Story: Byzantine Alternate History Chapter X- 13th Century

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Welcome to the 11th chapter of the Byzantine Alternate History series by the Byzantium Blogger, the second to the last in this 12-part series! Last time in chapter X, we went over the major turning point of the disastrous 4th Crusade in 1204 which began the end for the Byzantine (Eastern Roman) Empire followed by the 57-year period of the Byzantine Empire temporarily disappearing and turning into the Empire of Nicaea with Constantinople falling under the rule of the Latin Empire, the possible what if of the powerful 2nd Bulgarian Empire taking over Constantinople from the Latins before the Byzantines do, as well as Byzantium as the Empire of Nicaea eventually recovering Constantinople before they actually did in real history, which was in 1261. Again, as these chapters in this alternate history series are not continuous with each other in plot, this chapter will begin with what actually happened in real history, therefore the events from the previous chapter including the 2nd Bulgarian Empire taking over Constantinople in 1235 from the Latins, the Byzantines of Nicaea eventually taking it back in 1248, and the Laskaris-Vatatzes Dynasty still continuing and ruling from Constantinople rather than being overthrown by the Palaiologos Dynasty would not happen, instead we will start this chapter off with the Palaiologos Dynasty succeeding in taking over the empire and Michael VIII Palaiologos becoming emperor after taking back Constantinople by surprise from the Latins in 1261, afterwards taking over the throne by deposing and blinding the last Laskaris-Vatatzes Emperor of Nicaea, the young John IV.

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Seal of the Palaiologos Dynasty of the Byzantine Empire, founded by Michael VIII in 1261

After recovering Constantinople from the Latins and restoring the Byzantine Empire, Michael VIII vowed to put the empire back together and once again make it a major power, but at the end he only did what he could as the damage done by the army of the 4th Crusade back in 1204 when sacking and capturing Constantinople was beyond repair. The Byzantine Empire back on the map after 1261 now may have been restored as a functioning state but from here on, it would no longer be a major power of the medieval world like it was in the 12th century as discussed in chapter IX of this series before everything turned around in 1204, instead the post-1261 Byzantium despite still being called an “empire” would just be more or less a regional power in the Balkans together with their two neighbors to the north, the 2nd Bulgarian Empire and Serbian Kingdom, therefore making Byzantium one of the 3 kingdoms of the Balkans wherein all 3 will be in constant interaction with each other in the next century to come, the 14th century. Michael VIII would then be a rather controversial ruler as despite his iron fist rule, using dirty tactics to keep himself in power, and betraying his people by submitting his empire and its faith to the Catholic Church, he was still successful in keeping his empire together, restoring lands that they had lost to the Latins and other Byzantine Greek breakaway states like Epirus, and most of all using the smartest weapon of diplomacy by making alliances with powers near and far from them even it may have seemed unpopular. Though his reign was one of constant stress, Michael VIII still kept his restored empire strong but at the end, he also indirectly caused the gradual collapse of his empire as for one his policy of wanting to submit his empire’s faith to the pope caused great division among his people and more significantly, all the funds he spent on fighting wars in the west left Asia Minor, once the heartland of the Byzantine Empire neglected and undefended, which would therefore result in the rise of new Turkish powers in Asia Minor slowly taking over Byzantine land. Now back in chapter VIII of this series set in the 11th century, the Turks being the massive Seljuk Empire had been introduced as Byzantium’s new traditional enemy and although in the following 2 centuries that they had settled in and occupied Asia Minor itself becoming the Seljuk Sultanate of Rum, they had turned out to be not so much a threat to the Byzantines, however in the 13th century the new powerful empire of the Mongols from the far east suddenly became a major threat and therefore had invaded Seljuk Asia Minor resulting in the dissolution of the Seljuk state there forcing many Turks to flee further west due to Mongol pressure in the east. With the power of the Seljuk Sultanate weakening due to the Mongol invasions, the Turks of Asia Minor seeing that their sultan could no longer protect them decided to break away and establish their own small states known as Beyliks in different parts of Asia Minor once under the Seljuks and the Byzantines before them. Following his death in 1282, Michael VIII was succeeded by his son Andronikos II Palaiologos who may have not been a worthy emperor but at least he turned to the worsening situation in Asia Minor which his father had indirectly caused and neglected, and though it seemed that most of these Turkish states or Beyliks in Asia Minor did not seem too much to be a threat, as most just wanted to rule their own small corner in Asia Minor, one of them which was located in Northwest Asia Minor right next to the Byzantine border ruled by the mysterious yet ambitious warlord Osman had the objective to permanently stay in Asia Minor, unite the other Beyliks, and establish an empire, and this exactly happened in 1299 at the turn of the century, and this Beylik of Osman would from this point on become the Ottoman Empire ruled for several centuries to come by the descendants of Osman.

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Flag of the Ottoman Beylik, future Ottoman Empire

At the beginning of the 14th century, the state of Osman that would later become the Ottoman Empire had already began invading the last remains of Byzantine territory in Asia Minor at the worst time possible as here, the Byzantine emperor Andronikos II had just disbanded the army and fleet as a way to save on funds, instead relying on foreign mercenaries rather than investing on a standing army. When disbanding the army at the worst time possible, Andronikos II responded to the new threat of Osman’s Turks in Asia Minor by hiring a strong but untrustworthy army of Catalan mercenaries which at the end resulted in an even more devastating disaster for the Byzantines when these mercenaries turned on them when being not content with their pay, thus creating further damage by pillaging the Byzantine countryside of Thrace. The economic crisis and starvation in Byzantium caused by Andronikos II’s weak rule and decision making would later lead to Andronikos II himself being overthrown in 1328 by his grandson after a 7-year civil war, and now the grandson Andronikos III Palaiologos as the new emperor would once again vow to turn all the setbacks his grandfather caused and again restore what was left of Byzantium to its old glory. With a strong and energetic emperor again in power which was Andonikos III, the Byzantines would undergo another revival period, except this time only to become a dominant power in Greece even taking back the rebel breakaway Despotate of Epirus but at the end, Andronikos III still failed to stop the Ottomans from taking over all of Byzantine Asia Minor. At the same as Andronikos III was doing his best to revive the power of Byzantium, both Serbia and Bulgaria to the north were also expanding in power and Serbia here in particular was ruled by a king equally ambitious and energetic as Andronikos III which was Stefan IV Uros Dusan who had a vision to turn the Serbian Kingdom into an empire the way Byzantium was. The Byzantines again would unfortunately face another great tragedy with the sudden death of Andronikos III in 1341 at a relatively young age and the worst part here was that he did not name an heir, therefore leading to another civil war to erupt in Byzantium, this time between the late emperor’s wife Anna of Savoy backing their young son John V Palaiologos and Andronikos III’s closest friend and general John Kantakouzenos who believed that he was promised the throne. The civil war which involved Serbia, Bulgaria, and even the Ottomans in Asia Minor now ruled by Osman’s son Orhan was then the breaking point for Byzantium which resulted in Byzantium weakened once more with its end already inevitable, but this civil war too benefited the Serbians as by taking advantage of the civil war, Dusan succeeded in taking a large percent of Byzantine territory including Thessaly and Epirus allowing him to call himself a “Byzantine emperor” despite the Byzantine Empire still being around, while at the same time this civil war also benefited the Ottomans in Asia Minor allowing them for the first time to cross into Europe as a result of assisting the side of John Kantakouzenos.

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Seal of the Serbian Empire, founded by Stefan IV Dusan in 1346

The 1340s too would see Byzantium facing a double disaster, as not only were they damaged by a deadly civil war, but in 1347 the plague of Black Death that would also spread to the rest of Europe and the known world had also arrived in the decaying Byzantium to further devastate it, while Serbia to the north under Dusan was not much affected by it which allowed them to further grow their empire. Now, one major possibility at this time is of Dusan now being the first Serbian emperor taking over Byzantium to save it from falling apart considering that Byzantium was already weakened by Black Death and the civil war, and true enough Dusan did in fact have ambitions to take over Byzantium, but at the end he never did due to his unexpected death in 1355 and lack of a navy to transport his troops. In real history, the death of the Serbian emperor Dusan in 1355 also marked the end for the short-lived Serbian Empire and not too long after, the once powerful Serbian Empire of Dusan that controlled most of the Balkans dissolved into various divided states ruled by different Serbian generals and nobles, thus the weakening and decentralization of Serbia would eventually result in their defeat by the Ottomans in 1389 at the Battle of Kosovo. Now, it seems like a very unlikely what if scenario in history for Dusan to take over the Byzantine Empire and replace its Greek identity with a Serbian one, but Dusan if actually did manage to take over the Byzantine Empire and Constantinople itself with the help of a Venetian fleet, could this actually result in saving Byzantium from decaying thus reversing the Ottoman expansion into the Balkans? 

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Flag of the Byzantine Empire

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Note: Since this story is set in the 13th and 14th centuries, after the fall of the Western Roman Empire, the Byzantine characters will be referred to as Byzantines, not Romans.

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Map of the restored Byzantine Empire (yellow), after 1261
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Map of the Balkans in the 14th century- Byzantine Empire (purple with eagle), Ottomans (green with crescents), Serbian Empire (gray with eagle), Bulgarian Empire (red with lion)

Now the 14th century where the Byzantine Empire already reaches 1000 years of existence but also the 2nd to the last century of its existence wherein the main part of this chapter is set in is often overlooked and skipped in most history books as well as videos, and podcasts featuring the history of Byzantium being seen as an insignificant part of Byzantine history. At this point, the empire has already been so severely reduced that there is not much to discuss about anymore, that mainstream history media in fact when getting to the late Byzantine Empire only discusses the temporary fall of Byzantium to the 4th Crusade in 1204 and its restoration in 1261, afterwards skipping more than 150 years of history and important characters already going to where the empire falls to the Ottomans in 1453. True enough, I don’t really find the 14th century history of Byzantium that interesting or fascinating, although it does have some eventful moments as in fact most of the happening in the 14th century is no longer in Byzantium which had already been so reduced in size and power but more in the Balkans and even more so in the rest of Europe as the 14th century true enough saw a lot of happening in the rest of Europe including the Hundred-Years’-War between England and France and a lot more as we now enter the late Middle Ages. In Byzantium, most of the excitement no longer has to do much with the empire itself but with what is going on around them such as the rise of the Serbian and Ottoman Empires wherein the now weakened Byzantium is caught in the middle of it. When it comes to the story of the Byzantines in the 14th century as we go deep into the late Byzantine era, most it is disappointing and if not even depressing with all their civil wars, defeats, social and economic problems, religious schism, blinding, court intrigue, and the plague of Black Death, and though a lot of these stories of civil wars and court intrigues puts a lot of color into the history of Byzantium, here in the 14th century it just happens too much that it all becomes too tiring, which is what I mentioned before in the article I made on ranking the 12 centuries in Byzantine history from best to worst, and this is why I put the 14th century this chapter will be set in as my second to the least favorite. On the other hand, the 14th century too had some interesting moments and interesting characters as well which will have a major part in this story, such as the last strong and visionary Byzantine emperor Andronikos III Palaiologos (r. 1328-1341), his wife the power hungry empress Anna of Savoy, the ambitious general and later Byzantine emperor John Kantakouzenos, the Serbian king turned emperor Stefan IV Dusan, the equally powerful tsar of the 2nd Bulgarian Empire Ivan Alexander, and the rulers of the new Ottoman Emirate which later on would become the Ottoman Empire. This chapter too will be the first time in this series that the Ottoman Turks would first be part of the story, and though the Turks being the Seljuks had already been a major part in this series ever since chapter VIII when discussing the crucial Battle of Manzikert in 1071 which began the Turkish expansion into Byzantine Asia Minor, it is only here when the Turks that will be the ones to bring the end of the Byzantine Empire which here are the Ottomans will first appear, as true enough the Ottomans which ended Byzantium in 1453 by besieging Constantinople only became an existing power just 150 years prior to it. Aside from the Ottomans, the Serbians too will have a major part in this story as the what if here is that if the Serbians took over Byzantium when it was at its weakest, then possibly the bigger threat being the Ottomans could have been stopped considering that Serbia had a  more powerful army and under the reign of Dusan the first Serbian emperor (1346-1355), Serbia basically controlled almost the entire Balkans, except for Bulgaria which was their ally who will also have a major part in the story. In addition, the well-known plague of Black Death which struck Byzantium and the Balkans in 1347 before reaching the rest of Europe will also play a major part in this chapter as this also escalated the fall of Byzantium, and with Black Death having a part here, this is the second time this series and the history of Byzantium faced a major pandemic, with the first one being the Plague of Justinian in 542 which was a big part of chapter III of this series, and like Black Death here was also a bubonic plague.

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Logo of my channel- No Budget Films

At the same time as well, this chapter will also feature a part in Byzantine history which I had made a major Lego film on last year for my Youtube channel No Budget Films which was the Sicilian Vespers in 1282 as well as a short Lego film featuring the civil war between Andronikos II and Andronikos III from 1321 to 1328, and currently for my channel as well, I am producing and narrating an audio epic series entitled The Last Roman Dynasty referring to the Palaiologos Dynasty which takes place where this chapter is set in, beginning with the restoration of Byzantium in 1261 and ending with its fall in 1453, and as of now I have already made 6 episodes wherein currently I have reached already the end of the 14th century. Now all the 6 episodes of this series I made so far set in the era of this chapter will be linked below.   

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Map of the spread of Black Death across Europe, 1347-1351

Links to The Last Roman Dynasty Audio Epic series, from No Budget Films:

Part I (1261-1274)

Part II (1274-1282)

Part III (1283-1320)

Part IV (1320-1341)

Part V (1341-1354)

Part VI (1355-1391)


Though this chapter focuses on 14th century Byzantium, it will start off right when the Byzantine Empire is restored in 1261 after 57 years of Constantinople occupied by the Latins of the 4th Crusade as a way to set the stage for what is to come in the 14th century, most particularly the decline and twilight of the Byzantine Empire under the Palaiologos Dynasty as well as the empire’s new identity as a culturally Greek kingdom which was established in the 57 years Byzantium was in exile as the Empire of Nicaea.

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Palaiologos Dynasty coat of arms

This chapter will start off with the reign of Michael VIII Palaiologos (1261-1282) who in the previous chapter was a major character, but for this one we will be looking at his reign in real history seeing the last time Byzantium would be a strong and active power but his reign also sets the stage for what is to come in the 14th century as with his attention being focused on the west too much, it allowed Byzantine rule in Asia Minor which was once their heartland to collapse thus allowing the new independent Turkish Beyliks to rise, while Michael VIII in his reign had also done the controversial act of attempting to submit his empire’s faith to the pope which received great opposition from his proud Orthodox people, and though this act of union never really succeeded, it still set a new standard for the emperors succeeding him as many other rulers which were Michael VIII’s descendants too had considered submitting Byzantium to the Western Catholic Church to end the age old great schism between them and to also seek military support from the more powerful western Catholic powers, as the power of Byzantium had already faded away. Now, in this chapter the ironic thing but now the reality for Byzantium would be that they would be the ones asking for support from the west unlike how it was not too long ago wherein it was the other way around with Byzantium as the dominant power that other powers around them bowed down to. The great shift of circumstances for the Byzantine Empire from being a major power to becoming a weakened one gradually declining was the sack of Constantinople by the 4th Crusade in 1204 thus making it seem like a miracle that the Byzantine Empire still returned after 57 years even if it just returned as a shadow of its former self, as the Byzantium after 1261 would no longer be like it was in the previous centuries with a powerful professional army, advanced technology and extravagant court life, and territory covering the entire Asia Minor and the Balkans, instead it was reduced to basically a small Greek kingdom with an army mostly made of mercenaries, although on the positive side, the late Byzantine era after 1261 saw a period of growth in arts and culture which was known as the “Palaiologan Renaissance” named after the ruling dynasty and it was here when Greek culture flourished in the remains of the empire. As Byzantium downsizes in this chapter’s setting, the world of this chapter will also be downsized being now mostly limited to the Byzantines and their neighbors being the Serbians, Bulgarians, and Ottomans and occasionally the Italian maritime republics of Venice and Genoa too as they both played a part in the decline of Byzantium due to the Byzantines asking for either of them for an alliance countless times which resulted in either Venice or Genoa gaining more as in return for their support especially in providing a navy and troops, Byzantium had to cede what was left of their Aegean islands to either of them. What would then really define the Byzantine Empire in the 14th century would be weak and ineffective leadership as seen in the over 40 year reign of Andronikos II (1282-1328) although at least there was still some hope with his successor Andronikos III (1328-1341) whose reign would be one of Byzantine history’s last bright spots, but following his sudden death the same kind of instability would return to Byzantium with a devastating civil war, but apart from all the weak leadership, civil wars, and Black Death that would further weaken Byzantium, another major factor that weakened Byzantium was the age old cancer of religious schism and here in the 14th century it would be again on the question of submitting the Byzantine Orthodox Church to the pope for Church unity which may seem like a good and practical solution to solve Byzantium’s problems by getting the support of the now more powerful west though it was strongly opposed by the Byzantine people as back in 1204 they have seen the horrors of the Catholic westerners when they sacked Constantinople, therefore making the Orthodox Byzantine people strongly object Church unity with the people that wronged them. This story’s climax would then take place in the 1341-1347 Byzantine civil war which would not only be a succession war but one that totally shows how Byzantine society had already become so divided especially over social, political, and religious issues, but even worse was that it was fought at such a bad time as the Ottomans from Asia Minor were already a major threat to the Byzantines. This civil war at the end would then only further harm the existence of Byzantium allowing them to be an easy target for the now expanding Ottomans to the point that nothing could be done to stop the Ottomans which in fact would in real history end the Byzantine Empire in 1453.

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Stefan IV Uros Dusan, Emperor of Serbia (r. 1346-1355)

For this story however, I would consider that it could be the newly formed Serbian Empire of Stefan IV Dusan that could for better or for worse save Byzantium by expelling the Ottomans the moment they arrived in Europe even if it would mean that the remains of Byzantium would be absorbed into the Serbian Empire, thus this chapter’s climax set in 1352 would be another bizarre one just like in the previous chapter wherein the Bulgarians took over Constantinople. This chapter would then follow the same kind of what if like in the previous one wherein a foreign power would conquer Byzantium, which in the last one was Bulgaria under their tsar Ivan Asen II and for this one it would be Serbia under Stefan IV Dusan, although this time the Serbians despite being a foreign power would have a greater purpose to conquer Byzantium and this would not be to end its existence but to revive the power of Byzantium by joining it with Serbia as one empire, as after all Stefan IV Dusan in 1346 had not only called himself a “Serbian emperor” or “tsar” but “Emperor of the Serbs and Romans” with the part on the Romans referring to the Byzantines, and as an emperor Dusan patterned himself as a Byzantine ruler making him be Serbia’s version of the most influential Byzantine emperor Justinian I the Great (r. 527-565) as Dusan like Justinian I had also made a strong bureaucratic system and a codification of laws for Serbia. Now, at first it may be hard to imagine or unheard of for Serbia in the 14th century to take over the Byzantine Empire, but at the end the outcome would turn to be very surprising. Before beginning, I would also like to thank the Youtube channel Eastern Roman History for providing some good amount of information for this very obscure part of Byzantine history, while I would also like to thank the artists (Wlayko111, TheGreyStallion, Doqida, Androklos, Borivoje Mikic, Ediacar, FaisalHashemi, and JustinianustheGreat) whose works will be featured here in order to guide you viewers through the 14th century.

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Map of Stefan IV Dusan’s Serbian Empire at its greatest extent (dark green)

Related Articles from the Byzantium Blogger:

Byzantine Alternate History Chapter X- The 2nd Bulgarian Empire Captures Constantinople from the Latins in 1235

Byzantine Alternate History Chapter III- Justinian I the Great Saves his Empire from the Plague

Ranking the 12 Centuries of Byzantine History (My Personal Best to Least)

Around the World in the Byzantine Era Part II (1000-1461)

The Story of 3 Plagues Across the Centuries

12 Turning Points in Byzantine History

Lesser Known and Would be Byzantine Emperors (695-1453)

All Sieges of Constantinople

War of the Sicilian Vespers: A Byzantine Epic- Everything About the Film


 

The Leading Characters:

Andronikos III Palaiologos- Byzantine emperor (1328-1341)

Anna of Savoy- Byzantine empress, wife of Andronikos III

Stefan Uros IV Dusan- King and later Emperor of Serbia (1331-1355)

John VI Kantakouzenos- Usurping Byzantine emperor

John V Palaiologos- Byzantine emperor, son and successor of Andronikos III

Orhan- Sultan of the Ottoman Turks (1324-1362)

Ivan Alexander- Tsar of the 2nd Bulgarian Empire (1331-1371)

Umur Bey- Bey of the Turkish Beylik of Aydin

Alexios Apokaukos- Megas Doux of the Byzantine Empire

Matthew Kantakouzenos- Byzantine general and son of John VI

Suleiman Pasha- Turkish general and son of Sultan Orhan

Stefan Uros V- Emperor of Serbia, son and successor of Dusan 

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Byzantine art recreated- Emperor Andronikos III Palaiologos (r. 1328-1341) and his wife Empress Anna of Savoy, art by myself

Background Guide: Byzantine characters (blue), Serbians (light blue), Ottomans and other Turks (dark orange), Bulgarians (green)


Prologue- The Restoration of Byzantium and Reign of Michael VIII Palaiologos (1261-1282)  

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On July 25, 1261 the 57-year rule of the Latin Empire that began in 1204 when the 4th Crusade captured Constantinople and brought the Byzantine Empire to its knees had ended when an army of only 800 Byzantines from the exiled Byzantine Empire of Nicaea in Asia Minor took Constantinople back from the Latins by surprise in only one night. The Latin Empire of Constantinople however was already doomed to extinction as in the previous years, the Byzantines of Nicaea under their strong military emperor John III Doukas Vatatzes (r. 1222-1254) had already surrounded the Latins to Constantinople by recapturing most of Northern Greece and Thrace making it seem like Constantinople could have already been recaptured.

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Seal of the Latin Empire, established in 1204, died in 1261

The rest of the details on how Constantinople was taken back by the Byzantines of Nicaea had already been discussed in the previous chapter of this series, but to put it short Constantinople was recaptured in only one night wherein the outnumbered and overwhelmed remaining Latin forces as well as the last Latin emperor Baldwin II Courtenay fled Constantinople by sea using Venetian ships before the Byzantine troops burned down the Venetian warehouses as a way to make the escape of the Latins more difficult. Now the exiled Byzantine state of the Empire of Nicaea in which its capital was the ancient and rich city of Nicaea along a lake less than a day away from Constantinople at this point was ruled by the child emperor John IV Laskaris-Vatatzes who succeeded his father Theodore II Laskaris-Vatatzes (r. 1254-1258), the son of John III Vatatzesin 1258 following Theodore II’s sudden death, although since John IV was only a boy, the one actually running the empire was his co-emperor, the ambitious general Michael Palaiologos who schemed his way into power being actually the arch-rival of John IV’s father, and it was Michael who really masterminded the entire reconquest of Constantinople.

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Michael VIII Palaiologos enters Constantinople in triumph, 1261

3 weeks after the Byzantines took back Constantinople, the 38-year-old Michael Palaiologos himself went to it being the first time he ever saw the Byzantine capital and here the Byzantine Empire that disappeared for 57 years came back into existence as he was crowned as Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos at the Hagia Sophia which had been left in ruin and turned into a Catholic church by the Crusaders after 1204, but with the Byzantines regaining the city, the Hagia Sophia once again became an Orthodox church. Immediately after being crowned, Michael VIII saw for himself the damage the Latins had done to Constantinople which they never even bothered to repair even when holding Constantinople for 57 years, therefore in 1261 Michael VIII still saw buildings in ruins and rubble in the ground that had been there since 1204, homeless people everywhere as a result of their homes destroyed by the Crusader attack of 1204, and the worst part was that the population of the city dropped to only 35,000 compared to how it was before 1204 when it had about 100,000 as many fled the city to Nicaea, Bulgaria, and the other Byzantine breakaway states after the Latins took over in 1204.

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Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos of Byzantium (r. 1261-1282), painting by myself

Michael VIII then began his rule doing all he could to restore all the damage the 4th Crusade had inflicted on Constantinople and so he quickly ordered the restoration of the city’s ruined buildings while he also had a large number of churches, hospitals, markets, baths, and learning centers rebuilt although most of the artistic restoration was done under the care of Michael’s artistic wife Empress Theodora, but what Michael repaired himself was the sea wall along the Golden Horn destroyed by the Crusaders’ attack if you remember from the previous chapter, while he also made it an objective to repopulate Constantinople by having the people of Nicaea and other parts of the empire in Asia Minor relocate back to Constantinople. Though Michael VIII had already taken back Constantinople, there was still one immediate threat to him and his rule which was the boy emperor John IV who was still reigning in Nicaea and so at the end of 1261, Michael VIII decided to get rid of John IV by sending one of his agents to Nicaea and blind his young co-emperor.

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John IV Laskaris-Vatatzes (r. 1258-1261), blinded by Michael VIII

The 11-year-old John IV was then blinded and sent to one of Michael’s family’s castles along the Marmara coast of Asia Minor to be imprisoned for life making him forever unfit to rule, thus Michael VIII was the sole ruler of the empire and after all the blinding of the young emperor John IV was to secure the succession of Michael VIII’s infant son Andronikos Palaiologos to prevent challengers to his rule since Andronikos had already been crowned as his father’s co-emperor, as Michael did indeed want to establish his own dynasty. In 1262, the next thing Michael VIII needed to do to get the Byzantine Empire back on the map was to have its restoration be recognized by the other kingdoms of Europe including the pope, however Michael VIII’s Byzantine reconquest and restoration was not immediately recognized by many rulers of Europe, although the most powerful ruler of Europe at this time which was the King of France Louis IX did in fact recognize Michael VIII’s restored Byzantium which then gave it as much legitimacy as it needed.

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Michael VIII Palaiologos, restorer of Constantinople, art by Ediacar

In the meantime, the other two major Byzantine successor states formed after 1204 which included the Empire of Trebizond in the far eastern corner of Asia Minor along the Black Sea and the Despotate of Epirus in Western Greece too did not recognize the restoration of Byzantium, and when Michael VIII sent word to both of them to unite with the restored Byzantium, both refused to do so as Trebizond was happy with their maritime empire in the Black Sea while the ruler or Despot of Epirus Michael II Angelos who was a bitter enemy of Michael VIII still did not give up his claim on Constantinople.

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Byzantine-Genoese alliance flag

At the same time too, Michael VIII before the reconquest of Constantinople had sealed a permanent alliance with the Italian maritime Republic of Genoa and in return for Genoa’s support in providing the restored Byzantium with a navy, Michael VIII formally gave the Galata Quarter of Constantinople to Genoa, although this alliance with Genoa would also come at a great price as the Byzantines would now have to pay 87% of their revenue made from customs from ships passing the Bosporus strait where their capital is to Genoa, therefore making Byzantium no longer as rich as they were before. Meanwhile, despite Constantinople being taken back by the Byzantines and the Latin Empire fading away, the other Latin states formed by the leaders of the 4th Crusade after 1204 in what was once Byzantine Greece were still around which included the Duchy of Athens, the Duchy of the Archipelago in the Aegean, and the Principality of Achaea in the Peloponnese Peninsula of Southern Greece, while Crete and many other islands were still under the rule of the Republic of Venice.

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Seal of the Latin Principality of Achaea in Greece

In 1263, Michael VIII sent an army of 15,000 Byzantines as well as 5,000 Seljuk Turkish mercenaries to the Peloponnese to conquer the entire Principality of Achaea back for Byzantium as back in 1259, Michael VIII’s forces had already defeated the forces of the Latin Prince of Achaea William II Villehardouin who had been imprisoned but soon after escaped and returned to the Peloponnese also known as the Morea. The Byzantine expedition to recapture the Morea from the Latins began in failure as the Byzantines forces and their allies were ambushed by the Latins of Achaea while the Seljuk mercenaries after not receiving their pay defected to the Latins causing further defeat for the Byzantines.

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Byzantine army mixed units in the 1263 Peloponnese campaign

At the end, the Byzantines only succeeded in taking back the southeast corner of the Morea (Peloponnese) which was the region of Laconia where the Ancient Greek city of Sparta was, though here the Byzantines would establish a new city around the castle of Prince William II found on the slopes of the mountain beside Ancient Sparta, and this new city would be Mystras, later an important learning and cultural center in the late Byzantine era. At the same time too as the Peloponnese campaign in 1263, the Genoese fleet being Michael VIII’s ally was defeated by a much smaller Venetian fleet in the Aegean and facing this kind of humiliation of being defeated by a smaller fleet in a surprise attack, Michael VIII decided to end his alliance with Genoa despite just beginning it 2 years ago, as he felt Genoa was weak therefore Michael turned to Venice instead as an ally believing them to be stronger, despite Venice being the one that brought the army of the 4th Crusade to attack Constantinople in 1204.

