Empire of Trebizond
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|Empire of Trebizond
|Vassal state of the Mongol Empire (1243-1336)|
Empire of Trebizond (brown) and surrounding states in 1300.
|Languages||Pontic Greek (de facto)
|Historical era||Late Medieval|
|-||Disestablished||August 15, 1461|
|1 the full title of the Trapezuntine emperors after 1261 was "the faithful Basileus and Autokrator of All the East, the Iberians and Perateia"|
The Empire of Trebizond was one of three Byzantine Greek successor states of the Byzantine Empire, along with the Empire of Nicaea and the Despotate of Epirus. Located at far northeastern corner of Anatolia, it was the longest surviving of the Byzantine successor states. The Empire of Nicaea had, in 1261, succeeded in retaking Constantinople, extinguishing the feeble Latin Empire. The Despotate of Epirus slowly disintegrated through the 13th and 14th centuries, coming under the control of the restored Byzantine Empire c. 1340.
- 1 Overview
- 2 Foundation
- 3 The Empire up to the civil wars
- 4 From the civil wars to the end of the 14th century
- 5 Trebizond in the 15th century
- 6 Megas Komnenos dynasty
- 7 List of Trapezuntine people
- 8 See also
- 9 References
- 10 Sources and research
- 11 External links
Geographically, the Empire of Trebizond never consisted of much more than the southern coast of the Black Sea. Its demographic legacy endured for several centuries after the Ottoman conquest in 1461 and a substantial number of Greek Orthodox inhabitants. These are usually referred to as Pontic Greeks, while the eastern branch who settled around Kars and Georgia are often referred to as Caucasus Greeks. They remained along the eastern Black Sea coast and its hinterland in the Pontic Alps as well as in northeastern Anatolia and the Russian Caucasus province of Kars Oblast until the years immediately following the First World War, when those who had retained their Christian Orthodox faith and Greek identity resettled in Greek Macedonia.
Trebizond initially controlled a contiguous area on the southern Black Sea coast between Soterioupolis and Sinope, comprising all or parts of the modern Turkish provinces of Sinop, Samsun, Ordu, Giresun, Trabzon, Bayburt, Gümüşhane, Rize and Artvin. In the 13th century, the empire controlled Perateia, which included Cherson and Kerch on the Crimean peninsula. David Komnenos, the younger brother of the first Emperor, expanded rapidly to the west, occupying first Sinope, then coastal parts of Paphlagonia (the modern-day coastal regions of Kastamonu, Bartın and Zonguldak) and Heraclea Pontica (the modern-day Karadeniz Ereğli), until his territory bordered the Empire of Nicaea founded by Theodore I Laskaris. The expansion was, however, short-lived: the territories west of Sinope were lost to the Empire of Nicaea by 1206, and Sinope itself fell to the Seljuks in 1214, although it was regained briefly around 1250.
The rulers of Trebizond called themselves Megas Komnenos ("Great Comnenus") and – like their counterparts in the other two Byzantine successor states, the Empire of Nicaea and the Despotate of Epirus – initially claimed supremacy as "Emperor and Autocrat of the Romans." However, after Michael VIII Palaiologos of Nicaea recaptured Constantinople in 1261, the Komnenian use of the style "Emperor" became a sore point. In 1282, John II Komnenos stripped off his imperial regalia before the walls of Constantinople before entering to marry Michael's daughter and accept his legal title of despot. Once he returned to Trebizond, however, he simply revised his title to "Emperor and Autocrat of the entire East, of the Iberians and the Perateia" which his successors used until the Empire's end in 1461.
The region Trebizond was located in had shown seperatist tendencies in the 10th and 11th centuries. The Theme of Chaldia, of which Trebizond was the capital, came under the control of a local leader named Theodore Gabras, who according to Anna Comnena regarded Trebizond and its hinterlands "as a prize which had fallen to his own lot" and conducted himself as an independent prince. The Byzantine Emperor Alexios I Komnenos confirmed him as governor of Chaldia, but kept his son at Constantinople as a hostage for his good conduct. Despite this, Gabras proved himself a worthy guardian by repelling a Georgian attack on Trebizond. One of his successors, Gregory Taronites, also rebelled with the aid of the Sultan of Capadocia, but was defeated and imprisoned, only to be made governor once more. Another successor to Theodore was Constantine Gabras, whom Niketas describes as ruling Trebizond as a tyrant, and whose actions led Emperor John II Komnenos in 1139 to lead an expedition against him. Although that effort came to nothing, this was the last rebel governor known to recorded history prior to the events of 1204.
