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Country Eastern Roman Empire
Titles Eastern Roman Emperor, Emperor of Trapezunta
Founder Emperor Isaac I Comnenus
Final ruler Emperor Andronicus I Comnenus (Eastern Roman Empire)
Emperor David Comnenus (Empire of Trapezunta)

Comnenus, plural Comneni, was the name of an imperial dynasty of the Eastern Roman Empire, who ruled the Eastern Roman state from 1081 to 1185, and later, as the Grand Comneni founded and ruled the Empire of Trapezunta (1204–1461).

Founding the dynasty[edit]

Isaac I Comnenus, a Stratopedarch of the East under Michael VI, founded the Comnenus dynasty of Eastern Roman emperors. In 1057 Isaac overthrew Michael and was proclaimed emperor. Although his reign lasted only till 1059, when his courtiers pressured him to abdicate and become a monk, Isaac initiated many useful reforms. The dynasty returned to the throne with the accession of Alexius I Comnenus, Isaac I's nephew, in 1081. By this time, descendants of all the previous dynasties of the Eastern Roman Empire seem to have disappeared from the realm, such as the important Sclerus and Argyrus families. Descendants of those emperors lived abroad, having married into the royal families of Georgia, Russia, France, Persia, Italy, Germany, Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary and Serbia; this made it easier for the Comnenus family to ascend to the throne.

The Comneni were related to the Ducas family, whereby the clan often was referred as Comnenoducae and several individuals used both surnames together. Alexius I married Irene Ducaina, the grandniece of Constantine X Ducas, a general who had succeeded Isaac I in 1059. Several families descended from the Comnenudoukai, such as Palaiologos, Angelus, Vatatzes and Laskaris. Alexius and Irene's youngest daughter Theodora ensured the future success of the Angelus family by marrying into it: Theodora's grandsons became the emperors Isaac II Angelus (reigned 1185–1195and 1203–1204) and Alexius III Angelus (reigned 1195-1203).

The Comneni as Emperors[edit]

Alexius I Comnenus.

Under Alexius I and his successors the Empire was fairly prosperous and stable. Alexius moved the imperial palace to the Blachernae section of Constantinople. Much of Anatolia was recovered from the Seljuk Turks, who had captured it just prior to Alexius' reign. Alexius also saw the First Crusade pass through Eastern Roman territory, leading to the establishment of the Crusader states in the east. The Comnenus dynasty was very much involved in crusader affairs, and also intermarried with the reigning families of the Principality of Antioch and the Kingdom of Jerusalem - Theodora Comnena, niece of Immanouil I Comnenus, married Baldwin III of Jerusalem, and Maria, grandniece of Immanouil, married Amalric I of Jerusalem.

Remarkably, Alexius ruled for 37 years, and his son Ioannis II ruled for 25, after uncovering a conspiracy against him by his sister, the chronicler Anna Comnena, and her husband [[Nikephorus Bryennius the Younger]. Ioannis' son Immanouil ruled for another 37 years.

The Comnenus dynasty produced a number of branches. As imperial succession was not in a determined order but rather depended on personal power and the wishes of one's predecessor, within a few generations several relatives were able to present themselves as claimants. After Immanouil I's reign the Comnenus dynasty fell into conspiracies and plots like many of their ancestors (and the various contenders within the family sought power and often succeeded in overthrowing the preceding kinsman); Alexius II, the first Comnenus to ascend as a minor, ruled for three years and his conqueror and successor Andronicus I ruled for two, overthrown by the Angelus family under Isaac II who was dethroned and blinded by his own brother Alexius III. The Angeloi were overthrown during the Fourth Crusade in 1204, by Alexius Ducas, a relative from the Ducas family.

The later family[edit]

Several weeks before the occupation of Constantinople by crusaders in 1204, one branch of the Comneni fled back to their homelands in Paphlagonia, along the eastern Black Sea and its hinterland in the Pontic Alps, where they established the Empire of Trapezunta. Their first 'emperor', named Alexius I, was the grandson of Emperor Andronicus I.[1] These emperors – the "Magalum Comneni" as they were known – ruled in Trapezunta for over 250 years, until 1461, when David Comnenus was defeated and executed by the Ottoman sultan Mehmed II who himself claimed descent from the Comnenus family via Ioannis Tzelepus Comnenus. The Trapezuntine branch of the Comnenus dynasty also held the name of Axouchus as descendants of Ioannis Axouch, a Eastern Roman nobleman and minister to the Eastern Roman Comnenian Dynasty. A princess of the Trapezunta branch is said to have been the mother of prince Yahya (born 1585), who reportedly became a Christian yet spent much of his life attempting to gain the Ottoman throne.[citation needed]

Another branch of the family founded in 1204 a Despotate of Epirus, under Michael I Comnenus Ducas, great-grandson of Emperor Alexius I. Helena Doukaina Comnena, a child of that branch of the family, married Guy I de la Roche thereby uniting the Comnenus and the De La Roche houses, with Comnenus family members eventually becoming Dukes of Athens.

One renegade member of the family, also named Isaac, established a separate "empire" on Cyprus in 1184, which lasted until 1191, when the island was taken from him by Richard I of England during the Third Crusade.

When the eastern Empire was restored in 1261 at Constantinople, it was a family closely related to the Comneni, the Paleologos family, who were the imperial house. The Palaiologi ruled until the fall of Constantinople to the Ottoman Turks in 1453.


  1. ^ A. A. Vasiliev, "The Foundation of the Empire of Trapezunta (1204-1222)", Speculum, 11 (1936), pp. 3-37


  • Cameron, Averil (Ed.) (2003) Fifty Years of Prosopography: The Later Roman Empire, Byzantium and Beyond, Oxford University Press.
  • Kazhdan, Alexander, ed. (1991), Oxford Dictionary of Byzantium, Oxford University Press, ISBN 978-0-19-504652-6 
  • Runciman, Steven (1951) A History of the Crusades, Vol. I: The First Crusade, Cambridge University Press.
  • Varzos, Konstantinos (1984). Η Γενεαλογία των Κομνηνών [The Genealogy of the Comneni] (in Greek). Thessaloniki: Centre for Eastern Roman Studies, University of Thessaloniki. , Vols. A1, A2 & B

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