|Empire of Trebizond
|Vassal state of the Mongol Empire (1243–1336)|
Empire of Trebizond (brown) and surrounding states in 1300
|Languages||Pontic Greek (de facto)
|Historical era||Late Medieval|
|-||Disestablished||August 15, 1461|
|1 the full title of the Trapezuntine emperors after 1261 was "the faithful Basileus and Autokrator of All the East, the Iberians and Perateia"|
Part of a series on the
|History of Turkey|
The Empire of Trebizond was a monarchy that flourished during the 13th, 14th and 15th centuries at the far northeastern corner of Anatolia. Originally a revolt by the grandsons of Emperor Andronikos I Komnenos, within a year the territories that supported them organized into one of three Byzantine Greek successor states established after the fall of the Byzantine Empire to the Fourth Crusade, the others being the Empire of Nicaea and the Despotate of Epirus. Although their prospects of reconquering Constantinople was reduced following the loss of Sinope in 1214, the Emperors of Trebizond pressed their claim on the Imperial throne after the Nicaean reconquest of Constantinople in 1261, which extinguished the feeble Latin Empire, when the Empire of Trebizond had settled into the role of a minor state, primarily concerned with its profitable role as the Western terminus of the Silk Road through a unique form of diplomacy: "Most of the emperors were blessed with a progeny of marriageable daughters," writes Donald Nicol, "and the beauty of the ladies of Trebizond was as legendary as the wealth of their dowries."
The Trapezuntine monarchy proved to be the longest surviving of the Byzantine successor states. The Despotate of Epirus slowly disintegrated through the 13th and 14th centuries, coming under the control of the restored Byzantine Empire c. 1340. While the Empire of Nicaea had become the resurrected Byzantine Empire, it came to an end in 1453 with the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman Empire. The Empire of Trebizond lasted until 1461 when the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II conquered it after a month-long siege and took its ruler and his family into captivity.
Its wealth and exotic location endowed a lingering fame on this polity in Western European eyes. Cervantes described the eponymous hero of his Don Quixote as "imagining himself for the valour of his arm already crowned at least Emperor of Trebizond." Rabelais had his character Picrochole, the ruler of Piedmont, declare: "I want also to be Emperor of Trebizond." Other allusions, as well as works set in this distant monarchy, continue into the 20th century.
- 1 Overview
- 2 Foundation
- 3 The Empire up to the civil wars
- 4 From the civil wars to the end of the 14th century
- 5 Trebizond in the 15th century
- 6 Megas Komnenos dynasty
- 7 List of Trapezuntine people
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 Sources and research
- 11 External links
Geographically, the Empire of Trebizond consisted of little more than a narrow strip along the southern coast of the Black Sea, not much further inland than the Pontic Alps. Its demographic legacy endured for several centuries after the Ottoman conquest in 1461 and retained a substantial number of Greek Orthodox inhabitants. These are usually referred to as Pontic Greeks, while the eastern branch who settled around Kars and Georgia are often referred to as Caucasus Greeks. They remained along the eastern Black Sea coast and its hinterland in the Pontic Alps as well as in northeastern Anatolia and the Russian province of Kars Oblast until the years immediately following the First World War, when those who had retained their Christian Orthodox faith and Greek identity resettled in Greek Macedonia.
The core of the empire was the southern Black Sea coast from the mouth of the Yeşilırmak River, a region known to the Trapezuntines as Limnia, possibly as far east as Batumi; a Genoese document records the seizure of one of their ships at that port in 1437 by a military Galley at the orders of Emperor John IV. Anthony Bryer has argued that six of the seven banda of the Byzantine theme of Chaldia were maintained in working order by the rulers of Trebizond until the end of the empire, helped by geography. Geography also defined the southern border of this state: the Pontic Alps served as a barrier first to Seljuk Turks and later to Turkoman marauders, whose predations were reduced to a volume that the emperors could cope with. This territory corresponds to an area comprising all or parts of the modern Turkish provinces of Sinop, Samsun, Ordu, Giresun, Trabzon, Bayburt, Gümüşhane, Rize, and Artvin. In the 13th century, some experts believe the empire controlled Perateia, which included Cherson and Kerch on the Crimean peninsula. David Komnenos, the younger brother of the first Emperor, expanded rapidly to the west, occupying first Sinope, then coastal parts of Paphlagonia (the modern-day coastal regions of Kastamonu, Bartın, and Zonguldak) and Heraclea Pontica (the modern-day Karadeniz Ereğli), until his territory bordered the Empire of Nicaea. The expansion was, however, short-lived: the territories west of Sinope were lost to Theodore I Laskaris by 1214, and Sinope itself fell to the Seljuks that same year, although the emperors of Trebizond continued to fight for its control over the rest of the 13th century.