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Michael VIII Palaiologos of Byzantium

With more challenges to face ahead of him, Michael VIII decided to make alliances with some of the most unlikely powers of the time and this included the new Mamluk Sultanate that was founded by Turkic slaves that overthrew the Ayyubid Sultanate back in 1250, thus taking over Egypt and Syria and later on taking over the Levant’s last Crusader state of Acre too, while the other power Michael VIII signed an alliance with was no other than the biggest threat to the world which were the Mongols. Now, what made Michael VIII consider making an alliance with the Mongols was that in 1265 the Mongols from the Golden Horde (the Mongol state in Russia) led by their general Nogai Khan went as far as to Byzantine Thrace to raid it wherein Michael himself led the army to confront them but failed to stop them, as after his officers fled out of terror, Michael barely escaped with his life back to Constantinople and so to settle the threat of the deadly Mongol warlord Nogai Khan, Michael had to marry off his illegitimate daughter Euphrosyne to Nogai while to further conclude peace with the Mongols, Michael also married off his other illegitimate daughter Maria who was Euphrosyne’s sister to the Mongol ruler of the Ilkhanate of Persia Abaqa Khan.

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Charles of Anjou, King of Sicily since 1266

The biggest challenger to Michael VIII’s rule however came from the west and this came into the picture in 1266 being Charles of Anjou of the Capetian Dynasty of France, the youngest brother of King Louis IX of France, and in 1266 the ambitious Charles envisioning a Mediterranean empire and having the support of the pope invaded Southern Italy defeated and even killed the German ruler of Southern Italy and Sicily Manfred Hohenstaufen at the Battle of Benevento, and when taking over Southern Italy, Charles made his ambitions to take over Byzantium itself clear and from here on, Charles would be Michael VIII’s biggest problem. In 1267, Charles of Anjou made an alliance with all of Michael VIII’s enemies which were the former Latin Emperor of Constantinople Baldwin II, the Prince of Achaea William II, the Despot of Epirus Michael II, and the pope Clement IV to take back Constantinople and restore the Latin Empire as a much more powerful state compared to what it was before which is why it died out so easily.

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King Louis IX of France (r. 1226-1270)

In 1268, Michael VIII would experience some relief when his major enemy Despot Michael II of Epirus died which weakened Epirus as he divided his lands among his sons Nikephoros I Angelos who inherited Epirus and John Angelos who inherited Thessaly, but Michael VIII too would face another challenge in 1268 as here Charles of Anjou managed to take over all of Sicily which he made as his base in order to launch a naval invasion of Byzantium. Charles however could not really carry out his ambition to invade Byzantium as his older and more powerful brother King Louis IX of France was keeping an eye on him, and wanting to maintain friendly relations with Byzantium, Louis IX would not allow his younger brother to do what he wanted most, instead Louis asked for troops from Charles for his Crusade against the Muslims in Tunisia which deprived Charles of troops for invading Byzantium. Unfortunately, in 1270 Louis IX died of a plague in Tunisia when leading the 8th Crusade there- therefore becoming St. Louis after his death- and from here on there would be nothing to stop Charles anymore from invading Byzantium.

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The 1261 Byzantine Reconquest of Constantinople, art by FaisalHashemi
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Coronation of Michael VIII Palaiologos in the Hagia Sophia, 1261
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Michael VIII Palaiologos Lego figure
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Charles of Anjou defeats the forces of Manfred Hohenstaufen at the Battle of Benevento, 1266
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Map of the restored Byzantine Empire (purple) by 1265
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Map of the Mongol Empire’s 4 Divisions in the late 13th century

Meanwhile in Asia Minor, due to Mongol raids from the east over the past years, the Seljuk Sultanate there that had been around since the late 11th century began to disintegrate and with the central power of the Seljuk state crumbling away, their Turkish subjects fled further west into Asia Minor wherein they would begin establishing their own feudal states there known as Beyliks ruled by different warlords or Beys to further protect their people seeing that the Seljuk sultan could no longer protect them from external threats such as the Mongols. These Turkish Beyliks that broke away from the Seljuk Empire would then soon enough easily settle in Asia Minor taking over a number of Byzantine cities meeting little resistance from the Byzantine forces as Michael VIII reassigned most of the armies in Asia Minor to Greece to fight against the remaining Latin states there as well as against Epirus. Now seeing that Charles of Anjou as the King of Sicily was more and more posing a threat to the restored Byzantium, Michael VIII decided to turn to the most unpopular but practical solution to stop Charles from invading, which was submitting the Byzantine Orthodox Church to the pope, thus reuniting both Churches that had been at a permanently split since the Great Schism of 1054- if you remember from chapter VIII of this series- and apparently in 1272 a council was being held in Lyon, France with talks to reunite both Eastern and Western Churches.

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Council of Lyon, 1272-1274

In 1274, Byzantine envoys travelled to Lyon presenting to the pope Gregory X a letter of consent from Michael VIII to submit the Byzantine church to the pope and after reading all letters, the Byzantine Orthodox and Latin Catholic Churches were once again united. Michael VIII then came to think that submitting to the pope was nothing more but a practical solution as with Charles being Catholic and Michael and his empire becoming Catholic as well, there would be no reason for Charles to attack Byzantium anymore, and to fully legitimize his empire’s conversion to Catholicism, Michael had the Hagia Sophia which back in 1261 he turned back to an Orthodox church be returned to a Catholic church again as it was under the Latins. The Byzantine people however strongly opposed Michael VIII’s Church union as they were proud of their Orthodox faith not wanting to submit to the faith of the Latins that had wronged them before by sacking Constantinople, thus when hearing that Michael VIII submitted to the pope, the people of Constantinople and the rest of the empire rioted. Michael VIII, once seen as the hero of the Byzantine people for taking back Constantinople from the Latins now drastically lost all his popularity becoming his people’s worst enemy as they believed he had betrayed them, as after all he took back Constantinople from the Latins but then at the end only chose to bow down to his enemy, the Latins by submitting to their religion.

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Michael VIII Palaiologos

Now to make it look like he really accepted the pope’s authority, Michael VIII had to respond to opposition against rule, especially opposition against his policy of Church unity with such brutality thus Michael VIII viciously persecuted all those that spoke either against him, the pope, the newly appointed pro-Catholic Patriarch of Constantinople John XI, or generally against the Church union which then gave Michael the reputation of a tyrant emperor as he ended up jailing thousands of those who opposed him and the union, while imperial officials as well as monks were punished by all kinds of methods from exile to blinding if they opposed this policy, and by the point the prisons became too filled up as more and more kept opposing the Church union, Michael had to go as far as issuing a death penalty for those who simply just read or possessed documents directed against him. Due to Michael’s harsh treatment to opposition against him and his unionist policies, many Byzantine Greeks in Asia Minor including nobles who still preferred to be ruled by the former Laskaris-Vatatzes Dynasty anyway rather than Michael VIII defected to the newly formed Turkish Beyliks. Those who opposed Michael VIII in Greece fled to the rebel Byzantine states of Epirus and Thessaly as their respective rulers the brothers Nikephoros I and John Angelos saw themselves as defenders of Orthodoxy in direct opposition to Michael VIII, even if both brothers still swore loyalty to Charles of Anjou, while at the same time Michael’s older sister Irene who he grew up very close to had also turned against him as being proudly Orthodox, she was disgusted with her brother’s submission to Catholicism.

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Charles of Anjou’s coat of arms

In the meantime, the last Latin emperor Baldwin II died in Italy in 1273 while back in Byzantium, Michael VIII renewed his alliance with Genoa as Venice chose to ally with Charles of Anjou instead, and while Michael was trying to consolidate the Catholic faith in his empire, he was also still busy in securing Byzantine rule over Greece by campaigning against the Latin Duchy of Athens and the Duchy of the Archipelago in the Aegean. Sometime in 1275 the Duchy of Athens allied with John Angelos’ Thessaly defeated the Byzantines in battle, but later that year after a brave Byzantine counter-attack led by Michael VIII’s younger brother John Palaiologos, the Byzantines won a decisive victory over the remaining Latins at the naval Battle of Demetrias which secured Byzantine dominance over the Aegean once more, though John would retire from military service after this.

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Flag of the 2nd Bulgarian Empire, established in 1185

In 1277 on the other hand, the 2nd Bulgarian Empire to the north of Byzantium after being devastated by Mongol raids from the north fell into civil war when Bulgarian peasants feeling that their ruler or tsar Konstantin Tih who ruled for 20 years was useless in protecting them from the Mongol raids rose up against him in favor of a charismatic peasant leader named Ivaylo– nicknamed “the cabbage”- who later managed to defeat the Bulgarian imperial forces and kill the tsar in battle, thus making the peasant Ivaylo become the new Bulgarian tsar.

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Ivaylo, peasant uprising leader and Tsar of the 2nd Bulgarian Empire (1278-1279)

Using the chaos in Bulgaria to his advantage, Michael VIII reconquered some of Southern Bulgaria for Byzantium while also backing a Bulgarian claimant which was his son-in-law Ivan Asen III, the grandson of last chapter’s great and powerful Bulgarian tsar Ivan Asen II (r. 1218-1241), although the plan to put Ivan Asen III in the Bulgarian throne shortly after failed but Michael VIII being an ally of Nogai Khan of the Golden Horde who was Bulgaria’s northern neighbor further weakened Bulgaria by asking Nogai who was now Michael’s son-in-law to invade Bulgaria from the north, and as a result of this the incompetent peasant emperor Ivaylo lost his throne in 1279 to the Bulgaria noble or boyar George Terter I.

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Nogai Khan, Mongol general of the Golden Horde, son-in-law of Michael VIII

Ivaylo then had no choice but to flee to Nogai Khan in Russia to submit to him, however Nogai when receiving Ivaylo in 1280 killed Ivaylo claiming he did in the name of his father-in-law Michael VIII. In the meantime, the King of Sicily Charles of Anjou still did not take Michael VIII’s submission to the pope seriously and so in 1280, Charles sent an army to invade Byzantine Albania which succeeded in capturing the fortress of Berat, but in 1281 a Byzantine army led by the general Michael Tarchaneiotes drove off Charles’ French army and recovered Berat even capturing Charles’ French general Hugh Sully who was taken to Constantinople as a prisoner. In 1281 as well, a new pope was elected which was Martin IV, a Frenchman who was blindly loyal to Charles and so he saw Michael’s Church union policy as fake thus making him authorize Charles’ invasion of Byzantium while excommunicating Michael as well.

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Kingdom of Aragon flag

In 1282, now having limited resources to stop Charles’ invasion of Byzantium, Michael VIII had to again turn to what he was best at doing which was diplomacy and so he turned to an alliance with a distant kingdom which was Aragon in Spain, as Michael knew that its king Peter III was like him also an enemy of Charles of Anjou. Michael VIII here however could not really send a Byzantine army to stop Charles’ invasion as by 1282, the Serbian Kingdom to the north just got a new king which was Stefan Uros II Milutin of the Nemanjic Dynasty who also strongly opposed Michael’s Church union policy and when coming into power, Milutin saw himself as the opposition leader against Michael VIII in the Balkans as well as the defender of Orthodoxy.

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Peter III, King of Aragon (r. 1276-1285)

Now, the Byzantine army here in 1282 was no longer as powerful as it was back in the 12th century, therefore it did not have enough power to do an actual invasion of Sicily to prevent Charles’ invasion, so instead Michael VIII had to turn to Peter III of Aragon to invade Sicily and when taking the island swear allegiance to Byzantium. At the same time too, Michael VIII knew that the locals in Sicily were unhappy being under French rule as Charles brutally taxed them while his soldiers mistreated the local Sicilians that some Sicilians turned to brutally murdering French people in Sicily whether they were soldiers or civilians, and using the discontent of the Sicilian people to his advantage, Michael VIII sent money to pay off the local lords of Sicily to lead their people in rebellion against their French overlords.

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Uprising of the Sicilian Vespers, 1282

On Easter Sunday of 1282, the people of the city of Palermo in Sicily suddenly broke out in riot declaring their intention to overthrow their French overlords in which this event would be known as the “Sicilian Vespers”, and soon enough this riot escalated into violence when the locals killed off the French garrison of Palermo and as the year progressed, this local rebellion turned into a full-scale war which did in fact succeed in driving the French away from Sicily when Peter III of Aragon and his forces arrived. By the end of 1282, the Spanish Aragonese took over Sicily and promised to rule over the local population better than the French did, while Charles though still having Southern Italy was no longer a threat to the Byzantines and 3 years later in 1285, he died and thus the returning threat from the west to restore the Latin Empire had vanished.

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Fresco of Michael VIII Palaiologos

Back in December of 1282, Michael VIII Palaiologos too had died in a farm in Thrace at the age of 59, and though being an energetic, ambitious, and capable ruler while also an “evil genius” that put the Byzantine Empire back together as a functioning state, he also had the negative legacy of neglecting Asia Minor as by the time of his death, most of Byzantine territory there had slipped away to the rule of the Turkish Beyliks, and worse for him was that he died hated by his own people and following his death, the Orthodox Church which was again back in power refused to give Michael VIII a proper burial despite him being the man who took back Constantinople from the Latins in 1261, as they saw him as a traitor and heretic for submitting to the pope. Michael VIII after his death was then succeeded by his eldest son Andronikos II Palaiologos who then buried his father in secret at the dead of night outside Constantinople.

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Byzantine victory over the Latins at the Battle of Demetrias, 1275
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Ivaylo’s peasant rebellion in Bulgaria, 1277
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Territories of Charles of Anjou’s empire (blue)
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The Sicilian Vespers Rebellion, 1282
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Map of Sicily under Aragon after 1282, Southern Italy remains under French rule
Watch War of the Sicilian Vespers (2020) by No Budget Films to see the Sicilian Vespers story with the Byzantine story involved in Lego

The Reign of Andronikos II Palaiologos and Decline of Byzantium (1282-1320)           

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Though Michael VIII Palaiologos had a strong rule which put the Byzantine Empire back together again, he died leaving his son Andronikos II to inherit so many external problems, although on the positive side Constantinople was repopulated by a lot going from 35,000 to 70,000 by the time of Michael’s death. Rather than mourning for the death of Michael VIII, the proud Orthodox Byzantine people cheered that their traitor heretic emperor had died, cheering at the coronation of their new emperor Andronikos II as well, as Andronikos unlike his father was strongly Orthodox and was only forced to support his father’s unionist policy when his father was still alive, however unlike his father who was a strong yet ruthless military and diplomatic genius emperor, Andronikos II was a weak and soft intellectual and artist very much like his mother.

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Andronikos II Palaiologos Lego figure

Andronikos II then began his reign by cancelling his father’s infamous Church union with the pope and restoring the Hagia Sophia to an Orthodox church once again, which then stopped the Orthodox Byzantine breakaway states of Epirus and Thessaly from being a threat, although Andronikos II now had to face the external problems created during his father’s reign despite the Western threat of Charles of Anjou now out of the way after Byzantium’s ally the Aragonese took over Sicily. First of all, the biggest threat to Andronikos II came from the north which was Stefan Uros II Milutin of Serbia who was still intent in invading Byzantine territory in the Balkans, and despite his enemy Michael VIII already dead that in 1282 Milutin did in fact capture the city of Skopje from Byzantium making it Serbia’s new capital, but the bigger threat to Andronikos II was still the expanding Turkish Beyliks of Asia Minor which were left unchecked as his father pulled out troops from there to fight wars in Greece and the Balkans.

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Stefan Uros II Milutin, King of Serbia (r. 1282-1321)

Another problem Andronikos II inherited was an empty treasury as his father spent it all on his wars and in bribing the local lords of Sicily to rise up against Charles of Anjou, and so to fill up the treasury once again, Andronikos II had no choice but to raise taxes, reduce tax exemptions, devalue the currency which was the standard gold coin the Hyperpyron created by Emperor Alexios I Komnenos (r. 1081-1118), and worse of all dismantle the Byzantine fleet of only 80 ships to sell of their parts to raise funds. In addition, Andronikos II seeing that it was too expensive to maintain a professional army had no choice but to disband it and instead rely on hiring foreign mercenaries to fight his wars as well as relying on either Venice or Genoa for a fleet.

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Andronikos II Palaiologos, Byzantine emperor (r. 1282-1328), son of Michael VIII

Just like his father who used diplomacy to solve some problems especially if it had to do with foreign powers, Andronikos II in 1284 following the death of his first wife married the 10-year-old Italian Yolande of Montferrat as a way to put an end to the claim of the small Northern Italian state of Montferrat over Thessaloniki as if you remember from the previous chapter, it was the Lord of Montferrat that took over Thessaloniki after Byzantium was divided in 1204 before Thessaloniki fell under Epirus and then to the Byzantines of Nicaea, and this marriage true enough put an end to Montferrat’s claim. In 1290, Andronikos II released John IV Laskaris-Vatatzes, the boy emperor Michael VIII had blinded back in 1261 from 29 years of castle arrest who then came out from arrest already as a middle-aged man, although Andronikos II still apologized to John IV for his father blinding him, although being already blind John had no more claim to throne but John was still allowed to retire peacefully in Constantinople where he would die many years later in 1305 at the age of 55. With the threat of the Turkish Beyliks of Asia Minor increasing now that the Turks were increasingly capturing Byzantine cities in the Meander Valley including Philadelphia, Andronikos II sent his young nephew the general Alexios Philanthropenos to lead the campaign and recover what was lost in Asia Minor to the Turks in 1293 while also appointing Alexios as the commander or Doux of Asia. Alexios despite having limited men in his campaign turned out to successfully take care of the threat of the Turks in Asia Minor by scoring a number of victories against them in the Meander Valley between 1294 and 1295, even recovering cities the Byzantines had recently just lost, while taking a large number of Turkish prisoners as slaves too, that Turkish prisoners in fact became much cheaper to buy than sheep. Alexios’ victories however made him highly popular among the troubled people of Asia Minor that in 1295 they chose to recognize him as emperor rather than the reigning Andronikos II who they felt was too distant and oblivious to their sufferings, thus Alexios in order to save the empire especially Asia Minor from falling apart usurped power and seeing this as treason, Andronikos II had his nephew Alexios blinded, while Alexios accepted this fate anyway to prove he was still loyal to his emperor.

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Emperor Andronikos II Palaiologos

The blinding of Alexios however turned out to be a terrible decision as without Alexios around anymore to command his troops in Asia Minor, there would be no more strong general left to stop the growing power of Turks and true enough with Alexios gone, the threat of the Turks returned; now if you are interested about the general Alexios Philanthropenos who could have saved Byzantium at this time from the threat of the Turks in Asia Minor, you can read the book The Usurper by Emanuele Rizzardi which I am currently reading now and is exactly about Alexios Philanthropenos and his campaigns in Asia Minor. Aside from the threat of the Turks in Asia Minor returning following the blinding of Alexios Philanthropenos, Andronikos II was again threatened in the north by Serbia, as it this point Serbia’s economic power had grown rapidly under King Milutin thanks to his development of silver mining in Serbia which therefore brought in more funds to raise a much larger army for Serbia that would be no match against the Byzantines. Seeing there was no solution to stop Serbia’s expansion except for diplomacy, Andronikos II in 1298 was forced to marry off his 5-year-old daughter with Yolande Simonis to the 45-year-old Serbian king Milutin, as well as to cede a large portion of Byzantine Macedonia such as the city of Ohrid to Serbia, which was then a success as Serbia would no longer pose a threat to Byzantium, and with this marriage Milutin and Andronikos II even became allies.

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Osman Bey, founder of the future Ottoman Empire, art by Doqida

The much larger threat to Andronikos II’s Byzantium however was from the east, and this was the rising Turkish Beylik of the rather mysterious Turkish warlord Osman, son of Ertugrul who unlike the other Turkish Beyliks were not that ambitious only wanting their small corners to rule as their own in Asia Minor, was highly ambitious as for Osman and his people there was no more going back to the east due to the pressure of the Mongols which forced them to migrate west, therefore they decided that they were to stay in Asia Minor to conquer the remaining Byzantine lands seeing the Byzantines as their weakest enemy. According to legend, Osman had a dream seeing his descendants rule the world and to make this a reality, Osman in 1299 made his intention to expand west and conquer Byzantine lands by declaring Jihad which then gave his people a purpose to fight the Byzantines and expand and to unite the other Turkish Beyliks of Asia Minor as well under him in the name of Islam.            

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Map of the Byzantine Empire (pink) by 1300, art by TheGreyStallion

Right before the turn of the 14th century, the Turkish bey Osman solidified his rule establishing what would be known as the Ottoman Empire named after him and in 1300, Osman already began attacking the last of the Byzantine territories in Northwest Asia Minor, soon enough laying siege to the city of Nicomedia which was very close to Constantinople.

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Michael IX Palaiologos, Byzantine co-emperor, son of Andronikos II

In response to the first wave of Osman’s attacks, Andronikos II sent his son and co-emperor Michael IX Palaiologos who was at this point already a skilled general to counter-attack Osman’s Turks, but Michael IX’s army of only 2,000 with most being Alan mercenaries suffered a crushing defeat to Osman’s 5,000 army mostly consisting of cavalry at the Battle of Bapheus in 1302 located between the cities of Nicaea and Nicomedia, and though neither of the cities fell, Osman’s Turks still seized a large amount of territory in that area. With a large and powerful professional army of Cataphract cavalry soldiers and the elite Varangian Guards no longer around anymore, Andronikos II here in 1302 had to turn to hiring a large army of foreign mercenaries, and here he decided to revive the alliance his father made with Aragon 20 years earlier before his death, thus Andronikos II hired from the Kingdom of Aragon and army of 6,500 Catalan mercenaries known as Almogavars (originating from Southern France and Northern Spain) which were light infantry soldiers, and since they not only proved successful in fighting the French and driving them away from Sicily 20 years ago in the War of the Sicilian Vespers, they in the past decades were successful in fighting the Moors in Spain that by the end of the 13th century, the Christian kingdoms of Spain such as Castile and Aragon had already contained the Moors to their last holdout in Southern Spain which was Granada.

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Grand Catalan Company coat of arms

Since the primary enemy of the Byzantines here being the Turks were Muslims, Andronikos II believed the Catalans having experience fighting Muslims in Spain and succeeding could achieve the same results when battling the Turks in Asia Minor. Later on, in 1302 the 6,500 army of Catalan mercenaries known as the Grand Catalan Company arrived in Constantinople led by the sketchy Italian general Roger de Flor, a former pirate and Templar knight and already when arriving, the company’s general Roger demanded a lot from Andronikos II while the mercenaries turned out to be drunk troublemakers by starting a fight with the Genoese merchants in the Genoese held Galata Quarter.

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Grand Catalan Company army in Asia Minor

To avoid further trouble from the Catalans and to make them carry out their job, Andronikos II had them quickly ferried across the Bosporus into Asia Minor to battle the Turks, and in 1303 the Catalans under the command of Roger de Flor true enough scored a number of victories against Osman’s Ottoman Turks and later on against the other Turkish Beyliks in the south, however his victories made Roger arrogant that he even thought of establishing his own independent state in Asia Minor as he already went as far as to treat the Byzantine locals there as his subjects. In the meantime, after a short period of a succession crisis in the 2nd Bulgarian Empire, a new tsar came to the Bulgarian throne in 1300 which was Theodore Svetoslav, the son of Tsar George Terter I and in 1303 as well, Theodore began launching an invasion of Byzantine Thrace, thus the co-emperor Michael IX was sent north with the main Byzantine army to stop the Bulgarian raids while his father Andronikos II recalled Roger de Flor to Constantinople to prove his loyalty, but back in Constantinople Roger demanded for more pay to continue his fight as well as to be promoted to the rank of Caesar and Andronikos complied to it.

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Theodore Svetoslav, Tsar of the 2nd Bulgarian Empire (r. 1300-1322)

Meanwhile, Michael IX succeeded in repelling the Bulgarians in Thrace but at the Battle of Skafida in 1304, the Byzantines lost to the Bulgarians after crowding up on a bridge and with the combined weight of the Byzantine cavalry, the bridge collapsed drowning many of them, although Michael IX still escaped alive but his father had to sell of his jewelry to pay tribute to Theodore Svetoslav of Bulgaria in order to conclude a truce. Michael IX however began envying Roger de Flor for winning victories in Asia Minor while Michael was losing battles and so together with his father, they conspired to get rid of the troublemaker Roger, and in 1305 by Michael IX’s orders, Roger was assassinated at a feast in Adrianople by Michael’s Alan mercenaries.

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Roger de Flor, general of the Grand Catalan Company, assassinated in 1305

The assassination of Roger de Flor however only severed the alliance between Byzantium and the Catalans leading to a Byzantine-Catalan War, and so the Catalans with their Turkish prisoners from Asia Minor that they made into their allies decided to turn on the Byzantines avenging the death of their general Roger de Flor who they saw as an inspiring figure, thus the Catalans savagely turned to pillaging the Byzantine countryside of Thrace and later Macedonia to the point of burning it into a desert. In response to the betrayal of the Catalans that now endlessly pillaged Thrace, the co-emperor Michael IX in 1305 led a large army to counter-attack the now rogue Catalans but at the Battle of Apros in Thrace, the Catalans charged at Michael’s army with such fury that Michael’s Alan mercenaries fled in fear leading to a Catalan victory and Michael IX almost killed.

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Mercenary army of the Grand Catalan Company

The Catalans now defeating Michael IX’s forces had nothing stopping them anymore and so they continued their pillaging that even the monasteries of Mt. Athos in Macedonia, a very sacred site for the Byzantines were pillaged and burned by the Catalans, and soon enough even Thessaloniki was besieged by the Catalans although unsuccessfully due to its strong walls. The attack of Catalans then would be the worst tragedy the Byzantines would face since the Sack of Constantinople by the 4th Crusade in 1204 and again this one would be a tragedy caused by a Latin army, but the worst part was that with the betrayal of the Catalans, the Turks of Asia Minor which were thought to have been defeated by the Catalans became a threat again. Having no more troops to stop the Turks in Asia Minor, Andronikos II turned to allying with the Mongol Ilkhanate of Persia to attack them from the east, but at the end this alliance still resulted in nothing, thus all of Byzantine Asia Minor was already doomed to fall to the Turks.

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Coat of Arms of the Palaiologos branch in Montferrat, Italy since 1306

Meanwhile in 1306, Andronikos II’s son Theodore with his second wife Yolande was sent to his mother’s homeland of Montferrat in the region of Piedmont to be its ruler as Theodore’s uncle which was Yolande’s brother died without an heir, and being the closest male relative Theodore traveled to Montferrat to rule it, thus from here on a member of the Palaiologos Dynasty would rule a small feudal state in Italy, although Theodore and his descendants would give up their Byzantine Greek heritage and rule as Italian feudal lords. Back in Greece, the Catalans by 1308 stopped their mindless pillaging when travelling south to the still surviving Latin Duchy of Athens when they were hired by the French Duke of Athens to fight against the breakaway Byzantine Despotate of Epirus, but when again not receiving their pay the Catalans betrayed and killed the duke and in 1311 the Catalan mercenaries themselves took over the Duchy of Athens now adding it as well as the region of Attica surrounding Athens as part of the Kingdom of Aragon which here included mainland Aragon in Spain, Southern Italy, Sicily, and now Athens.

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Osman Bey, sultan since 1308

Also, in 1308 the Seljuk Sultanate in Asia Minor finally dissolved after being around for more than 200 years since the late 11th century as their last sultan died without an heir, and with the Seljuk bloodline dying out, Osman inherited the title of Sultan, though not the remaining lands of the Seljuks in Central Asia Minor. In 1314, Michael IX led one more brave charge against the remaining Catalans and their Turkish allies in Thrace but once again, his Alan mercenaries deserted him, and now being tired of defeats Michael IX chose to retire for good from military service to live in Thessaloniki, while at the same time his stepmother who was Andronikos II’s wife Yolande was constantly scheming to get Michael IX away by constantly pressuring Andronikos make one of his sons with her as his successor, but fortunately for Andronikos and his son Michael, Yolande had died in 1317.

