Empire of Trebizond
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|Empire of Trebizond
Arms of the Trebizoid Komnenos dynasty
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, founded in April 1204, was one of three Byzantine Greek successor states of the Byzantine Empire. However, its creation was not directly related to the capture of Constantinople by the Fourth Crusade, as it had broken away from the Byzantine Empire a few weeks prior to that event.
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 (called Pontic Greeks) remained in the area until the early 20th century.
The Empire of Trebizond was founded in early April 1204, when Alexios Komnenos and his brother David Komnenos, taking 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), 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 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 and was recognized as Roman Emperor and as Trebizond suzerain, the Komnenian insistence on being styled "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. In Trebizond, however, far from the weakening reach of Constantinople, he simply revised his title to "Emperor and Autocrat of the entire East, of the Iberians and the Perateia" which remained in use until the Empire's end in 1461. The state is sometimes called the Comnenian empire from its ruling dynasty.
Trebizond initially controlled a contiguous area on the southern Black Sea coast between Soterioupolis and Sinope, comprising 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 Alexios, 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.
The Empire of Trebizond 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.
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. In fact, 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.
Climax and civil war 
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.
Decline and fall 
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 sizeable 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.
Megalokomnenos 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
See also 
- 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 University of Wisconsin Press; 2 edition, 1958 page 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.”
- Mango, C. (ed.) The Oxford History of Byzantium (2002), p. 250
- 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
- Nicol, Donald MacGillivray, Last Centuries of Byzantium, 1261-1453, Cambridge University Press, Second Edition, 1993, p. 74
- Haldon, John, The Palgrave Atlas of Byzantine History PART III: THE LATER PERIOD (c. 11th–15th Century), The map includes "Chepni Türkmen"
Sources and research 
- Jakob Philipp Fallmerayer, Geschichte des Kaiserthums Trapezunt (Munich, 1827–1848)
- Michael Panaretos: Chronicle
- Johannes Bessarion: The praise of Trebizond
- Miller, W., Trebizond: The Last Greek Empire, (1926; repr. Chicago: Argonaut Publishers, 1968)
- Fyodor Uspensky, From the history of the Empire of Trabizond (Ocherki iz istorii Trapezuntskoy Imperii), Leningrad, 1929, 160 pp: a monograph 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.
- 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).
- Rustam Shukurov. The Megas Komnenos and the Orient (1204–1461). Saint Petersburg, 2001, 446 pp (in Russian).
- Bryer, Anthony (1980). The Empire of Trebizond and the Pontos. London: Variorum Reprints. ISBN 978-0-86078-062-5.
- 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.
- 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.
- 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
- 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.
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