Doukas (historian)

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For other people of the same name, see Dukas (disambiguation).

Doukas or Dukas (c. 1400 – after 1462)[1] was a Byzantine historian who flourished under Constantine XI Palaiologos, the last Byzantine Emperor. He is one of the most important sources for the last decades and eventual fall of the Byzantine Empire to the Ottomans.


The date of Doukas's birth is not recorded, nor is his first name or the names of his parents. He was born probably in the 1390s somewhere in western Asia Minor, where his paternal grandfather, Michael Doukas, had fled.[2] Michael Doukas was eulogized by his grandson as a learned man, especially in matters of medicine. He had played a role in the Byzantine civil wars of the mid-14th century as a partisan of John VI Kantakouzenos. Michael Doukas had been arrested by Alexios Apokaukos, and was one of the prisoners at the palace where Apokavkos was murdered by some of the inmates.[3] Michael Doukas narrowly avoided becoming one of the 200 prisoners murdered in retribution by hiding in the underground chamber of the Church of Nea. He and five others disguised themselves as monks and managed to escape Constantinople. Michael met Isa, the grandson of Aydin, who became his patron and established him at Ephesus. He remained there even after the end of the civil war, convinced that sooner or later all of the remnants of the Byzantine state would succumb to the Turkish onslaught.[4] Although his grandson claims so, it is unknown how, if at all, Michael was related to the old Byzantine imperial dynasty of the Doukai.[1][5]

All we know of the younger Doukas is what he reveals of himself in his history. His earliest autobiographical allusion is dated to 1421, when he lived in New Phocaea and served as the Genoese governor's secretary.[6] From New Phocaea, Doukas found employment with the ruling Gattilusi family on Lesbos. They employed him in various diplomatic missions to the Ottoman court.[1] In 1451 he was in Adrianople when Murad II died and Mehmed II first entered the capital.[7] In 1452, when Mehmed's army was beginning the siege of Constantinople, he was in Dikymotaichos where he saw the corpses of the Venetian crew and their captain executed for failing to stop at the fortress of Rumeli Hizar.[8] In 1455, Doukas twice acted on behalf of the Gattilusi to the Ottomans, first delivering gifts to Hamza the Ottoman admiral,[9] then in August delivered the annual tribute to the Sultan, a visit that required Doukas to bring his new master, Domenico Gattilusio before the Sultan.[10]

He was still living on Lesbos in 1462, when it was annexed to the Ottoman Empire by Sultan Mehmed II. It is known that Doukas survived this event, but there is no record of his subsequent life, and he may have died at about this time.[11]


Doukas was the author of a history of the period 1341-1462; his work thus continues that of Nikephoros Gregoras and John Kantakouzenos, and supplements George Sphrantzes and Laonikos Chalkokondyles. There is a preliminary chapter of chronology from Adam to John V Palaiologos. Although unrefined in style, the history of Doukas is both somewhat judicious and more or less trustworthy,[citation needed] and it is a valuable source for the closing years of the Byzantine empire. The account of the Fall of Constantinople is of special importance. Doukas was a strong supporter of the union of the Greek and Latin churches, and is very bitter against those who rejected even the idea of appealing to the West for assistance against the Ottomans.

The history, preserved (without a title) in a single manuscript conserved in Paris, was first edited by I. Bullialdus (Bulliaud) (Paris, 1649); later editions are in the Bonn Corpus scriptorum Hist. Byz., by I. Bekker (1834) and Migne, Patrologia Graeca, clvii. The Bonn edition contains a 15th-century Italian translation by an unknown author, found by Leopold Ranke in one of the libraries of Venice, and sent by him to August Bekker.


  1. ^ a b c Kazhdan (1991), p. 656
  2. ^ Polemis (1968), pp. 196, 199
  3. ^ Donald M. Nicol, The Last Centuries of Byzantium, 1261–1453, second edition (Cambridge: University Press, 1993), p. 201
  4. ^ Doukas, 5.5; translated by Harry J. Marguoulias, Decline and Fall of Byzantium to the Ottoman Turks (Detroit: Wayne State University, 1975), pp. 65f
  5. ^ Polemis (1968), p. 196
  6. ^ Doukas, 25.8; translated Marguoulias, Decline and Fall, pp.150f
  7. ^ Doukas, 33.4; translated Marguoulias, Decline and Fall, pp. 186f
  8. ^ Doukas, 35.2; translated Marguoulias, Decline and Fall, pp. 200f
  9. ^ Doukas, 43.5; translated Marguoulias, Decline and Fall, pp. 246
  10. ^ Doukas, 44.1-2; translated Marguoulias, Decline and Fall, pp. 250-2
  11. ^ Polemis (1968), p. 199


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