The Empire of Trebizond was founded in early April 1204, when Alexios Komnenos and his brother David, took advantage of the preoccupation of the central Byzantine government with the encampment of the soldiers of the Fourth Crusade outside their walls (June 1203 – mid-April 1204), and seized the city of Trebizond and the surrounding province of Chaldia with troops provided by their relative, Tamar of Georgia. Henceforth, the links between Trebizond and Georgia remained close, but their nature and extent have been disputed.
During its early years, the Empire of Trebizond probably existed as a vassal state of Georgia. Throughout its existence, it may be considered somewhat of a Caucasian state, due to its reliance upon the Laz people and its continued close relationship with the Bagrationi Dynasty of Georgia which resulted in several unions of marriage.
Alexios Komnenos was a grandson of the last Komnenian Byzantine emperor, Andronikos I Komnenos, through that man's son Manuel Komnenos, who, in turn, had married Rusudan, daughter of George III of Georgia. Andronikos I had usurped the throne in 1183 and after a two-year reign of terror was tortured and killed by the populace of Constantinople after being deposed by Isaac II Angelos; Manuel had been blinded (a traditional Byzantine punishment for treason) and died not long after. Alexios and his brother, David, were only saved through the actions of their mother, Rusudan, who fled Constantinople. It is unclear whether Rusudan fled to her native Georgia, or to Paphlagonia, the Byzantine province on the southern coast of the Black Sea where the Komnenos family had established itself in the mid-11th century.
The Empire up to the civil wars
For most of the 13th century Trebizond was in continual conflict with the Seljuk Sultanate of Rûm and later with the Ottoman Turks, as well as Constantinople, the Italian republics, and especially the Republic of Genoa. It was an empire more in title than in fact, surviving by playing its rivals against each other, and offering the daughters of its rulers, who were famed for their beauty, for marriage with generous dowries, especially with the Turkish rulers of inland Anatolia. The common view is that the Empire of Trebizond relied heavily upon wealth gained from its trade with Genoese and Venetian merchants to secure for itself the resources necessary to maintain independence.
The destruction of Baghdad by Hulagu Khan in 1258 made Trebizond the western terminus of the Silk Road, and under the protection of the Mongols the city grew to tremendous wealth on the Silk Road trade. Among others, Marco Polo returned to Europe by way of Trebizond in 1295. Under the rule of Alexios III (1349–1390) the city was one of the world's leading trade centres and was renowned for its great wealth and artistic accomplishment. However, Anthony Bryers has argued against this viewpoint, stating that while the income from taxes levied on this trade was "by Byzantine standards" substantial, as much as three quarters of the income of the Emperor came from land, "either directly from the imperial estates or indirectly from taxes and tithes from other lands."
From the civil wars to the end of the 14th century
The small Empire of Trebizond had been most successful in asserting itself at its very start, under the leadership of Alexios I and especially his younger brother David. Alexios' second son Manuel I (1238–1263) had preserved internal security and acquired the reputation of a great commander, but the Empire was already losing outlying provinces to the Chepni Turkmen, and found itself forced to pay tribute to the Seljuks of Rûm and then to the Mongol Empire and the Ilkhanate, a sign of things to come. The troubled reign of Manuel's youngest son John II (1280–1297) included a reconciliation with the restored Byzantine Empire and the end of Trapezuntine claims to Constantinople. Trebizond reached its greatest wealth and influence during the long reign of John's eldest son Alexios II (1297–1330). Trebizond suffered a period of repeated imperial depositions and assassinations from the end of Alexios' reign until the first years of the reign of his grandson Alexios III, ending in 1355. The empire never fully recovered its internal cohesion, commercial supremacy or territory.
Trebizond in the 15th century
The restored Byzantine Empire was conquered by the Ottoman Empire in 1453 while the Empire of Trebizond managed to survive until 1461, when it too was conquered by the Ottoman Empire. Manuel III (1390–1417), the second son and successor of Alexios III, allied himself with Timur, and benefited from Timur's defeat of the Ottoman Turks at the Battle of Ankara in 1402. His son Alexios IV (1417–1429) married two of his daughters to Jihan Shah, khan of the Kara Koyunlu, and to Ali Beg, khan of the Ak Koyunlu, while his eldest daughter Maria became the third wife of the Byzantine Emperor John VIII Palaiologos. Pero Tafur, who visited the city in 1437, reported that Trebizond had fewer than 4,000 troops.