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Byzantine art recreated- Chrysobull of Andronikos II (left) presenting the document to Christ (right), art by myself

Over in Serbia, its king Milutin who was still alive in 1314 was at a conflict with his son Stefan Decanski, although with Milutin put down his son’s rebellion sending Decanski to Andronikos II’s court in Constantinople to be blinded, however Decanski was never actually blinded and in Constantinople his 6-year-old son Stefan Dusan who would be Serbia’s future king would learn Byzantine administration here which he would turn out to admire. In 1320, Stefan Decanski together with his son Dusan were allowed by Milutin to return to Serbia after Decanski wrote multiple letters over the past 6 years to persuade his father to pardon him. In the meantime, most of the major Byzantine cities of Western Asia Minor fell to the Turkish Beyliks such as Smyrna which fell to the Beylik of Aydin in 1310, while in 1309 the Byzantine held Island of Rhodes had fallen to the Crusader Knights of St. John now becoming the Knights of Rhodes after being driven away from the Levant by the Mamluks. In Constantinople, the emperor Andronikos II decided he could not do anything to save his empire anymore and so he just basically used funds to instead build lavish churches and monasteries only for the imperial family and while due to the pillaging of the Catalans, his people were starving and prices grew higher and higher with the shortage of food cause by it that no one could afford anything anymore.

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Grand Catalan Company arrives in Constantinople, 1302
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Byzantine army defeated by the Bulgarians at the Battle of Skafida, 1304
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All lands under the Kingdom of Aragon (yellow), Athens added in 1311
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Map of the different Turkish Beyliks of Asia Minor following the dissolution of the Seljuk Sultanate in 1308

The 1321-1328 Civil War and the Reign of Andronikos III Palaiologos (1328-1341)           

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As the Byzantine Empire was falling apart with the last remains of Asia Minor slipping away to various Turkish Beyliks including Osman’s and its treasury almost bankrupt, the old Andronikos II continued to rule incompetently allowing his officials to be corrupt.

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Theodore Metochites, Byzantine politician and friend of Andronikos II

In these hard times for the empire, one particular imperial official which was Andronikos II’s friend and imperial advisor or Mesazon Theodore Metochites who was also a patron of the arts in fact even tortured people to pay up their taxes which he used to renovate the 6th century Church of Chora near Constantinople’s walls only to be used as his personal church and monastery, although it still holds some of the finest Byzantine style frescos of the Palaiologan Renaissance, which took place in this period as a kind of artistic Renaissance in Byzantium where humans mostly being religious figures depicted in frescos appeared to have more life and movement while architectural backgrounds too were introduced to frescos and mosaics, as prior to this Byzantine paintings basically just had a plain background making the subjects seem like they were floating in space, and here the frescos of Chora show one of the finest examples of this era’s art. Now, while it all seemed like there was no more hope for Byzantium as the empire and its people were suffering and only the nobility was prospering as seen with all their art and construction projects of churches and monasteries, only a miracle could save Byzantium from corruption and decay in the form of a strong leader who would usurp power and overthrow the incompetent Andronikos II and his corrupt court. This hero who would save Byzantium however would be a very unlikely one and this was another Andronikos Palaiologos, who was in fact Andronikos II’s grandson and son of the co-emperor Michael IX, and even more ironically the grandson Andronikos who was born in 1297 shared the same birthday as his grandfather the emperor who was born back in 1259, which was March 25. However, it is only fate that would turn the young Andronikos into this hero that would save the empire from falling apart as here in 1320, the young Andronikos was the stereotypical rich, popular, and arrogant young man addicted to partying, drinking, gambling, and women but in only one night, everything would change for the young “bad-boy” Andronikos. In this one night, Andronikos after losing a bet when gambling returned home with his younger brother Manuel forgetting to pay up his debts to the man he lost to, which was the father of one of Andronikos’ lovers, and so when walking back home, this man who Andronikos lost to suddenly had his guards placed above the roofs of Constantinople ordering them to kill Andronikos by firing arrows at him. Andronikos however immediately noticed the thugs were after him and so he ran quickly and turned into a street where they could no longer spot him, however his brother Manuel missed the turn and the thugs mistaking him for Andronikos shot Manuel with their arrows killing him. The young Andronikos however was devastated about his brother’s death that was not meant to happen, but when their father the retired co-emperor Michael IX who was in Thessaloniki got news of his son Manuel’s death, he suffered a heart attack and died as by this point, all the defeats he faced in battle made his mental health slowly deteriorate to the point that another misfortune could cause his death.

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Emperor Andronikos II Palaiologos as an old man

The emperor Andronikos II on the other hand was enraged when hearing of his grandson Manuel’s death, and not knowing the entire circumstances behind Manuel’s death, Andronikos II immediately blamed his eldest grandson Andronikos who he believed was a good for nothing drunk for ordering his brother’s death, thus Andonikos II quickly decided to disinherit his grandson Andronikos and remove him from the line of succession, instead replacing him with Andronikos II’s son Theodore who here was already the Lord of Montferrat in Italy. The young Andronikos however did not respond well to being disinherited by his grandfather, and so in Easter of 1321 the grandson Andronikos fled Constantinople to Adrianople with his best friend the young aristocrat John Kantakouzenos to raise an army declaring civil war against his grandfather, thus this is where everything turned around for young Andronikos. Here in Adrianople, a large number of the empire’s young men volunteered to join his cause as Andronikos promised that if he takes over the empire from his grandfather, he will reorganize the empire and bring forth a brighter future for Byzantium, thus what may have first seemed to be a selfish act which was that of Andronikos wanting to take the throne for himself after being disowned by his grandfather became a radical movement to save the empire from destroying itself through corruption and neglect very much present in the current administration of Andronikos II.

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The grandson Andronikos declares civil war against his grandfather Andronikos II in Adrianople, 1321

The army of the grandson Andronikos then immediately marched to Constantinople to overthrow his grandfather and at their arrival outside the Walls of Constantinople, Andronikos II was overwhelmed with its size and determination to overthrow him, and instead of fighting them back or surrendering, Andronikos II did the cowardly thing of not putting up a fight and agreeing to simply just make his grandson his co-emperor and split the empire between both of them with the grandfather ruling Constantinople and the last territories in Asia Minor and the grandson ruling Byzantine Thrace and Macedonia. The agreement between grandfather and grandson however did not last as in the following year 1322, Andronikos II’s corrupt advisors convinced him to resume the civil war with his grandson, however the moment the grandson Andronikos seized the suburbs of Constantinople, his grandfather once again asked for a truce, thus the conflict was once again at a halt.

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Stefan Uros III Decanski, King of Serbia (r. 1322-1331), son of Stefan II Milutin

Meanwhile, as the weakened and impoverished Byzantium was at a civil war, over in the Kingdom of Serbia their king Stefan Uros II Milutin died in 1321 after ruling for almost 40 years and in the following 1322 he was eventually succeeded by his son Stefan Decanski becoming King Stefan Uros III, who had already reconciled with father after both were in conflict with each other in the previous decade. In the 2nd Bulgarian Empire on the other hand, their tsar Theodore Svetoslav died in 1322 and was succeeded by his young son George Terter II but just a year later in 1323 George II died childless, thus he was succeeded as the Bulgarian tsar by his distant cousin Michael Shishman who when becoming tsar became known as Michael Asen III to emphasize his relation to the Asen Dynasty that founded the 2nd Bulgarian Empire back in 1185. By around 1324 as the exact year remains unclear, Osman the founder of the Ottoman Dynasty and now its sultan now ruling over much of Northwest Asia Minor died at an old age and was succeeded by his son Orhan who like his father was also an ambitious warrior that wanted to expand their lands.

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Fresco of Emperor Andronikos II (left) and his grandson and co-emperor Andronikos (right)

Back in Byzantium, Andronikos II in 1325 formally crowned his grandson Andronikos as his co-emperor the same way Andronikos II crowned his son and young Andronikos’ father the late Michael IX many years ago, and due to the civil war, Byzantium ran out of peasants to work the field with many being recruited to the army of either the grandfather or grandson, and it is for this reason why the Byzantines no longer had a professional army by this point resorting to them hiring mercenaries, as many of the rich landowners of the countryside refused to let the peasants be recruited in the army as no one would be left anymore to farm the land.

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Savoy coat of arms

In 1326, the grandson Andronikos was married to the young Italian noblewoman Anna of Savoy, the daughter of Amadeus V who was the Count of Savoy, a small state in Northern Italy which just like Montferrat was also in the region of Piedmont. Eventually, mistrust between the grandfather and grandson Andronikos would erupt again when both turned to different allies as the grandfather Andronikos II turned to his traditional ally which was Serbia here under the rule of Stefan III Decanski while the grandson Andronikos instead preferred an alliance with Bulgaria, and so in 1327 the civil war resumed to a more intense level as this time it involved the armies of both Balkan powers Serbia and Bulgaria fighting each other in Byzantine Macedonia backing either side of the civil war. The side of the grandson supported by Bulgaria soon enough was on the winning side and in early 1328 the city of Thessaloniki surrendered to and declared their support for the grandson, thus the victorious grandson and his best friend and now general John Kantakouzenos marched west to take over Constantinople itself. In May of 1328, the grandson Andronikos and John with only a small army bribed the guards at Constantinople’s walls and when successfully doing so, they stormed into the imperial Blachernae Palace where they forced the 69-year-old Andronikos II surrender.

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Icon of Andronikos II Palaiologos, abdicated in 1328

Seeing his end was inevitable, the old and tired Andronikos II surrendered and abdicated, and thus he was put in chains and arrested, afterwards being forced to retire to where he really belonged to as a religious intellectual, which was a monastery in Constantinople wherein he would spend the rest of his days. The incompetent 46-year reign of Andronikos II thus ended with the undeserving emperor sent to monastery arrest while his friend the corrupt Theodore Metochites too was forced into monastery arrest ironically in the same Monastery of Chora which he had built, and here in 1328 began what would be a new age of revival for Byzantium under the grandson Andronikos becoming emperor or Basileus Andronikos III Palaiologos.          

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Mosaics in the style of the Palaiologan Renaissance with architectural backgrounds behind in the Church of Chora, Constantinople
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Fresco in the more realistic Palaiologan Renaissance style in the Church of Chora, Constantinople
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Byzantium (purple) and the rest of the Balkans in the early 14th century
Watch The Imperial Epilogue (2020) by No Budget Films to see the 1321-1328 Byzantine Civil War in Lego

Becoming the sole ruler of the Byzantine Empire in 1328 at the age of 31, Andronikos III gave up his excessive lifestyle as a young man to become a strong and energetic emperor the way his great-grandfather Michael VIII was for the good of the empire in order to put it all back together again. As Andronikos III became emperor, he appointed his closest friend John Kantakouzenos who helped him win the civil war as the empire’s grand general or Megas Domestikos and just shortly after the beginning of his reign, Andronikos III and John put their funds into restoring the Byzantine fleet which Andronikos II decades ago had disbanded and sold for parts.

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Orhan, Sultan of the Ottomans (r. 1324-1362), son and successor of Osman

In the meantime, the previous civil war between Andronikos II and Andronikos III again exposed the last remains of Byzantine Asia Minor to Ottoman raids led by their sultan Orhan, thus the important Byzantine city of Prusa fell to the Ottomans in 1326 becoming the new capital of the Ottoman Turks renamed Bursa, then following it both cities of Nicaea and Nicomedia being the last important Byzantine cities there were besieged by Orhan. To relieve both Nicaea and Nicomedia from being under siege by the Ottomans, Andronikos III and John in 1329 led their troops into Asia Minor to expel Orhan’s Ottoman Turks, thus both forces met at the Battle of Pelekanon, which started off successful for the Byzantines until Andronikos III himself was wounded forcing him and John to flee the battle. At the end of the day, the Byzantine forces suffered a crushing defeat to the Ottomans as most of the Byzantine troops panicked thinking their emperor had been killed, although despite losing Andronikos escaped to safety and when recovering from his wounds, he asked his closest friend John to be his co-emperor if ever Andronikos would die any time soon from his wound, John however refused the offer believing it to be too much for him.

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Andronikos III Palaiologos, Byzantine emperor since 1328, grandson of Andronikos II, art by myself

Although facing a major defeat to the Ottomans in battle, Andronikos III managed to score a few successes later on in 1329 by recovering the Aegean island of Chios from the Latins who since 1204 were still holding on to it after a short naval battle. Seeing that the Serbian kingdom under Stefan III Decanski was a growing threat, Andronikos III continued his alliance with the Bulgarian tsar Michael III planning a joint invasion of Serbia, which however only resulted in a major defeat for the Bulgarians against the Serbian forces at the Battle of Velbazhd in today’s Bulgaria where the Bulgarian tsar Michael III was in fact killed, and here the young Serbian prince Stefan Dusan, son of Stefan III proved his ability and fearlessness in battle. Due to the defeat of the Bulgarians to the Serbians, Andronikos III in 1330 turned against his ally Bulgaria by invading Bulgarian territory in Thrace seeing that Bulgaria was after all vulnerable after suffering a major defeat in battle. On the other hand, Andronikos III had the luck of being emperor in the year 1330, which was the 1000th year anniversary of the founding of Constantinople and therefore the Byzantine Empire itself by Emperor Constantine I the Great (r. 306-337) in 330, thus making Andronikos III the only millennial Byzantine emperor in Byzantine history, however due to the lack of funds Byzantium had at this point combined with the wars they were fighting, there were no spectacular celebrations held in Constantinople in 1330, its 1000th year.

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Ivan Stefan, Tsar of the 2nd Bulgarian Empire (r. 1330-1331)

Over in Bulgaria meanwhile, with their tsar Michael III killed in battle his son Ivan Stefan succeeded him but only stayed in power for a year as due to his failure in stopping the Byzantine invasion in the south, Ivan Stefan lost a lot of his popularity and support, thus in 1331 Ivan Stefan was overthrown by his cousin the Bulgarian Despot of Lovech Ivan Alexander who then took over as the new Bulgarian tsar forcing Ivan Stefan to eventually flee to Italy, and Bulgaria’s new ruler Ivan Alexander would later turn out to be another one of Bulgaria’s greatest tsars. In Serbia on the other hand, despite their king Stefan III Decanski contributing to their victory over the Bulgarians at the Battle of Velbazhd, most of the nobility were discontented with his policies, thus they plotted to overthrow him in favor of his son Stefan Dusan who they saw as a more popular figure and so in 1331 after Dusan was proclaimed King of Serbia, his father was overthrown and later that year the deposed Stefan Decanski who fled was eventually captured by the army who switched their support to his son, thus Decaski was imprisoned and afterwards strangled to death by his son’s orders, and now Stefan IV Dusan at 23 became the King of Serbia. It also happened that in 1331, the Ottoman sultan Orhan finally managed to capture Nicaea from the Byzantines at least sparing its people by ordering them to evacuate, but from here on the city of Nicaea would never again be under Byzantine hands, while in the north now that Bulgaria once again had a strong ruler being Ivan Alexander, the gains Andronikos III made in Thrace were taken back by Bulgaria. In the following year 1332, Andronikos III decided to invade Bulgaria in retaliation for the Bulgarians invading Andronikos III’s newly gained lands in Thrace, and while preparing for his campaign against Bulgaria, Andronikos’s wife Anna of Savoy gave birth to their son in the city of Didymoteicho in Thrace, and this son was named John after Andronikos’ closest friend and general John Kantakouzenos who was with him in this campaign too. It also happened in 1332 that the former emperor and Andronikos III’s grandfather Andronikos II finally died as a monk after 4 years of monastery arrest in Constantinople at the age of 72.

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Ivan Alexander, Tsar of the 2nd Bulgarian Empire since 1331

Confident of victory, Andronikos III led his troops against the Bulgarians in 1332 but here he was defeated by the Bulgarian tsar Ivan Alexander at the Battle of Rusokastro as Andronikos’s forces of only 3,000 were outnumbered by Ivan Alexander’s army of 11,000. Due to his defeat to the Bulgarians, Andronikos III had to formally cede what Ivan Alexander captured in Thrace to Bulgaria while Andronikos too had to marry off his young daughter Maria to Ivan Alexander’s young son Michael, and in 1332 as well both Ivan Alexander of Bulgaria and Stefan IV Dusan of Serbia sealed an alliance together after Dusan married Ivan Alexander’s sister Helena, which would then make the Serbian kingdom and 2nd Bulgarian Empire have a lasting and unbroken alliance. Andronikos III after losing Nicaea did not want Nicomedia to its north to suffer the same fate of falling to the Ottomans, and so Andronikos agreed to pay tribute to their sultan Orhan, though Andronikos too had accepted an invitation to join a military alliance that consisted of the Papacy, France, Venice, and the Kinghts of Rhodes to combat the Turkish pirates in the Aegean as these powers too in fact recognized the rule of Andronikos III as he proved to be a competent ruler, and here Andronikos was to provide a large percent of ships to assist these other powers.

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Ibn Battuta, North African explorer, visited Constantinople in 1332

Another highlight of Andronikos III’s reign was that later in 1332, the famous North African explorer Ibn Battuta travelled Constantinople as part of one of his many adventures that would take him to the distant parts of Africa and far east Asia, and although no Byzantine sources ever mentioned the meeting of Ibn Battuta and the emperor, Ibn Battuta in his memoirs mentions meeting Andronikos III in Constantinople. In 1333, Stephen Gabrielopoulos the ruler of Thessaly which had been its own state since 1268 after breaking away from the breakaway rebel state of the Despotate of Epirus had died without an heir, and with a succession crisis breaking out in Thessaly, Andronikos III taking advantage of the situation sent an army to invade Thessaly before the Despotate of Epirus could beat him, and at the end Andronikos III’s army achieved a great success when putting the entire region of Thessaly back under Byzantine imperial control, and by having Thessaly which had a large population and fertile land, the Byzantine revenue would grow again. In 1334, a traitor in the Byzantine army named Syrgiannes deserted to the Serbians and in Serbia he convinced their king Dusan to invade Byzantine Thessaly, however Andronikos III immediately got word of this and immediately marched to confront Dusan, but before facing off the Serbians in battle, Andronikos III had one of his commanders named Sphrantzes infiltrate the Serbian camp and kill Syrgiannes.

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Stefan Uros IV Dusan, King of Serbia since 1331, son of Stefan III Decanski

With the traitor Syrgiannes assassinated, Andronikos III and Dusan concluded a peace treaty, as Dusan here did not yet have any intention to invade Byzantium, but to formally conclude peace Andronikos III had to give up the city of Kastoria in Byzantine Macedonia to the Serbian kingdom. After settling peace with Serbia, Andronikos III managed to reclaim the last Latin held city of Asia Minor which was Phocaea as well as the island of Lesbos from the Latins, and a lot of this success was due to Andronikos making an additional alliance with Umur Bey, the Turkish Bey of Aydin who at this point was building for his state a powerful navy. The Ottomans however still ended up breaking their truce with Andronikos III who offered to pay them annual tribute and in 1337, their sultan Orhan deciding that he no longer wanted to accept tribute laid siege to Nicomedia again and successfully captured it, thus here marks the complete end of Byzantine rule in Asia Minor, which had been Byzantium’s heartland for about 7 centuries now.

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Emperor Andronikos III and his wife Empress Anna of Savoy
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Serbian army defeats the Bulgarians at the Battle of Velbazhd in 1330, art by Borivoje Mikic
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Bulgarians defeat the Byzantines at the Battle of Rusokastro, 1332

       

Realizing that nothing much could be done anymore to restore Byzantine rule over Asia Minor, Andronikos III instead turned to focusing on Greece considering making it the new Byzantine heartland as he previously had already expanded Byzantine territory south by putting Thessaly back into Byzantine hands, and so in 1337 Andronikos III would do what he would be most remembered for, which was the conquest of the Despotate of Epirus itself. Lucky enough for the main Byzantine Empire, the Despotate of Epirus that had been an independent Byzantine state since Constantinople fell to the 4th Crusade in 1204 had fallen into disorder as here in 1337 as well, the Italian descended Despot of Epirus John II Orsini was poisoned by his wife which made the wife the regent for their son the new Despot of Epirus Nikephoros II Orsini, and with this chaos Albanian tribesmen to their north raided and began occupying the territory of Epirus in Western Greece.

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Andronikos III Palaiologos, art by Androklos

Taking advantage of the situation in Epirus rather than recovering Nicomedia from the Ottomans, Andronikos III together with John Kantakouzenos led their armies consisting of their Turkish allies from the Beylik of Aydin marching them west to invade Epirus itself in 1337, and after expelling the raiding Albanian tribesmen with such brutality and capturing Epirus’ capital Arta, the entire Despotate of Epirus was practically back again under Byzantine hands for the meantime as when Andronikos and John left leaving their troops behind to secure Epirus, the people of Epirus rebelled against being under Byzantine occupation. With the Epirote locals rebelling, Andronikos III and John in 1338 rushed back to Epirus to put the rebellion down and to do this, they deposed the young Despot of Epirus Nikephoros II sending him to Constantinople despite his mother attempting to negotiate to still keep him in power as a Byzantine vassal, while the people of Epirus too chose to submit to Andronikos III or else be brutally massacred by them like how the Albanian tribesmen were the previous year. Andronikos III however refused these terms as if Nikephoros II were still a vassal, Epirus would still not be completely under direct Byzantine control, thus Nikephoros II was sent to Constantinople as a hostage while in his place a Byzantine governor was instead appointed to be in charge of Epirus, therefore ending the existence of the Despotate of Epirus which now was fully annexed back to the Byzantine Empire. With all the wars and conquests taken care off, Andronikos III now turned to settling political issues in his empire as well as in strengthening their ties to the other powers of Europe and so in 1339, Andronikos III considered a Church Council to discuss terms about Church unity with the Catholic Church like his great-grandfather Michael VIII did, however this said council never came to happen.

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Fresco of John Kantakouzenos as Megas Domestikos of Andronikos III

Andronikos III however was more concerned in military conquests than politics while John was the one more concerned with reforming the government and now with both the entire provinces of Thessaly and Epirus under direct Byzantine rule again, Andronikos began laying his out plans for future campaigns to reconquer the rest of Greece including the Duchy of Athens that fell under the Catalans and the still surviving Latin Principality of Achaea in the Peloponnese in order to connect the far-flung Byzantine territory of the Morea by land to the main empire itself. With Andronikos III’s military campaigns finished off for now, he would also do one of the greatest reforms of the 14th century as the empire was now at peace, and this would be a complete reform of Byzantium’s justice system that had decayed into corruption becoming bribe based during Andronikos II’s 46-year reign, although most of this judicial reform was carried out by John Kantakouzenos.

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Andronikos III Palaiologos, Byzantine emperor (r. 1328-1341)

Andronikos III and John basically carried out this new reform on the justice system by replacing the disorganized old system of many judges with 4 “Universal Justices” with 2 being Church officials and 2 being government officials based in Constantinople as to make things fair, there had to be an equal number of judges to settle two different kinds of issues as people would have issues either concerning religious or political matters. To make the Universal Justices more approachable not only in Constantinople but in other parts of the empire, Andronikos III appointed an additional 4 Universal Justices in Thessaloniki and another 4 in the Morea. The Universal Justices however had turned out to not all be completely free of corruption as soon enough, a total of 3 of these Universal Justices were found guilty of corruption and accepting bribes, and to solve this issue Andronikos III simply fired these 3 corrupt justices and replaced them with new ones that were not corrupt. Though Byzantium was once again a strong and stable state thanks to the energetic rule of Andronikos III as well as his reforms, the age-old cancer of religious schism that weakened the Byzantine state still remained unsolved as in the latter part of Andronikos III’s reign, a new religious teaching which later became a controversy broke out, and this new teaching was known as Hesychasm and the one to first introduce it during Andronikos III’s reign was Gregory Palamas, a Byzantine monk from Mt. Athos whose new teaching was a kind of mystical practice that only required chanting a single sentence multiple times as a way to meditate, zone out, and get closer to God. Many of Byzantium’s aristocrats true enough supported this new meditation teaching, however this teaching was opposed by the Italian theologian Barlaam of Calabria, and to settle this controversy Andronikos III in 1341 held a council at the Hagia Sophia in Constantinople but at the end, when he could not rule whether Gregory or Barlaam’s side was right, the issue remained unresolved.

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The Byzantine Empire (orange) during Andronikos III’s reign
Watch this video from Eastern Roman History to learn more about Byzantium’s last great revival under Andronikos III

The Climax Part I- The Civil War of 1341-1347            

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With the capable and ambitious Andronikos III Palaiologos running the empire, it may have seemed that everything was once again going well for the Byzantines especially now that they once again had the rich provinces of Thessaly and Epirus, which once again brought revenue to the empire. However, this short-lived age of prosperity and stability the Byzantine Empire was having unfortunately did not last long, as here in June of 1341 just 4 days after Andronikos held the Church council in the Hagia Sophia to discuss the new Hesychast controversy which still remained unresolved, he caught a fever and suddenly died at the relatively young age of 44 after a reign of 13 years. Despite ruling strongly and energetically, Andronikos III did in fact suffer from chronic malaria, and little did he know that this would cause his untimely death, and no matter how effectively he ran the empire, he made one fatal mistake which was that he never named his successor believing he would still continue to rule for much longer. Andronikos III luckily enough had a son John who following Andronikos’ death became Emperor John V Palaiologos, however John was only 9-years-old and was never even proclaimed by his father as co-emperor, therefore making his succession a disputed one as the grand general John Kantakouzenos too had a claim to the throne as Andronikos at one point considered making him his co-emperor.

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Empress Anna of Savoy, wife of Andronikos III and Regent of the Empire following his death in 1341, art by myself

However, by custom an underaged ruler was to immediately succeed his father and rule under the regency of his mother if his mother were still alive, and this was exactly the case here as Andronikos III’s wife Empress Anna of Savoy was still alive and following the death of her husband she immediately assumed control of the empire as her son’s regent. John Kantakouzenos who despite not wanting to accept the role of co-emperor before now accepted it as he believed he was the more competent one to run the empire and carry out the good work of Andronikos III which he failed to finish due to his sudden death. Shortly after Andronikos III’s death, John rushed to the Byzantine Senate in Constantinople asking them to approve his claim as regent for Andronikos III’s young son John V saying that he had every right to do it being the late emperor’s most trusted general, and before the senate was about to rule that John was to be the empire’s regent the Patriarch of Constantinople John XIV Kalekas stormed in showing a letter of proof that the late emperor named him the patriarch as the guardian of Andronikos III’s son in case Andronikos died, however the letter the patriarch showed was forged. The senate however at the end still ruled that John Kantakouzenos was to be the empire’s regent though not co-emperor but little did he know that there was already a faction that rose up to oppose him as regent of the empire and this faction was led by the empress Anna of Savoy, the patriarch John XIV, and the wealthy and influential politician Alexios Apokaukos who was previously a secretary of Andronikos III and at this point possibly the richest man in the empire now with the tile of Megas Doux. Now it already seemed that in just something like a second after Andronikos III died, everything began to already fall apart for Byzantium as with a strong ruler dead, Byzantium’s neighbors took advantage of the situation by raiding into Byzantine territory, thus here King Stefan IV Dusan of Serbia in 1341 launched raids into Byzantine Macedonia, Tsar Ivan Alexander continued raiding into Byzantine Thrace, and Turkish pirates from the Beylik of Sarukhan in Western Asia Minor went as far as to raiding the Aegean coast of Thrace. When hearing that the empire’s borders were in danger, John Kantakouzenos left Constantinople to expel them and in so little time he managed to drive away the Bulgarian and Serbian armies as well as the Turkish pirate fleet, but the moment he left Constantinople the empress Anna with support from the ordinary people of Constantinople as well as the patriarch and Alexios Apokaukos declared Kantakouzenos a public enemy while officially crowning the young John V as emperor, thus beginning another tragedy of a civil war for Byzantium right when everything seemed to be so going well for them.

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Alexios Apokaukos, Megas Doux of the Byzantine Empire

Now, the one to actually blame for bringing the empire down when it all seemed like everything was going well was Alexios Apokaukos and basically only for the petty reason that he hated John Kantakouzenos for being part of the old landed aristocracy as Alexios despite being rich was born a commoner, therefore he believed that aristocrats like John had no reason to be wealthy except by blood. Now that John Kantakouzenos was declared a public enemy by the empress, his relatives as well as the wealthy aristocrats that supported him were forced to leave Constantinople otherwise be imprisoned and have all their property confiscated by the empress. When Kantakouzenos arrived in the city of Didymoteicho in Thrace, his relatives and supporters were already there awaiting him after they were forced out of Constantinople and to save his reputation, they proclaimed him co-emperor against the regency of the empress and Alexios Apokaukos. Now unlike the civil war of 1321-1328 between Andronikos III and his grandfather Andronikos II which was a smaller conflict that was basically a revolution to overthrow an old and corrupt regime, this one beginning in 1341 was to be a much a larger and more devastating conflict that had deeper issues involved including those regarding society and religion.

