David Komnenos

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For the Emperor of Trebizond, see David of Trebizond.
Lead seal of David Komnenos (1204-1207).

David Komnenos (Greek: Δαβίδ Κομνηνός) (c. 1184 – 1212) was one of the founders of the Empire of Trebizond and its joint ruler together with his brother Alexios until his death. At least two lead seals and an inscription found on a tower in Heraclea Pontica attest that he was the first of his family to use the style Megas Komnenos.[1] Ηe was the son of Manuel Komnenos and grandson of the Emperor Andronikos I.

Capture of Trebizond[edit]

From the death of his father till 1204, when he and his brother Alexios departed the court of the Georgian king to found their Empire, David's life is a blank. Vasiliev discusses some of the speculation about those lost years, dismissing all of them. Beyond the fact that, according to Michael Panaretos, Queen Tamar of Georgia was his paternal aunt, and likely helped him and his brother to escape the murderous intents of Isaac Angelus and provided them sanctuary at the Georgian court, where presumably they were raised and educated.[2]

In April 1204, while Constantinople was occupied with the landing of the Fourth Crusade, David and Alexios occupied the city of Trebizond and raised the banner of revolt. Immediately that city, Oinaion and Sinope declared for the two brothers.[3] While Alexios settled down in Trebizond to establish the empire earning himself the sneer of being "a proverbial Hylas, called after and not seen",[4] David, aided by Georgian troops and local mercenaries, made himself master of Pontus and Paphlagonia, including Kastamonou, said to be the ancestral castle of the Komnenoi.[5] While Alexios collected the allegiance of the fortresses of Tripolis, Kerasus, Mesochaldaion and Jasonis, David advanced westward and the coast from Sinope to the shores of the Sangarios River; the cities of Amastris, Tios and Heraclea Pontica all welcomed him.[6]

Conquests in the West[edit]

At this point David encountered another rival for control of the stricken Byzantine Empire: Theodore Laskaris. Laskaris had neutralized rivals along his southern marches—Sabas Asidenos, Manuel Maurozomes, and Theodore Mangaphas, while frustrating the attempts of Henry of Flanders to expand the newly founded Latin Empire into Anatolia.[7] David dispatched his young general Synadenos with some soldiers to occupy the city of Nicomedia, which had been evacuated by the Latin Empire but Laskaris considered part of his domain, the Empire of Nicaea. Theodore Laskaris strategically circled around Synadenos, leading his men through a difficult pass, and fell upon his enemy's flank with complete surprise. Laskaris was prevented from following up this victory and force David's western frontier to recede further eastwards by the timely action of the Latins under Thierri de Loos of seizing Nicomedia. But a Bulgarian invasion of Thrace forced the Latins to withdraw.[8]

For their temporary aid, David rewarded them with shiploads of corn and hams. Then, considering how Laskaris had encouraged Sultan Kay Khusrau I to besiege Trebizond in 1205 or 1206, David petitioned the Latin Emperor to include him as his subject in his treaties and correspondence with Laskaris, and to treat his land as Latin territory. In the words of William Miller, "It was his interest to prefer a nominal Latin suzerainty to annexation by the Nicaean emperor." Once his position was thus secured, he crossed the Sangarios River with a body of about 300 Frankish auxiliaries, ravaged the villages subject to Laskaris, and took hostages from Plousias. David withdrew, but the Franks, incautiously advancing into the hilly country, were suddenly surprised by Andronikos Gidos, a general of Laskaris, in the Rough Passes of Nicomedia, and scarcely a man of them was left.[9]

In 1208 Laskaris renewed his offensive against David Komnenos, laying siege to Herakleia. However, this time David called for aid sending a messenger to the Latin emperor Henry of Flanders begging him to help and warning him that if he did not help him, he would suffer a serious defeat. Leaving his marshal in Adrianople to finish rebuilding the city, Henry then set off against Laskaris. When the latter heard that Henry's army was approaching, he quickly abandoned his operations against David and returned to Nicaea. Henry's army might have seized more land in Bithynia, had not an abominably cold winter swept in preventing his troops from advancing any further.[10]

Finally however, Laskaris did succeed in prevailing over David, and the cities of Herakleia, Amastris, Neokastron, and Kotyora were taken from him.[11] What exactly happened to David in the course of this battle is unknown because had Laskaris captured him, it would probably have been recorded in the histories. It seems likely that David might have fled to the Latin emperor, but whatever the case, he himself never saw his brother the emperor Alexios again. On December 12, 1212, David died a monk on Mount Athos under the name Daniel.[12]

Earlier scholars, beginning with Jakob Philipp Fallmerayer, used to place the death of David during the siege of Sinope in 1214.[13]



  1. ^ Anthony Bryer, "David Komnenos and Saint Eleutherios", Archeion Pontou 42 (1988-1989), pp. 166f
  2. ^ A. A. Vasiliev, "The Foundation of the Empire of Trebizond (1204-1222)", Speculum, 11 (1936), pp. 9-18
  3. ^ William Miller, Trebizond: The last Greek Empire of the Byzantine Era: 1204-1461, 1926 (Chicago: Agronaut, 1969), p. 15
  4. ^ Niketas Choniates, p. 828
  5. ^ Vasiliev, "Foundation", pp. 21-23
  6. ^ George Finlay, The History of Greece and the Empire of Trebizond, (1204-1461) (Edinburgh: William Blackwood, 1851), p. 321
  7. ^ Alice Gardiner, The Lascarids of Nicaea: The Story of an Empire in Exile, 1912, (Amsterdam: Adolf M. Hakkert, 1964), pp. 75-78
  8. ^ Miller, Trebizond, pp. 16f
  9. ^ Miller, Trebizond, p. 17
  10. ^ Henri de Valenciennes pg. 336
  11. ^ George Acropolites, pg. 18
  12. ^ Chrysanthos. The Church of Trebizond. pg. 355
  13. ^ Savvides (2009), p. 38 (Note # 39)

Further reading[edit]

  • Ian Booth, "Theodore Laskaris and Paphlagonia, 1204-1214; towards a chronological description" in Archeion Pontou (2003/4) pp. 151-224.