Alexios IV's eldest son, John IV (1429–1459), could not help but see that his Empire would soon share the same fate as Constantinople had suffered in 1453. The Ottoman Sultan Murad II first attempted to take the capital by sea in 1442, but high surf made the landings difficult and the attempt was repulsed. While Murad's son and successor, Mehmed II, was away laying siege to Belgrade in 1456, the Ottoman governor of Amasya attacked Trebizond, and although defeated, took many prisoners and extracted a heavy tribute.
John IV prepared for the eventual assault by forging alliances. He gave his daughter to the son of his brother-in-law, Uzun Hasan, khan of the Ak Koyunlu, in return for his promise to defend Trebizond. He also secured promises of help from the Turkish emirs of Sinope and Karamania, and from the king and princes of Georgia.
After John's death in 1459, his brother David came to power and misused these alliances. David intrigued with various European powers for help against the Ottomans, speaking of wild schemes that included the conquest of Jerusalem. Mehmed II eventually heard of these intrigues, and was further provoked to action by David's demand that Mehmed remit the tribute imposed on his brother.
Mehmed's response came in the summer of 1461. He led a sizable army from Bursa, first to Sinope, whose emir quickly surrendered, then south across Armenia to neutralize Uzun Hasan. Having isolated Trebizond, Mehmed quickly swept down upon it before the inhabitants knew he was coming, and placed it under siege. The city held out for a month before David surrendered on August 15, 1461. With the fall of Trebizond, the last remnant of the Byzantine Empire, and thus also of the Roman Empire from which the Byzantine Empire sprang, was extinguished.
Megas Komnenos dynasty
The Komnenos dynasty ruled the main Byzantine Empire from Constantinople until 1185. The table below shows the members of the family that were rulers of the Trebizond Empire from 1204 to 1461.
|Alexios I Megas Komnenos||1204||1222|
|Andronikos I Gidos||1222||1235|
|Ioannis I Megas Komnenos||1235||1238|
|Manuel I Megas Komnenos||1238||1263|
|Andronikos II Megas Komnenos||1263||1266|
|Georgios Megas Komnenos||1266||1280|
|Ioannes II Megas Komnenos||1280||1284|
|Theodora Megale Komnene||1284||1285|
|Ioannes II Megas Komnenos*||1285||1297|
|Alexios II Megas Komnenos||1297||1330|
|Andronikos III Megas Komnenos||1330||1332|
|Manuel II Megas Komnenos||1332||1332|
|Basileios Megas Komnenos||1332||1340|
|Anna Megale Komnene||1341||1342|
|Ioannes III Megas Komnenos||1342||1344|
|Michael Megas Komnenos||1344||1349|
|Alexios III Megas Komnenos||1349||1390|
|Manuel III Megas Komnenos||1390||1416|
|Alexios IV Megas Komnenos||1416||1429|
|Ioannes IV Megas Komnenos||1429||1459|
|David Megas Komnenos||1459||1461|
List of Trapezuntine people
- Johannes Bessarion
- George of Trebizond
- Michael Panaretos
- George Amiroutzes
- Gregory Choniades
- Ecumenical Patriarch John VIII of Constantinople
- Hagia Sophia, Trabzon
- Sumela Monastery
- Dorothy Dunnett, a Scottish historical novelist, much of whose book The Spring of the Ram is set in Trebizond at the time of its fall.
- Lawrence Schoonover, an American historical novelist, much of whose book The Burnished Blade is set in Trebizond at its height.
- Alexander A. Vasiliev, History of the Byzantine Empire, Vol 2. 324 - 1453, second edition (Madison: University of Wisconsin Press, 1958), p. 506: "... on the territory of the disintegrated eastern empire, three independent Greek centers were formed; The empire of Nicaea and the empire of Trebizond in Asia Minor and the Despotat of Epirus in Northern Greece."