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Hesychasm, a religious teaching supported by the 14th century Byzantine aristocracy

In this conflict, Byzantium was split between the old landed aristocracy where John Kantakouzenos came from and their faction that backed John stood for more conservative and traditional Byzantine values which included Gregory Palamas’ Hesychast teaching which they saw as a sacred and mystical tradition, while the other faction in this conflict which backed the regency of the empress, patriarch, and Alexios consisted of the common people of the empire as well as merchants who stood for more progressive values and commerce including maintaining diplomatic ties with the Italian republics of Venice and Genoa, as well as Church Unity believing this new Hesychast teaching as heretical making them move more and more away from achieving Church unity. At the same time, the conservative and even racist aristocracy that backed John Kantakouzenos also distrusted the empress for being a Western Latin as she was Italian and in fact still Catholic as she never really converted to Orthodoxy when marrying Andronikos III, while they had also distrusted her son John V as emperor as not only was he a child but a half-Italian who was educated to have more Western European than Byzantine values, and ironically here at this point the world went the other way around with west seeming to be more progressive and Byzantium the one to be seen as more backwards. However, this conflict would begin with things going in favor for the faction of the empress as majority of the population being commoners backed the empress and regency and so did a lot of provincial governors while only Thessaloniki where most of the aristocrats lived as well as an independent Serbian magnate in Thrace named Hrelja backed Kantakouzenos. In early 1342, John Kantakouzenos together with his ally Hrelja marched to Thessaloniki to reinforce it with troops and defend it against the army of the regency but when arriving it was too late as an anti-aristocratic faction known as the zealots kicked out the aristocrats and took over the city in the name of the regency and the young emperor John V. As John and Hrelja were about to lay siege to Thessaloniki, the fleet of the regency sent by Alexios Apokaukos arrived forcing both of them to lift the siege and flee north, but John was still intent to continue the war despite lacking armies and so he decided to go to Serbia itself to seal a military alliance with their king Dusan, however on the way to Serbia Hrelja deserted John as Hrelja never really wanted to help John’s cause but instead to only gain some lands for himself with John’s help.

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Personal flag of King Stefan IV Dusan of Serbia

John Kantakouzenos in 1342 eventually arrived in Serbia to meet their king Dusan himself and at first Dusan was reluctant to help as here he was too busy growing the power of Serbia but when finding out that he could gain lands in Northern Greece by helping John, Dusan agreed and so together with John they launched an invasion of Byzantine Greece. John Kantakouzenos here would then end up betraying the memory of his late friend Andronikos III as here John desperately agreed to hand over to Serbia all the lands they conquered in Greece despite John and Andronikos III previously working so hard to put them back to Byzantine rule. Now with their alliance sealed, John assisted by an army of Serbian knights took over parts of Western Greece from the regency’s forces, but it was Dusan who was more successful here as he was able to capture all of Byzantine West Macedonia and parts of Albania. Worried about John Kantakouzenos’ progress, the empress wrote to Dusan to turn on John and send him to her in chains but Dusan refused believing that by being allied with John, he could gain a lot. Soon enough, both provinces of Epirus and Thessaly accepted the authority of John, although John’s base Didymoteicho soon enough was blockaded by the regency’s army which made John’s wife Irene who was there turn to asking for assistance from the Bulgarian tsar Ivan Alexander and in return, Ivan Alexander sent an army to drive away the regency’s forces, and though the Bulgarians succeeded in doing so but not in capturing Didymoteicho which was after all part of their tsar’s plan. Rather than capturing Didymoteicho, the Bulgarian army instead turned to pillaging the farms around it despite their tsar not ordering them to do so.

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Alexios Apokaukos (center) and the Byzantine regency army
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Byzantine Thessaloniki, taken over by the ant-aristocratic Zealots in 1342
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Army of the 2nd Bulgarian Empire
Watch this video from Jabzy to see a summary of the 1341-1347 Byzantine Civil War

          

When hearing that the surrounding area of his base city Didymoteicho was under attack by the Bulgarians that turned against them, John Kantakouzenos who was still in Macedonia revived his old alliance with the Turkish Bey of Aydin Umur Bey who now had built for his Beylik a powerful fleet.

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2nd Bulgarian Empire army, 14th century

In early 1343, Umur Bey after being asked for assistance by John gathered his fleet and sailed from Southwest Asia Minor up to Thrace, where they sailed up the Evros River, arrived outside Didymoteicho and expelled the pillaging Bulgarians, and after doing their part the Turks of Umur Bey returned to their Beylik in Asia Minor. John Kantakouzenos in 1343 however began to fall out with his ally Stefan IV Dusan as when they both were laying siege to the city of Berroia in Macedonia held by the regency’s forces, John after his and Dusan’s forces succeeded demanded the garrison there to surrender the city to him and not to Dusan, which made Dusan furious especially since he was in this war to gain cities in Byzantine Macedonia. Feeling insulted and betrayed by John, Dusan here abandoned his alliance with John at once making John his mortal enemy and instead Dusan declared his support for the empress and regency as he believed they were easier to manipulate.

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Umur Bey of Aydin (r. 1334-1348), ally of John Kantakouzenos

Despite losing his alliance with Dusan, John still continued his attempt to besiege Thessaloniki and take it from the pro-regency zealots and lucky enough for him, his Turkish ally Umur Bey and his fleet came to his aid here and as John besieged Thessaloniki by land, the Turks with their fleet attacked from the sea. However, right when they laid siege to Thessaloniki, the regency’s fleet led by Alexios Apokaukos once again arrived coming to the rescue of Thessaloniki, but this time the massive size of Umur Bey’s fleet managed to scare Alexios forcing him to retreat from Thessaloniki, though at the end John still failed to capture Thessaloniki. John Kantakouzenos and Umur Bey then abandoned Thessaloniki and marched east into Thrace where a number of towns and cities switched to John’s faction, though in Macedonia Dusan was still left to freely capture towns and cities and so by this point, all of Byzantine Macedonia except for Thessaloniki fell under the rule of Dusan’s Serbia.

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Turkish army of Umur Bey, 14th century

As John and his Turkish allied army led by Umur Bey progressed through Thrace, the Turks burned and looted the countryside as a way to weaken Constantinople’s economy as its grain supply came from Thrace, and this pillaging was part of the plan to ruin the position of the empress in Constantinople. The empress Anna of Savoy meanwhile was now in dangerous position as the pillaging of Thrace caused starvation in Constantinople and with so much funds spent for the war, the empress now had no choice but to pawn the empire’s crown jewels to the Republic of Venice to raise funds, and desperately wanting military assistance from the west, Anna did exactly what her great-grandfather-in-law Michael VIII Palaiologos did many years ago which was to consider submitting the Byzantine Church to the pope. Anna still being Catholic at heart then wrote to the pope that she will submit herself, her son the young emperor John V, the patriarch John XIV, and Alexios Apokaukos to the pope’s authority and to enforce this Church unity she also agreed to do what Michael VIII did back then which was to persecute all those who opposed the Church unity, especially those who practiced the Hesychast teaching which the pope and the Western Church totally saw as heretical and nonsense.

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Tsar Ivan Alexander of the 2nd Bulgarian Empire (r. 1331-1371)

In 1344, the empress Anna then concluded an additional alliance with Tsar Ivan Alexander of Bulgaria as Ivan Alexander too just like Dusan never really cared about which side he supported as long as it benefited him, and although Ivan Alexander was given the city of Philippopolis by the Byzantines in exchange to help the empress’ side, Ivan Alexander was not of so much help. At the same time, the independent Bulgarian bandit leader Momchil in the Rhodope Mountains of Thrace who previously supported John Kantakouzenos’ faction defected to the empress’ faction and in early 1345, John Kantakouzenos together with Umur Bey leading their respective forces clashed with Momchil and his forces in the Rhodope Mountains defeating Momchil’s forces and even killing Momchil himself. John however grew tired of all the battles and so after this victory, he attempted to negotiate with the empress to stop the war by sending Franciscan monks to Constantinople to deliver his proposal to the empress, but when arriving in Constantinople the monks were arrogantly stopped by Alexios Apokaukos who now here was busy building a new prison to house all those who opposed the regency most of which being John’s relatives and supporters. The turning point in the civil war then came here in 1345 as when Alexios here was inspecting the prison he just built wherein he now locked up a number of political prisoners, he was suddenly lynched to death by these prisoners who claimed they did it in the name of John Kantakouzenos, thus with the death of Alexios the side of the regency fell apart now that there was no more strong man to lead them.

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Byzantine army in the 1341-1347 Civil War

The death of Alexios then gave John Kantakouzenos the opportunity to march to Constantinople and take over it but before he was able to do so, his ally Umur Bey got word that the pope launched a Crusade against his Beylik to punish him for attacking Christian ships in the Aegean. As part of this Crusade against Umur’s Beylik of Aydin, the Hospitaller Knights and the fleet of the Republic of Venice attacked Umur’s territory forcing Umur in 1345 to rush back to defend his territory, leaving John alone once again. Desperate for an ally once more, John had no more choice but to turn to the most despised man by the Byzantines which was the Ottoman sultan Orhan who had for the longest time remained silent but had now possibly became the most powerful Turkish ruler of Asia Minor after he captured the last remains of Byzantine territory there.    

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A ship from Umur Bey of Aydin’s Turkish fleet
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The Crusade against Umur Bey of Aydin
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Byzantine army units of the 1341-1347 Palaiologos Civil War

          

The one who had been benefitting most in this pointless civil war the Byzantines had was neither the empress Anna of Savoy and the Palaiologos faction nor John Kantakouzenos and his faction but the Serbian king Stefan IV Dusan who after his alliance with John was severed became John’s most bitter enemy and when agreeing to help the empress’ side did not really help them but instead only did to his own benefit.

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Coat of Arms of Serbia’s Nemanjic Dynasty, Dusan’s dynasty

In 1345, Dusan managed to capture the last Byzantine held city in Macedonia which was Serres which stubbornly resisted Dusan’s siege, but with Serres falling into Serbian hands, all of Byzantine Macedonia was annexed to the Serbian Kingdom except for Thessaloniki which was left as a lone Byzantine city surrounded in a “Serbian sea”. With the city of Serres as well as all of Byzantine Macedonia falling to Dusan’s control, Dusan began to no longer call himself “king” but “Emperor of the Serbs, Romans (Greeks), and Albanians”, although in the Orthodox world which included Serbia, a ruler could not call himself emperor unless he was crowned by a patriarch, and so Dusan here having enough power to do so, he elevated the Serbian Archbishopric into the status of a Patriarchate making the Serbian archbishop into the first Patriarch of Serbia. The special day for Dusan then came in April of 1346 and this was when the unusually tall and strong King Stefan IV Uros Dusan Nemanjic who at 38 had long dark brown hair and large brown eyes was formally crowned by his newly appointed Patriarch of Serbia Joanikije as the first Emperor of Serbia with the Kingdom of Serbia was transformed into the Serbian Empire, and now Dusan would no longer rule as king but as “tsar” (emperor).

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Emperor (Tsar) Stefan Uros IV Dusan of Serbia, crowned as emperor in 1346

Dusan’s status as emperor was then recognized by the Archbishop of Ohrid, the Patriarch of Bulgaria, and his brother-in-law and ally Tsar Ivan Alexander of Bulgaria, and as Serbia’s first emperor Dusan gave his son Stefan Uros V the title of “King of Serbia” giving him rule over the original Serbian provinces known as “royal lands” before they expanded, while the newly conquered territories of Serbia in Macedonia and Albania were now known as “imperial lands” which were under Dusan’s direct control. Immediately after becoming emperor, Dusan already acted the way a Byzantine emperor did as not only did he wear the purple robes reserved for Byzantine emperors, but he also granted titles to his relatives and close generals, and most of these titles that he was granting were in fact those used in the Byzantium such as Despotes and Sebastokrator. At this point, it seemed that Serbia has gone such a long way as less than 200 years ago, when the Serbian state was founded by Dusan’s ancestor Stefan Nemanja (r. 1166-1196) the first Grand Prince of Serbia- who if you recall had a major role in chapter IX of this series- was just a relatively small principality in the Balkans. Back in Byzantium, John Kantakouzenos who now got military support from the Ottoman sultan Orhan who provided him with troops was now at the winning side of the civil war, and just a month after Dusan’s coronation as emperor, John having enough confidence had himself crowned as the senior emperor of Byzantium John VI Kantakouzenos in Adrianople.

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Theodora Kantakouzene, daughter of John Kantakouzenos and wife of Orhan

To fully seal his alliance with Orhan, John VI then married off his daughter Theodora who was only 14 to Sultan Orhan who was already in his 60s at a lavish ceremony in the port town of Selymbria outside Constantinople, thus here Orhan himself would cross over to Europe making this the first time an Ottoman ruler would so, although Theodora would end up just being one of Orhan’s wives in his Harem in the Ottoman capital Bursa in Asia Minor. Meanwhile in Constantinople, a part of the Hagia Sophia’s ceiling collapsed which the empress Anna of Savoy and her son John V saw as a bad sign believing that there was no more chance they could win against John VI in the civil war, and true enough shortly after his coronation and the marriage of his daughter Theodora to Orhan, John VI and his forces including Ottoman allied troops provided by Orhan arrived outside Constantinople’s walls, but rather than storming into the city they would camp outside it for months as John VI still being proudly Byzantine did not want the Ottomans to storm into their capital and pillage it.

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John VI Kantakouzenos, Senior Byzantine emperor since 1346

As the months passed, the population of Constantinople began to starve due to being blockaded but the empress still confident of her position had not conceded yet that she in fact tried to assassinate John VI twice in which both attempts failed. In early 1347, the empress’ faction now lost all support as the patriarch John XIV who was their loyal ally was deposed by the Kantakouzenos supporters and in the night of the same day the patriarch was deposed, John VI’s supporters tired of being blockaded opened the gates of Constantinople letting their emperor John VI and his forces except for their Ottoman allies to storm into Constantinople surrounding the Blachernae Palace where the empress and her son the young emperor John V were. In this story’s case to add some more detail to the scenario, as the 41-year-old empress Anna was at her bath still refusing to surrender, John VI’s forces had already stormed the Blachernae Palace demanding her to surrender at once, and here the now 14-year-old John V rushed to his mother who was still at her bath convincing her to surrender peacefully as nothing could be done anymore. The empress then immediately got out of her bath even if she was still soaking and after just covering herself up with a towel, she rushed out, but at least she had enough time to put on her nightgown before John VI would confront her and her son. The empress Anna of Savoy, her son John V, and the usurper John VI Kantakouzenos then confronted each other at the imperial Blachernae Palace’s main hall at the dead of night with the empress and her son in their sleeping outfits and John VI formally dressed in purple imperial robes, although surprisingly they all came to a peaceful agreement wherein it was agreed that John VI from here on would rule as Byzantium’s senior emperor for the next 10 years, and following this both John V Palaiologos and John VI Kantakouzenos would rule as equals, while the empress mother was to remain unharmed in Cosntantinople but still forced to stay out of politics.

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John V Palaiologos as a young man, Byzantine emperor since 1341, son of Andronikos III and Anna of Savoy, art by JustinianustheGreat

To unite both Palaiologos and Kantakouzenos families however, John VI had to marry off his younger daughter Helena to John V who was just a year older than her unlike Helena’s sister Theodora who had to marry a much older man. With everything settled down, John VI was then formally crowned as senior emperor by the new patriarch, though not at the Hagia Sophia but at the church of the imperial palace, and now it looks like Byzantine history had totally repeated itself wherein a usurping general becomes senior emperor and the rightful emperor is demoted while also the demoted emperor was forced to marry the usurper’s daughter to legitimize the usurper’ claim, as if you remember from chapter VII of this series set in the 10th century the exact same thing happened, as back then in 920 the usurping general Romanos I Lekepenos who like John VI here demoted the rightful emperor which was John V who back then in 920 was Constantine VII of the Macedonian Dynasty, and John VI like Romanos I back then sidelined the rightful emperor’s mother and legitimized his claim by marrying off his daughter to the rightful emperor, and ironically both the daughter of Romanos I back then and of John VI here was named Helena.

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Kantakouzenos family coat of arms

Though both John VI and John V stayed in power, things were not yet fully resolved as mistrust still continued with both factions where the supporters of John V and his mother still believed John VI would one day completely remove John V from power and possibly even blind him while those who supported the Kantakouzenos faction wanted John V finished off for good not wanting John VI to share power with anyone. The one here who resented the young John V most was John VI’s son Matthew Kantakouzenos who resented his new brother-in-law John V believing that his father preferred John V more as John VI allowed John V to be his co-emperor rather than giving the position to Matthew, instead Matthew was only given some land in Thrace to rule. Though John VI was already the senior emperor, it did not mean much as first of all the crown placed on his head was no longer the original pure gold one as it had been pawned by the empress to Venice, instead he was crowned with a cheaper gold crown, and in his coronation dinner, the food was no longer served in expensive gold and silver plates but in ceramic ones as the empress had to sell these gold and silver plates off too in order to continue the civil war even if her side lost at the end.

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Coronation of Dusan as Emperor of Serbia in Skopje, 1346
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Blachernae Palace, Imperial Residence of Constantinople
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The Land Walls of Constantinople, art by myself

 

The Climax Part II- Black Death and Dusan’s Conquest of Byzantium (1347-1355)         

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The moment John VI Kantakouzenos became senior emperor of Byzantium, everything would turn around for them as here in 1347, Byzantium now already weakened from the civil war was to face a double disaster, the first being the civil war of course but what was to follow it was even worse. This new disaster that would further bring Byzantium to its knees was the plague of Black Death or also known as the “Bubonic Plague” which was said to have originated in the steppes of Central Asia as a result of climate change that had dried up the grasslands there forcing rodents there to flee bringing the pests with them, and apparently this plague had already spread across India and China in the early 1340s, though in 1347 this plague would first arrive in Europe through Genoese ships coming from their trading port of Theodosia (also known as Kaffa) in the Crimea, in which the people there had already been infected as previously the Mongol army of the Golden Horde besieged it by catapulting bodies of those who had died from this plague. Now one of the first ports these Genoese ships carrying the plague rats was Constantinople and here in 1347, just shortly after John VI became senior emperor, people began falling ill and dying. Among the many in Constantinople who died from the plague of Black Death was the emperor John VI’s youngest son Andronikos who was only a young child as children were in fact the most vulnerable to the plague given the high child mortality rate back then. Though nothing much is recorded about the Black Death hitting Byzantium, Byzantine historians of this time such as Nikephoros Gregoras (1295-1360) and John VI himself who would write about it later on describing the symptoms of the plague which included swelling occurring all over peoples’ bodies as a result of the flea bites, followed by fever, vomiting of blood, hallucinations, and death occurring 2-7 days after contracting the plague.

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Aftermath of the Plague of Justinian, 542

Of course, this was not the first time the Byzantines faced this kind of pandemic being a Bubonic Plague as 800 years earlier, this exact same plague happened which was the Plague of Justinian in 542 if you recall from chapter III of this series wherein the emperor Justinian I the Great himself was a victim of the plague but survived it, and just like 800 years ago, the plague of Black Death in 1347 killed thousands each day at the end killing off 2/3 of Constantinople population regardless of age, gender, or social class. The plague too had hit the other parts of what remained of the empire such as the cities of Thessaloniki and Adrianople despite not so much being recorded about the plague such as the death toll in those parts, although the region of the Morea in Southern Greece was not as much affected due to its remoteness.

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Black Death in Byzantium, 1347

The Byzantines however despite the state of ruin their empire was in had a tradition of advanced medical practice as they had operational hospitals such as the Pantokrator Monastery in Constantinople and experienced doctors, although this was still not enough to stop the high death toll, while most people without modern science existing still did not know what was the cause of this plague, and monks and nuns were the ones who were most at risk in getting the plague and dying as they were the ones taking care of the patients.

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A Black Death patient being treated

The one that would be hit worse by the plague however would be the kingdoms of Western Europe, although since this story mainly focuses on Byzantium and the world around them, I would not go too much in detail discussing about how the plague spread across the rest of Europe and how people reacted to it, but to put it short the rest of Europe was hit much worse that thousands kept dying each day to the point that there were no longer enough coffins and even spaces to bury the dead that those who died from the plague had to be dumped in rivers which even made things worse by contaminating the rivers which people drank from.

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Black Death plague doctor in Western Europe

People in the west even at this point still being more superstitious than the Byzantines came up with all kinds of absurd cures including whipping themselves and burning Jews alive who they suspected of starting the plague. The plague would go on for the next 4 years across Europe going as far as to Scotland, Scandinavia, Poland, Lithuania, and Russia, while North Africa and the Middle East were badly hit as well, although at the end the most affected were the port cities as they were part of the main shipping routes, and by 1351 the Black Death killed off 75-80% of the population of France and Spain combined, 40% of Egypt’s, and 20% of England and Germany’s. The biggest change caused by Black Death was the dissolution of the centuries old feudal system in Europe as with countless peasants dying, peasants became of such high value that they would no longer be forced to farm the lands of their feudal lords but would instead be travelling across Europe to places where they were in demand especially in parts where almost the entire peasant population was wiped out. The ones less affected by the Plague of Black Death on the other hand were the Ottomans in Asia Minor and Dusan’s Serbian Empire, although Ivan Alexander’s Bulgaria too was affected by the plague. With the plague wiping out most of the Byzantine soldiers in Thessaly and Epirus, Dusan in 1348 considering that the plague hardly affected his empire used the situation in Byzantium to his advantage and marched south conquering both Thessaly and Epirus in one swift campaign, and after taking these provinces Dusan appointed his brother Simeon Uros as the governor of Epirus, his general Preljub as the governor of Thessaly, and his other general Vojin as the governor of Macedonia which Dusan conquered prior to becoming emperor.

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Cartoon map of Dusan’s Serbian Empire

With both Thessaly and Epirus under the Serbian Empire, Stefan IV Dusan was now the undisputed most powerful man of the Balkans with an empire stretching north to south from the Danube River to the Gulf of Corinth in Greece, and west to east from the Adriatic and Ionian Seas to the Aegean Sea and as emperor, he led Serbia into a golden age making it equivalent to what Byzantium was in imperial power and culture, and Dusan to promote his power and influence in 1349 began a codification of laws for Serbia known as Dusan’s Code, just as Byzantium’s most influential emperor Justinian I the Great 800 years earlier did making the Corpus Juris Civilis, and quite coincidentally Serbia’s capital of Skopje where Dusan resided was very close to the now ruined town Justinian I was born in 482 as the peasant Flavius Petrus Sabbatius.

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A page from Dusan’s Code of Laws

Now that Dusan had conquered both Thessaly and Epirus which was followed by his conquest of the Chalcidice Peninsula from the Byzantines, Dusan began to plan out his ultimate goal of conquering Constantinople which was historically true, but the only problem here was that Serbia did not have a fleet large and strong enough do so, therefore Dusan would have to make an alliance with the Republic of Venice to provide him a fleet. In the meantime, John VI Kantakouzenos in 1348 was deeply saddened at the death of his old ally and friend Umur Bey who had been killed in battle against the Venetian fleet and Knights of Rhodes in their Crusade against him, but the even worse part for John VI was that his empire was in serious financial straits as a result of first the civil war and then Black Death which by killing off more than half of Constantinople’s population and a lot of the empire’s as a whole, the imperial revenue had dried out now that there were less people to pay taxes, and the worst part here was Genoa as considering that Byzantium chose to ally with them to recover Constantinople from the Latins back in 1261, Genoa ended up benefitting more as 87% of revenue made from ships passing through the Bosporus were to go to Genoa instead of Byzantium. Needing more revenue for Byzantium in order for it to survive especially since they only earned 13% from customs, John VI in 1349 decided to regain full control of the customs by discontinuing in paying Genoa 87% of it, but at the end this only provoked a small war between Byzantium and Genoa. Being provoked by John VI wanting to cancel their agreement, the Genoese in Constantinople set fire to the ships Andronikos III had previously restored thus again depriving the Byzantines of fleet, but in retaliation Byzantine soldiers in Constantinople set fire to the Genoese held Galata Quarter burning their warehouses as well. At the end, a peace agreement was again settled between Byzantium and Genoa wherein the Genoese agreed to never cause harm to the Byzantines again as long as the Byzantines leave them alone forever in Galata.

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Postcard of Emperor Dusan in battle

In 1350, as Dusan marched northwest to campaign against the Bosnian Principality which he intended to conquer and annex to Serbia, John VI taking advantage of the absence of Serbian troops in Macedonia who left to join Dusan’s campaign marched to Macedonia to take it back for Byzantium, and true enough John VI was able to take back the cities of Berroia and Vodena from the Serbians. Following his successes, John VI proceeded to Thessaloniki and at this point the anti-aristocratic zealots that held it since 1342 lost influence and control of the city, therefore welcoming John VI in with open arms accepting him as their emperor, while John VI as well had his loyalist Patriarch of Constantinople Kallistos excommunicate Dusan out of revenge. Dusan after finishing his campaign against Bosnia which did not result in much success anyway returned to Macedonia taking back the lands John VI had just reconquered for the Byzantines, again leaving Thessaloniki surrounded by a sea of Serbian territory.          

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Map and timeline of the Black Death across Europe
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Mongol siege of the Port of Theodosia (Kaffa) in the Crimea, origins of Black Death
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The Plague of Black Death
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Death toll of Black Death
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Dusan’s Serbian Empire by 1348- Original “Royal” Lands (light purple) and newly annexed “Imperial” Lands (dark purple)

Watch this to learn more about Black Death in Byzantium (Eastern Roman History).

Though it never came to happen in real history, in this story’s case the Republic of Venice in 1351 would finally decide in agreeing to provide Dusan with a fleet as here Venice and Genoa were at war with each other again, and with Genoa and Byzantium allies again, Venice now had a reason to attack Constantinople while Dusan here only exploited this conflict to his advantage. In real history, the Venetians although being in good terms with Dusan’s Serbia did not agree to an alliance to take Constantinople as Venice did not want to be obliged to Serbia, but here Venice would not only want to join Dusan’s cause as they were at war with Genoa, but they had been inspired by Dusan’s war against the Bosnians and against John VI’s Byzantium, thus in 1351 Dusan and Venice would formally conclude an alliance in which Venice would take over the Galata Quarter from Genoa if Dusan took over Constantinople.

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Emperor John VI Kantakouzenos (center) surrounded by Byzantine nobility and clergymen declares Hesychasm Orthodox, 1351

It also happened in 1351 that John VI returned the favor to the nobility that supported him in the civil war by holding a Church Council in Constantinople wherein John VI himself approved and fully legalized the mystical Hesychast teaching that was once considered heresy, therefore finally declaring it Orthodox which made him more popular with Byzantium’s conservative aristocracy, though his son-in-law and junior co-emperor John V despite not showing his feeling strongly opposed it due to his progressive upbringing. In 1351 as well, the empress Anna of Savoy who had remained out of politics since 1347 decided to leave Constantinople for good to set herself up in Thessaloniki wherein she would still feel like an actual empress as there she would control the mints, while her son the co-emperor John V had already reached adulthood which made him no longer need his mother as his regent. In the meantime, John VI I 1349 had appointed his other son Manuel Kantakouzenos as the first Despot of the Morea therefore setting himself up in the city Mystras along the mountains slopes above Ancient Sparta which here would grow into a thriving cultural and educational center as mentioned earlier, though in Thrace John VI’s other son Matthew would have to share rule over it with is brother-in-law the co-emperor John V, which made mistrust between them grow even more, therefore leading to the civil war between the Kantakouzenos and Palaiologos factions to resume in 1352. At this point, John VI would completely turn against his son-in-law he was supposed to by backing his son Matthew against John V.

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Ottoman sultan Orhan as an old man

John VI then would turn to the Ottoman sultan Orhan for military support, and Orhan still continuing his alliance to John VI as he was still married to John VI’s daughter Theodora would support John VI by sending an army of 10,000 Turks led by his son from a previous marriage the Turkish general Suleiman Pasha. In real history, Dusan also took part in this civil war by backing John V thus Dusan would send an army of 4,000 Serbian cavalrymen to assist John V while Venice allied with both young John V and Dusan would also send a few soldiers to assist John V’s side. In this story’s case however, Dusan would completely exploit the situation of Byzantium by literally launching an invasion of Constantinople himself being transported by the fleet provided by Venice while his forces and Byzantine ally John V would battle John VI’s forces and Ottoman forces that had been ferried across the Dardanelles into Europe at a land battle outside the city of Didymoteicho in Thrace which was John V’s birthplace.

