David of Trebizond

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For David, the brother of Emperor Alexios I of Trebizond, see David Komnenos.
David Megas Komnenos
Reign 1459-1461
Consort Maria of Gothia
Father Alexios IV Megas Komnenos
Mother Theodora Kantakouzene
Born c.1408
Died 1 November 1463

David Megas Komnenos (Greek: Δαβίδ Μέγας Κομνηνός, Dabid Megas Komnēnos) (c. 1408 – November 1, 1463) was the last Emperor of Trebizond from 1459 to 1461. He was the third son of Emperor Alexios IV of Trebizond and Theodora Kantakouzene. Following the fall of Trebizond to the Ottoman Empire, he was taken captive with his family to the Ottoman capital, Constantinople, where he and his sons and nephew were executed in 1463.

In July 2013, David and his sons and nephew were canonized by the Holy Synod of the Patriarchate of Constantinople. Their feast day was determined as 1 November, the anniversary of their deaths.[1]

Ruler of a doomed empire[edit]

David had played an important role throughout the reign of his older brother and predecessor John IV. He had been given the courtly title of despotes, which in Trebizond designated the heir to the throne. David had participated in his brother's expeditions against the Genoese, and also fulfilled various diplomatic tasks. In 1458 he ratified his brother's treaty with the Ottoman Sultan Mehmed II in Adrianople, and later the same year he conveyed his niece Theodora to her husband, Uzun Hassan of the Ak Koyunlu.

David ascended the throne on his brother's death, sometime before April 22, 1459. Although John IV had a son named Alexios, he was a boy four years old and the precarious position of the Empire of Trebizond dictated that the crown should pass to a man of experience. David's accession proceeded without recorded opposition.[2]

David had married Maria of Gothia, the daughter of the semi-independent ruler of Theodoro (Mangup) in the Crimea, an area that had been under the control of Trebizond. After Maria's death (sometime before 1447), he married Helena Kantakouzene, a great-granddaughter of Emperor John VI Kantakouzenos.[2] With the conquest of Constantinople by the Ottoman Turks in 1453 and the weakness of Crimean Gothia (overshadowed by the Genoese colonies and the remnants of the Golden Horde), these marital alliances provided little support for Trebizond after David's accession in 1459. The connections established with the Georgian princes and Uzun Hassan of the Ak Koyunlu were slightly more viable, and David seems to have counted on their support. The Muslim rulers of Sinope and Karaman appear to have been enlisted as allies by David or Uzun Hassan.

About this time, October 1460, one Ludovico da Bologna appeared at the court of Emperor Frederick III with two men who were ostensibly the ambassadors of Persia and Georgia; more specifically, the Persian ambassador—Nicholas of Tblisi—was the representative of George VIII of Georgia, and the Georgian ambassador—recorded as "Custopa", "Custoda", "Chastodina" and other variations—represented Qvarqvare II, prince of Samtskhe.[3] They carried letters signed not only by those Eastern rulers, but four more, as well as three Caucasian tribes all eager to take part in an alliance against the Ottomans. Ludovico's entourage proceeded to Venice, and either there or at their next stop, Florence, a new ambassador joined his following: Michael Aligheri, who said he was the envoy of Emperor David.

In Florence, a city that was eager to build up a network of bases in the Levant, he negotiated a treaty between Florence and David of Trebizond granting to the city a consulate (fondaco) and trading terms that included a 2% levy on exports, as were enjoyed by the Genoese and Venetians in Trebizond. Like his ancestor, Dante Aligheri, Michael Aligheri was a Florentine, but had been trading on his own account in the Black Sea. Bryer mentions a document dated 28 April 1470, wherein the protectors of the Bank of St. George at Caffa gave Michael Aligheri safe conduct which covered his children and subordinates.[4] Bryer treats Ludovico da Bologna's claims with a degree of mistrust and suspicion, noting Ludovico "seems to have been too glib and later obsessed with something of the attitude of a Baron Corvo towards the Church, which failed to take his personal ambitions seriously."[5] On the other hand, Bryer assumes Michael Aligheri was a legitimate representative of Emperor David, although the letter he bore from David to Duke Philip the Good of Burgundy "was written, if not in Italy, from an Italian point of view, and by someone who knew Trebizond well and had recently seen David Komnenos as the new Emperor."[6] William Miller, in his account of the Empire of Trebizond, likewise assumes Michael Aligheri was the legitimate representative, while ignoring the existence of the sketchy Ludovico da Bologna, who had been the primary advocate for a Christian league.[7]

With Western support against the Ottomans still unsolidified, David prematurely asked the Sultan for a remission of the tribute paid by his predecessor. Even worse, he made these demands through the envoys of Uzun Hassan, who made even more arrogant demands on behalf of their master. Sultan Mehmed responded in the summer of 1461: a fleet under his admiral Kassim Pasha sailed along the Black Sea coast of Anatolia towards Trebizond while he led an army from Bursa eastward.[8]

The fall of Trebizond[edit]

After pretending to be ready to negotiate with some of his neighbors, Mehmed II besieged Sinope and obtained its surrender. The Sultan sent his fleet on to Trebizond, while he led the land army against Uzun Hassan. After Mehmed took the frontier fortress of Koylu Hisar by storm, and Uzun Hassan's allies the Karamanians failed to come to his aid, Uzun Hassan sent his mother, Sara Khatun, with expensive gifts to the Sultan's camp to sue for peace. While she managed to save the Aq Qoyunlu, she could do nothing for her daughter-in-law's homeland, Trebizond. Steven Runciman repeated the exchange between Sara and Mehmed: "Why tire yourself, my son, for nothing better than Trebizond?" she asked him. He replied that the Sword of Islam was in his hand, and he would be ashamed not to tire himself for his faith.[9]