The rulers of Trebizond called themselves Megas Komnenos ("Great Comnenus") and – like their counterparts in the other two Byzantine successor states, the Empire of Nicaea and the Despotate of Epirus – initially claimed supremacy as "Emperor and Autocrat of the Romans." However, after Michael VIII Palaiologos of Nicaea recaptured Constantinople in 1261, the Komnenian use of the style "Emperor" became a sore point. In 1282, John II Komnenos stripped off his imperial regalia before the walls of Constantinople before entering to marry Michael's daughter and accept his legal title of despot. However, his successors used a version of his title, "Emperor and Autocrat of the entire East, of the Iberians and the Perateia" until the Empire's end in 1461.
The city of Trebizond was the capital of the theme of Chaldia, a region that had already shown separatist tendencies in the 10th and 11th centuries. Chaldia came under the control of a local leader named Theodore Gabras, who according to Anna Comnena regarded Trebizond and its hinterlands "as a prize which had fallen to his own lot" and conducted himself as an independent prince. The Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos confirmed him as governor of Chaldia, but kept his son at Constantinople as a hostage for his good conduct. Nevertheless, Gabras proved himself a worthy guardian by repelling a Georgian attack on Trebizond. One of his successors, Gregory Taronites also rebelled with the aid of the Sultan of Cappadocia, but he was defeated and imprisoned, only to be made governor once more. Another successor to Theodore was Constantine Gabras, whom Niketas describes as ruling Trebizond as a tyrant, and whose actions led Emperor John II Komnenos in 1139 to lead an expedition against him. Although that effort came to nothing, this was the last rebel governor known to recorded history prior to the events of 1204.
The empire traces its foundation to April 1204, when Alexios Komnenos and his brother David took advantage of the preoccupation of the central Byzantine government with the encampment of the soldiers of the Fourth Crusade outside their walls (June 1203 – mid-April 1204) and seized the city of Trebizond and the surrounding province of Chaldia with troops provided by their relative, Tamar of Georgia. Henceforth, the links between Trebizond and Georgia remained close, but their nature and extent have been disputed.
Both men were the grandsons of the last Komnenian Byzantine emperor, Andronikos I Komnenos, by his son Manuel Komnenos and Rusudan, daughter of George III of Georgia. Andronikos I had been deposed by Isaac II Angelos, while Manuel was blinded (a traditional Byzantine punishment for treason) and died not long after. Alexios and his brother, David, ended up at the court of Queen Tamar of Georgia, who gave them military support to return to Byzantine territory. Vasiliev explains that she had been motivated to do so after the Emperor Alexios III Angelos stole the gifts Tamar had given to a group of visiting monks as they passed through Constantinople. While Michel Kurskanskis has argued in support of Vasiliev's interpretation, he disagrees with Vasiliev over the intent of Tamar's intervention: Vasiliev has argued that the Queen intended to create a buffer state to protect the Georgian Kingdon, while Kurskanskis believes she supported the brothers in their attempt to reclaim the Byzantine throne in Constantinople.
The Empire up to the civil wars
During its early years, the Empire of Trebizond probably existed as a vassal state of Georgia. Throughout its existence, it may be considered somewhat of a Caucasian state, due to its reliance upon the Laz people and its continued close relationship with the Bagrationi Dynasty of Georgia, which resulted in several unions of marriage.
For most of the 13th century Trebizond was in continual conflict with the Seljuk Sultanate of Rûm and later with the Ottoman Turks, as well as Constantinople, the Italian republics, and especially the Republic of Genoa. It was an empire more in title than in fact, surviving by playing its rivals against each other, and offering the daughters of its rulers, who were famed for their beauty, for marriage with generous dowries, especially with the Turkish rulers of inland Anatolia. The common view is that the Empire of Trebizond relied heavily upon wealth gained from its trade with Genoese and Venetian merchants to secure for itself the resources necessary to maintain independence.