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Army of Dusan’s Serbian Empire

The real history Battle of Didymoteicho in 1352 between John V’s forces with Serbian and Venetian allies against Matthew Kantakouzenos’ forces with Ottoman allies too would happen as well, and here the young John V himself with long and dark wavy hair dressed in golden imperial armor would personally lead his forces including his Serbian and Venetian allies outside the city he was born in 20 years earlier. In the meantime- but in this story’s case only- the same would happen as in 1204 where a large Venetian fleet would arrive outside Constantinople’s walls, except unlike in the 4th Crusade of 1204 where the Venetian fleet carried an army of Latins, the Venetians here would carry an army of Serbians including knights dressed in the full plate armor of this era and their emperor Dusan himself all armored up too. Dusan and his army here unlike the 4th Crusade back then would not really have any intention to sack Constantinople but rather to instead revive Byzantium and save it from decaying, and what Dusan really came to Constantinople with an army for was to capture their emperor John VI who Dusan saw as a traitor for turning against him many years ago in the civil war. The Venetians knowing Constantinople’s weak point being the Galata Quarter and the sea walls would immediately attack the walls of the Galata Quarter like they did when the 4th Crusade first arrived in 1203, and here unsurprisingly considering how weak and outnumbered the Byzantine forces were with most killed off by the plague and civil war, the people of the Galata Quarter would easily give up and let Dusan and his Serbians with their Venetian allies in as well.

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Early Ottoman army, 14th century

Back outside Didymoteicho in Thrace, the forces of John V and Matthew with their respective allies would clash in an intense and brutal battle in the rain with the Ottoman light infantry throwing their short spears and firing their crossbows at heavily armed and armored Serbian knights only for the knights to kick the Ottoman soldiers to the muddy ground brutally beating up to death while the few Venetian soldiers on the other hand would also fire crossbows on the Ottoman’s and Matthew’s few Byzantine forces. At the end however, the Serbian cavalry and Venetians despite their strength would still lose as they did in real history due to their smaller numbers compared to the Ottomans here who had an army of 10,000, though in this story’s case the side of Matthew and his Ottoman allies would end up being on the winning side when an Ottoman archer would shoot John V himself at the back with an arrow, while another Ottoman soldier would further injure John V by cutting his hand with a sword causing John V’s Serbian and Venetian allies to flee the battle in panic.

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Mounted 14th century Serbian knight

Though Matthew’s side would appear to be winning here, Matthew in this story’s case would be killed in this battle when a Serbian knight would run a lance through his chest, impaling and killing him, though in real history with Matthew winning it he still remained alive, while John V not being injured would flee to the Aegean island of Tenedos where he would plot to take over the throne for himself with the help of Venice, though here John V when injured would be dragged away by a Serbian soldier. Back in Constantinople, Dusan’s army would meet little resistance from the defending Byzantine troops while the people especially the commoners tired of the aristocracy and John VI’s failure to keep the empire alive and his conservative ways that was only bring them backwards would welcome Dusan with open arms accepting him as their emperor as these people wanted a stronger ruler that would lead their empire again to prosperity the way Andronikos III did before.

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Tsar Stefan Uros IV Dusan Nemanjic, Byzantine emperor beginning 1352 (in this story’s case), art by Wlayko111

Most of the people, now being fed up with John VI would carry him out of the palace and drag him with force to the Galata Quarter to confront the angry Dusan himself. In Thrace, the Ottomans led by Suleiman Pasha after winning their victory would like in real history mindlessly pillage Thrace, although in real history their pillaging came to an end when John VI gave them a small fortress in Thrace to settle in, though here this would not be the case as John VI was already deposed by Dusan therefore allowing the Ottoman Turks to nonstop their mindless pillaging. John VI being badly beaten up by his people would then see Dusan again after about 10 years, and here the very angry Dusan would then blind the 60-year-old John VI at the spot for betraying him, afterwards sending John VI to Serbia to be imprisoned for life. Dusan would then go full circle here once again set foot in Constantinople, the city he spent some of his childhood years in as an exile which he grew to admire, thus he would take over the Blachernae Palace as the Byzantine-Serbian emperor although still keeping John VI’s staff and soldiers at the city who had defected to Dusan as well, thus Dusan would now allow his ally John V who had been wounded in battle to be brought to Serbia to live as a hostage as Dusan intended his son Uros V to succeed him as Byzantine emperor as well.           

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Serbian army of Emperor Dusan for his 1352 attack on Constantinople, in this story
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Venetian ship transporting Dusan and his troops to Constantinople in 1352, in this story
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Complete flag of the Republic of Venice

In this story’s case, the Serbian emperor Stefan IV Dusan would take over the Byzantine throne in 1352 after blinding the unpopular John VI, and following this Dusan would depose the Patriarch of Constantinople Kallistos who had excommunicated him back in 1350, replacing him as Patriarch of Constantinople with the Serbian patriarch Joanikije, while the Venetians who helped Dusan take Constantinople were given the entire Galata Quarter as well as the Aegean islands of Lesbos and Tenedos. Now Dusan’s territory would consist of not only all of Serbia, Albania, Macedonia, Thessaly, and Epirus but all of Thrace itself including Constantinople, while Thessaloniki too would eventually surrender to him, however the Morea in Southern Greece which remained disconnected by land from the main empire here under its despot John VI’s son Manuel would resist against Dusan refusing to be under Serbian rule, therefore the Despotate of the Morea would be its own independent state, although Dusan would start making attempts to capture the Morea.

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Knights of Dusan’s Serbian Empire

With the Ottoman Turks here continuing their pillaging of Thrace, Dusan in 1352 as well would first march out of Constantinople with his knights to expel the Turks led by Suleiman Pasha, and with his large army and their strength, the Turks would flee in fear at the site of the massive sized Dusan and his troops to the coast using any boat they could find to retreat home to Asia Minor. Now what would be a major change in history here if Dusan took over the Byzantine Empire would be that the Ottoman Turks which only crossed into Europe because of assisting John VI’s side in the 1352 civil war would be driven away from Europe long before they could settle in it, as in real history without Dusan taking over Byzantine Thrace, the reigning emperor John VI allowed the Turks to stay in Thrace as part of his alliance with their sultan Orhan. In real history, John V after his defeat would escape to Tenedos where in 1353, he would plot to take back the throne from his father-in-law John VI which would never happen, and John VI when hearing about this now angrier than ever being fed up with his son-in-law he was supposed to protect decided to remove John V from the succession and instead replacing him with his son Matthew even crowning Matthew as co-emperor. In this story however none of this would happen, as John VI had already been blinded and imprisoned in Serbia, Matthew killed in battle by the Serbians, and the injured John V being brought to the Serbian capital Skopje as a hostage, and here John V in Skopje would get close to Dusan’s son Uros V.

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Gallipoli Peninsula in Thrace, site of the 1354 earthquake

Now in March of 1354, a great earthquake struck the Gallipoli Peninsula in Thrace to the point of destroying the city of Gallipoli forcing its Byzantine Greek population to flee, and in real history with the Ottomans under Suleiman Pasha already in Thrace, they would take advantage of the people fleeing Gallipoli as well as the city being in ruins, and settle in it themselves even relocating Turks from Asia Minor there, however in this story with Dusan already expelling the few Turks from Thrace, the Turks informally settling in the ruined city of Gallipoli would not happen and instead Dusan would have Gallipoli rebuilt and repopulated with Serbs. In real history, John VI when finding out that the Ottomans had settled in Gallipoli, he tried to convince them to leave even agreeing to bribe Orhan by paying him to vacate his people from it, but Orhan was true enough intent to keep it as it would begin his long-awaited dream of expanding Ottoman territory into Europe, and would refuse surrendering Gallipoli back to the Byzantines with the excuse that he did not take Gallipoli by force but it was given to him by God through the earthquake. The loss of Gallipoli to the Ottomans then triggered riots in Constantinople as the people were now in fear especially since the Ottomans were already at their backyard, therefore the people including John VI’s own loyalists would riot against him demanding John V to return to power.

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Fresco of Emperor Dusan (left), his wife Empress Helena (right), and son King Uros V

In this story however, Constantinople under Dusan would be at peace in 1354 as the entire Thrace with the Ottomans gone was already secured, allowing Dusan to go back and forth from Constantinople to Serbia, while here Dusan would be able to complete his code of laws and construct a number of churches and monasteries in Serbia while he in this story being in charge of Constantinople would also renovate the ruined churches and monasteries there, and at the end the results would still look the same as after all, the Serbians based most of their architecture and art styles on that of the Byzantines. Dusan being emperor was also best known for constructing monasteries in Serbia, while he even founded monasteries as far as Jerusalem and the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt which he settled it with Serbian monks, while his brother-in-law and ally Ivan Alexander of Bulgaria did the same in Bulgaria as well despite Bulgaria being pressured by Hungary in the north and facing an economic crisis caused by Black Death. Back in real history, John V later in 1354 was able to reclaim Constantinople from his father-in-law by coming across an unlikely ally which was the Genoese pirate Francesco Gattilusio who arrived at John V’s base of Tenedos earlier that year and being fluent in Italian due to his Italian mother, John V easily sealed a deal with the pirate Francesco and with only a small army consisting of Francesco’s pirate crew, they arrived at the dead of night outside Constantinople’s walls in December of 1354.

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Coat of arms of the Palaiologos Dynasty (above) and of the Genoese Gattilusio family (below) which ruled Lesbos after 1355, in real history

Francesco here came up with a trick to let them in telling the guards they needed to enter to get spare parts claiming one of their ships broke down, thus the moment they were let into the city, Francesco’s pirates gained control of the walls while the people woke up at the dead of night rioting in favor of John V while John VI at the palace the next day having no more support left was forced to abdicate in favor of his son-in-law. By the time the year 1355 began, John V at 22 was the sole ruler of the empire while his father-in-law John VI retired to become a monk in the Morea where his son Manuel was as its governor, although Matthew Kantakouzenos still did not give up his claim and so the conflict between him and John V still continued for the next 2 years, while for his support the pirate Francesco would be given the island of Lesbos by John V to rule as its vassal lord paying tribute to John V, being given John V’s sister Maria in marriage as well.

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John VI Kantakouzenos as emperor (left) and as a monk (right) after his abdication from power in 1354

In this story then John V’s return to power in December of 1354 would not happen while Lesbos too would not fall under the Genoese pirate Francesco who in no way would come to the picture here with John V being in Serbia the whole time, instead the Byzantine Empire now united with Serbia would again be a major Balkan power with its economy growing again, although once again this age of peace and prosperity would not last long enough as in December of 1355, the emperor Dusan like in real history would suddenly die at the relatively young age of 47 wherein here he would not be able to achieve his conquest of the Morea from Manuel Kantakouzenos. Just like in real history he would be succeeded by his son Uros V who being young and unprepared would not have the strength of his father to keep his large empire intact, which means that in this story’s case with Dusan’s sudden death in 1355, Constantinople and Thrace would become its own independent Byzantine state again with John V returning from Serbia to be Byzantine emperor once more, although no matter how reduced Byzantine territory would become here, one major obstacle for them would have already been taken care of which were the Ottoman Turks as in real history with John V coming back to power, the Ottomans had already crossed into Thrace beginning their expansion, but here thanks to Dusan expelling them back to Asia Minor, John V back in power would no longer have to face the inevitable expansion of the Ottomans into Europe therefore he would continue to rule out the rest of his years in peace.

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Map of the Byzantine Empire under John V (pink), Serbian Empire under Uros V (gray), and 2nd Bulgarian Empire under Ivan Alexander (blue) after Dusan’s death in 1355, in real history and this story
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Map of Lesbos, given by John V to Francesco Gattilusio in 1355 in real history
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Emperor Stefan IV Dusan and the Serbian Empire’s flag fan art

 

The Epilogue (in real history)               

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The rest of the events following 1355 would now just be told in a fast-tracked way, so basically the Serbian emperor Stefan Uros IV Dusan suddenly died in 1355 without completing his objective of capturing Constantinople and reviving the Byzantine Empire to its old glory and replacing it as a Serbian power. Rather than Dusan taking over, John V returned to power in December of 1354 while his father-in-law the senior emperor John VI Kantakouzenos was forced to abdicate and become a monk residing in the Morea in Southern Greece where his son Manuel was its despot, though despite already being an old man here, John VI would continue to live being a monk until his death in 1383 at the age of 91, and as a monk he would write an autobiography of his life as emperor as well as a history of the time he lived in, which gives us up to this day an account of events that happened in 14th century Byzantium including the 1341-1347 Civil War and Black Death through John VI’s eyes.

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Outline of the mosaic of Emperor John V Palaiologos in the Hagia Sophia

As for John V, the rest of his story after his return to power by 1355 was mostly a disappointing one as the Byzantium he came to rule was impoverished and already at a total breaking point while outbreaks of Black Death kept coming back every now and then, not to mention that their territory here only consisted of Constantinople, Thrace, Thessaloniki, a small number of islands in the Aegean, and the Morea, therefore an attempt to revive Byzantium to its old glory the way John V’s father Andronikos III did before was no longer possible. On the other hand, with the Ottomans having already settled in Gallipoli since 1354 due to the earthquake, their expansion in the Balkans had already begun and neither Byzantium which was now in economic ruin nor the Serbian Empire now under Dusan’s son Uros V who was a weak ruler unable to hold together the large empire his father left behind for him could stop the gradual advance of the Ottomans that began to slowly conquer the cities in the Balkans. On the other hand, John V who had taken back the throne was able to deal with the challenger to his authority which was his brother-in-law Matthew Kantakouzenos by using his alliance with Serbia as in 1356 a Serbian army led by the late Dusan’s trusted general and Governor of Macedonia Vojin defeated Matthew in battle capturing him as well while John V in 1357 paid Matthew’s ransom for him to be released from the Serbians as Matthew was supposed to face trial in Byzantium. Matthew however at the end did not face real punishment as all he had to do was renounce his claim to the throne, and when he finally did, he was sent to the Morea to retire along with his retired father the former emperor John VI and his brother Manuel who was its despot. Though with the conflict of Matthew settled, the Ottomans were left to freely conquer the Balkans that by 1363, the city of Adrianople itself which was the closest major city to Constantinople fell under Ottoman rule which in 1365 in fact even became the Ottomans’ new capital being renamed as “Edirne”. In the meantime, the Ottoman sultan Orhan had died in 1362 at the age of 80 and since his eldest son Suleiman Pasha who previously led the first wave of Ottoman expansion into Europe had died from a hunting accident in 1357, Orhan would be succeeded by his younger son and Suleiman’s younger brother Murad I who just like his father was another ambitious ruler, and it was Murad I who in 1365 moved the Ottoman capital from Bursa in Asia Minor to Edirne in Thrace.

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Sultan Murad I of the Ottoman Empire (r. 1362-1389), son of Orhan

It was actually in fact under Murad I when the Ottoman Sultanate was established when the capital was moved to Edirne (Adrianople) as here the Ottomans formally adopted the bureaucratic and military systems of the Byzantines, while it was also under Murad I when the famous Janissary units of the Ottoman army were introduced, which were soldiers recruited from the Christian lands in the Balkans they had conquered including Greece and Serbia who being recruited as boys and from early age trained to be fierce and loyal soldiers that were forbidden to marry as their duty was only to their sultan and empire. Now John V himself with his limited troops and resources could not stop the advance of the Ottomans into the Balkans, but luckily John V through his Italian mother Anna of Savoy had connections with Western Europe, and although Anna died in 1365 in Thessaloniki, her relatives from Savoy in Italy came to Byzantium’s aid in 1366 in a Crusade against the Ottomans wherein John V’s new brother-in-law and loyal ally the Lord of Lesbos and former pirate Francesco Gattilusio assisted the Savoy army in driving the Ottomans away from Gallipoli, but at the end the attempt was not all successful as the Ottomans had already expanded north and were already targeting the Serbian and Bulgarian Empires. Though being mostly unsuccessful in keeping Byzantium a strong state, John V was not overall a weak leader although he lacked some toughness therefore making diplomacy his only tool to keep his empire alive and this would exactly be the case here in 1366 as well, as when in need for military assistance from the more powerful kingdoms of Europe, John V himself traveled to the Kingdom of Hungary to ask from its king Louis I the Great for an army to help him drive away the Ottomans in the Balkans.

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King Louis I the Great of Hungary (r. 1342-1382)

John V however when arriving in the Hungarian capital Buda did something rather embarrassing which was not getting off his horse while the Hungarian king Louis I approached John by foot, therefore Louis thinking John was arrogant only agreed to help John’s Byzantium if John was to convert his empire to Catholicism, which John saw as something too much to do. Eventually, John V realized that it was about time anyway to convert his empire to Catholicism as due to being brought up by his mother with Western values, John thought that it was only right to submit to Latin Catholicism believing Byzantine Orthodoxy and its beliefs were already becoming outdated.

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Pope Urban V

In 1369, after eventually being invited to Rome by the pope Urban V himself, John V set sail from Constantinople to Rome where he would formally convert to Catholicism, however at the end it was only John V that converted as his people still being proudly Orthodox and even those who were pro-Western still refused to convert as Orthodoxy was already deeply set in their identity, therefore this would be another failed attempt in getting support from the more powerful west. John V by 1371 once again returned to Constantinople empty handed, and even worse when returning home, he was held in Venice as a debtor not being allowed to leave unless he paid up, and without having much money to pay, the Venetians only allowed John to leave if he surrendered the Aegean island of Tenedos to them, and when finally doing so John was allowed to leave even taking back the crown jewels that his mother pawned to them more than 20 years ago during the civil war. It also happened in 1371 that the short-lived Serbian Empire established by Dusan died out when its emperor Dusan’s son Uros V died without an heir, and due to this the once powerful Serbian Empire was divided into various states ruled by different powerful magnates, and in the 2nd Bulgarian Empire Ivan Alexander their last powerful tsar died as well in 1371 at the age of 70, and with Bulgaria already weakened at the time of his death it was divided between his 2 sons Ivan Shishman and Ivan Sratsimir, thus both Serbia and Bulgaria here would be more and more vulnerable to fall under the rule of the rapidly expanding Ottomans.

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Map of the Ottoman expansion into the Balkans and Asia Minor under Murad I
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John V converts to Catholicism at St. Peter’s Basilica in Rome, 1369
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Map of the Serbian Empire divided into different states following Uros V’s death in 1371
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Meme of a Byzantine man in 1350

           

The Ottomans too would gain further success in 1371 when expanding west and winning a major victory over the now divided and disorganized Serbians at the Battle of the Maritsa where the Ottomans with only 800 men would crush an army of 50,000 Serbians by surprise while the Serbian troops were asleep by the Maritsa River which then turned red with their blood. This battle then marked the end of an independent Serbia, and with this Ottoman victory John V ruling what was left of Byzantium more and more feared for his survival, thus in 1372 John V was left with no choice but to do the most humiliating thing submitting Byzantium as a vassal of Murad I’s Ottoman Empire to ensure its survival.

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14th century Ottoman Janissaries, introduced by Murad I

Basically, all John V needed to do here was to pay annual tribute to Murad I at Edirne, have his Byzantine troops take part in the Ottoman conquests, and provide Murad I with young Byzantine men who were to serve as Ottoman Janissaries, and to sum it up, just do whatever Murad told him to do. The Byzantine people on the other hand were fine with John V submitting them as an Ottoman vassal as long as their empire stayed alive, but the one who opposed the idea of Byzantium being a vassal the most was John V’s eldest son and co-emperor Andronikos who being unable to accept the humiliation of his empire being an Ottoman vassal and his father being bullied by the Ottoman sultan rebelled against his father’s rule in 1373 claiming that his father was weak and if Andronikos took over the throne, he would rule strongly, while at the same time Murad’s son Savci Bey joined forces with Andronikos with both rebelling against their respective fathers. Later in 1373, both rebellions of Andronikos and Savci Bey were crushed by their fathers while Murad I brutally blinded his son leading to his death, thus Murad also asked John V who was his loyal vassal to do the same to his son. John V however only faked Andronikos’ blinding by pouring hot vinegar into his eyes as a way to show Murad that he actually did it, though as punishment John V locked up his son Andronikos as well as Andronikos’ wife Keratsa who was the daughter of the late Bulgarian tsar Ivan Alexander and their young son in prison, while John V also stripped Andronikos of his title as co-emperor and instead appointed his younger son Manuel as his new co-emperor.

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Andronikos IV Palaiologos, Byzantine emperor (r. 1376-1379), son of John V

At the same time, Venice and Genoa again went to war with each other using the conflict between John V and his son Andronikos as their proxy war and 3 years later in 1376 Genoa won the war, thus the Genoese in Constantinople’s Galata Quarter broke Andronikos, his wife, and son out of prison. Andronikos then became Emperor Andronikos IV Palaiologos and now taking the throne, he overthrew and locked his father up in prison together with Andronikos’ two brothers Manuel and Theodore, thus here John V would lose the throne for the second time in his life, although as emperor Andronikos IV would turn out to only be a puppet of the Genoese and in return for Genoa helping him, he handed them over the island of Tenedos while he also gave Gallipoli back to the Ottomans, thus giving more losses for Byzantium. 3 years later in 1379, Murad I using spies would suddenly break John V and his two sons out of prison and with the support of Murad I’s forces, John V later in 1379 would take the throne back again, although Andronikos IV at first would not surrender as he would hold himself in the Galata Quarter ruling it as his own, though in 1381 he would eventually surrender peacefully to his father, thus Andronikos IV would be allowed to continue ruling some land in Thrace.

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Emperor John V Palaiologos of Byzantium (r. 1341-1347, 1354-1376, 1379-1391) as an old man

As John V was back in power, he would end up dividing what was left of Byzantium among his 3 sons with him taking Constantinople, the eldest son Andronikos IV in charge of what was left of Thrace, Manuel in charge of Thessaloniki, and Theodore as the new Despot of the Morea, although Andronikos IV now living in Selymbria near Constantinople would still not yet give up his rebellion but before once again launching an attempt to take the throne from his father, he suddenly died in 1385 giving a lot of relief to his traumatized father. Although with John V back in power once again paying tribute to the Ottomans, Murad I beginning 1383 would still lay siege to Thessaloniki basically because Murad saw its governor who was John V’s son Manuel as a dangerous threat, and in 1387 after 4 years of being under siege, Thessaloniki would surrender to the Ottomans while Manuel would flee to Lesbos attempting to take it back.

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Prince Lazar of Serbia (r. 1373-1389)

With Thessaloniki now falling to the Ottomans, the Ottomans would now continue focusing their campaign against the now divided Serbia but in 1387 as well, the most powerful of the post-imperial princes of the divided Serbian states which was Lazar Hrebeljanovic, who was once an official in Emperor Dusan’s court would win a surprising victory against Murad I’s large Ottoman army, thus preventing the Ottomans from capturing the Serbian city of Nis. Feeling confident of his victory, Prince Lazar would make an attempt to restore the Serbian Empire of Dusan by reuniting the divided Serbian states and raising a large army to once and for all expel the Ottomans from the Balkans.

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Serbians and Ottomans clash at the Battle of Kosovo, 1389

Prince Lazar’s attempt to reunite Serbia and drive the Ottomans away however would turn out to be unsuccessful as when Lazar’s large Serbian army would confront Murad I’s even larger Ottoman army at the Battle of Kosovo in 1389, the Serbians despite their strength would still be defeated by the Ottomans, although in the course of this battle Sultan Murad I himself would be assassinated by the Serbian knight Milos Obilic who broke into Murad’s tent killing him with a knife, though Milos would afterwards immediately be killed by Murad’s soldiers. With Ottomans victorious despite their sultan assassinated, Prince Lazar would be executed by the Ottomans and all the divided Serbian states would be forced to be vassals of the Ottomans in order to still keep their rulers, and here Bayezid I the son of Murad I would succeed his father as the new Ottoman sultan, and now Bayezid was someone not content with having Byzantium as a vassal, therefore he would have the ultimate goal of conquering Constantinople.

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Sultan Bayezid I of the Ottoman Empire (r. 1389-1402), son of Murad I

Back in Byzantium, John V’s tragic story was not yet over as in 1390 he was overthrown for the 3rd time and this time by his grandson John VII Palaiologos the son of Andronikos IV claiming that he was continuing his late father’s rebellion, although despite having support of the new Ottoman sultan Bayezid I, John VII would lose the throne 5 months later when his grandfather would take it back assisted by his son Manuel and the Knights of Rhodes forcing John VII to flee back to his base Selymbria. John V back in power again would continue being the new sultan Bayezid I’s vassal agreeing to also send Manuel to Bayezid I’s court as a hostage, and when John V had the Golden Gate of Constantinople’s walls repaired, Bayezid I was enraged as John did it without consulting him, thus Bayezid threatened to blind Manuel if John did not tear down the gate he just repaired. Fearing Manuel would be blinded, John V had the gate he just repaired torn down, though John would not be able to get over the humiliation of doing this and so in one night in February of 1391, John V was said to have committed suicide by poisoning himself as in the next morning he was found dead at the age of 58. John V would then be succeeded by his son Manuel becoming Emperor Manuel II Palaiologos who would surprisingly turn out to be a competent ruler, although his story would be saved for another time, however before the 14th century would end the entire 2nd Bulgarian itself would fall under Ottoman rule, and just half a century later, it would be Constantinople’s time to fall to the Ottomans.

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Ottomans defeat the Serbians at the Battle of the Maritsa, 1371
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Ottomans against Serbians at the Battle of Kosovo, 1389
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Sultan Murad I assassinated by Milos Obilic after the Battle of Kosovo, 1389
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Golden Gate of Constantinople’s Walls

Watch this to learn more about the 1389 Battle of Kosovo (Kings and Generals).


 

The Epilogue (in this story) and Conclusion            

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For this story, the biggest difference would be that the Ottomans would have already been expelled from Thrace and forced to move back to Asia Minor by Dusan, although following Dusan’s death which in this story would like in real history also happen in 1355, the geography of the Balkans would remain the same as it was in real history except for the Ottomans settling in Gallipoli and already taking parts of Thrace.

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Stefan Uros V “the Weak”, Tsar of Serbia (r. 1355-1371), son and successor of Dusan

Following Dusan’s death in this story’s case, Uros V would succeed his father Dusan as Emperor of Serbia and just like in real history, he would not be as strong as his father in ruling his empire which is why he would in this story just like in real history be remembered as “Uros the Weak”, while in this story’s case with John V Palaiologos being sent as a hostage to Serbia by Dusan, John V would befriend Uros V who was just 4 years younger than John, and due to Uros V’s weaker style of ruling, he would simply allow John V to return to Constantinople allowing Byzantium to be independent again. John V would then return to Constantinople and return to ruling as the sole Byzantine emperor in 1356, and thanks to Dusan’s rule as Byzantine emperor in Constantinople despite only lasting for 3 years, most of the city’s decay would be mostly repaired by Dusan who had more funds than the Byzantines here, therefore Constantinople would once again slowly grow into a thriving capital, unlike in real history wherein Constantinople by the latter part of the 14th century fell more and more into decay all while Black Death kept coming back and forth. The outbreaks of Black Death returning would however still happen in this story’s case after John V’s return to power and Byzantium’s separation from Serbia after just 3 years of being under Serbian rule. Although again the biggest difference here compared to real history aside from Byzantium and its capital being economically restored in his 3-year occupation of Byzantium would be that the Ottomans would no longer threaten John V and Byzantium, thus despite coming back to rule a very much reduced and bankrupt Byzantium John V would no longer have to face the expansion of the Ottomans into the Balkans, thus giving a lot of relief to Byzantium which in fact would allow their empire to survive for even much longer.

