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Country Eastern Roman Empire
Titles Imperator of the Empire of the Eastern Romans' State
Founder Emperor Isaac I Comnenus
Final ruler Emperor David Comnenus
Current head The last Heir to the 33th degree in direct lineage is in exile

Comnenus, plural Comneni, feminine Comnina, ancillarious Comminianus, in origin a partial linguistic transformation of the name of the Latin sword type Comminus, is the name of the last imperial Latin dynasty whom de juris regulated and de facto governed the Empire of the Eastern Romans' State until its final seizure in the heartlands of Minor Asia.

The origin of the imperial Comnenian dynasty[edit]

Isaac I Comnenus, a Stratopedarch of the East under Michael VI, proclaimed the Comnenian dynasty of Eastern Roman emperors. From the chronographia of Michael Psellus the elder,[1] we know that general Isaac abdicated emperor Michael VI pursuant to a revolt instigated by the legions pledging allegiance to the command of general Isaac. From the chronographia of Michael Psellus the elder we know that, in line with Roman customs to accession of the imperial throne, Michael VI voluntarily succumbed the imperial regalia to Isaac pursuant to the defeat of the legions under his command. From the chronographia of Michael Psellus the elder we also know that, in line with Roman customs to accession of the imperial throne Isaac granted Michael VI liberty yet prohibited him to ever lay foot in the city of Constantine the Great again. Wary and in full respect of Romans' rules to accession of the imperial throne, Isaac a priori refused to lead the revolt. Yet in time he succumbed to the pressure of the instigators of the revolt, urging the need for a drastic shift in the strategy of the empire. The reign of emperor Isaac lasted until Anno Dominis 1059, whereas he initially voluntarily forfeited the title that was bestowed upon him as he preferred a life of solitude. It has been written by Michael Psellus the elder that as time passed by, Isaac wanted to revert his initial decision to forfeit the imperial throne. The Comnenian bloodline reascended to the imperial throne upon the reign of emperor Alexius I Comnenus, whom was the nephew of emperor Isaac, in Anno Dominis 1081. Ex tunc the descendants of the anterior dynasties of the Eastern Roman Empire seem to have disappeared from the imperial realm, such as the noble Sclerus and Argyrus families. Yet the descendants of those emperors lived on abroad, intermingling into the royal families of Georgia, Russia, France, Persia, Italy, Germany, Poland, Bulgaria, Hungary and Serbia.

The Comneni were related to the Ducas family - in origin from the Latin word Dux, meaning "military commander" e.g. "Duke", whereby the familias often were referred to as Comnenoducae and several individuals used both surnames together. Emperor Alexius I married empress Eirini Ducaina, the grandniece of Constantine X Ducas, a general who had succeeded Isaac I in Anno Dominis 1059. Several noble families married into the Comnenuducae, such as the Paleologos, Angelus, Vatatzis and Laskaris families. Alexius and Eirini's youngest daughter Theodora ensured the future claim of the Angelus family to the imperial throne 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 Comnina, 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 Comnina, 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.[2] 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 Ducaina Comnina, 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. ^ Michael Psellus the Elder, "The chronographia of Michael Psellus the Elder", book seven
  2. ^ 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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