The second son of Alexios, Manuel I (1238–1263), had preserved internal security and acquired the reputation of a great commander, but the Empire was already losing outlying provinces to the Chepni Turkmen, and found itself forced to pay tribute to the Seljuks of Rûm and then to the Mongol Empire and the Ilkhanate, a sign of things to come.
The destruction of Baghdad by Hulagu Khan in 1258 made Trebizond the western terminus of the Silk Road, and under the protection of the Mongols the city grew to tremendous wealth on the Silk Road trade. Among others, Marco Polo returned to Europe by way of Trebizond in 1295. The troubled reign of Manuel's youngest son John II (1280–1297) included a reconciliation with the restored Byzantine Empire and the end of Trapezuntine claims to Constantinople. Trebizond enjoyed a period of wealth and influence during the long reign of John's eldest son Alexios II (1297–1330).
From the civil wars to the end of the 14th century
Following the death of Alexios II, Trebizond suffered a period of repeated imperial depositions and assassinations, despite a short period of stability under his youngest son Basil. Two different groups struggled for ascendency: the Scholaroi, who have been identified being pro-Byzantine, and the Amytzantarantes, who were identified as representing the interests of the natives archontes. These civil wars came to an end in 1355, when the last partisans of both factions were brought under control by Alexios III.
Under the rule of Alexios III (1349–1390) Trebizond was considered an important trade center, and was renowned for its great wealth and artistic accomplishment. However, Anthony Bryers has argued against this viewpoint, stating that while the income from taxes levied on this trade was "by Byzantine standards" substantial, as much as three quarters of the income of the Emperor came from land, "either directly from the imperial estates or indirectly from taxes and tithes from other lands."
Trebizond in the 15th century
The restored Byzantine Empire was conquered by the Ottoman Empire in 1453 while the Empire of Trebizond managed to survive until 1461, when it too was conquered by the Ottoman Empire. Manuel III (1390–1417), the second son and successor of Alexios III, allied himself with Timur, and benefited from Timur's defeat of the Ottoman Turks at the Battle of Ankara in 1402. His son Alexios IV (1417–1429) married two of his daughters to rulers of two neighboring empires centered in Persia at that time led by Jihan Shah, khan of the Kara Koyunlu, and to Ali Beg, khan of the Ak Koyunlu, while his eldest daughter Maria became the third wife of the Byzantine Emperor John VIII Palaiologos. Pero Tafur, who visited the city in 1437, reported that Trebizond had fewer than 4,000 troops.
Alexios IV's eldest son, John IV (1429–1459), could not help but see that his Empire would soon share the same fate as Constantinople had suffered in 1453. The Ottoman Sultan Murad II first attempted to take the capital by sea in 1442, but high surf made the landings difficult and the attempt was repulsed. While Murad's son and successor, Mehmed II, was away laying siege to Belgrade in 1456, the Ottoman governor of Amasya attacked Trebizond, and although defeated, took many prisoners and extracted a heavy tribute.
John IV prepared for the eventual assault by forging alliances. He gave his daughter to the son of his brother-in-law, Uzun Hasan, khan of the Ak Koyunlu, in return for his promise to defend Trebizond. He also secured promises of help from the Turkish emirs of Sinope and Karamania, and from the king and princes of Georgia.
After John's death in 1459, his brother David came to power. David intrigued with various European powers for help against the Ottomans, speaking of wild schemes that included the conquest of Jerusalem. Mehmed II eventually heard of these intrigues, and was further provoked to action by David's demand that Mehmed remit the tribute imposed on his brother.
Mehmed's response came in the summer of 1461. He collected a sizable army at Bursa, and in a surprise move marched on Sinope, whose emir quickly surrendered. Then the Sultan moved south across eastern Anatolia to neutralize Uzun Hasan. Having isolated Trebizond, Mehmed quickly swept down upon it before the inhabitants knew he was coming, and placed it under siege. The city held out for a month before David surrendered on August 15, 1461. With the fall of Trebizond, the last independent remnant of the Byzantine Empire, as well as the Roman Empire from which the Byzantine Empire sprang, was extinguished.