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New flag of the Ottoman Empire after 1362

With the Ottomans in this story being forced back into Asia Minor, they would not achieve their conquests in Balkans like they did in real history, therefore Adrianople would not become their capital and no young men from the Balkans recruited as Janissaries for the Ottoman army; instead, the Ottomans would be forced to expand their empire east and south, thus what could happen is that they would instead go east and conquer the breakaway Byzantine Empire of Trebizond and possibly later the Kingdom of Georgia. Like in real history, Orhan in this story’s case would also die of old age in 1362 and for the sake of changing history, here he would not be succeeded by Murad I but by his older son Suleiman Pasha who would not die from a hunting accident in 1357, and under the new Ottoman sultan Suleiman they would begin their expansion east giving up their ambitions to expand into the Balkans and capture Constantinople. On the other hand, the former emperor John VI Kantakouzenos who had been blinded and imprisoned by Dusan after taking over Constantinople in 1352 would die not too long after being imprisoned in Serbia possibly by 1355 as well due to being blinded and slowly tortured to death in prison, therefore with John Kantakouzenos dying in prison he would not do as he did in real history when retiring as a monk by writing a history of his time and reign as emperor, meaning that we would also not get any insights to the this era of Byzantine history in John VI’s point of view as here he wouldn’t write his memoirs. Another major change here in this story is that John V when back in power would not have to face his brother-in-law Matthew Kantakouzenos challenging him as Matthew here had already died in battle back in 1352, therefore the continued civil war against Matthew which ended in 1357 here would not happen while Matthew’s brother the Despot of the Morea Manuel who refused to be under Dusan’s combined Byzantine-Serbian Empire would renounce his rebellion and accept his brother-in-law John V as his emperor thus returning the Morea in Southern Greece to direct Byzantine control while also Gallipoli which Dusan here just settled with Serbs would still remain a Serbian colony in Byzantine lands. Now with the Ottomans no longer expanding into Thrace like in real history due to realizing that their attempt had failed when being driven away by Dusan here, John V who here would not have the Ottomans at his backyard would no longer have to desperately ask for military assistance from the more powerful kingdoms of Western Europe, although John V would still focus on keeping diplomatic ties with King Louis I of Hungary as well as with Serbia, Bulgaria, Venice, Genoa, Aragon, France, the Papacy, and his cousins ruling the state of Savoy in Italy in case John V would need military assistance from them in the rare occasion of the Ottoman threat returning or if another power would try to invade what is left of Byzantium, and not to mention he would eventually recover the crown jewels that was pawned to Venice.

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Icon of Emperor John V Palaiologos of Byzantium

Like in real history however, John V here in this story would also follow in the footsteps of his great-grandfather Michael VIII Palaiologos considering Church unity and would also do as he did in real history in agreeing to submit to the pope’s authority, though it would also have a negative impact on the proudly Orthodox Byzantine people who would rather die than accepting Catholicism as their religion still seeing the pain and damage inflicted on them caused by the Catholic Crusaders back in 1204 as a not so distant memory. Now in this story, John V would not do the humiliating thing of submitting Byzantium as an Ottoman vassal due to the Ottoman threat no longer growing in the Balkans, therefore John V would not have to be bullied and ordered around by an Ottoman sultan thus leading to no conflict with his son Andronikos who basically rose up against his father for the plain fact that he agreed to be an Ottoman vassal. Without the conflict between John V and his son Andronikos in 1373, as well as Andronikos’ brief take-over of the throne from 1376-1379, Byzantium would instead enjoy a period of relative peace in the 1370s and 1380s despite their economy and imperial prestige no longer a strong one like before, and without the conflict with Andronikos as well, John V later in 1390 would also not lose the throne to his grandson and Andronikos’ son John VII. In Serbia meanwhile, its emperor Uros V would like in real history also die in 1371 without an heir, thus Serbia would be divided into several states ruled by powerful magnates as well, although with the Ottomans no longer expanding into Thrace, the Serbians would not suffer a humiliating defeat to them at the Battle of the Maritsa, therefore giving the Serbians an opportunity to reunite.

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Prince Lazar as the eventual restored Serbian emperor (tsar) in this story

In this story, Prince Lazar would do the same in attempting to reunite Serbia into an empire once again like it was under Dusan, and this time he would in fact be successful as without the pressure of the Ottoman expansion, Lazar could focus on Serbia’s reunification and again without the Ottoman threat, the catastrophic Battle of Kosovo in 1389 here would not happen, thus allowing Lazar to live to see his dream of reuniting Serbia into a strong empire once again come true with Lazar himself becoming the new Serbian emperor. Now what would happen here is that Serbia would again become the undisputed power of the Balkans surpassing that of their neighbors Byzantium and the 2nd Bulgarian Empire, while Byzantium on the other hand again without the Ottomans pressuring them or forcing them to pay tribute would still hold on to Thessaloniki unlike in real history which fell to the Ottomans in 1387, thus Byzantium would continue to live on, that they would in fact manage to recapture territories in Greece and even in Northwest Asia Minor that they have lost over the past decades. The last years of the 14th century for Byzantium under John V Palaiologos in this story though would still be quite disappointing mainly because they would no longer become a strong power anymore not even at the level they were for a very short time under John V’s father Andronikos III, but it would still not be as disappointing as it was in real history wherein Byzantium did in fact have to face the humiliation of being an Ottoman vassal to ensure its survival. John V here would at least rule out the rest of his years peacefully without losing the throne to his son and later to his grandson and without being an Ottoman vassal, instead the only major challenges John V would face would be a lack of finances, the plague of Black Death returning every now and then, and some PTSD from being injured and almost killed in battle against Matthew Kantakouzenos and his Ottoman allies back in 1352. In this story too, John V would not die too soon from a possible suicide caused by humiliation in 1391, so instead he would in fact live on until the early 15th century dying a natural death leaving behind a stabilized despite highly reduced empire, though to be realistic here his son Andronikos would also die suddenly in 1385 like in real history, therefore John V would like in real history also be succeeded by his other son Manuel II Palaiologos. The big question now would be if Byzantium being already so reduced in size would still continue to live in for a century or more, as well as if the Ottomans would return west once again, or if Serbia would eventually capture the remains of Byzantium again, though all of this would be a different story altogether.  

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Map of the Byzantine Empire (purple) and of the Ottomans (green), by 1389

           

And now we’ve come to the end of this chapter set in the 14th century, and to sum it all up the 14th century was indeed a very disappointing and even depressing time for the Byzantines with disaster and instability already becoming a normal part of life. The 14th century shows how far Byzantium has gone from being a rich world power, with an all-powerful emperor, advanced battle tactics, extravagant court life, and a bustling metropolis as its capital to a shadow of its former self with conflicts over the smallest issues, a disorganized army mostly made up mercenaries, a weak economy, divided society, defeat after defeat in battle, and emperors no longer as the master of the known world but reduced to beggars constantly asking for support from the now more powerful kingdoms of Western Europe. However, all empires do have their time to rise and become powerful and to decline and lose their dominance, and this was the case here as the 14th century was really the time for Byzantium to decline in its power and prestige allowing the kingdoms of Western Europe which were once disunited and weak to become the new powers. The 14th century too was time of many uncertainties which included of course the well-known plague of Black Death that not only affected Byzantium but the rest of Europe and the most the known world, as well as the sudden rise of a new power being the Ottomans from a small Turkish feudal state in Asia Minor to a dominant power in the Balkans able to cripple Byzantium, and wipe the Serbian and Bulgarian Empires off the map. On the other hand, the 14th century also shows that it was a miracle that Byzantium not only came back to the picture back in 1261 when it was thought to have been lost forever when the 4th Crusade captured Constantinople back in 1204, but that Byzantium made it to 1,000 years of existence here, and more so that Byzantium survived the turbulent 14th century as well as the beginning of the Ottoman expansion into Thrace making it into the 15th century. Of course with all the disasters and tragedies the remains of the once powerful Byzantine Empire went through in the 14th century, it would already look like its end would be inevitable, however there could still be some solutions that could save the dying Byzantium and perhaps keep it alive for much longer and others would think that maybe the right reforms, wise spending, or diplomacy could save Byzantium here, I would say it would be quite an unpopular choice which would be foreign intervention and a takeover by a very similar power like Serbia taking over Byzantium that could save it, and it is for this reason why I chose the what if of Dusan’s Serbian Empire to take over Byzantium in order to save it. Another possible what if story in the 14th century that could result in saving the ruined Byzantium from its decay would be if Andronikos III Palaiologos lived much longer rather than dying in 1341 in which his death resulted in a very much devastating civil war at the worst time possible, however I would think that if Andronikos III lived much longer, maybe things would eventually not be so bright for Byzantium anymore as no matter how much success he brought, Andronikos III may not be able be powerful enough to maintain it for long due to the rise of Serbia and the Ottomans. Andronikos III’s reign too is generally praised for being one of the last bright spots in Byzantine history only because it ended so abruptly with his sudden death.

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Dusan’s Serbian Empire ball

It is then for this reason why I chose the alternate history topic for this chapter to be something to do with a more powerful foreign power taking over Byzantium not to conquer and destroy it but to restore it and save it from decay, and in this case, it was Stefan IV Dusan’s Serbian Empire. Dusan true enough did have the intention to capture Constantinople and possibly replace the dying Byzantine Empire as a Serbian power, however in real history this never came to happen due to Dusan’s alliance with Venice never coming into full force and his sudden death in 1355, therefore we would not really know if his intention was to conquer Byzantium to save it or wipe it off the map. Though Dusan’s true intention may remain unknown, I would rather think he would have the intention to conquer Byzantium to restore it and save it from decay as true enough Dusan did admire Byzantine culture and politics by making reforms as well as a code of laws for Serbia based on how things were done in Byzantium before it fell apart, while he also invested a lot in the arts by building churches and monasteries in Serbia with impressive frescos all based on the art and architecture of Byzantium, therefore this could mean that Dusan really wanted to revive Byzantium’s imperial power as well as arts and culture scene. If Dusan’s intentions to revive Byzantium would prove to be true, however it will still be disappointing as his death came to soon which means that even though he took over the Byzantine Empire, his death would lead Byzantium to be independent again, but despite Dusan’s quick rule over Byzantium there would be one major change that would totally alter the course of history which is that the Ottoman threat would no longer be existent, therefore both Byzantium and Serbia as well as Bulgaria would continue to survive.

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Statue of Emperor Dusan in Serbia

Now, if Dusan were to take over Byzantium and would manage to expel the Ottomans from Thrace before their expansion into the Balkans could begin, this would totally change everything by making the Ottoman occupation of the Balkans never happen as in reality the Ottomans did eventually and not too long after they became the master of the Balkans and in 1453 captured Constantinople ending the Byzantine Empire. Of course, these events such as Dusan’s conquest of Constantinople never came to happen therefore being all speculation, though even if Dusan never lived to see his dream of capturing Constantinople, he would at least leave behind the great legacy of elevating Serbia to the dominant power of the region from what was not too long ago just a small kingdom in the Balkans, thus he would be remembered as “Dusan the Mighty” that in the 19th century Dusan’s legacy would be a battle cry in the national awakening of Serbia that would happen by then as it was under Dusan when Serbia was at a time of glory with an empire that would cover most of the Balkans. Although at the same time, Dusan’s possible conquest of the dying Byzantine Empire would just remain one of the many what ifs of a foreign power taking over Byzantium, but surprisingly it would be a very interesting what if, and it for this reason why I chose to make this the main topic of this chapter, as after all Dusan remains to be one of medieval history’s most underrated great rulers. Now back to the Byzantine story of the 14th century, despite all their defeats and troubles they went through including all the devastating civil wars and Black Death, they at least managed to survive it and, in a way, still recover but even though they did, the 14th century was really the beginning of Byzantium’s end. The major characters in this chapter then from Michael VIII Palaiologos, to Andronikos II, Andronikos III, John Kantakouzenos, Anna of Savoy, John V, the first Ottoman sultans Osman and Orhan, and the Serbian emperor Dusan would be the people to introduce Byzantium’s final act, which will be the story for the next chapter and the finale of this series. After all, since this chapter was in a more unknown and hardly talked about time in Byzantine history, it was more or less just a teaser for the next one which would be the grand finale as this chapter had introduced the Palaiologos Dynasty which would be Byzantium’s last ruling dynasty as well as the Ottoman Turks that had gone from a small group of people at the Byzantium’s border in Asia Minor to become the most imminent threat to Byzantium’s existence by the end of the 14th century, as in the next chapter both the Palaiologos Dynasty and the Ottomans will return for the final act of the history of Byzantium. This series’ next and final chapter will no longer cover a what if of a foreign power taking over Byzantium like the previous one where it was Bulgaria and here Serbia, but instead the well-known event in world history of the Fall of Constantinople and the Byzantine Empire itself to the Ottomans on May 29 of 1453 where the last Byzantine emperor Constantine XI Palaiologos, the grandson of John V makes a heroic last stand defending the city as the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II lays siege to it for 2 months with a massive army and the newest weapon of the era being cannons. The what if for the next chapter would be if Constantine XI would at first surrender Constantinople to Mehmed II but in the meantime would plan a counter-attack to recover Constantinople from the Ottomans that would come in the form of a massive Crusade with armies from across Europe culminating in an epic battle between the Ottomans and the many different armies and rulers of Europe now aware of the ever-expanding Ottomans. Well, this is all for chapter XI, the second to last chapter of Byzantine Alternate History, this is Powee Celdran, the Byzantine Time Traveler, see you all next time for our grand finale… thank you for your time!     

The Fall of Western Rome (4th-5th centuries) and Eastern Rome (13th-15th centuries) Compared

Posted by Powee Celdran

WARNING: THIS IS A VERY LONG ARTICLE!!

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Hello and welcome to the 2nd part of this other Roman and Byzantine Empire history series comparison. In the last article I made, I had discussed the events in the history of the Roman Empire from the last days of its golden age at the end of the 2nd century going through its turbulent days in the Crisis of the 3rd Century and ending with the Roman Empire in stability again at the 4th century comparing it side-by-side with the story of its successor empire, the Byzantine Empire and true enough you would see so many similarities between them even though these events happened centuries apart from each but even though these 2 empires are the same. As you would have noticed, when the Roman Empire fell through crisis in the 3rd century due to new foreign invaders which were more powerful than the old ones like the Sassanid Empire in the east and the Goths in the north, a troubled succession which had been dominated by military anarchy and a number of soldiers who ended up becoming emperor later to end up getting themselves deposed or killed, and economic problems shattering the empire. For the Roman Empire again in the 11th century becoming the Byzantine Empire, the same more or less can be said as the same kind of succession crisis, economic problems occurred and so did new foreign invaders showing up for the first time such as the Normans, Pechenegs, and Seljuk Turks. Eventually for both Imperial Rome and Byzantium, their own crisis period would come to end as for the Roman Empire, in 270 a soldier emperor named Aurelian came to power and in is 5-year reign the empire which was broken apart into 2 separate states was restored when these breakaway empires being the Gallic and Palmyrene Empires were brought back under imperial control but in 275 Aurelian was murdered though his successors would still continue his work in restoring the empire back to stability and by the time Diocletian came to power in 284, he made more reforms for the empire which resulted in officially dividing the Roman Empire into 4 parts in what would be known as the Tetrarchy to settle the empire’s problems by making the administration easier, also it was made to settle the succession problem and here the new solution was for the senior emperor or Augustus of each division appointed his heir or Caesar which was not to be their sons but a skilled general. For Byzantium centuries later, the crisis was ironically also solved the same way when a soldier emperor named Alexios I Komnenos came to power in 1081 and would afterwards spend his reign energetically campaigning against all their enemies but unlike Aurelian who died before the crisis was fully solved, Alexios I ruled a full 37 years until his death in 1118 and in it he saw Byzantium take back the lands it had lost in Asia Minor and the Balkans as well as see the 1st Crusade form and pass through his lands giving him such difficulty but at least the 1st Crusade helped in solving the problem of the Seljuks when they captured lands from them turning the tide of war that Alexios before his death would able to beat the Seljuks back into Asia Minor. Even after Alexios I’s death, the resurgence of Byzantium would continue under his successors John II Komnenos (r. 1118-1143) and Manuel I Komnenos (r. 1143-1180) but this new age of restoration would however not last forever. As for Imperial Rome, the same story would happen as at first the Tetrarchy system established by Diocletian was thought to bring stability but as it turned out it did not when Diocletian’s successors all fought each other for control of the empire through decades of civil war but at the end of it all, someone came out as the victor being Constantine I the Great who in 324 put the whole Roman empire under his rule and in the process, he relocated the capital east thus building the new capital of Constantinople and establishing the very same Byzantine Empire this article is comparing the events to Imperial Rome and again restoring stability. The whole point of this article is show that when the history of a country goes on for so long being the history of the Roman Empire in which Byzantine history is a part of, it tends to repeat itself due to just how long the history is and this case, their stories mirror each other especially in a times of crisis and decline. Now if the previous article’s focus was on the decline of Imperial Rome and its successor the Byzantine Empire compared side-by-side with each other, here as the continuation of the previous one, it will be comparing the stories of the people and events in the years leading to the actual fall of Western Rome from the late 4th to late 5th centuries to the stories of the people and events in the years leading to the actual fall of the Eastern Roman Empire from the 13th to 15th centuries. In this article, you would end up noticing many similarities between the events in the timeline of the fall of Western Rome and the fall of Eastern Rome including people such as emperors in the timeline of the fall of the west and the fall of the east that actually have so many similarities to each other that you can already compare each of the last emperors of Byzantium to the last emperors of the west such as the Byzantine emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos (r. 1261-1282) to the last united Roman emperor Theodosius I (r. 379-395), the Byzantine emperor Andronikos II Palaiologos (r. 1282-1328) to the western emperor Honorius (r. 395-423), the Byzantine emperor Andronikos III Palaiologos (r. 1328-1341) to the western emperor Majorian (r. 457-461), and other people too like the Byzantine general and emperor John Kantakouzenos (r. 1347-1354) to the Western Roman barbarian general Ricimer who was basically the western empire’s most powerful man for a time in the 5th century and had 3 emperors as his puppets. On the other hand, no matter how similar the situation was for the Western Roman Empire and the Eastern Roman Empire in its last days, there are many differences as well in all these similarities such as their respective last emperors whereas the last western emperor Romulus Augustus (r. 475-476) was a weak child ruler who easily surrendered his title and the empire to his rebellious barbarian general Odoacer while the last eastern emperor Constantine XI (r. 1449-1453) better known as the last Roman emperor did not surrender and chose to heroically make a last stand against the massive armies of the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II besieging Constantinople in 1453 even if it cost his life. Also, the biggest difference you would see is that the fall of the Western Roman Empire was very quick and in the Western Roman Empire’s 80 year existence, it lost entire provinces so quickly while for the Byzantine Empire, its fall was slow and gradual and sometimes it had still gained some more territory while losing some and while the western empire fell suddenly with all of Italy taken over by the barbarian general Odoacer making himself its king, the Byzantine Empire lost everything it held onto so slowly that in its last years, the Byzantines were only left with their capital, Constantinople and very few other possessions. For Western Rome, it just took a hundred years for it to completely disappear following a major disaster while for Byzantium it took more than 200 years from following a major disaster to fully disappear. This article on the side of the story of Byzantium will begin with the event of the great disaster it suffered in 1204 wherein Constantinople suddenly fell to the army of the 4th Crusade wherein it would take 57 years for the Byzantines to once again reclaim their capital and for the story of Western Rome, this article will begin with the event of the great disaster of the defeat of the Romans to the Goths at Adrianople in 378 which would begin the end for the western half of the empire at least as already when the story of the western empire’s side of this article begins, the very same Byzantine Empire I am comparing its last days to had already been existing. For the western empire’s side of the story, this article will go through the events after 378 which would proceed to when the Roman Empire was fully and permanently divided between east and west with the death of Theodosius I in 395 wherein his older son Arcadius got the east which would then be Byzantium and the younger son Honorius got the west which would only have 80 years to live on. Though Byzantium had recovered at the 12th century and so did its Imperial Roman predecessor under Constantine I the Great in the 330s, the damage caused by the 3rd century crisis to the older Rome and the 11th century crisis to Byzantium’s damage was too much that no matter how much the empire would recover, its end would still in the long-term be imminent as for the Roman Empire, the same old problems would still continue and foreign enemies would still be around but luckily the eastern half was to survive despite all this chaos leaving the west to fall and this east being Byzantium many centuries later after its own 11th century crisis would not be able to be fully fixed again despite its recovery but at least its end would be much slower. At the same time, the reason for why both the east and west fell was not all due to invasions and was but also due to its people becoming so divided and mistakes made by its rulers which caused tensions including those that had to do with religion which you will see for yourselves as you continue reading this. Another reason too would be weak rulers and their decisions, as you will see Byzantium would end up being partially destroyed in 1204 by the 4th Crusade through series of the ineffective leadership of the Angelos emperors while in the Western Roman Empire’s story after 395, the empire was basically dominated by weak and vain rulers like Honorius and Valentinian III allowing the barbarians to entirely take over provinces thus escalating its fall. This article’s part of telling the Western Roman Empire’s story from 395 to 476 also has the story of the early Byzantine Empire or Eastern Roman Empire overlapping in it but this time I will focus more on the much more hidden story of the Western Roman Empire as in my many articles before, I have focused a lot on the stories and emperors of the east. As you will see, the weak rulers of the western empire and situation they had with increasing barbarian invasions made their fall so rapid but at least it had a few heroes that were willing to keep the Roman world alive such as the generals Stilicho and Aetius and only 2 competent emperors which were Majorian and Anthemius who still had the motivation to keep their empire standing. The last days of the Byzantine Empire from the 13th to 15th centuries had the same too as despite all the many civil wars it had and broken society, some its emperors were in fact still competent enough to think of solutions to keep their empire alive. However, betrayal as well as corruption was one of the major factors for the declines of these empires as you will see as well and in the previous article, it was already evident in Imperial Rome that the treachery of the Praetorian Guards also led the empire to decline but even in the 5th century with the Praetorian Guard gone was there still betrayal especially with barbarians in the Roman army while for the late Byzantine era, betrayal was not so common unless if emperors actually willing to submit their own religion to the west counted. This article is to be one of my longest ones and would seem a bit confusing as I’ll admit I had a hard time writing it but it was something I always wanted to write about anyway even if it might make no sense since the Byzantine Empire was still the same as the Roman Empire. Again I am trying to do my best at being the Roman era Greek author Plutarch who compared the lives of the Ancient Greeks and Romans by doing the same with the Romans and the Byzantines and again will do a lot to reference my favorite channel Dovahhatty here.

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Byzantine Empire flag
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Crossover flag of the Roman and Byzantine Empires
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Map of all Barbarian invasions into the Roman Empire, 100-500AD
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The Byzantine Empire’s extents in 3 different periods
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Meme of the Roman Empire dead yet alive again as the Eastern Roman Empire
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Western (left) and Eastern (right) Roman Empires and emperors comparison table

Related Articles from The Byzantium Blogger:

The Defenestrations of Prague (special edition stand-alone)

Lesser Known and Would be Roman and Byzantine Emperors (27BC-695AD)

Lesser Known and Would be Byzantine Emperors continued (695-1453)

Around the World in the Byzantine Era Part1 (300-1000)

Around the World in the Byzantine Era Part2 (1000-1461)

Roman and Byzantine Imperial Systems Compared

Roman and Byzantine Imperial Cultures Compared

Imperial Women in the Roman and Byzantine Empires

12 Turning Points in Byzantine History

The Complete Genealogy of the Byzantine emperors and dynasties

15 Byzantine Related States Outside Byzantium Part1 (1-7)

15 Byzantine Related States Outside Byzantium Part2 (8-15)

The Sieges of Constantinople

War of the Sicilian Vespers: A Byzantine Epic

Related Videos:

All Roman Emperors from 27BC to 1453 (from Dieu le Roi).

Succession in the Byzantine Empire (from Eastern Roman History).

The History of the Byzantine Empire Every Month (from Khey Pard).

10 Minute History- The Fall of Rome (from History Matters).

The Fall of the Byzantine Empire (from Overly Sarcastic Production).

Dovahhatty Videos:

Imperial Wrath (337-378)

Barbarians at the Gates (379-423)

The Fall of Rome (423-476)

The 4th Crusade (1204) to the Battle of Adrianople (378)

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For Byzantium at the turn of the 13th century, Alexios III Angelos ruling as emperor would flee Constantinople when the army of the 4th Crusade arrived using a Venetian fleet, here Venice would have its revenge on Byzantium using an army of Crusaders from Western Europe. With the previous 3rd Crusade not entirely succeeding, the pope Innocent III called for another crusade to march on Jerusalem and Egypt but when the Venetians got in the way in order to supply ships for the Crusaders, they diverted it to Constantinople as an act of revenge, although the Crusade happened to be diverted since the deposed Isaac II Angelos’ son Alexios Angelos escaped prison and found himself in Venice asking its leader or doge Enrico Dandolo to help him put his father back in power. In 1202, the 4th Crusade was launched but at first the Crusaders had to capture the port of Zara in Croatia from Hungary for Venice in order to use the loot to finance the expedition to Constantinople and in 1203, the fleet departed for Constantinople and had succeeded in forcing Alexios III to flee and the young Alexios IV to come to power with his father restored. Alexios IV however was only installed as emperor because he promised to pay the Crusaders a large sum, provide an army for their conquest of Egypt, and unite the Byzantine Church with the Latin Catholic Church, but he wasn’t able to do any of these so to pay up the full sum he ended up having religious icons melted to make coins which made the people rebel in the streets threatening to depose him and his father and at the end both Isaac II and Alexios IV were betrayed by the Varangian Guard and the court official Alexios Mourtzouphlos who executed Alexios IV in prison while Isaac II died of shock hearing of his son’s death. With Alexios IV dead and the debt unpaid to the Crusaders, Mourtzouphlos became Emperor Alexios V and headed to the Crusaders camped outside Constantinople attempting to negotiate with Doge Enrico Dandolo of Venice to cancel the payment but Dandolo refused the offer and ordered the Crusaders to attack Constantinople. The defending Byzantines lost hope and just like Alexios III in the previous year, Alexios V fled the city and the Byzantine army was overwhelmed leaving the Varangian Guard to make their last stand. The Crusader army then after a few days captured Constantinople and continued killing its people and looting its treasures for days. For the Roman Empire in the late 4th century, the Battle of Adrianople is the equivalent of the 4th Crusade though both had different stories but the impact it had on the empire was the same, these 2 events were the battles that marked the beginning of the end for their respective empires. First of all, the Battle of Adrianople in 378 between the Eastern Roman (Byzantine) forces and the invading Goths happened when a large horde of Goths stormed into Roman borders with their numbers shocking the Romans, the same way the large number of Crusader forces overwhelmed the Byzantine forces in 1204. As for the Battle of Adrianople, the origin story was that in 376 the Goths from their homeland fled south into Roman borders crossing the Danube as their homeland (today’s Romania, Ukraine, Belarus, Poland, and Lithuania) was being invaded by the Huns of the steppes of Central Asia and to seek asylum from the brutal attacks of the Huns, the Goths being no match had to enter Roman territory. The emperor at this time was Valens who ruled the eastern half since 364 while his brother Valentinian I the Great took the western half that year but was not a very competent emperor as back in 366 he defeated the usurper and the previous emperor Julian’s (r. 361-363) cousin Procopius with difficulty and for most of his reign, Valens was fighting wars against the Sassanid Persians with very little results while in the west his brother Valentinian I was a more competent emperor who mercilessly defeated barbarian invasions even marching into Germania and in 367 his forces quelled a rebellion in Britain that included an invasion of the island by Frankish Saxon pirates, Hibernians from Ireland, and Picts from Scotland but in 375, Valentinian I died of a stroke caused by his own anger in a negotiation with the Germanic tribe leaders. With Valentinian I dead, he was succeeded in the west by his young and inexperienced son Gratian as Augustus who even divided ruling the west with his younger half-brother Valentinian II while in the east Valens was left ruling it. However when the Goths stormed into Roman borders, Valens at first felt they could be controlled and made Roman citizens as they settled in the empire and gave up their weapons and leadership but more and more kept invading that their numbers proved to be too many for the Romans to feed and control so many Goths having to end up selling their children to slavery for dog meat ended up rebelling led by their king Fritigern. Valens did not respond immediately as he waited for his nephew Gratian to march west with a reinforcement army but it never happened so Valens listening to his military advisors marched north for 8 hours from Constantinople to Adrianople in the heat of summer tiring his soldiers and by the time they met with the Gothic forces, a division impatiently charged without orders forcing Valens to do the same and with their army weakened, the Goths surrounded and defeated them. Valens was later brought to safety to a farmhouse by a soldier though the Goths later burned the farmhouse not knowing Valens was inside. Now the battle would have a different result if Valentinian I were still alive in 378 as he was known for his intense anger and hatred towards barbarians that he would simply not allow the Goths entry and in fact order his army to march across the Danube and push back the Goth forces. The story of the 4th Crusade in 1204 and Adrianople in 378 have no similarities but where they are both similar is its aftermath as the 4th Crusade of 1204’s capture of Constantinople would change the geography of Byzantium creating breakaway successor states such as the Empire of Trebizond in Eastern Asia Minor along the Black Sea, the Empire of Nicaea in Western Asia Minor, the Despotate of Epirus in Western Greece, and in Constantinople the Latin Empire under Count Baldwin IX of Flanders was established while lands in Greece were divided among the Crusader generals forming new Crusader states like Achaea in the Peloponnese, the Duchy of Athens, Duchy of the Archipelago in the Aegean, the Kingdom of Thessalonica, and Venice taking control of Crete and more and as for the aftermath of the Battle of Adrianople in 378, the invading Goths raided their way into Roman territory loyal to their leaders and even establishing their own lands within the empire and years later just as how the Crusaders made their own states in Byzantine territory, the Goths- their division settling west known as the Visigoths and division settling east known as the Ostrogoths- and other barbarian tribes would take entire Roman provinces and make it their own kingdoms. Another similarity you can see between the Roman Empire in 378 and Byzantium in 1204 was that their eastern enemies, the Sassanids for the Roman-Byzantine Empire back then and the Seljuks for Byzantium in the 13th century was not a major threat anymore as in the late 4th century, the Sassanids had to focus on defending their eastern borders in Western Asia from the same Huns that had been attacking the Goths in Northern Europe and for the Seljuk Turks by the time of 1204, war with the Byzantines weakened them though decades later, the Seljuks will no longer be a threat to the Byzantines in exile based in Nicaea as the Seljuks had to face off invasions by the Mongol Empire which would be the 13th century parallel of the Huns raiding Sassanid territory and ironically both the Huns and Mongols were nomadic empires both originating from Central Asia. Ironically in 1205, the Latin Empire was severely defeated at another battle at Adrianople by Tsar Kaloyan of the same 2nd Bulgarian Empire that broke away from Byzantium in 1185 and here, the Latin emperor Baldwin I was captured in battle later dying in prison, this defeat then began the end for the Latin Empire that would die in 1261. For the Romans in 378, their defeat at Adrianople showed them that their infantry which proved to be so effective for centuries before turned out to be no longer effective to the Goths’ cavalry making the Romans have to adopt making their armies cavalry centric which would be the case especially for Eastern Rome or Byzantium in its early centuries wherein they would develop their Cataphract cavalry army. However, at the time of the 4th Crusade which was the next Adrianople disaster for Eastern Rome, this Cataphract cavalry army was no longer in so much use anymore as it was just less than 2 centuries ago when the Byzantines fought the Seljuks at Manzikert. Though it would only take the Eastern Roman Empire a year without an emperor to actually recover in 379 when the Hispanic general Theodosius came to power in Constantinople by assigned to rule the east by the troubled western emperor Gratian while centuries later, Byzantium after the 4th Crusade would take a full 57 year story to recover and take back Constantinople under their emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos and within these 57 years, Byzantium’s exiled to Nicaea would give birth to its new Greek national identity as this state formed in Nicaea was formed by Byzantine Greeks that escaped Constantinople’s attack in 1204 and when Constantinople was returned to Byzantine control in 1261, this identity formed in exile was brought with them. Though Constantinople was recovered and the Latin Empire destroyed, it would still never regain its former strength as it had before neither its wealth or military power especially since most its Themes or military districts which had proven effective since the 7th century had collapsed first from the crushing defeat at Manzikert to the Seljuks in 1071 and then the fatal blow of the 4th Crusade. There would be too much to write about these 57 years in Nicaea so I have decided to omit most its story from this article, although you can view the entire story of it by watching my 3-part audio epic on its story linked below.  