- Nicol, Donald MacGillivray, Last Centuries of Byzantium, 1261-1453, Cambridge University Press, Second Edition, 1993, p. 74
- William Miller, Trebizond: The last Greek Empire of the Byzantine Era: 1204-1461, 1926 (Chicago: Argonaut, 1969), p. 12
- Some authorities identify Taronites with the known son of Theodore Gabras, Gregory Gabras. See Anthony Bryer, "A Byzantine Family: The Gabrades, c. 979 – c. 1653", University of Birmingham Historical Journal, 12 (1970), p. 176
- Miller, Trebizond, p. 13
- Hewsen, Robert H. (2009). "Armenians on the Black Sea: The Province of Trebizond". In Richard G. Hovannisian. Armenian Pontus: The Trebizond-Black Sea Communities. Costa Mesa, CA: Mazda Publishers, Inc. pp. 47, 37–66. ISBN 1-56859-155-1.
- Eastmond, Antony. "Narratives of the Fall: Structure and Meaning in the Genesis Frieze at Hagia Sophia, Trebizond". Dumbarton Oaks Papers 53 (1999), 219–36.
- Hewsen, 48
- Bryer, "The Estates of the Empire of Trebizond. Evidence for their Resources, Products, Agriculture, Ownership and Location", Archeion Pontou 35 (1979), p. 371. He also includes revenue from such typical medieval sources as "the profits of justice, imperial trade and mining, confiscations and even piracy."
- Haldon, John, The Palgrave Atlas of Byzantine History PART III: THE LATER PERIOD (c. 11th–15th Century), The map includes "Chepni Türkmen"
- Miller, Trebizond, p. 85
- Miller, Trebizond, pp. 87f
- Nicol, Last Centuries, p. 407
- Nicol, Last Centuries, p. 408
Sources and research
- Johannes Bessarion: The praise of Trebizond
- Michael Panaretos: Chronicle
- Anthony Bryer & David Winfield, The Byzantine Monuments and Topography of the Pontos (DOS. XX), vol. 1–2, Washington, 1985.
- Anthony Bryer, Peoples and Settlement in Anatolia and the Caucasus, 800–1900, Variorum collected studies series, London, 1988.
- Bryer, Anthony (1980). The Empire of Trebizond and the Pontos. London: Variorum Reprints. ISBN 978-0-86078-062-5.
- Jakob Philipp Fallmerayer, Geschichte des Kaiserthums Trapezunt (Munich, 1827–1848)
- George Finlay The History of Greece, From Its Conquest by the Crusaders to Its Conquest by the Turks, and of the Empire of Trebizond: 1204-1461. Edinburgh: Blackwood, 1851.
- Sergei Karpov. L' impero di Trebisonda, Venezia, Genova e Roma, 1204–1461. Rapporti politici, diplomatici e commerciali. Roma, 1986, 321 P.
- Sergei Karpov. The Empire of Trebizond and the nations of Western Europe, 1204–1461. Moscow, 1981, 231 pp (in Russian).
- Sergei Karpov. A history of the empire of Trebizond. Saint Petersburg, 2007, 656 pp (in Russian).
- William Miller, Trebizond: The Last Greek Empire, (1926; repr. Chicago: Argonaut Publishers, 1968)
- George Ostrogorsky, History of the Byzantine State, Rutgers University Press. New Jersey, 1969
- Donald Queller, Thomas Madden, The Fourth Crusade: The Conquest of Constantinople, University of Pennsyklvania Press, Philadelphia, 2nd ed., 1997. ISBN 0-8122-3387-5
- Savvides, Alexios G. K. (2009). Ιστορία της Αυτοκρατορίας των Μεγάλων Κομνηνών της Τραπεζούντας (1204-1461). 2η Έκδοση με προσθήκες [History of the Empire of the Grand Komnenoi of Trebizond (1204-1461). 2nd Edition with additions] (in Greek). Thessaloniki: Kyriakidis Brothers S.A. ISBN 978-960-467-121-2.
- Rustam Shukurov. The Megas Komnenos and the Orient (1204–1461). Saint Petersburg, 2001, 446 pp (in Russian).
- Levan Urushadze, The Comnenus of Trabizond and the Bagrationi dynasty of Georgia. — J. "Tsiskari", Tbilisi, No 4, 1991, pp. 144–148: in Georgian.
- Fyodor Uspensky, From the history of the Empire of Trabizond (Ocherki iz istorii Trapezuntskoy Imperii), Leningrad, 1929, 160 pp: a monograph in Russian.
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