Megas Komnenos dynasty
The Komnenos dynasty ruled the main Byzantine Empire from Constantinople until 1185. The table below shows the members of the family that were rulers of the Trebizond Empire from 1204 to 1461.
|Name||Portrait||Started reign||Ended reign||Notes|
|Alexios I Megas Komnenos||1204||1 February 1222|
|Andronikos I Gidos||1 February 1222||1235|
|Ioannes I Axouchos||1235||1238|
|Manuel I Megas Komnenos,
"The Great Captain", "The Most Fortunate"
|Andronikos II Komnenos||March 1263||1266|
|Ioannes II Megas Komnenos||1280||1284||First reign|
|Theodora Megala Komnena||1284||1285|
|Ioannes II Megas Komnenos||1285||16 August 1297||Second reign|
|Alexios II Megas Komnenos||16 August 1297||1330|
|Andronikos III Megas Komnenos||1330||8 January 1332|
|Manuel II Megas Komnenos||8 January 1332||c. September 1332||Emperor for 8 months.|
|Basileios Megas Komnenos||c. September 1332||6 April 1340|
|Irene Palaiologina||6 April 1340||17 July 1341||Widow of Basileios.|
|Anna Anachoutlou||17 July 1341||4 September 1342||Daughter of Alexius II.|
|Ioannes III Megas Komnenos||4 September 1342||3 May 1344|
|Michael Megas Komnenos||3 May 1344||13 December 1349||Father of Ioannes III.|
|Alexios III Megas Komnenos||13 December 1349||20 March 1390|
|Manuel III Megas Komnenos||20 March 1390||5 March 1417|
|Alexios IV Megas Komnenos||5 March 1417||October 1429|
|Ioannes IV Megas Komnenos||October 1429||1459|
|David Megas Komnenos||1459||1461|
List of Trapezuntine people
- George Amiroutzes
- George of Trebizond
- Gregory Choniades
- Johannes Bessarion
- John Lazaropoulos
- John Xiphilinos
- Michael Panaretos
- Hagia Sophia, Trabzon
- Sumela Monastery
- Dorothy Dunnett, a Scottish historical novelist, much of whose book The Spring of the Ram is set in Trebizond at the time of its fall.
- Lawrence Schoonover, an American historical novelist, much of whose book The Burnished Blade is set in Trebizond at its height.
- Alexander A. Vasiliev, History of the Byzantine Empire, Vol 2. 324 - 1453, second edition (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1958), p. 506: "... on the territory of the disintegrated eastern empire, three independent Greek centers were formed; The empire of Nicaea and the empire of Trebizond in Asia Minor and the Despotat of Epirus in Northern Greece."
- Nicol, The Last Centuries of Byzantium, 1261-1453, second edition (Cambridge: University Press, 1993), pp. 402f
- William Miller, Trebizond: The last Greek Empire of the Byzantine Era: 1204-1461, 1926 (Chicago: Argonaut, 1969), pp. 100-106
- Miller, Trebizond, pp. 117ff
- S. P. Karpov, "New Documents on the Relations between the Latins and the Local Populations in the Black Sea Area (1392-1462)", Dumbarton Oaks Papers: Symposium on Byzantium and the Italians, 13th-15th centuries, 49 (1995), p. 39
- Bryer, "Greeks and Türkmens: The Pontic Exception", Dumbarton Oaks Papers, 29 (1975), pp. 117ff
- As documented by Michel Kurskanskis, "L'empire de Trébizonde et les Turcs au 13e siècle", Revue des études byzantines, 46 (1988). pp. 109-124.
- Nicol, Last Centuries, p. 74
- See the discussion in N. Oikonomides, "The Chancery of the Grand Komnenoi: Imperial Tradition and Political Reality", Archeion Pontou 35 (1979), pp. 299-332
- Miller, Trebizond, p. 12
- Some authorities identify Taronites with the known son of Theodore Gabras, Gregory Gabras. See Anthony Bryer, "A Byzantine Family: The Gabrades, c. 979 – c. 1653", University of Birmingham Historical Journal, 12 (1970), p. 176
- Miller, Trebizond, p. 13
- Hewsen, Robert H. (2009). "Armenians on the Black Sea: The Province of Trebizond". In Richard G. Hovannisian. Armenian Pontus: The Trebizond-Black Sea Communities. Costa Mesa, CA: Mazda Publishers, Inc. pp. 47, 37–66. ISBN 1-56859-155-1.