The 57 Years Part1, 1204-1221 (from No Budget Films).

The 57 Years Part2, 1222-1253 (from No Budget Films).

The 57 Years Part3, 1254-1261 (from No Budget Films).

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Map of the 4th Crusade’s Route to Constantinople (1202-1204)
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Constantinople falls to the 4th Crusade, 1204
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Map of the aftermath of the Byzantine Empire after 1204

Watch this to learn more about the 378 Battle of Adrianople (from Kings and Generals).

Watch this to learn more about the 4th Crusade of 1204 (from Kings and Generals).

Michael VIII Palaiologos (1261-1282) to Theodosius I (379-395)

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The 4th Crusade of 1204 and its damage on the Byzantine Empire is very similar to how the Battle of Adrianople in 378 brought such damage to the Roman Empire in the east which was the early Byzantium but more damage though to the west. The 4th Crusade’s damage though was much more devastating as Constantinople literally fell to the Crusader army for 57 years with the Latin Empire established in it and only in 1261 were the Byzantines able to take back and mostly out of luck but also because the Latin Empire never succeeded anyway without any vision to build a real empire but just for the sake of looting Constantinople. Byzantium in 378 meanwhile had a different story as it only recovered one year after Adrianople without an emperor though the western half still had Gratian as emperor. After Adrianople, the Goths came close to attacking Constantinople but its walls made it impossible for them so the Goths scattered around the Eastern Empire raiding it while Gratian with his army arrived in the east late but Gratian as a young ruler felt that he could not rule both east and west together so to replace Valens as the eastern emperor, he turned to the most senior official near him which was Theodosius, the governor of the province of Moesia (Serbia) and in early 379, he became emperor of the east reluctantly. For 13th century Byzantium, the story after the 4th Crusade was a lot different as the Byzantines had to regroup in Nicaea across the Marmara Sea from Constantinople and rebuild their government under their emperor in exile Theodore I Laskaris (r. 1205-1221) but after his death the Byzantines were once again stabilized as the Empire of Nicaea while his son-in-law and successor John III Doukas Vatatzes (r. 1222-1254) in his long reign expanded the Nicaean Empire into Europe taking back the important cities of Adrianople and Thessaloniki and fully surrounding Constantinople and though he tried to take it back, he failed as he also had to defeat other threats to them including the 2nd Bulgarian Empire, the rebel Despotate of Epirus, and the incoming threat of the Mongols that invaded the Seljuk state. When John III died in 1254, his philosophical yet arrogant son Theodore II Laskaris (r. 1254-1258) came to rule a strong empire but did not prioritize taking back Constantinople and in 1258 he suddenly died possibly poisoned by his most bitter long-time rival yet childhood friend the general Michael Palaiologos, though Theodore II’s strong case of epilepsy could have caused his death too but either way after Theodore II’s death, Michael Palaiologos plotted his way to take the throne by purging Theodore’s loyalists. Theodore II though as someone who hated the Byzantine aristocracy and senate named his friend George Mouzalon who was a commoner from Asia Minor as the regent of the empire for his son and successor John IV Laskaris who was a young boy but only 9 days after Theodore’s death, Michael arranged the assassination of George Mouzalon at Theodore’s funeral and by convincing the Byzantine aristocrats through lies about potential invasions they agreed to make Michael the regent and co-emperor of John IV and between 1259 and 1261, Michael was actually the one running the Nicaean Empire as everyone felt in a troubled time a boy cannot run an empire, therefore a strong general was needed. Centuries before Michael Palaiologos rose to power, the Byzantine emperor Theodosius I came to rule the east through the same circumstances as the actual emperor Gratian together with his brother Valentinian II were still too young to fully run an empire both east and west, so to handle the devastated eastern half, a stronger man was needed which would be Theodosius, while Gratian and Valentinian II in this case would be the early Byzantine era parallel of John IV as like John IV they were also young rulers who never had much experience in government and were later removed from power as Gratian was killed in 383 during a civil war and Valentinian II later killed himself in 392 under mysterious circumstances, though John IV Laskaris in 1261 as you will see was blinded by Michael Palaiologos to secure his claim as full emperor right after he finally took back Constantinople from the Latins as in 1260 Michael also tried to besiege the city but failed. Unlike Michael VIII Palaiologos who came to power out of his own ambition, Theodosius I was reluctant never thinking he would be emperor but he accepted the position anyway with the empire at chaos but as emperor he suddenly became so attached to power that he focused all his attention to fighting all opposition against him, while Michael VIII in the 13th century had always wanted to be in power ever since, that he had to plot his way to the throne by murdering the regent George Mouzalon and later backstabbing and blinding the young John IV who he sent to prison for life and when in power, Michael VIII was ever more attached to it that he did not respond well to opposition. Now Michael VIII is more or less Theodosius I reborn in the 13th century and similarly, for both of them before becoming emperor, they made their name through military service and both were sons of their empire’s top generals with Michael VIII coming from Asia Minor born in 1223 after Constantinople’s fall to the 4th Crusade being the son of the previous emperor John III’s top general Andronikos Palaiologos and Theodosius I coming from Roman Spain born there in 347 being the son of the previous emperor Valentinian I’s top general Count Theodosius the Elder and though Michael despite being the son of a powerful general was disowned by his father who remarried following Michael’s mother’s death while Theodosius I since a young age was raised as a soldier joining his father in military campaigns most notably the one against barbarian invaders in Britain in 367. Even though Michael was disowned by his father and had to grow up a tough life, he grew up to be a successful soldier but this made him be seen by John III’s successor Theodore II as a troublemaker while Theodosius I after his father’s campaign in Britain continued military life being the governor of Moesia and as its governor he once led an army repelling a Sarmatian invasion in the Danube border with success though in 376, Theodosius’ father Count Theodosius was executed in North Africa by orders of the western empire’s regent and Gratian’s general of Frankish origin Merobaudes out of suspicion of trying to usurp power from Gratian and Valentinian II. While Michael VIII at first acted as John IV’s protector but after succeeding in taking back Constantinople in 1261 and being crowned as the restored Byzantine emperor there, he betrayed John IV who was left in Nicaea by having him blinded while Theodosius I as the senior emperor in the east remained loyal to his junior western co-emperors Gratian and Valentinian II although despite being loyal, Theodosius did not really seem to care about their interests that when a general in Britain Magnus Maximus who happened to be his friend and fellow Spaniard declared war on Gratian later getting Gratian assassinated in Gaul, Theodosius did not seem to care at the beginning as it could be implied that Theodosius wanted to rule the empire with his friend but as Magnus Maximus marched on to Italy, Theodosius in Constantinople remained loyal to the young Valentinian II and refused to let Magnus Maximus do it thus creating civil war which ended with Theodosius victorious in 388 and Magnus Maximus executed. As for Michael VIII, his greatest achievement was recapturing Constantinople from the Latins forcing the last Latin emperor Baldwin II to flee back to Europe, although it was mostly out of luck as Michael’s army of only 800 men under his general Alexios Strategopoulos sneaked beneath the walls and stormed into the city when the Latin Empire’s forces were away and the last Latin emperor Baldwin II away, and as for Theodosius I’s his biggest achievement in his early reign similar to Michael VIII’s liberation of Constantinople was concluding the conflict with the invading Goths that devastated the empire though Theodosius even if winning against the Goths in smaller battles actually resolved the conflict through diplomacy by allowing the Goths to settle within the empire under their own leaders as long as they fought in the service of the empire, though the Goths and other barbarians as being allowed to live under their own leaders would instead fight as autonomous troops or mercenaries known as Foederati. Now the biggest similarities between the two rulers of Byzantium Michael VIII and Theodosius I who lived centuries apart from each other was their use of diplomacy which would although make them unpopular. For Michael VIII, even though the Latins or Western Europeans was the enemy of Byzantium then and even if he had chased them out of Constantinople, he still resorted to diplomacy with them that Michael VIII wanted to remain friendly with the pope which was unpopular with the devout Orthodox Byzantines and also an ally of the western kingdoms like Sicily under the Holy Roman Empire, and other than that Michael VIII seemed to favor using foreign including Latin mercenaries in battle, thus this would lead some to think that Michael VIII seemed sympathetic to the enemy. Theodosius I was no different from Michael VIII long after his time in terms of diplomacy and being sympathetic to the enemy as Theodosius I despite beating the Goths in battle agreed to have them as part of the imperial army and later on he would rely more on defeated barbarian soldier recruits than his own men, yet under him many soldiers of barbarian origins would rise up the ranks and become influential generals including the half-Roman half-Vandal Flavius Stilicho, the Frankish Arbogast, and later the Gothic king Alaric, and although Theodosius may have seemed to favor barbarians such as Goths in the army, he did not really have a choice as the army made up of real Roman soldiers was outnumbered especially since most were lost at the Battle of Adrianople and the patricians and senators of the Roman Empire no longer wanted their own citizens to be recruited in the army as the empire started running short of workers while for Michael VIII centuries later he also had no choice but use foreign especially Latin mercenary soldiers since the standing army of the Byzantine Empire had dissolved over the years of decline, although Michael VIII would attempt in rebuilding the Byzantine national army made up of native Greeks. Aside from Theodosius I being friendly to the Goths and other barbarian enemies and Michael VIII being friendly to Byzantium’s Latin enemies, both rulers in common were known to be harsh to their own people and against opposition and never really seemed to respect the opinions and beliefs of their people as for Michael VIII he believed submitting the Byzantine Orthodox Church to the pope was the best diplomatic solution to get the protection of the west against invaders on all sides which for Michael was Bulgaria, Serbia, the Seljuks, Mongols, and after 1266 a new French ruler named Charles of Anjou who took over Sicily and swore to invade Byzantium again so to counter this, Michael VIII thought of submitting the Byzantine Church to the pope in 1274 at the Council of Lyon though initially, Byzantium submitted but the pope later felt that Michael was not true to his word. As for Theodosius I in terms of religious policy, he was no different as in 380 he issued an edict without consulting any ecclesiastical authorities that all his subjects would have to follow the Nicene Creed though in 381 the Council of Constantinople led by Theodosius I declared that Nicene Christianity was to be the official and state religion of both the eastern and western empires thus outlawing Paganism and Arian Christianity and of course this decision created tension in the empire especially among the Arians and Pagans in which many subjects still were, therefore they would end up becoming persecuted, and though Michael VIII’s decision in 1274 to submit Byzantium to the pope was for protection, Theodosius I’s decision in 381 to make Nicene Christianity the official religion was all because he was impatient with religious debates and could not tolerate people of different religions side by side, so he wanted all to follow one creed. Though Theodosius I was a religious extremist and devout Christian, he still did not understand Christian values well that he thought killing was still the answer to those who opposed his religious policy that in 390 when the people of Thessaloniki revolted and killed the local army’s Gothic commander there for arresting their star chariot racer, Theodosius responded angrily by having an entire Gothic horde storm the city and kill 7,000 people in the Hippodrome, although Theodosius eventually wanted to cancel the order but it was too late to do so and since these troops were not trained Romans but rather more warlike Gothic Foederati, they responded by just killing everyone they saw and of course Theodosius would be excommunicated by the Church for such an Unchristian act. Both Michael VIII and Theodosius I similarly would end up coming into trouble with Church authorities as for Theodosius I his order to massacre the people of Thessaloniki got him excommunicated for a few months by the powerful Bishop of Milan St. Ambrose who forced Theodosius to do penance by starting a Crusade against Paganism which Theodosius followed by having Pagan temples destroyed and persecuting Pagans, therefore Theodosius’s excommunication was lifted, at the same time this event of Theodosius having to do penance at Ambrose’s orders would mark the first time in history where the Church would have authority even over an emperor. Michael VIII on the other hand, like Theodosius I also got into trouble with the Church and though Theodosius I was a religious extremist, Michael VIII was anti-Orthodox Church and rather sympathetic to the pope, although he was not very religious as a person but like Theodosius I who got into trouble with the bishop Ambrose for ordering the massacre at Thessaloniki, Michael VIII in 1262 also got excommunicated by the patriarch Arsenios Autoreianos who would be Ambrose in the case of Michael being the 13th century Theodosius and when finding out Michael blinded young John IV and Michael’s excommunication was only lifted in 1268 following Arsenios being deposed and exiled as Michael even threatened to close down the Byzantine Church and submit to the pope, although Arsenios was popular with many and in the following years, Michael’s decision to depose Arsenios created a bitter schism in the empire between the loyalists of Arsenios known as the Arsenites and the loyalists of Michael’s new appointed patriarch Joseph I known as the Josephists; although despite Theodosius and Ambrose falling out at one time, they still remained great allies while Michael and Arsenios would be bitter enemies, and in fact Michael would even end up becoming in bad terms with the new patriarch he appointed which was Joseph I as Joseph in 1275 also opposed Michael’s signing of the Church Union with the pope in the previous year making Michael remove Joseph I from his position and replace him with a new patriarch being John XI who supported the union. Of course, Michael’s decision to actually submit to the pope in 1274 made him unpopular with his people who were proud Orthodox Christians and distrusted the pope and the west especially since the Catholics attacked Constantinople in 1204 and humiliated them; even Michael’s family members like his older sister Irene who he was close to turned against him and those who opposed this Church Union were jailed and tortured under Michael that one point there had been no more space in the jails with so much political prisoners as so many were arrested each day for just expressing their thoughts against the emperor and the union that Michael had to even pass a death sentence on those who carried books or posters that spoke against him and in this case of Michael treating those oppose him so harshly even in the most Unchristian of ways is exactly the same way how Theodosius responded to opposition like when ordering a massacre of the people in Thessaloniki. As for Theodosius I it was no different as his decision to make Nicene Christianity the empire’s official religion and to Crusade against Paganism also made him unpopular that in 392 his general in the western empire Arbogast turned against his puppet emperor Valentinian II and elevated a rhetoric teacher in Gaul as his new puppet emperor supporting the cause of the Pagans who were oppressed under Theodosius even if both Arbogast and Eugenius were Nicene Christians; though with Arbogast deserting him and Theodosius not coming to his aid, Valentinian II killed himself in Milan. Theodosius responded late to fight against the usurper Eugenius and only when finding out Eugenius supported Paganism did Theodosius head back west and fight Eugenius and Arbogast for Christianity and to avenge Valentinian II and in 394, Theodosius and his general Stilicho defeated an invading army of Visigoths and recruited them and their leader Alaric to the Roman army before meeting the forces of Arbogast and Eugenius in battle in today’s Slovenia. The battle between Theodosius’ forces and Arbogast’s and Eugenius’ took place in the Frigidus River which was then the entrance to Italy from the Balkans and at first Arbogast’s seemed to have been winning but the next day a sudden wind storm threw the arrows Arbogast’s men fired back at them and with the help of Alaric’s separate division of Goths and a division of Arbogast defecting to Theodosius, the side of Theodosius won while Eugenius was executed and Arbogast later killed himself. Similarly for Michael VIII, near the end of his reign in 1280 the ruler of independent Thessaly John Angelos declared himself Byzantine emperor in the name of Orthodoxy in opposition to Michael VIII’s Church Union and even allied with Michael’s arch-enemy Charles of Anjou, the King of Sicily though Michael attempted to invade Thessaly but instead the army sent there defected to John so in 1282 Michael attempted to go there himself to invade it but died along the way. Like Theodosius I before his death in 395 won a major victory at the Frigidus River in 394, Michael VIII in 1282 shortly before his death later that year won a major victory through diplomacy which was that he was able to drive his arch-enemy Charles of Anjou away from Sicily by sending bribes to local lords of Sicily to lead a rebellion against their French overlords and they succeeded in doing it together with the help of a new ally Michael made, the King of Aragon Peter III in the event known as the “Sicilian Vespers”. To sum it all up, both Michael VIII and Theodosius I before him were at least capable rulers but had to face so much pressure and both dealt with it by crushing all opposition as Theodosius led an extreme crusade against Paganism and Michael persecuted subjects against his religious policy, Theodosius decided to simply make Nicene Christianity the official religion of the empire in the expense of the old Pagan religion and Arian Christianity while Michael decided to submit to Catholicism in the expense of Orthodoxy, and lastly both Theodosius and Michael seemed to be lucky winning their wars but were disappointing as emperors both going from hero to zero as Theodosius began his reign successfully concluding the conflict with the Goths but becoming a Nicene Christian extremist made him unpopular at the end while Michael VIII was seen as a hero and savior at the beginning when taking back Constantinople from the Latins but became so unpopular when deciding to submit to the pope that at his death, Michael VIII was even denied a proper Christian burial as the Orthodox Church still remained in power and in fact the people were even happy hearing of his death though afterwards, his son and successor Andronikos II would undo his father’s policy and revert to Orthodoxy. For Theodosius I, his victory over Eugenius and Arbogast at the Frigidus River symbolized the first Christian Crusade against Paganism and the defeat of the old Pagan religion to Christianity and as for Theodosius’ reign the Olympic games was put to an end in 394 and so did all the ancient Pagan traditions and institutions of Rome including the Vestal Virgins and festivals, and not to mention it could have been due to Theodosius’ anti-Pagan decrees that caused the destruction of the library of Alexandria in Egypt; also here the Church would come into power under powerful Church leaders like St. Ambrose. Theodosius I’s reign was also the end of the Ancient Roman civilization and the beginning of the Middle Ages as not only did the Church rise to prominence, but Rome’s centuries old Pagan traditions were not only put to an end but outlawed and also his reign would be begin the rise of the barbarians especially in the western empire, but more than that it was Theodosius’ death in 395 that was the end of the old Roman Empire and the beginning of the east and west as separate empire under their own leaders as Theodosius at his death decided to split the empire east and west between his sons; Arcadius ruling the east being the Byzantine Empire and Honorius at the west being the Western Roman Empire. Many would think that it was Constantine the Great that made Christianity the official religion of the empire, but it was actually Theodosius, and ironically Theodosius reversed Diocletian’s persecution of Christians by persecuting Pagans, Theodosius then is the one that should be given credit for starting the dominance of Christianity in the world. Though for Michael VIII, his death did not split Byzantium, instead his attempted submission to the pope set a new standard for future Byzantine emperors to do just that at the cost of their people’s pride in their Orthodox faith. Michael VIII’s reign had also begun the tensions within Byzantine society that could not be healed any longer especially since it involved religion and additionally, Michael VIII as emperor neglected Byzantium’s eastern frontier in Asia Minor that by his death in 1282, the borders began to collapse to the raiding Turks and its people living there who both opposed Michael for his religious policies and neglect in protecting them ended up giving up and defecting to the Turks who they saw as more tolerant, thus in this case Michael VIII could have indirectly caused the fall of Byzantium. Theodosius I despite being called “the Great” similarly had indirectly caused the fall of Western Rome not only by literally dividing the empire in halves and dividing its people as well, his decision to recruit their barbarian enemies to the army caused it too as soon enough these barbarians would become more and more powerful and independent that they would end up taking land in the empire for themselves, yet despite his failures and wrongdoings, Theodosius I is considered an Orthodox saint. Lastly, despite Michael VIII and Theodosius I both being strong yet divisive as emperors, Michael VIII in fact much more dangerous as he came to power using in the most scheming of ways that involved killings and threats and he would have the same unpredictability as an emperor while Theodosius as a religious extremist was very predictable but mutually, they happen to be one of the most controversial emperors in Roman history. On the positive side, Michael VIII’s reign attempted rebuilding Constantinople to its former glory though it would be his wife Empress Theodora and son and future emperor Andronikos II that would be responsible for carrying out this Byzantine Renaissance while Theodosius I as emperor also devoted time into building up Constantinople as an imperial city by moving landmarks as big as obelisks from all over the eastern half of the Roman Empire to its new capital.

Michael VIII- Theodosius I
Left: Emperor Michael VIII Palaiologos of Byzantium (r. 1261-1282); right: Roman emperor Theodosius I the Great (r. 379-395)

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The chad Michael VIII Palaiologos vs the virgin Theodore II Laskaris

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Map of the Byzantine Empire (yellow) after 1261 
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The Roman Empire divided between east (purple) and west (red) at Theodosius I’s death in 395

Watch this to see the story of the 1261 Reconquest of Constantinople in Lego (from No Budget Films).

Watch this to see the story of the Sicilian Vespers in Lego (from No Budget Films).

Michael II of Epirus (1230-1268) to Magnus Maximus (383-388) and John I Doukas Angelos (1280-1282) to Eugenius (392-394)  