With David's most effective ally neutralized, Mehmed II marched to Trebizond. His fleet had landed there in early July, defeated David's army, and plundered the suburbs, besieging the city for more than a month. The Ottoman commander Mahmud Pasha Angelovic had opened negotiations with David even before his master's arrival, and David's protovestiarios, George Amiroutzes, advised the emperor to surrender on terms. When Mehmed II arrived in August, he was displeased with the negotiations, but allowed them to proceed. David was now persuaded to surrender, keeping his family, household, and wealth, and was promised a profitable retirement in Thrace.[10]

David's surrender about 15 August 1461 marks the end of the Empire of Trebizond and of the Byzantine imperial tradition.[10] The deposed emperor, his family, and courtiers were shipped off to Constantinople. The population was divided into groups, some being allocated to the service of the Sultan and his officers, others added to the population of Constantinople, and the remainder were allowed to inhabit the outskirts of Trebizond itself. Some local youths were duly conscripted into the Janissaries, while the Ottoman admiral was left to garrison the city.[11]

After the Fall[edit]

David was settled in Adrianople together with his family, and received the profits of estates in the Struma River valley, comprising an annual income of some 300,000 pieces of silver. The close family relations and continued exchange between David and Uzun Hassan were betrayed to the Sultan by George Amiroutzes (which involved an ambitious plan to send one of David's sons or Alexios to grow up at the court of Uzun Hassan in seeming opposition to Mehmed), furnished an excuse to imprison David and his sons in March 1463.[12] On November 1, 1463 he was executed in Adrianople together with his nephew (the son of John IV) and three of his sons, according to a letter written by the Patriarch Sophronios I.[13] Only one son, George, was spared due to his young age, and became a Muslim, before escaping to Georgia.

Other members of the family fared better. Maria Gattilusio, the widow of David's older brother Alexander, joined the Sultan's harem, as did David's daughter Anna (although she was later passed on to the general Zagan Pasha). Maria's son Alexios was also spared, becoming one of the Sultan's pages and earning his favor; according to tradition he was given lands just outside the city walls of Pera, where he was known locally as "the Son of the Bey" and after whom the district of Beyoğlu was named. However, according to Theodore Spandounes the widowed Empress Helena Kantakouzene was heavily fined by the Sultan for burying her husband and her sons and spent the rest of her life in poverty. Her youngest son, George, was raised as a Moslem, but when he was later allowed to visit Uzun Hassan George fled his court to his sister in Georgia where he reverted to Christianity and married a Georgian princess.[14]


One of David's daughters survived him as the wife of a Gurieli ruler from the Dadiani family. The later-day Gurieli thus claimed descent from David and from dozens of emperors who were his ancestors.

David apparently had no children by his first wife Maria of Gothia. By his second wife Helena Kantakouzene, he had:

  • Basil, beheaded 1463
  • Manuel, beheaded 1463
  • George, (1460–after 1463)[13]
  • Anna (1447–after 1463), who married Zagan Pasha and then Sinan
  • Unnamed daughter, who married Mamia Gurieli


16. Basil of Trebizond
8. Alexios III of Trebizond
17. Irene of Trebizond
4. Manuel III of Trebizond
18. Sebastokrator Nikephoros Kantakouzenos
9. Theodora Kantakouzene
2. Alexios IV of Trebizond
20. George V of Georgia
10. David IX of Georgia
5. Gulkhan-Eudokia of Georgia
22. Q’varq’vare II Jaq’eli, Prince of Samtskhe-Saatabago
11. Sindukhtar of Samtskhe-Saatabago
1. David of Trebizond
6. Theodoros Palaiologos Kantakouzenos
3. Theodora Kantakouzene

In popular culture[edit]

David appears as a minor character in Lawrence Schoonover's novel The Burnished Blade, where he is portrayed as an adventurous but diplomatically astute young man.[15]


  1. ^ "Canonization of New Saints by the Ecumenical Patriarchate". Ecumenical Patriarchate - Orthodox Metropolitanate of Hong Kong and South East Asia. 2 August 2013. Retrieved 1 December 2013. 
  2. ^ a b William Miller, Trebizond: The last Greek Empire of the Byzantine Era: 1204-1461, 1926 (Chicago: Argonaut, 1969), p. 97
  3. ^ The known facts of the career of Ludovico da Bologna are discussed in Anthony Bryer, "Ludovico da Bologna and the Georgian and Anatolian Embassy of 1460-1461", Beli Kartlisa, 19-20 (1965), pp. 178-198
  4. ^ Bryer, "Ludovico da Bologna", pp. 185f
  5. ^ Bryer, "Ludovico da Bologna", p. 179
  6. ^ Bryer, "Ludovico da Bologna", p. 197
  7. ^ Miller, Trebizond, pp. 98f
  8. ^ Steven Runciman, The Fall of Constantinople (London: Cambridge, 1969), pp. 173f
  9. ^ Runciman, Fall, p. 174
  10. ^ a b Donald M. Nicol, The Last Centuries of Byzantium: 1261-1453, 2nd edition (Cambridge: University Press, 1993), p. 408
  11. ^ Runciman, Fall, p. 176
  12. ^ Runciman, Fall, p. 185
  13. ^ a b William Miller, "The Chronology of Trebizond", The English Historical Review, 38 (1923), p. 410. This disproves later reports David had as many as seven sons.
  14. ^ Runciman, Fall, pp. 185f
  15. ^ Schoonover, Lawrence (1948). The Burnished Blade. Macmillan. Retrieved 2014-01-31. 

External links[edit]

David of Trebizond
Komnenian dynasty
Born: c. 1408 Died: 1 November 1463
Regnal titles
Preceded by
John IV
Emperor of Trebizond
Ottoman conquest