- Eastmond, Antony. "Narratives of the Fall: Structure and Meaning in the Genesis Frieze at Hagia Sophia, Trebizond". Dumbarton Oaks Papers 53 (1999), 219–36.
- A. A. Vasiliev, "The Foundation of the Empire of Trebizond (1204-1222)", Speculum, 11 (1936), pp. 18f
- Michel Kuršanskis, "L'Empire de Trébizonde et la Géorgie", Revue des études byzantines, 35 (1977). pp. 243-247
- Hewsen, 48
- Haldon, John, The Palgrave Atlas of Byzantine History PART III: THE LATER PERIOD (c. 11th–15th Century), The map includes "Chepni Türkmen"
- Bryer, "The Estates of the Empire of Trebizond. Evidence for their Resources, Products, Agriculture, Ownership and Location", Archeion Pontou 35 (1979), p. 371. He also includes revenue from such typical medieval sources as "the profits of justice, imperial trade and mining, confiscations and even piracy."
- Miller, Trebizond, p. 85
- Miller, Trebizond, pp. 87f
- Nicol, Last Centuries, p. 407
- Nicol, Last Centuries, p. 408
Sources and research
- Johannes Bessarion: The praise of Trebizond
- Michael Panaretos: Chronicle
- Anthony Bryer & David Winfield, The Byzantine Monuments and Topography of the Pontos (DOS. XX), vol. 1–2, Washington, 1985.
- Anthony Bryer, Peoples and Settlement in Anatolia and the Caucasus, 800–1900, Variorum collected studies series, London, 1988.
- Bryer, Anthony (1980). The Empire of Trebizond and the Pontos. London: Variorum Reprints. ISBN 978-0-86078-062-5.
- Jakob Philipp Fallmerayer, Geschichte des Kaiserthums Trapezunt (Munich, 1827–1848)
- George Finlay The History of Greece, From Its Conquest by the Crusaders to Its Conquest by the Turks, and of the Empire of Trebizond: 1204-1461. Edinburgh: Blackwood, 1851.
- Sergei Karpov. L' impero di Trebisonda, Venezia, Genova e Roma, 1204–1461. Rapporti politici, diplomatici e commerciali. Roma, 1986, 321 P.
- Sergei Karpov. The Empire of Trebizond and the nations of Western Europe, 1204–1461. Moscow, 1981, 231 pp (in Russian).
- Sergei Karpov. A history of the empire of Trebizond. Saint Petersburg, 2007, 656 pp (in Russian).
- William Miller, Trebizond: The Last Greek Empire, (1926; repr. Chicago: Argonaut Publishers, 1968)
- George Ostrogorsky, History of the Byzantine State, Rutgers University Press. New Jersey, 1969
- Donald Queller, Thomas Madden, The Fourth Crusade: The Conquest of Constantinople, University of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 2nd ed., 1997. ISBN 0-8122-3387-5
- Savvides, Alexios G. K. (2009). Ιστορία της Αυτοκρατορίας των Μεγάλων Κομνηνών της Τραπεζούντας (1204-1461). 2η Έκδοση με προσθήκες [History of the Empire of the Grand Komnenoi of Trebizond (1204-1461). 2nd Edition with additions] (in Greek). Thessaloniki: Kyriakidis Brothers S.A. ISBN 978-960-467-121-2.
- Rustam Shukurov. The Megas Komnenos and the Orient (1204–1461). Saint Petersburg, 2001, 446 pp (in Russian).
- Levan Urushadze, The Comnenus of Trabizond and the Bagrationi dynasty of Georgia. — J. "Tsiskari", Tbilisi, No 4, 1991, pp. 144–148: in Georgian.
- Fyodor Uspensky, From the history of the Empire of Trabizond (Ocherki iz istorii Trapezuntskoy Imperii), Leningrad, 1929, 160 pp: a monograph in Russian.
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