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If Michael VIII Palaiologos was in so many ways the 13th century version of the late 4th century Theodosius I in having the same style of rule in dealing with opposition and fighting wars, Michael VIII was also very much like Theodosius by having so many enemies including those within the empire that usurped power from him, although for Theodosius I’s his internal enemies were within the same empire except in the western half while he ruled the east, as for Michael VIII these were other Byzantines like him but not from the central empire but rather from their rival state, the Despotate of Epirus formed after the 4th Crusade which saw themselves as a legitimate Byzantine successor but the actual Byzantine successor being Nicaea and the restored Byzantium of 1261 saw this state in Epirus as rebels. Long before Michael VIII took back Constantinople and became Byzantine emperor in 1261, over in Epirus which is a region in Western Greece, a man also named Michael came to power in 1230. This Michael who ruled Epirus not as emperor but “despot” or “lord” was Michael II Angelos, the son of the Epirote state’s founder the Byzantine noble Michael I Angelos, the cousin of the previous Angelos emperors Isaac II and Alexios III who formed the Despotate of Epirus in 1205 at the aftermath of the chaos caused by the 4th Crusade but in 1215, Michael I of Epirus was assassinated and replaced as Despot of Epirus by his half-brother Theodore while Michael I’s young son also named Michael went into exile. However, Theodore as Despot of Epirus was too ambitious that he took over Thessaloniki from the Latins in 1224 and declared himself emperor and fought too many wars against the Nicaean Empire under John III Doukas Vatatzes and the 2nd Bulgarian Empire under Tsar Ivan Asen II as he saw them both as threats to his potential reconquest of Constantinople from the Latins but in 1230 when Theodore marched to Bulgaria to battle against Ivan Asen II, he was defeated, blinded, and sent to prison making his nephew Michael who was now grown up return to Epirus and be its ruler, though Thessaloniki fell under Theodore’s brother Manuel as a Bulgarian puppet. In 1237 though, Theodore was released and returned to Thessaloniki but made his son John instead as its ruler as Theodore being blind could not rule himself though his son would only be his puppet, Manuel was then forced out but came back to rule Thessaly but with his death in 1241, Thessaly passed into his nephew Michael II’s hands. Eventually in 1246, John III of Nicaea captured Thessaloniki and Michael II of Epirus was forced to submit to John III though Michael II broke his word and laid siege to Thessaloniki in 1251 allying with his retired uncle Theodore though their siege failed when John III came to defend Thessaloniki and Michael II’s Albanian allies defected to John III. Theodore was taken as prisoner to Asia Minor where he died in 1253, but Michael II was still out there and had not given up his intention to fight the Nicaean Empire. When Theodore II Laskaris succeeded his father John III in 1254, Michael II again struck in Greece but when Theodore II arrived in Greece in 1256, he captured Michael’s wife promising to give her back if Michael surrendered the port of Dyrrhachion in the Adriatic to Nicaea which Michael did. Theodore II of Nicaea however died in 1258 and Michael Palaiologos came to power but Epirus and Nicaea still remained enemies. Now Michael II of Epirus’ 4th century Roman parallel Magnus Maximus was not originally a ruler the way Michael II was, instead he was a Roman from Hispania who was the governor of Britain by the time Theodosius I came to power in 379 and in 383 the troops in Britain unhappy with the rule of Gratian who ruled the west proclaimed Magnus Maximus as emperor and later marched into Gaul surrounding Gratian at Lyon where Gratian’s own protector the Frankish general Merobaudes defected Maximus thus resulting in Gratian getting killed, while Theodosius ruling the east only declared Magnus Maximus an enemy when Gratian was killed and Maximus marched into Italy as both Theodosius and Maximus were friends before both serving under their fathers in Britain. Now with Michael VIII being the 13th century Theodosius, he was in no way friends with the other Michael as when Michael VIII came to power as co-emperor in 1259, he immediately declared war on Michael II who had just allied himself with all the remaining Latin powers in Greece, the Latin Empire, and even with Manfred Hohenstaufen, the King of Sicily. The only similarity Michael II of Epirus and Magnus Maximus of Britannia had was that they were mortal enemies of their emperor which for Maximus was Theodosius and for Michael II was Michael VIII and both Michael II and Magnus Maximus had the arrogance to claim the entire empire as theirs, for Michael II he had the arrogance to actually beat the Nicaeans to ruling all of Greece, except Michael II’s Epirus wasn’t so powerful that he needed to ally with the Latin powers. In the first civil war between Magnus Maximus in the west and Theodosius I in the east, Theodosius succeeded in blockading Italy from Maximus and having the bishop Ambrose negotiate with Maximus but for the next years Maximus remained as western emperor based in Trier even making his son Victor his co-emperor while the official western emperor Valentinian II fled with his mother Empress Justina and sister Flavia Galla to Theodosius at Constantinople. In 388, Theodosius allied himself with Justina by marrying her daughter and Valentinian II’s sister Flavia Galla and by Justina’s request, Theodosius led an army to the west with his general Arbogast to battle Magnus Maximus. At the entrance to Italy, Theodosius defeated Maximus’ forces and had the local garrison there betray Maximus and execute him, while in 1259, Michael II almost had the same downfall at the Battle of Pelagonia in Northern Greece against Michael VIII’s forces under the generals which were Michael’s brother John Palaiologos and the general Alexios Strategopoulos. Although Magnus Maximus was executed after his defeat in 388, Michael II simply just lost the battle even if he had a large force consisting of Latin knights but was defeated as Michael Palaiologos bribed Michael II’s son John Angelos to betray his father and when Michael II grew suspicious of his allies, he left them and fled back to Epirus’ capital which was Arta, although since the Nicaean forces won the battle they also captured Arta and forced Michael II to escape to the island of Cephalonia but returned in early 1260 taking back Arta. In 1264, Michael VIII now as the sole emperor of Byzantium after having taken back Constantinople sent another army to invade Michael II’s Epirus defeating Michael II who was then forced to acknowledge Michael VIII as his emperor, Michael II died in 1268 dividing Epirus with his sons Nikephoros who took Epirus and the same John who betrayed him but defected back to him took Thessaly. Now what the usurper emperor Magnus Maximus (r. 383-388) and Michael II of Epirus (r. 1230-1268) had in common was that they basically challenged the superior emperor’s authority and ended up defeated except Magnus Maximus was defeated and executed and his son executed too after him while Michael II was just simply defeated and had to surrender his claim as Byzantine emperor dying a broken man. As for Theodosius I, after defeating Maximus in 388, Valentinian II was restored as western emperor with Arbogast as his general though when the civil war with Maximus started in 383, Theodosius already made his eldest son Arcadius his co-emperor but in the west just 4 years after Valentinian II was restored, Arbogast turned on him mostly due to Theodosius’ extreme religious policies which Valentinian II agreed on so when losing support Valentinian II killed himself in 392 and Arbogast made the rhetoric teacher from Gaul Flavius Eugenius as his puppet emperor as Arbogast being a Frank in origin could not be accepted as an emperor. Eugenius and Arbogast though were Christians but they supported liberalism and championed themselves as protectors of Paganism to gain the support of the Pagan population that were oppressed by Theodosius, though at first Theodosius was fine with Eugenius taking over the west until finding out they were standing for religious toleration and were restoring Pagan temples so Theodosius decided to head west to crush the army of Arbogast and Eugenius in the name of Christianity and already named his younger son Honorius as his co-emperor in the west. In the 13th century Byzantium, Michael II’s sons the ruler of Thessaly John I Doukas Angelos and Nikephoros I Doukas Angelos the new ruler of Epirus had a lot more in common with usurper emperor Eugenius than his father does with the usurper Magnus Maximus, although John Angelos was at first neutral with Michael VIII of Byzantium when he began his rule on Thessaly in 1268 but when Michael VIII signed the Church Union with the pope in 1274 and began persecuting his own people for their practicing their beliefs, John Angelos turned against Michael rallying the support of those people who fled Michael VIII’s Byzantium to Thessaly to seek asylum, thus in 1280 John Angelos even proclaimed himself Byzantine emperor in opposition to Michael VIII. Now what both John Angelos and Eugenius have in common is that they both rallied support of people oppressed by the tyranny of their emperor for religious reasons and both became popular as defenders of their faith as John Angelos was seen as a defender of Byzantine Orthodoxy which Michael VIII began suppressing to ally Byzantium with the pope and Eugenius was seen as a defender of Paganism despite being a Christian as Theodosius suppressed Paganism with such brutality. John Angelos of Thessaly though made himself an ally with Michael VIII’s arch-enemy Charles of Anjou who ruled Sicily, though Michael VIII sent an army to invade Thessaly in 1280 but the army’s general Manuel Raoul defected to John, which makes Raoul the Byzantine parallel of Arbogast who betrayed Theodosius and sided with Eugenius, though unlike Theodosius who successfully defeated Eugenius by through the luck of a wind storm and using federate barbarian troops led by Alaric and with a defection from Eugenius’ troops at the Battle of the Frigidus River in Slovenia where Eugenius was captured and executed, Michael VIII did not succeed in defeating John Angelos but instead jailed Raoul for defecting and in 1282 after winning a victory through diplomacy by forcing Charles of Anjou out of Sicily decided to invade Thessaly himself but instead Michael VIII died in Thrace before being able to do so. Michael VIII was succeeded by his son Andronikos II Palaiologos who decided to cancel his father’s Church Union and return Byzantium to Orthodoxy and doing this, John Angelos surrendered his claim as emperor as the Byzantine people who fled to him were now free again to practice their faith without having to follow the customs of the Latin Church. John Angelos was allowed to reign as Thessaly’s ruler until his death in 1289 while Orthodoxy returned to Byzantium with Michael VIII dead. The ends of Michael VIII and Theodosius I had very different outcomes as Michael VIII’s death in 1282 made his people free again in practicing their beliefs while for Theodosius despite dying in 395 defeated Eugenius previously thus defeating liberalism and religious tolerance and beginning an age of Christian supremacy while Eugenius died as the last ruler to support Paganism. Also, Theodosius’ victory at the Frigidus was not only seen as a kind of battle that saw the Christianity defeat Paganism but a major victory for barbarians mostly due to his barbarian troops, therefore this moment would be seen as the rise of barbarian power in the empire and the end of the Roman age and true enough just a few months later, Theodosius’ death split the empire east and west permanently.

Andronikos II Palaiologos (1282-1328) to Arcadius (395-408), and Honorius (395-423)

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Though Constantinople was recovered by Michael VIII Palaiologos in 1261, the empire that was regained would no longer be the same power it was before the 4th Crusade but instead only having the same level of power as the newer states that broke away from Byzantium like Serbia, Bulgaria, and even the surviving Latin states in Greece formed after the 4th Crusade and the rebel Byzantine state of Epirus. Michael VIII’s reign was greatly troubled with external wars and a possible invasion of the empire and restoration of the Latin Empire by Charles of Anjou, the French king of Sicily but with rebellion breaking out in Sicily, Charles was forced out and made no longer a threat to Byzantium. At Michael VIII’s death, he at least left behind an empire to his son Andronikos II that was spared from a possible Latin invasion but Michael VIII’s focus on the west left the eastern border of the empire in Asia Minor exposed and when Andronikos II came to power in 1282, the eastern borders began collapsing as new Turkish states had formed and Byzantine people started defecting to the Turks when the emperor failed to protect them. Andronikos II as emperor though was quite blind to his empire’s problems and his long 46-year reign was marked with economic problems, corruption in the government, and rapid invasions in Asia Minor by these new Turkish powers but in power, Andronikos II was more focused on promoting art and culture in Constantinople with his mother Empress Theodora until her death in 1303. The story of Emperor Andronikos II Palaiologos, the son of Michael VIII is different but quite the same with his late Roman parallels being Theodosius I’s sons and successors who the united Roman Empire was divided among which was Arcadius ruling the east (395-408) or the Byzantine Empire from Constantinople and Honorius who ruled the west (395-423) first at Milan then later in 402 at Ravenna. After Theodosius I’s death in 395, the Roman Empire was permanently split and his sons were still underaged so Theodosius asked his most trusted general Stilicho to be regent for both sons to seem as if even though there were 2 emperors there was still unity but instead, the older son Arcadius who ruled the east did not agree as he already fell under the influence of another general named Rufinus. Similarly, Andronikos II of the late 13th century and Arcadius centuries before him were weak at running an empire and oblivious to the chaos around them and instead were vain and very distant to their subjects; though as emperor, Arcadius was more focused on being a good Christian example for his subjects and spent most of his reign praying while his corrupt generals ran the empire and Andronikos II centuries later was the same in that way as his court was dominated by corrupt officials while he spent most of his time praying as well and building churches with the most impressive artworks for only the imperial family and aristocrats to see. Arcadius’ Byzantine Empire was already so troubled as when he came into power in 395, his father’s former Gothic mercenary leader Alaric rebelled for being dismissed from the army and began pillaging his way through Greece until the western general Stilicho who was basically in charge of the west headed to Greece and contained Alaric’s forces but Arcadius and Rufinus who controlled him were suspicious of this and ordered Stilicho to return to Italy and return the eastern empire’s troops he commanded to Constantinople and as Stilicho loyally obeyed the order, the troops who returned to Constantinople which were mostly Gothic mercenaries led by their commander Gainas suddenly stabbed Rufinus to death in late 395, replacing Rufinus as the top commander of the east with a eunuch general named Eutropius while Alaric to be satisfied was given full command of the eastern empire’s armies with its full benefits. In 399, Eutropius himself was killed when the Gothic commander Gainas turned on him but Arcadius seeing Gainas was too dangerous banished Gainas who fled outside the empire to get the support of the Huns and use them for an invasion but instead he was killed by them while the Huns kept pushing more barbarian tribes into both the divided western and eastern empires. In Constantinople, Arcadius’ only achievement was appointing the influential John Chrysostom as Patriarch of Constantinople who would be banished by Arcadius’ wife Empress Aelia Eudoxia for insulting her and the high society though in 404 Eudoxia died and just 4 years later in 408 Arcadius died leaving the eastern empire to his 7-year-old son Theodosius II under Arcadius’ new appointed general the city prefect Anthemius which meant Roman reunification was no longer possible, it was also this Anthemius who was responsible for building Constantinople’s walls that still stood in the late 13th century in Andronikos II’s reign and even up to Byzantium’s end in 1453.

In the western empire meanwhile, the story was even more chaotic with Honorius and Stilicho as his protector and for most of Honorius’ early reign he barely did anything but possibly waste away in his palace in Milan while Stilicho did all the work to protect the western empire such as crushing a revolt in North Africa in 398 that was orchestrated by the eastern empire as well as repelling Alaric’s first invasion of Italy in 402 as Stilicho at first being away in the Alps gave Alaric who was looking for more land the opportunity to invade Italy; here in 402 Honorius in fear of Alaric’s invasion moved the capital of the west to the swamps of Ravenna for more protection. Though Alaric left Italy later in 402 returning to the Balkans, disaster came again in 405 and this time another Gothic king named Radagaisus invaded through the Alps but was defeated by Stilicho in 406 with Radagaisus killed in battle but later in the last day of 406 with the Rhine freezing hundreds of thousands of barbarian Suebi, Vandals, Alans, and Goths coming from Germany crossed the river into Gaul, while in 407 a general in Britain named Constantine in response to the barbarian invasion of Gaul declared himself emperor and marched into Gaul pulling all Roman troops away from Britain thus leaving Britain unprotected and Honorius facing so many problems already did not care and simply allowed Britain to be abandoned. In the late 13th century Byzantium meanwhile, Andronikos II’s reign shares the same amount of similarities with Honorius’ reign as it did with his brother and early Byzantine emperor Arcadius, although Andronikos II’s early reign before 1299 was not as troubled as Honorius’. For Andronikos II, he started out by first cancelling the infamous union his father signed with the pope and then cutting costs and to do this he had to dismantle the Byzantine navy which was only made up of 80 ships at that time and similarly for Honorius, he had to cut costs by reducing their number of soldiers in the army and giving up provinces like Britain as well as permanently ending gladiator shows in 404 saying it was both Unchristian and a waste of money. Ever since becoming emperor in 1282, Andronikos II was faced with so much difficulty which was mostly with the new Turkish tribal states that began invading Asia Minor with full force and just as how Andronikos II was troubled with several Turkish raids into Asia Minor, Honorius was troubled in this same way with all the invasions into the western empire such as those of the Goths Alaric and Radagaisus. Apparently, Andronikos II like Honorius had his own Stilicho that was the one actually protecting the empire as for Andronikos II it was his half-nephew and brilliant general Alexios Philanthropenos which will be discussed furthermore later though both Alexios and Stilicho met a tragic end as in 408 Honorius fell for the lies of his corrupt advisor Olympius telling him Stilicho was plotting to take the throne from him which made Honorius angry and have Stilicho executed while Alexios’s story was more different as when he campaigned against the Turks in Asia Minor in 1295, Andronikos listened to the advice of a corrupt official named Libadarios who convinced Andronikos that Alexios was plotting to take the throne when in fact only some disloyal troops proclaimed Alexios as emperor but Andronikos was convinced by the lie and had Libadarios blind Alexios. Though both Stilicho and Alexios had a different ending, the aftermath of their deaths made things worse as for the Western Roman Empire under Honorius following Stilicho’s execution, the usurper Constantine III began causing more trouble in Gaul that in 409 Honorius had to recognize him as a legitimate co-emperor and at the same time Alaric invaded Italy again with no one stopping him and in 410 stormed into Rome and sacked it and similarly for Byzantium in the late 13th century, after Alexios was blinded in 1295 the situation in Asia Minor worsened and the Turks grew stronger that in 1299 before the turn of the century, a Turkish warlord named Osman ruling a state along the Byzantine border in Northwest Asia Minor declared the birth of his state as the Ottoman Empire with him as not just its local leader or king but its sultan. Osman now would be for Byzantium what Alaric and his Visigoth successors were for the Western Roman Empire and the crushing defeat Andronikos II’s army to Osman’s men in 1302 in Asia Minor would be equivalent to Alaric’s 410 Sack of Rome for the late-Byzantine era. In these disasters though, Andronikos II and Honorius centuries before him had responded differently whereas Andronikos II responded by hiring a large army of Catalan mercenaries led by a troublemaker which was the Italian Roger de Flor to strike back against the Turks while Honorius at first was devastated when finding out Rome was attacked first thinking it was his pet chicken named Rome but when finding out it was the city and not his pet, he was relieved. Also, at this time, though Rome was no longer the empire’s capital but was still symbolically important as the spiritual capital and seat of the Western Church; Alaric also being an Arian Christian spared the churches in Rome. In the story of Honorius’ western empire, the usurper turned legitimate co-emperor, turned enemy again Constantine III would be their version of Roger de Flor as Honorius at first needed Constantine III for protection but was too difficult to deal with especially when Constantine III failed to protect Gaul from more invasions so Honorius had his new general Constantius invade Gaul and later kill Constantine III while for Andronikos II, Roger de Flor was entrusted to fight off the invading Turks which he succeeded defeating with his Catalan mercenaries but his victories made him arrogant thus making him a problem for Andronikos so Andronikos dealt with Roger de Flor the same way Constantine III was dealt with by Honorius, and Roger de Flor like Constantine III was killed off in 1305 by the soldiers of Andronikos’ son and co-emperor Michael IX. The biggest difference though is that Constantine III made himself not just a Caesar or junior co-emperor but a senior emperor and co-Augustus of Honorius while Roger de Flor was only made a Caesar but at the end both ended up becoming very problematic that they had to be killed off for the good of the empire. The death of Roger de Flor though provoked his Catalan mercenaries to rebel and burn their way through the Byzantine countryside before capturing Athens from the remaining Latin state there known as the Duchy of Athens in 1308. Even though the new Ottoman state in Asia Minor was weakened, the devastation brought to the remains of Byzantium by the Catalans gave the Ottomans now led by Osman’s son Orhan since Osman’s death in 1324 an opportunity to grow and by the end of Andronikos II’s reign in 1328, the Byzantines were already so close to losing all of Asia Minor; similarly for Honorius, though Alaric had died later in 410 his army now led by his brother-in-law Athaulf proceeded into Gaul setting up their own kingdom there and later marched into Roman Spain, this would similar to how the Ottomans quickly took over Byzantine Asia Minor. Although Andronikos II despite having a very troubled empire with so much economic problems especially after the Catalans pillaged their farms between 1305 and 1308, he did not face usurpers everywhere like Honorius did after 410 though in 423, the empire of Honorius was left in a much more stable state despite the Visigoths taking over Gaul and the Vandals and Suebi already taking over Spain but he had also died this year without naming any successor, thus trouble returned to the empire. In addition, Honorius though had in fact faced more usurping emperors than Constantine III in Gaul and these lesser known usurpers included a few others in Hispania, a puppet to the Burgundians in Gaul in 411, and one made by Alaric as his puppet emperor from 409-410 while for Andronikos II, even just 10 years into his reign (1292) his brother who was the powerful general also Constantine tried to take the throne from him by right of birth as Byzantine tradition says that those who are born in the purple room of the palace have the legitimacy to rule and Andronikos II being born in 1259 in Nicaea when Constantinople was not yet recovered was not born in the purple like how his brother was in 1261, though Constantine’s revolt was dealt with and was sent by Andronikos to a monastery, then again in 1305 Andronikos II faced another usurper being a priest from Epirus named John Drimys who plotted to take the throne but was imprisoned when his plot was discovered.    

Alexios Philanthropenos to Flavius Stilicho and Flavius Aetius

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Behind a dying empire and a weak emperor there would always be a strong general willing to put the dying empire back together again and if we’re comparing the late 13th and early 14th century Byzantine emperor Andronikos II to the first Western Roman emperor Honorius, their respective strong generals behind them were Alexios Philanthropenos for Andronikos II and Flavius Stilicho for Honorius. The general Alexios Philanthropenos though was only 12 years old when Andronikos II who was in fact his uncle became emperor in 1282 following the death of Michael VIII Palaiologos; Alexios’ father Michael Tarchaneiotes was the grand general or Megas Domestikos of Michael VIII in his later reign also being Michael VIII’s nephew and the general Michael was successful in driving off the first wave of Turkish invaders in Asia Minor and in 1281 halted an invasion of the King of Sicily Charles of Anjou’s forces in Byzantine Albania and even paraded Charles’ general Hugh Sully in a triumphal procession on Constantinople and for this the emperor Michael VIII even planned to give the general Michael the title of “Caesar” for his service but he declined it out of modesty. In 1284, with Michael VIII’s son Andronikos II as the new emperor, he sent Michael Tarchaneiotes to command the army against the same John Angelos of Thessaly who was a still a problem for the Byzantines, but when Michael arrived in Thessaly he and his troops fell to the malaria outbreak and died, the conflict with John Angelos of Thessaly and Byzantium was afterwards settled when Andronikos II cancelled his father’s controversial Church Union. Michael Tarchaneiotes’ son Alexios Philanthropenos when coming of age in the 1290s, despite his young age was already made the top commander of the troops in the remains of Asia Minor against the invading Turkish states or Beyliks as Andronikos II now becoming emperor decided to focus his attention again to the eastern frontier which his father neglected, thus increasing the power of the Turkish states with a large number of unprotected Byzantines in the border areas defecting to the Turks. While in Asia Minor, Alexios scored a number of victories against the Turks forcing them back inland as well as forcing them to recognize Byzantine rule. Like Alexios who had scored so many victories in his time as general, the top general or Magister Militum of the Western Roman Empire which was the half-Roman half-Vandal Flavius Stilicho who first served under Theodosius I and gained influence after leading Theodosius I’s forces to victory at the Battle of the Frigidus in 394 would be more successful later on as both the western empire’s top general and the one basically in charge of the empire as Honorius was only 10 when inheriting the west following his father Theodosius I’s death in 395. The moment Stilicho became regent of Honorius’ west which also involved Stilicho marrying his daughter to Honorius, tension already broke out with the eastern empire based in Constantinople when Honorius’ older brother Arcadius refused to be under the guardianship of Stilicho falling for Stilicho’s rival Rufinus, and at the same time the independent leader of the Gothic army that served Theodosius I earlier helping him win at the Battle of the Frigidus Alaric was left in the Balkans to ravage it as Alaric was dismissed by Stilicho without any rewards. The biggest difference here though is that Stilicho was basically the one in charge of the west in 395 as Honorius was underage while for Alexios he was the one younger than his emperor Andronikos II who already had experience when coming into power and while Stilicho was the top general already at the beginning of Honorius’ reign and already the top general of Theodosius I before Honorius, Alexios came into command about 10 years into Andronikos II’s reign following the death of Alexios’ father Michael. Now for Stilicho, with Alaric raiding his way through the Balkans, Stilicho headed west to contain him but even though succeeding, Arcadius ordered Stilicho to return a half of his army to Constantinople and Stilicho being loyal agreed but secretly ordered the army to kill Rufinus when they arrived in Constantinople. Though the troops mostly consisting of Goths under a general named Gainas murdered Rufinus, they still did not accept Stilicho as Arcadius’ guardian and instead named a eunuch named Eutropius as Arcadius’ new regent who also hated Stilicho, while Alaric who had been contained by Stilicho was allowed to roam free and pillage the east and was even given the rank of Magister Militum he so wanted. Although Stilicho battled Alaric again in Greece in 397, Alaric escaped and the province of North Africa based in Carthage which was the main grain source of the western empire revolted when its governor Gildo declared his support for the east thus cutting grain shipments to Rome so while Honorius was still too young to handle matters like this, Stilicho had to take care of this rebellion by sending Gildo’s rival and brother Mascezel to Carthage in 398 where Gildo’s rebellion was crushed and Gildo being thrown in prison was executed, however when Mascezel returned to Honorius and Stilicho in Milan, Stilicho fearing that Mascezel could rebel one day had Mascezel thrown off a bridge to his death. Stilicho later spent time in Britain to protect it from invaders and later went to the Alps in 401 where he stopped an invasion of the Vandals and Alans but just as Stilicho was there Alaric who wanted land for his men saw this as an opportunity and quickly invaded Italy from the Balkans going as far as laying siege to Milan where Honorius was but Stilicho rushed back breaking the siege and afterwards fought a series of battles against Alaric and in 402 a truce was made and Alaric was given land in the Balkans. In 405, another Gothic king named Radagaisus invaded the western empire from the Danube escaping the expansion of the Huns and soon arrived in Italy laying siege to what was then Florence but Stilicho rushed to Florence and easily defeated Radagaisus and his army without losing a casualty, Radagaisus was killed in battle and his defeated warriors were all enlisted to Stilicho’s army while thousands of Radagaisus’ people were sold into slavery. Similarly for Stilicho’s Byzantine parallel Alexios Philanthropenos, he was mostly successful in battle the way Stilicho was except he did not fight wars on all sides of the empire like Stilicho but what they have a lot in common is that they were so successful in defeating their enemies, for Stilicho it was the Goths and for Alexios the Turks and both with their victories ended up selling thousands of their prisoners to slavery; for Stilicho, when capturing so many Gothic prisoners, the slave market crashed and for Alexios by taking so many prisoners from the Turks he defeated, it was reported that sheep became even more expensive than Turkish prisoners. Similarly, the Goths that invaded the west through the Danube led by Radagaisus in 405 and the Turks that invaded Asia Minor that were defeated by Alexios in the 1290s were both fleeing from a more powerful enemy, for the Goths it was the Huns and for the Turks it was the Mongols and both Huns and Mongols came from Central Asia. Both Stilicho and Alexios would end becoming so popular later on for their victories that the emperor they served grew to fear them; for Alexios, Andronikos II listening to his advisor Libadarios had to transfer Alexios away from the border to Lydia as in the border the people there were supporting Alexios’ claim to the throne and for Stilicho, Honorius listening to his advisor Olympius began to fear Stilicho might want to take over the empire for himself, also Stilicho’s campaigns against the Goths left the Rhine border exposed as he had to pull out soldiers from there and in the last day of 406, thousands of Alans, Vandals, Goths, and Suebi cross the Rhine then in 407, the usurper emperor in Britain Constantine III invaded Gaul claiming it for his own empire, though Stilicho tried to put Constantine III under control, it did not work as Constantine III already allied himself with the invading barbarians. In 408, Honorius’ brother and the eastern emperor Arcadius died but was at least succeeded by his 7-year-old son Theodosius II, though Honorius before planning to go to Constantinople to oversee the succession fell for the lies of Olympius who told him Stilicho might use Arcadius’ death to unite the east and west under his rule by making his (Stilicho’s) son the eastern emperor. Honorius was enraged finding out what Stilicho would do, so first he had many of Stilicho’s officers massacred and in August of 408, Stilicho while in a church in Ravenna was dragged out by soldiers and by Olympius’ orders was beheaded. As for Alexios, he met the same end as Stilicho except Alexios would be proclaimed emperor by his troops in 1295 for unknown reasons but most possibly because these troops came from the border areas and were displeased with Andronikos II’s weak rule and heavy taxation while Stilicho though always remained loyal and never planned to make himself emperor even if Honorius was convinced Stilicho would do that. Just like Stilicho who became increasingly popular, Alexios had the same situation too as the people in the border areas began recognizing him as emperor, though out of loyalty Alexios refused to turn on Andronikos so the emperor Andronikos later met with Alexios and to give him a false sense of security when secretly planning to get rid of him made Alexios a Caesar but true enough Andronikos fell for the lies of Libadarios and in the Christmas of 1295, Libadarios had bribed the Cretan mercenary soldiers in Alexios’ command to turn on him and blind him. Following Alexios’ blinding and banishment, things grew worse for the eastern borders in Asia Minor with the Turkish invasions growing stronger that in 1299, one Turkish state under its ruler Osman made itself the Ottoman Empire and the Byzantine generals defending the borders that came after Alexios were not as skilled as him. As for the Western Roman Empire with the execution of Stilicho, Honorius was convinced that Stilicho was plotting with the barbarians after he settled a deal with Alaric to settle him in Illyria and Honorius too was convinced that Stilicho would be a traitor due to his barbarian blood and after Stilicho’s execution, Honorius listening to Olympius ordered the massacre of the families of the barbarian soldiers in the Western Roman army but this move only made things worse as these 30,000 barbarian soldiers who served Stilicho would end up defecting to Alaric growing his army and in 410 after Alaric was again refused the rank of Magister Militum by Honorius, he sacked Rome, the first time Rome would be attacked in 800 years and without Stilicho around anymore, no one was there to stop Alaric but soon enough Alaric died later in 410 of sickness and his men would leave Italy and end up settling in Gaul establishing their kingdom there. Now back to Stilicho, though he was a hot-tempered and merciless general, he always proved his loyalty to Rome at all costs that when his own people from his father’s side being the Vandals invaded the Alps in 401, he showed his loyalty to his homeland which was Rome by not defecting to the Vandals and in 408 he accepted his own execution without any resistance, proving he was loyal all the way to the end; and the same was said for Alexios Philanthropenos who just accepted being blinded without any resistance as he never wanted to take the throne from his uncle Andronikos II. Though Stilicho had died, he still was not the last of the great Roman heroes in the age of decline as decades later, another general named Flavius Aetius who was a son of one of Stilicho’s barbarian commanders and another half barbarian (Aetius being Gothic on his father’s side and Roman on his mother’s side) comes in to save the Western Roman Empire from decline following the footsteps of Stilicho after spending years in captivity under Huns after being sent to them as a hostage by Alaric in 405. Aetius’ time with the Huns taught him everything about this powerful and mysterious enemy including the way they fight and, in his service, later as a general for the western empire, Aetius even used Hun mercenaries to fight the troublesome barbarian invaders in Gaul including Burgundians, Franks, and Alemanni. As for Alexios, he comes back to the picture 30 years after his blinding wherein the now aged Andronikos II in 1324 asks for his help as the Turks now united as the Ottomans continued invading Asia Minor again and this time in larger numbers. Alexios when returning from banishment in 1324 makes him not only the Byzantine parallel to Stilicho but to Aetius as well as both Alexios and Aetius returned to service after years of staying away, except Alexios returning as an old man was blind but even though, he managed to drive invading Turks away from the border city of Philadelphia which was under siege due to his mere presence as 30 years earlier, he had proved to be a terror to the invading Turks. Alexios remained as governor of Philadelphia until being moved to Lesbos in 1327 and later on with Andronikos II’s grandson Andronikos III taking the throne from his grandfather in 1328, Alexios still remained under the service of the new emperor until Alexios died in the 1340s. Of course, Alexios Philanthropenos may not have a lot of similarities with Flavius Aetius of the 5th century as Alexios did not constantly fight wars in his service as an older man the same way Aetius spent 30 years securing Gaul from invaders and rebuilding the weakened army of the west and personally training them and also Alexios did not fight an epic battle against an enemy so large in size the way Aetius who got the same Visigoths of Alaric that had settled in Gaul to unite with the Romans and fight together and drive away the Huns of Attila at the Battle of the Catalaunian Plains in 451 surprise attacking the Hun army of Attila as they were laying siege. to Orleans. Lastly, they would both meet different ends as Aetius due to the fear of his growing popularity and power was assassinated by the western emperor Valentinian III in 454 while for Alexios’ second end, he died peacefully at an old age. The Byzantine historians of Alexios’ time though like Nikephoros Gregoras compares him more to the early Byzantine general Flavius Belisarius (500-565) who served Emperor Justinian I than to Stilicho and Aetius but Belisarius too had the same kind of heroic but tragic story but he did not share the same violent end as Stilicho and Aetius, rather Belisarius like Alexios died peacefully at an old age. At the end Alexios Philanthropenos, like Stilicho and Aetius before him was the right general the empire needed to save it from imminent collapse.